Gathering Sources: Ki Tavo

Some resources for exploring the Torah portion Ki Tavo (Deut 26:1-29:8) — also sometimes spelled Ki Thavo, Ki Tabo, Ki Thabo, or Ki Savo. Next read in the Diaspora beginning with minchah on September 14, through Shabbat September 21.

This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

Great Sources: Garments in the wilderness
Language and Translation: Removed, Cleared Out, Rooted Out
Something to Notice: First Fruits
A Path to Follow: Arami Oved

See also:
Prayer Links: Hearts, Eyes, Ears

Photo by Manuela Kohl on Pexels.com

How?! Is the World Like A Poem?

We are about to leave the month of Av — with its mournful cry of “eichah/how?!” — and enter the month of Elul, the final one of the old year. As we make this transition, a few more words about a poem, a poet, and a translator I first encountered during this past year.

The Hebrew poem, “Ka-shir ha-‘olam [The world is like a poem], by the U.S.-based writer, “Annabelle Farmelant, z”l, first appeared in the journal Gilyanot, in 1949, and later in the 1960 Iyyum bodedim (Desert Islands). Here is a 2016 translation by Adriana X. Jacobs:

“The World is Like a Poem”

The world is like a poem
in all its glory,
even in the thick of its aches
terrors and cries
its grandeur is reflected.
Man [ha-adam] enters the world like a wanderer
Like a wanderer man enters the world
and declares that he will roam
always, always.
But how — he asks — just how*
does beauty rule a poem
when a line is erased?
How does splendor** shine
when its form is wiped out?
Man is not in these things
for a poem’s beauty is not in a line
an unnamed [lo-karu] wanderer
in the world’s splendor**
Women’s Hebrew Poetry on American Shores, p.149

*Eichacha — yisheil — eichacha.Eichacha” is an unusual form of “how.” The Evan Shoshan Concordance lists 78 occurrences of eich/eichah, plus four instances of “אֵיכָכָה eichachah: two in the Book of Esther and two in Song of Songs.
**”Tifereth” is a feminine word for an attribute of the divine, one right at the center of the Kabbalist tree of life.
tiferet ba-olam. splendor in the world.
tiferet ha-olam. splendor of the world.

The translation is Jacobs’ (see below), but these footnotes are mine.

Unnamed?

Jacobs often writes about the translator’s role in rendering poetry, generally, and more specifically about the poet-translator’s role in modern Hebrew literature. (See Strange Cocktail: Translation and the Making of Modern Hebrew Poetry. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2018; preview on Google Books; related articles via Academia.edu.)

Farmelant was something of an outlier in Hebrew poetry due to time, gender, and geography. And Jacobs shares some of her process around translating her work in “Hebrew on a Desert Island: The Case of Annabelle Farmelant” (Studies in American Jewish Literature, Volume 34, Number 1, 2015, pp. 154-174 — also available via Academia.edu).

In her introductory remarks in Women’s Hebrew Poetry on American Shores, Jacobs speaks about the poem, “The World is Like a Poem”:

I understood wandering to mean the ways in which a poem circulates through time and place, how it is exchanged between readers, and also how it travels in and through translation….

But in what way is the poem “unnamed”? I thought of how translating a poem simultaneously assumes and undermines the poet’s authority by replacing her textual voice with my own but at the same time acknowledges that whatever origins the original text could claim — the influences and materials that brought it into being — can no longer be claimed….
— Jacobs, p.103

I read the line she is discussing differently, however. Perhaps because I have quite a few years on Jacobs, or maybe because I spent an evening this past week at an event highlighted by GoGo performers known as “Uncalled 4 Band.”

Unnamed? Uninvited? “Uncalled 4”?

As with my reading of Farmelant’s “Skyscraper,” I suspect that our different takes are probably colored by our age (I have decades on Jacobs, although I am quite a bit younger than Farmelant was). For someone who grew up female in the middle of the 20th Century reading “lo-karu” as “not invited” makes a great deal of sense.

The penultimate line of the poem in Hebrew —
והוא הלך לא-קרוא
is translated by Jacobs as “an unnamed wanderer.”
But קרוא can also has the meaning of “called, summoned, invited.” We were so often not unwanted in, even prohibited from, physical and intellectual spaces back then. So, I thought that, like the wandering earthling [ha-adam], the poem is trying to manage in a world which really hasn’t room for it, whose beauty is so easily erased:

??”And he walks uninvited — or uncalled for — in the world’s splendor.”??

Elul and the World Like a Poem

As we enter the month of Elul, our language shifts from “how!?” to more specific seeking as we prepare for the new year and begin reciting Psalm 27 through the season of repentance and return:

One thing I ask YHVH, only that do I seek:
to live in the house of YHVH all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of YHVH to frequent God’s temple.
…In Your behalf my heart says: “Seek My face!”
O LORD, I seek Your face.
— Psalm 27:4, 8

Farmelant’s poem includes that “how?!” — how, he asks, will this work? — but also offers some thoughts about one’s place in the world, a world of splendor, even “in the thick of its aches, terrors and cries.”


With gratitude to Jacobs for making Farmelant accessible…like many readers of Hebrew in translation, I can puzzle out words here and there, recognize biblical and rabbinic allusions, but I would find a whole volume of Hebrew poetry formidable…and for so many ideas about Hebrew literature more generally.

And in memory of Annabelle (Chana) Farmelant, who died shortly after I last wrote about her poetry for Shavuot and whom I find myself missing, though I never had the opportunity to meet her.

NOTES

Translations by Adriana X. Jacobs, Women’s Hebrew Poetry on American Shores: Poems by Anne Kleiman and Annabelle Farmelant. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2016). See also: information on Farmelant, including an article on her work by Jacobs.

In 1960, Annabelle Farmelant, z”l, a U.S.-based writer, who was living at the time in Israel, published a book of Hebrew verse called Iyyum bodedim (Desert Islands). A second volume, Pirchei zehut (Flowers of Identity), was released in 1961. Shortly afterward Farmelant returned to the U.S. and abandoned the writing of poetry in any language; she lived in New York City until her passing, on June 14, 2019, at age 93. In 2016, Adriana X. Jacobs published translations of her poems in Women’s Hebrew Poetry on American Shores: Poems by Anne Kleiman and Annabelle Farmelant. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2016).
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Gathering Sources: Shoftim

Some resources for exploring the Torah portion Shoftim, Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9. (Sometimes spelled Shof’tim or Shofetim.) Next read in the Diaspora beginning with minchah on August 31, through Shabbat September 7.

This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book”:

Something to Notice: You must not go back that way
A Path to Follow: Wanton Destruction
Great Source(s): Duties of the Heart
Language and Translation: Whole-Hearted

See also:

Justice: God’s Promise or Ours? (Shoftim Prayer Links)

Gathering Sources: Re’eh

Some resources for exploring the Torah portion Re’eh, Deut 11:26-16:17– (Wikipedia says this is also spelled: Reeh, R’eih, or Ree). This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.” Re’eh is next read in the Diaspora beginning with minchah, August 24 and continuing through Shabbat August 31.

Something to Notice: Protecting Us from Ourselves
A Path to Follow: The Three Weeks and the Seven
Language and Translation: Knowing
Great Source(s): Walking behind the Presence

See also: Awaiting the Harvests: Prayer Links for Re’eh
Learning to See — Opportunity Maps (August 20, 2017)

Al Naharot Bavel

In the spirit of Av, spent some time exploring music for Psalm 137 and share here some of the links, with related notes scheduled for next week. We plan to discuss some of these pieces and their backgrounds, as well much more about the psalm, at Psalms Study Group at Temple Micah (DC). All are welcome. Come if you’re in the neighborhood, Tuesday, August 20, 1:30 – 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, some music for the season:

From “Bible Songs”

Paul Robeson singing Dvorak‘s setting for Psalm 137:1-5.

To help in following this, here is a Czech translation of Psalm 137 from BibleHub.com:

1) Při řekách Babylonských tam jsme sedávali, a plakávali, rozpomínajíce se na Sion.
2) Na vrbí v té zemi zavěšovali jsme citary své.
3) A když se tam dotazovali nás ti, kteříž nás zajali, na slova písničky, (ješto jsme zavěsili byli veselí), říkajíce: Zpívejte nám některou píseň Sionskou:
4) Kterakž bychom měli zpívati píseň Hospodinovu v zemi cizozemců?
5) Jestliže se zapomenu na tebe, ó Jeruzaléme, zapomeniž i pravice má….

Rivers of Babylon

The Melodians “Rivers of Babylon”
1970, Composer credit: Brent Dowe (1949-2006) and Trevor McNaughton (1940-2018); more next page.

Jimmy Cliff (Melodians’) “Rivers of Babylon” (“Rivers” starts at 2:56)

Sweet Honey in the Rock (Melodians’ version, minus the Rasta-infused lyrics)

Waters of Babylon

Don McLean tune for 137:1, “Waters of Babylon, from 1971 “American Pie”

Closing scene of Mad Men (S1, E6), using McLean’s tune anachronistically and to good effect

Hebrew version of the McLean tune (Anyone have information about “Shooky & Dorit”?)

Choral Babylon

Three choral pieces, versions of which were performed as part of “The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem” concert from Kolot Halev in 2009:

Al Naharot Bavel (By the Rivers of Babylon) — Salamone Rossi (Hebrew)

Super Flumina Babilonis – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestina (Latin)

Va, pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, from Nabucco) – Giuseppi Verdi (Italian)

Gathering Sources: Ki Teitzei

Resources for exploring the Torah Portion, Ki Teitzei, Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19. This portion — which is also spelled (per Wikipedia, although some of these seem rare): Ki Tetse, Ki Thetze, Ki Tese, Ki Tetzey, Ki Seitzei — is next read in the Diaspora beginning with minchah, September 7 through Shabbat September 14. (Yes, still a few weeks away and out of order: Re’eh and Shoftim coming soon.)

This post is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

Language and Translation: Not Indifferent
A Path to Follow: Bird’s Nest and “The Other”
Great Sources: One-Sided Memory
Something to Notice: Gershwin Haftarah

See also: Ki Teitzei Prayer Links: Remember
Remember Miriam: Process and Patience
Ki Teitzei: Productive Erasing

Gathering Sources: Eikev

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Eikev — sometimes spelled Ekev or Aikev, maybe Eqeb or Ekeb — Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.” Eikev is next read in the Disapora, beginning with minchah on August 17, and concluding with full reading on August 24.

Great Sources: Narrative and Paradoxes of Authority

Great Source Tangent: Forty Days and Forty Nights

Language and Translation: v’haya eikev

Something to Notice: Seven Species

A Path to Follow: Birkat Hamazon

You Can’t Spend What You Ain’t Got: Eikev Prayer Links