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Was The Song Of Songs A Manual Of Jewish Sacred Sexuality? – OpEd

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I offer the following essay for all lovers. Solomon’s Song of Songs begins with: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth; for your love is more delightful than wine.” (1:1-2) Who is this bold, assertive female? What does she desire from her lover?

How and why is this book of love song poems, so unlike the Book of Psalms, in our Sacred Scriptures? Song of Songs is among the most difficult and mysterious books in the Bible for five reasons.

First, on the Pshat (literal) level, it is very difficult to understand and translate the Hebrew text, because although it has only 470 Hebrew words; 47 of these words appear only in this collection of love-songs included in the Bible, that were sung or recited during wedding ceremonies in ancient Israel for centuries after the age of King Solomon.

Second, on the the Drash (moral) level, the title is both a superlative; the best of songs: and a collective anthology of songs, many of them containing strange and even weird metaphors. Thus, no one type of interpretation can be uniformly applied to the whole book.

In some metaphors the male symbolizes God and in other metaphors the female embodies the Holy One. Failure to see the Shekinah in the Song of Songs; and the attempt to ignore the great variety of songs; and see only the same message everywhere, has plagued most translations and commentaries.

Third, on the Sod (mystical) level, the exaggerated use of dramatic earthly metaphors in the Song of Songs was meant to disguise the deeper mystical and much more spiritual meanings of physical lovemaking.

Both Jewish and Christian mystics have traditionally seen the interactive behavior between the two lovers as symbolizing the covenantal love between God and the People of Israel (Jewish) or between Jesus and the Church (Christian).

Fourth, although according to the Remez (allegorical) interpretation one of the two lovers is supposed to be God; none of the names for God or any of the usual appellations for God ever appear explicitly in Song of Songs.

This symbolic understanding of the Song of Songs’ couple, lovers relationship sexuality, probably originated from the disciples of the famous early second century legal scholar, Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph the convert, who proclaimed the Song of Songs to be the holiest book in the third section of the Bible: “all the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.” (Mishnah Yadaim 3.5).

Fifth, traditional commentators have been blind to the uniqueness of two song poems in the Song of Songs that describe the female body as a vertical ladder connection between a now married loving couple and the Holy One of Israel.

In the first five verses of chapter four there are, in descending order, eight stages of female attributes to experience; and in the first six verses of chapter seven there are, in ascending order, ten sacred female attributes to experience.

“I think these two poems in the Song of Songs were designed to be a sacred sexual experience manual for married couples, to help them have religious experiences within marital intimacy.

The eight descending female jewels, six above her neck and only one below, are for newly married couples; and the ten ascending jewels, five below her neck and four above, are for those whose marriages are more mature.

I also think this view of the importance of the female body as a vehicle of sacred sexuality is a mystical elucidation of the conceptual term Ezer Kenegdo in chapter two of Genesis. Please note the nature of Hebrew’s ‘two genders only’ grammar, does not mean that LGBT partners are excluded from using this sacred sex manual.

For more information on Jewish views of marriage and sexuality see pages 245-255 in my new book ‘Which Religion Is Right For You? a Kuzari for the 21st century’ Hadassa Word Press ISBN (978-620-2-45517-6) Amazon.

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Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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