Apr 23, 2018

Book Review: Song of Riddles

a guest post by Dr Harold Goldmeier

Riddles Unwoven
Song of Riddles (Gefen Books, 2018), by Guela Twersky, is a definitive explanation of King Solomon’s Song of Songs in an academic style.  

Her book makes a marvelous gift for cantors who read the scroll on the Sabbath mid-Passover. Students of religious tomes who concentrate on learning stone-cold laws and precepts to define the relationship between humans and God will uncover the rest of the story in this book, i.e., the significance of intimacy Solomon intended but is largely neglected in theological studies.

I cannot imagine one singing Song of Songs for the public without having carefully read Song of Riddles. The book is a must have in libraries of every divinity school, yeshiva and seminary. It is an invaluable decipherer on love, suffering and the search for the meaning in relationships. Twersky’s book takes the reader one step further by explaining Solomon’s forewarnings of the difficulties for discipline in love.

Romantic and Divine Love
Song of Riddles is written in an academic style as if it is the progenitor of the author’s doctoral dissertation. The book is heavily footnoted. It opens with a comprehensive review of books and themes from other authors. For example, Song of Riddles acknowledges internecine interpretations of Song of Songs like it “is celebration of romantic human love, not divine love.” But “the underlying premise motivating the approach to the Song presented in this book is the contention that the books that comprise the Bible underwent a careful process of scrutinization and were ultimately selected for canonization because they harbored timeless messages of profound theological significance.”

When I was blessed to marry my beautiful artist girlfriend we exchanged wedding bands with two Song of Songs lessons of love. One is with the popular, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is to me.” The other band, “I belong to my beloved, and his desire if for me.” Twersky explains the riddle that Adam and Eve suffered a “tragic failure to nurture a loving relationship in the Garden of Eden,” but this rectified in “the Song’s celebration of romantic love. Whereas God proclaims in Eden that the woman shall desire man, the Song uses the same lexical term (tshukah) to indicate man’s desire for the woman.”

An Essential Book
The book’s chapters offer deep explanations of the Song’s metaphors and riddles, anomalies, and conundrums. Growing up, I was used to seeing two sculpted cherubim (Keruvim) atop the arks encasing the holy Torah scrolls in synagogues. Twersky explores the duties of these guards and their significance.

In addition to those folks mentioned above who ought to read and refer to Song of Riddles, everybody who studies the Song of Songs and follows its reading on Passover will truly benefit from Twersky’s book.  Song of Riddles is, to paraphrase the great Shel Silverstein, a bright light in the attic illuminating a key book we read too fast every Sabbath Passover and give shrift to instructions.   



      


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