Page 197 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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commentary on the
Song o f Songs
in which the biblical text is
embedded in a larger narrative and in which American Jewry
is taken to task for abandoning tradition.
Realizing that his use of the biblical text is unabashedly po­
lemical, Harkavy, at the end of the book’s introduction, apol­
ogizes to the reader: “I have titled my book
Vehu Shaul,
to re­
mind you that I have merely borrowed the words of ‘The Song’
to cloak my ideas in them. (Translator’s note: This is an elab­
orate Hebrew pun — the author’s name Saul/Shaul means “bor­
rowed”: the phrase “vehu shaul” — “and it was borrowed” is
from II Kings 6:5 and it refers to the ax that one of Elisha’s
followers borrowed in order to construct a place for them to
live). And while the ‘sharp ax’ of (criticism) might be mine, re­
member that it is borrowed from the
Song o f Songs.
I do not mean to imply that the words of Holy writ were waiting
for thousands of years so that I could put them to use in this
way . . . but I do feel that I have put them to good use in this
Harkavy was within the Jewish religious and literary tradition
in employing biblical texts in a parodic manner. Because of the
brevity and popularity of the Five Megillot — and the fact that
each Megillah is assigned to be read on a Jewish holiday —
they often provided raw material for satire and parody. Parody,
“satire’s most powerful weapon,” was the hallmark of the Purim-
inspired literature of mockery whose most famous exemplar
is the mock-talmudic
Massekhet P u r im .12
But not only
used in parody, even the most melancholy of the Megillot,
was considered grist for the satirist’s mill. In one of
his many epigrams satirizing the state of American Jewish life
Gershon Rosenzweig castigated the leadership which had per­
mitted “hatred and contention to defile the synagogue and to
corrupt it.” Here Rosenzweig was aided by a pun on the biblical
phrase “
tumata be-shuleha”
— “her uncleanliness clings to her
skirts” (Lamentations 1:9). He playfully derives the word
l l .
Ibid., p. 2.
12. A.Z. Ben-Yishai, “Parody, Hebrew,”
(Jerusalem, 1972),
vol. 13, pp. 124-39.