WHERE GOD IS NOT:

THE BOOK OF ESTHER AND SONG OF SONG[1]

 

David R. Blumenthal

Emory University

 

“But that which is edifying is so only because it already conforms ... the plain sense is always dependent on the understanding of larger wholes and on changing custom and authority....”[2]

 

The Teaching That Wasn’t There

 

            The name of God, in all its variations, does not occur in the Book of Esther. This strange phenomenon was discerned, and corrected, very early. Already the Septuagint, the Targumim, and the apocryphal Book of Esther inserted one or more of the names of God into the text.[3]  This lacuna was also recognized by the rabbis of the Talmud who, in seeking adumbrations in the Torah for the characters in the Book of Esther, asked: “Where does one find an allusion to Esther in the Torah? In the verse, ‘I [God] shall surely hide (Hebrew, haster ’astir)  My Face from them.’”[4]  The liturgy, too, sensed that God is the ever-present, but hidden, force behind the events of history when it introduced each of the first three paragraphs of the special insertions into the third blessing of the Amidah  for the High Holidays with the same word which introduces Esther’s approach to Ahasuerus, “And so [I shall go into the presence of the king]” (Heb., u-ve-khen). [5]

            Among the medieval commentators, too, the absence of the name of God from the text of the Book of Esther was remarked, most clearly by Ibn Ezra. He rejected the allusion to the name of God in Esther 4:14 (“from another Place” [Heb., maqom ])  because the use of maqom   to denote God is rabbinic, and not biblical, style. Ibn Ezra offered instead the suggestion that the name of God was repressed from the text by its authors so that, when the Megilla was read by the non-Jews of Ahasuerus’ kingdom, they would not substitute the name of their own gods, thereby completely distorting the event theologically.[6]  

            Modern commentators have also noted this anomaly and offered various explanations. One of the clearer explanations is that of Yehezkel Kaufmann, adopted by Hacham: that God is the real King behind the weak and ineffective king, Ahasuerus.[7]

            This history is summarized in the statement by Hacham: “And this is the only book in the entire Bible in which the name of God is not mentioned.”[8]  The same type of statement is made by Nosson Scherman, the general editor of the Artscroll series: “G-d’s [sic] Name does not appear in the Megillah   -- the only one of the twenty-four sacred books where such a phenomenon occurs.”[9] What is strange about these two statements, and others like them, is that they are just not true.

            Maimonides, summarizing rabbinic teaching, lists seven names of God: YHVH with ’Adonai, ’El, ’Elohah, ’Elohim, ’Elohei, Shaddai, and Tseva’ot and rules that these names, once written, may not be erased.[10] These names (Heb., shem)  are differentiated from other descriptive terms (Heb., kinnui)  used of God in that the former cannot be erased once written.[11] All seven names have equal status in this regard. However, with the aid of CD-Rom searches, it is easy to establish that YHVH-’Adonai and ’Elohim-’Elohah-’Elohei are overwhelmingly the most common names of God.[12] In addition, there may also be theological grounds for favoring these two names. Maimonides formulates rabbinic thought in noting that the Tetragrammaton is the proper name of God; it has no meaning as a noun.[13] He also shows that ’Elohim is a word with many meanings; it serves as the word-name that conveys agency, the power to act. ’Elohim thus includes all those divine and created forces through which God’s providence works. It is also the term used to describe God when God appears to non-Jewish prophets.[14] Both names are, thus, special theologically and statistically, though halakhically they have the same status as the other names. Now, the Tetragrammaton appears in all the books of the Bible except Song of Songs, Esther, and Ecclesiastes.[15] The name ’Elohim,  in its various forms, appears in all books except Ovadiah, Lamentations, Song of Songs, and Esther (it appears 36 times in Ecclesiastes). Adding these two most common names of God together, the simple statistic emerges: Neither of the two most common names of God occurs either in Esther or in Song of Songs, though at least one or the other appears in every other book of the Bible.

            There are two additional words that could be construed as names of God: shalhevetyah  (Song 8:6) and bi-tseva’ot  (Song 2:7; 3:5). As noted, the Talmud understands tseva’ot  as one of names of God which, when written, cannot be erased.[16] This may be due to the fact that tseva’ot / tsiv’ot / ha-tseva’ot  occurs 292 times in the Bible (excluding the two occurrences in Song of Songs) and, in all but five cases (Dt. 20:9; I Kings 2:5; Jer. 3:19; Ps. 68:13; and I Chron. 27:3), it is linked with either the Tetragrammaton or with some form of ’Elohim. This accounts, in part, for the rabbinic opinion that the name of God does occur in Song of Songs. Accordingly, the Targum renders Song 2:7 and 3:5, “Lord of hosts.” However, all the commentators to Song of Songs that I have seen interpret bi-tseva’ot  as “gazelles,” understanding it as the female form of tsvi .[17] As such, these two words are not holy but secular; i.e., they are not considered names of God but words, like other secular occurrences of tseva’ot.[18]

            The word shalhevetyah   can be read as one or two words. If it is one word, then, one must translate it as “a great fire”; if it is read as two words, one must translate it as “fire of Yah [God].” In the latter case, one could argue that Yah, as a partial rendering of YHVH, is a name of God (though not explicitly listed by Maimonides or the Talmud) and God’s name then does appear in Song of Songs; in the former case, shalhevetyah  is a normal word and not a name of God. The Minhat Shai  (ad loc ) and C.D. Ginsburg, The Massorah, [19] note that the main massoretic manuscripts of the Bible differ on how to read this word, with Ben Asher reading it as one word because the taf  has a sheva  and the hey   does not have a mapik.  This makes shalhevetyah  similar to ma’felyah  (Jer. 2:31), which all massoretic manuscripts read as one word.[20] The commentators, too, are divided: Ibn Ezra opts for the two-word reading and renders, “a fire of God.” Metsudat Zion  / Metsudat David,  Radak, and Minhat Shai   read it as two words and hence do not take it as a name of God; they render, “a great fire,” “a fire that burns powerfully.” Rashi reads, “the fire of Gehinnom.”[21] There is, thus, ample precedent to regard both bi-tseva’ot   and shalhevetyah  as not being names of God.

            I first saw the statement that the name of God does not appear in Song of Songs in Renita Weems’ article on Song of Songs in  The Women’s Bible Commentary. [22]  I confess that, at first, I did not believe it. When I consulted other male colleagues with a traditional Jewish education, they too were skeptical. Yet, the facts are as Weems says: None of the seven names of God appears in Song of Songs.

            Why did I not know that the name of God does not appear in Song of Songs? Why did Hacham, an otherwise impeccable biblical scholar, not know it? Why did my Jewish male friends and colleagues not know it? More importantly, why does the rabbinic tradition to which we are heir -- an otherwise very learned and text-conscious tradition -- not actively teach that neither of the two most common names of God appears in Song of Songs although the tradition does actively teach that neither of the two most common names of God appears in the Book of Esther?[23]

 

The Book That Wasn’t There

 

            The anomaly of a sexually explicit, erotic text in an otherwise very restrained, austere canon was recognized very early by rabbinic tradition. The Targum understood the text of Song of Songs symbolically.[24]  The various midrashim, too, followed a symbolic line of interpretation. The Mishna also discussed the status of Song of Songs, ending with the dictum of Akiva: “Far be this from being so; no person in Israel disagrees [with the principle] that Song of Songs is considered holy [lit., renders the hands of one who touches such a scroll impure] for, the whole world was never so meritorious as on the day that Song of Songs was given to Israel; for all the Scriptures are holy, but Song of Songs is the holiest of the holy...”[25]  The Talmud, too, dealt with this matter. While listing the names of God and various substitutes which are considered so holy that they may not be erased, the Talmud comments: “Every ‘Solomon’ in Song of Songs is holy; it is a song to Him Who is the possessor of peace, except ... [which refers to King Solomon].”[26]  The point is that every occurrence of the name of ‘Solomon’ in Song of Songs is holy because it is really a name of God. The earliest rabbinic traditions, then, clearly understood Song of Songs as a love poem between God and the Jewish people, not as an erotic description of human love; they, therefore, deemed it holy, surrounded it with ritual protective behavior, and read the name of God back into the text.[27]

            The medieval tradition followed suit. Rashi largely ignored the “simple” meaning and claimed that Song of Songs was written under the influence of the holy spirit and is a love song between God and the Jewish people in which the people is portrayed as a widow yearning for her husband.[28]  Ibn Ezra knew of and explicated both the sexually explicit and the spiritualized understandings of the text; however, he stated unambiguously: “Far be it from being so that Song of Songs is about matters of passion; rather, it is written as an extended metaphor (Heb., mashal ).”[29]  Some of the medievals, primary among them Maimonides, understood Song of Songs as an extended metaphor for the love of the individual pious soul for God, a position known to, but rejected by, Ibn Ezra.[30]  On the matter of not erasing the word “Solomon,” Maimonides codified the law as such.[31] The commentators, however, point out that, actually, one may   erase that word. They go on to specify that Maimonides’ codification of the law about not erasing the word “Solomon” had other purposes: so that scholars should know that the word “Solomon” is really a name of God in the sense that, if one administers an oath using the word “Solomon” and the person then violates that oath, such a person is culpable under the law because “Solomon” is a name of God; further, that even “Solomon” may not be erased if it is written in the context of Song of Songs.[32]  It is clear, then, that the medieval tradition followed the earlier rabbinic tradition in regarding Song of Songs as an extended metaphor of the love between God and the Jewish people (and, in certain mystical and philosophic circles, as an extended metaphor for the love of the individual pious soul and God), not as an erotic description of human love; they too, therefore, deemed it holy, surrounded it with ritual protective behavior, and read the name of God back into the text.

            Contemporary orthodox commentators have followed the strict sense of this tradition; hence, the statement by Scherman:

Song of Songs is surely a song of love, but not of one human’s love for another. Our Sages and the commentators did not doubt for an instant that the only simple   meaning is the allegorical one.... When the commentators say that your bosom[s]   refer[s] to Moses and Aaron, they are not departing from the simple literal meaning of the phrase in the least. Song of Songs uses words in their ultimate connotations.[33]

Scherman, thus, deals with the sexually explicit and erotic by denying it, doing so more bluntly than Ibn Ezra but not straying too far from a significant line of interpretation in rabbinic Judaism. Following this path, one can respond that the rabbinic tradition (and I) did not know that the name of God does not occur in Song of Songs because it did not admit that Song of Songs is what it is -- a collection of sexually explicit love poems. Centuries, indeed millenia, have been devoted to reading this text as the extended metaphor par excellence  of the love of God and Israel and, in certain circles, of the love of the pious soul and God; God’s name is woven into the text at every step, in midrash and in exegesis. For the tradition, the simple meaning is the allegorical meaning, as Scherman represents.

             Contemporary non-orthodox scholars have generally acknowledged that there are two levels of meaning, the simple and the allegorical, relying on standard literary critical methods and on Ibn Ezra’s second method of intepretation.[34]  Most of these scholars, however, do not deal with the question of why the name of God is not mentioned in Song of Songs.[35]  Gordis at least offers a theory:

The deepseated reluctance to use the Divine name, which finds expression in the Third Commandment (Ex. 20:7), became increasingly felt with time.... The desire to avoid mentioning God’s name would be particularly strongly felt in connection with an oath [Song 2:7; 3:5] concerned with the physical aspects of love.... In this reticence with regard to the use of the Divine name, particularly in the context of sensual love, as well as in its pervasive delicacy of expression ... Song reveals itself as authentically within the Jewish tradition.[36]

            Both the contemporary orthodox and non-orthodox Jewish interpretations, however, raise serious questions about what Kermode called “the plain sense of things” and “the understanding of larger wholes.”

            Concerning the orthodox approach, one must raise several issues: [1] The opposition to Akiva’s view[37] implies that at least some rabbinic sages understood that the simple meaning was not the allegorical meaning. Their objection to the status of Song of Songs is precisely because it is what it is: an anthology of erotic poetry which is out of place in sacred canon. In debating the sacredness of Song of Songs, they acknowledged its status (legitmate, to some, and “illegitimate,” to others) as a plain, non-allegorized text.

            [2] One can understand the targumic and midrashic reading of Song of Songs and the Akivan and talmudic view which reads every “Solomon” as a name of God as part of the allegorization process of Song of Songs. Making every “Solomon” a name of God valorized the allegorical approach even as it reflected and embodied it; so did the verse-by-verse midrash of the earlier and later rabbinic sources. However this, too, implies a conscious effort by the authorities to  interpret Song of Songs into theological acceptability, an effort intended to facilitate its reading by the religious community. This, in turn, implies its logically prior status as a plain, non-allegorized text.

            [3] Particularly as formulated by Scherman, the contemporay orthodox interpretation forces the triumph of dogma over common sense, for the cognitive dissonance produced by the erotic text and its spiritual context leads to ambiguity, to a theory of double meaning. Willy nilly, the text was, and is, read on two levels: the physical and the spiritual, even if the latter is dogmatically the only correct way to understand the text. Put differently, even those sages, who for theological purposes read the allegorical meaning of Song of Songs as the simple meaning, were caught up in the process of “performative reading,” that is, they were doing a “simultaneous translation” of the simple into the allegorical meaning. While asserting only the latter as meaning-ful on dogmatic grounds, they must have recognized the former on some cognitive level. One can read “breasts” and understand “Moses and Aaron,” but not before understanding “breasts” and then “translating” into the allegory.[38]  The interpretation of contemporary orthodoxy which asserts that there is no simple meaning is dangerous because denial of the physical and rejection of the literal undermines the allegorical, for allegory is based on an underlying commonsense reading which it “allegorizes.” This approach blurs the distinction, carefully preserved by the rabbis, between mashal   and nimshal. [39]  Better to assert a text with commentary than to deny the text and assert only the commentary.

            [4] In any case, one must ask why the absence of the name of God was publically noted by the tradition in the Book of Esther but was not so noted in Song of Songs since both were canonical and both were “corrected” by the early tradition.

            The contemporary non-orthodox Jewish approach poses even more difficult questions: [1] Insofar as it is silent, the non-orthodox approach indicates that something is being covered up. Silence is either reverent or protective. The fact that the name of God is absent from an explicitly sexual document should be enough to alert modern readers that something is amiss. The fact that the name of God is absent from a document dealing with the physical love between man and woman, a topic long taboo in modern society, should be enough to warn us that contemporary analysis is hiding something. [2] With no prior ideological commitment to concealing the sexually explicit meaning, why would many non-orthodox scholars be unaware of the fact that the name of God does not appear in Song of Songs even though they are aware that it does not appear in the Book of Esther? With no prior religious commitment to the allegorical reading, what interpretive stance accounts for blindness to a simple lexical fact? Gordis’ suggestion seems lame and inadequate; invoking the Third Commandment and traditional reticence only reinforces the sense that something is being hidden.

            A second look at the sources is indicated.

 

The Sub-Text: A Story of Heroism

 

            In the standard rabbinic editions of the Bible, there is a commentary to Song of Songs by the Rabbi of Lissa entitled, Tsror ha-Mor.[40]  The introduction there deals with the issue of the appropriateness of such a book for the biblical canon but in a different context:

... that the Sages, may their memory be a blessing, said: “A man and a woman -- [if they are worthy] the Shekhina is between them”  [Talmud,  Sota 17a]. [This is true] even when said in the situation in which they do physical acts, i.e., that [when they do such acts,] it is as if a demon has compelled them; there is [really] no physical appetite. [This is the case of] Palti ben Layish who was in the same bed with a woman and did not touch her ...[41]

            The reference to Palti ben Layish is to I Sam. 25:44, taken together with II Sam. 3:15. The story, briefly, is that Saul had given his daughter, Michal, to David as a wife. Saul, subsequently, took her from David and gave her to Palti ben Layish. When David became king, he reclaimed Michal from Palti, whose name had been changed to Paltiel, i.e., the name of God [’El] had been added to it. The rabbis understood that Palti, although living with Michal and even sleeping in the same bed with her, did not touch her because she was the wife of David and, for this reason, Palti merited having the name of God [’El] added to his own name.

            The roots of this tradition are found in three forms:

The rabbis taught: Three men swore their sexual appetites [to abstinence] and were saved from sexual sin: Joseph, as it is written, “And he refused [the advances of the wife of Potiphar]” (Gen. 39:8); Boaz, as it is written, “By the life of the Lord, sleep until the morning” (Ruth 3:13) -- this teaches that he took his sexual organ and put it at the edge of the grave [sic] and swore his sexual appetite not to do anything; and Palti ben Layish ... and when he saw [that he had a desire for Michal] he swore his appetite not to touch her and put a sword on the bed between him and her to break his appetite.[42]

Rabbi Shim`on ben Gamliel said: Three persons fled from sin and the Holy One, blessed be He, added His Name to theirs: Joseph, Palti, and Ya`el.... And in the end, his name is Paltiel... ’El [God] testified about him that he did not touch her.... [And] the Holy One, blessed be He, said, “My Name testifies about Ya`el that Sisra did not touch her.”[43]

            What we have here is the definition of the sexual hero in rabbinic Judaism. Joseph, Boaz, and Paltiel resisted their sexual impulses, even using an oath to do so. For Joseph to have spent several hours, for Boaz to have spent a whole night, and for Palti to have spent several years in situations of great sexual temptation and to have resisted is highly praiseworthy.

            This, in turn, leads to the valorization of resistance to all one’s appetites -- in nonsexual, as well as in sexual, contexts:

From this [the way Joseph refused Potiphar’s wife] we learn that the righteous swear their appetites [to abstinence], as Rabbi Josiah taught: “‘These words shall be upon your heart’ [Dt. 6:6] -- from here we learn that a man should swear his appetite [to abstinence]. In connection with Abraham, it says ... with Boaz ... with David ... with Elisha .... And just as the righteous swear their appetites not to act, so the wicked swear their appetites to act....”[44]

            This motif of sexual heroism needs to be examined more carefully, for mastery over sexual appetite through abstinence is a form of heroism only in a thoroughly patriarchal universe. Retention of seed is an expression of individuation and personal strength only in an unremittingly masculine worldview. Furthermore, an integral part of this mastery-heroism is denial -- denial of the power of sexuality, refusal of the overwhelming desire for woman. To deny woman is to master appetite; or more properly: to reject the need for woman and to retain seed is to be one’s masterly, masculine self.[45]  

            Particularly interesting in this connection is the text referring to Ya`el:

From whence do we learn [that God added God’s name to Ya`el because she resisted sexual temptation]? When Sisra fled to Ya`el, the wife of Hever the Kenite, she said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside” [Ju. 4:18]. He, then, said to her, “Give me a little water” and she opened a skin of milk and gave him to drink. His appetite burned within him, blazing for sexual activity. What did she do? She came to him on the sly and struck the tent-peg into his temple [so that he died] and “she covered him with a blanket” [ibid.,  Heb., bi-semikha ]. What does “with a blanket” mean? ... Resh Lakish said, “We have searched all of Scriptures and we have not found a device [connected with killing] called ‘blanket.’ What, then, is semikha?   It is written with a sin   [the Hebrew letter for “s” which looks like the Hebrew letter for “sh”]. Hence, [the word semikha ] should be read shemi + ko,  ‘My Name is here,’ for My Name testifies about Ya`el that Sisra did not touch her.”[46]

The context speaks about men who fled from sin and had the divine appellative added to their names, easily demonstrated by Joseph (called “Jehoseph” is Ps. 81:6) and Palti (called “Paltiel”). Ya`el is a problem on two counts: First, the appellative is not added to her name but derived from the “device” connected with the killing of Sisra, the “blanket” (Hebrew, semikha,  read as shemi + ko ). Second, Ya`el is a woman. She is not fleeing sexual temptation; she is avoiding rape. The murder she commits, in this midrashic version of the story,  is as much an act of self-defense as it is a political-military act. The sexual roles have been reversed.[47]

            An alternate version of the Ya`el-Sisra story is contained in the Talmud  (Horayot 10b, with a parallel in Nazir 23b):

Rabbi Nahman bar Yitshak said: “A sin committed for the sake [of heaven] is greater than a mitsva performed not for the sake [of heaven], as it says, ‘May Ya`el, the wife of Hever the Kenite, be more blessed than women; may she be blessed more than women in the tent’ [Ju. 5:24].” Who are the ‘women in the tent’? Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.... Rabbi Yohanan said, “That wicked man [Sisra] had intercourse [with Ya`el] seven times at that time, as it says, ‘He prostrated himself between her legs, he fell, he lay down; between her legs he prostrated himself and fell; where he prostrated himself there he fell stricken’ [Ju. 5:27].”[48] But did she not feel pleasure at this sin? Rabbi Yohanan said in the name of Rabbi Shim`on bar Yohai, “Even the good deeds of the wicked are evil for the righteous.”[49]

Here, too, the story of Ya`el is problematic because she is not fleeing sexual temptation but is piously using her sexual powers to do God’s will and save Israel and, with Rashi, she even suffers for it by having to bear the filth of Sisra.

            Reflecting in the light of the rabbinic defintion of sexual heroism, one must, then, note that the tradition in which I and my male colleagues were educated is very much a part of the patriarchal worldview which defined and exalted sexual abstinence and denial as a form of heroism, as the texts show. This, in turn, yields the insight that the tradition did not -- indeed could not -- “see” that the name of God is absent in Song of Songs, even though it “saw” that fact in connection with the Book of Esther where the sexual valences are much weaker. Rather, the tradition denied the sexuality of Song of Songs and interpreted the book as an allegory. It denied the deep need to re-pen(e)is-trate the womb and interpreted the book as an allegory of the love of God and the people or, in certain circles, of the love of the pious soul and God. In its modern form, the tradition has even gone so far as to deny that there exists a simple, physical meaning in the text while, in its secular form, it has gone so far as not to “see” the facts at all, or to offer lame excuses. Where God is not, is as much a function of the reader as it is of the text. As Boyarin has noted, “... the text is always made up of a mosaic of conscious and unconscious citation of earlier discourse ... there are cultural codes, again either conscious or unconscious, which both constrain and allow the production of new texts...”[50]

            The converse is also true: to recover the text is to recover sexuality, and to recover womb-envy is to recover the text. It is one of the accomplishments of feminist criticism to have raised these questions.


TABULATION OF THE DIVINE NAMES[51]

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

NAME              ALONE PREFIX[52]          SUFFIX[53]          SUFFIX-PREFIX[54]         TOTAL

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

YHVH[55]            6008                 675                                                                               6683

’Adonai                                                                                                                          230[56]

’El                                                                                                                                335[57]

’Elohah              49                     5                      3                                                          57

’Elohim[58]          680                   482                                                                               1162

’Elohei/ai           502                   46                     796[59]                40[60]                              1384[61]

Shaddai                                                                                                                          61

Tseva’ot 286                   8                      4[62]                    18[63]                                 316

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

It is, thus, abundantly clear that YHVH-’Adonai and ’Elohim-’Elohah-’Elohei/ai are overwhelmingly the most common names of God (9459 in number, with YHVH-’Adonai being 68% of the Maimonidean list of names, ’Elohim-’Elohah-’Elohei/ai being 25.6% of the total, and both constituting 93.7%).



[1] I am deeply in debt to my learned colleague, Michael Broyde, for an extended scholarly dialogue on this subject. This has vastly extended the range of my own work and has generated an article by him as well; see M. Broyde, “Uncleanness of the Hands, Canonization of the Bible, and the Special Status of of Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.” My article was published as: "Where God is Not: The Book of Esther and the Song of Songs," Judaism (1995) 95:80-92, and Broyde’s article appeared on the following pages.

[2] F. Kermode, “The Plain Sense of Things,” Midrash and Literature,  ed. G. Hartman and S. Budick (New Haven, Yale University Press: 1986) 185, 191.

[3] Cf. Amos Hacham, Introduction to Esther (Hebrew), Hamesh Megillot   (Jerusalem, Mossad Harav Kook: 1973) 17-18, and other standard introductions. The Targum to Esther 4:14, for example, reads (additions to the traditional text are in square brackets): “For if you are silent at this time [and do not pray for the Jews], ease and salvation will arise for the Jews from another place [because of the merit of the fathers of the world, and the Master of the World will save them from the hand of the people of evil speech] while you and [the gentry] of your father’s house will be destroyed [...].”

[4] Talmud,  Hullin 139b, quoting Dt. 31:18. This is based on the pun  ’astir / Est(h)er.  For other readings of God into the text of Esther, cf. Talmud,  Megilla 7a.

[5] Seder Avodat Yisra’el,  ed. Yitzhak ben Aryeh Yosef Dov (Baer) (Jerusalem, Schocken: 1937) 385, based on Esther 4:16.

[6] Introduction to the Book of Esther, Miqra’ot Gedolot.  Michael Broyde points out to me that this interpretation first appeared in the works of Rav Hai Gaon (8th century), Otsar ha-Ge’onim  to Talmud,  Megilla 7a.

[7] Hacham, ibid.

[8] Hacham, ibid.,  emphasis added.

[9] The Megillah: The Book of Esther,  transl. M. Zlotowitz (Brooklyn, NY, Mesorah Publications: 1976) xxxvi, emphasis added.

[10] Mishne Torah,  Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 6:1-2; see the commentaries, ad loc,  for the dispute on whether ’Ehyeh counts or not.

[11]Mishne Torah,  Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 6:5,9 end.

[12] See “Tabulation of the Divine Names” at the end of this article.

[13] Guide for the Perplexed,  I:61.

[14] Guide for the Perplexed,  II:6-7, 45.

[15] This may account for the debate about the status of these books in Mishna,  Yadaim, end of chapter 3; see below and the article by Broyde cited above.

[16]  Talmud,  Shevu`ot 35a; Maimonides, Mishne Torah,  Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 6:2.

[17]  Cf. Rashi, Metusdat Zion / Metsudat David,  Ibn Ezra, Seforno, etc.

[18] There are 22 cases in which tseva’ot  appears with a possessive suffix; in all but one, the term refers to Israel. Two additional arguments militate against considering these words as names of God: the Talmud records, though rejects, the opinion that tseva’ot  is never a name of God (Shevu`ot  35b); and, if tseva’ot  is so clearly a name of God, why did the rabbis take the trouble to interpret each “Solomon” as a name of God which cannot be erased (see below)?

[19] (London:1880; repr. New York, Ktav Publishing: 1975) 3:191-95; my thanks to Michael Broyde for the reference.

[20] The manuscripts are divided on the two other occurrences of such one-two word forms: merhavyah  (Ps. 118:5) and kesyah  (Ex. 17:16). The yah  ending as such is not unusual; cf. `asiriyah  (Is. 6:13), names which end in yah, etc. To Ginsburg’s list add: Pss. 118:17; 122:4; and 135:4.

[21]  Cf. also R. Gordis, The Song of Songs   (New York, Jewish Theological Seminary: 1961) 1, 26-9, who renders shalhevetyah  as “a mighty flame” and bi-tseva’ot  as “by the gazelles.”

[22] Ed. C. Newsom and S. Ringe (Louisville, KY, Westminster / John Knox: 1992) 156. The fact that none of the principal names of God appear in Song of Songs is simply not mentioned by most contemporary authorities. Cf. e.g., Hacham in his Introduction to the Song of Songs, ibid.;   the long article on Song of Songs in the Encyclopedia Judaica, ad loc.;   H. Fisch, Poetry With A Purpose  (Bloomington, Indiana University Press: 1988) ch. 6; D. Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash  (Bloomington, Indiana University Press: 1990) ch. 7.

[23] Michael Broyde points out to me that David ben Solomon Ibn Abi Zimra (=Radbaz, 1479-1573) noted the lack of God’s name in Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (Responsa,  2:722) while Joseph Hayyim ben Elijah al-Hacham (1835-1909) actually noted the lack of the Tetragrammaton in Song of Songs, Esther, and Ecclesiastes (Responsa Rav Pe`alim, 4:11).

[24] E.g., Song of Songs 1:2 with words supplied by the Targum in brackets: “[Blessed be God Who gave us the Torah at the hands of Moses, the great scribe, on two tablets of stone; and the six orders of the Mishna; and the text of the Talmud; and Who spoke to them Face to face as] a man [who] kisses his friend [out of great love, for He loved us more than the other seventy nations].”

[25] Mishna,  Yadaim, end of ch. 3, with Tosefta,  Sanhedrin 12:10, that one may not trill one’s voice when reciting the Song of Songs because that would render it a secular piece of literature and with Talmud,  Berakhot 57b, that anyone who sees Song of Songs in a dream can expect great acts of kindness. On the very complicated issue of the meaning of the phrase “defiles the hands” and the halakhic conclusions one might draw from its interpretation, cf. Broyde (cited above) who suggests that some authorities took the phrase to refer to canonical status while others took it to refer to some lesser issue. Among the latter, it could denote a text not written under divine inspiration (even though a part of the canon) or a text that needed to be written down for ritual, recitational purposes. As a practical matter, a book that did not “defile the hands” would be one that did not require an introductory blank page and that could be touched with bare, unwashed hands. This leads Broyde to the conclusion that the purpose of rendering a book capable of “defiling the hands” was to protect it from careless handling, not to promote ritual purity. He concludes, however, that the special status of Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs derives from the lack of the Tetragrammaton in only these three books of the Bible.

[26] Talmud,  Shevu`ot 35b. This is a play on Hebrew, Shelomoh  [Solomon] and she-ha-shalom  shelo,  Who is the possessor of peace. Note, however, that Ibn Ezra, in his Introduction to Song of Songs, reads this text in the opposite sense: “Each ‘Solomon’ is King Solomon except ... which [refers to] the messiah.”

[27] Cf. Maimonides, Mishne Torah,  Hilkhot She’ar Avot ha-Tum’a 9:5-6, together with Broyde, art. cit.

[28] Introduction to Song of Songs, Miqra’ot Gedolot. 

[29] Ibn Ezra acknowledged and practiced three levels of commentary: explication of words; the “simple” meaning which is the language of passion (which, however, he also calls the level of mashal,  parable); and  the “path of the midrash” which is of the love of God and Israel. He, thus, asserts the existence of the sexually explicit level but denies it on theological and ethical grounds: “Words of passion are not fitting in public” (Introduction to Song of Songs).

[30] Maimonides, Mishne Torah,  Hilkhot Teshuva 10:3 and Guide for the Perplexed,   III:51; Ibn Ezra, ibid.,  all cited in Hacham, Introduction to Song of Songs.

[31] Maimonides, Mishne Torah,  Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 6:9.

[32] The Rosh, the Kesef Mishne,  and Ravad; cited in Hacham, ibid.,  or in Avodat ha-Melekh, ad loc.  Michael Broyde points out that these issues are also dealt with in Responsa Kol Mevasser,  2:43; note especially the last section that deals with halakhic decisions based on Song of Songs.

[33] Scherman, lx, lxiv, italics in the original. The early modern Responsa Rav Pe`alim,  4:11, also states: “Song of Songs -- all of it, from beginning to the end -- is an allegory and its matter is concealed and hidden, not according to the simple meaning, God forbid; for [the verses of Song of Songs] have no simple meaning; [they have] only hinted, midrashic, and esoteric meaning, which is not true of the rest of scripture which has [all four meanings]: simple, hinted, midrashic, and esoteric.”

[34] Cf. e.g., Gordis, 2-4 and Fisch, with Ibn Ezra, Introduction to Song of Songs.

[35] Cf. Hacham, Encyclopedia Judaica,  and others cited above.

[36] Gordis, 28-9.

[37] Mishna,  Yadaim, end of ch. 3.

[38] The need to assert the priority of the allegorical interpretation was so strong that commentators who sometimes defied the tradition even on matters of halakha (cf. M. Kasher, “The Plain Meaning of Scripture” [Hebrew], Torah Sheleyma  [New York, American Biblical Encyclopedia Society:1956] 17:286-312) did not do so in interpreting Song of Songs. This does not, however, mean that they were unaware of the simple meaning; it only shows that they accepted the dogmatic discipline of rabbinic tradition not to read the text in its “simple” meaning. Cf. also Ibn Ezra and Metsudat Zion / Metsudat David.

[39] Between parable and that which is to be interpreted according to the parable. On this, see Boyarin’s excellent essay, chapter 5.

[40] Jacob ben Jacob Moses Lorbeerbaum (1760-1832) wrote a series of commentaries to the Five Megillot called Imrei Yosher,  of which the Tsror ha-Mor   is the commentary to Song of Songs.

[41] Tsror ha-Mor,  Introduction to Song of Songs, Miqra’ot Gedolot. 

[42] Midrash Haggadol,  Genesis 39:10 (ed. Margulies,  663); cf. also, Vayyikra Rabba,  23:11 (ed. Margulies, 543) and Ruth Rabba,  6:4 where David is substituted for Palti, even though his resistance is not to sexual desire but to murder (I Sam. 26:8-11). The text on Boaz is more graphic in these other versions: “All that night, his evil impulse pressed him, seducing him with words and saying, ‘You are free and she is free; you are seeking a wife and she is seeking a husband. Be aroused and have intercourse with her, and she will be yours with that intercourse.’” Joseph, Boaz, and Palti are grouped together, in a completely different (third) form, in Talmud,  Sanhedrin 19b-20a.

[43] Midrash Haggadol,  Genesis 39:10 (ed. Margulies,  663); cf. also Vayyikra Rabba,   23:10 (ed. Margulies, 452). Palti is mentioned, in a completely different (third) form, in Talmud,  Sanhedrin 19b, which goes on to specify that he and Michal “did not taste the taste of intercourse.” 

[44] Midrash Haggadol, ibid.  (ed. Margulies, 662) with sources, esp. Sifre,  Va-’ethanan, 33 (ed. Finkelstein, 59-60), emphasis added. For Abraham the temptation is to take spoils (Gen. 14:22); for David, it is the murder of Saul (I Sam. 26:10); and for Elisha, it is accepting a gift for healing Na`aman (II Kings 5:16).

[45] The literature on this is vast. For a man’s view, cf. James B. Nelson, The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality:, Masculine Spirituality   (Philadelphia, Westminster Press: 1988), reviewed by me, forthcoming. For the view of a woman psychoanalyst, cf. Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love  (New York, Pantheon Books: 1988).

[46] Midrash Haggadol   and Vayyikra Rabba,  cited above. The text is fuller in Midrash Haggadol   but clearer in Vayyikra Rabba.

[47] Cf. the works of Mieke Bal and Phyllis Trible for other instances of sexual reversals.

[48] Rashi points out that there are seven verbs; hence, seven times intercourse. He adds here, citing himself in Nazir that Ya`el “intended this activity as a mitsva: to weaken him so that she would be able to kill him.”

[49] Rashi: “In the case of the wife of Hever, what evil was there? That that wicked man put filth into her.”

[50] Boyarin, 12.

[51] All searches were done on Judaica Classics Library,  second edition (Chicago, Davka Corp.: 1991-1992). The search keys will be spelled out for each search. The sequence of names follows Maimonides, Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 6:2.

[52] Search key: *name NOT name; e.g., *’Elohim NOT ’Elohim.

[53] Search key: name* NOT name; e.g., ’Elohah* NOT ’Elohah.

[54] Search key: *name* NOT *name NOT name*; e.g., *tseva’ot* NOT *tseva’ot NOT tseva’ot*.

[55] Maimonides counts YHVH and ’Adonai as one name; hence there are seven names and eight entries. Maimonides does not list Yah as a name but the statistics are 46 alone, including hallelu  Yah, and 2 with prefixes (added from S. Mandelkern,  Veteris Testamenti Concordantiae  [Schocken, Jerusalem: 1959]).

[56] I rely on Mandelkern for this and have added ’Adonai YHVH.

[57] I rely on Mandelkern for this and have added prefixes.

[58] The program does not distinguish between “holy” and “secular” spellings.

[59] Full search key: ’Elohei/ai* NOT ’Elohim NOT ’Elohei/ai.

[60] Full search key: *’Elohei/ai* NOT *’Elohim NOT *’Elohei/ai NOT ’Elohei/ai*.

[61] Adding ’Elohim and ’Elohei/ai yields 2546; adding also ’Elohah yields 2603.

[62] Corrected for defective spellings with Mandelkern.

[63] Corrected for defective spellings with Mandelkern.