Sep 2, 2008

Qohelet (a note to self)

Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) is an observatory lament of the absurdity of this life, promoting a resignation -- albeit not negatively -- to having no control over one's own existence or destiny and an enjoyment of the pleasures of life (which G-d and G-d alone is responsible for having provided) while steadfastly upholding and fulfilling the commandments of G-d. 

(Note: all work is futile, as G-d either will or will not provide, but enjoying that which G-d does provide is necessary and it seems all there is. Also, man's destiny is not in his own hands, but in those of G-d, whether man is wicked or foolish or full of wisdom, so dwelling is perhaps a folly, but rather we should live as simply as possible.)

It seems like a very Jewish thing to me -- live in the here and now, not to dwell on an afterlife which is essentially nameless and directionless (thinks of a girl in class today asking about the eternal soul/everlasting life; think: Christian concept). But the essential call to fulfill the commandments because that's all there is to do and G-d has already decided the fate of man, no matter his persuasion, seems a little ... frustrating.

Anyone who has done research/work/study whether religiously or academically on Qohelet, please feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree. But from just a few readings of the work, as well as a bit of reading by Michael V. Fox on his analysis of various theories, this is what I've gathered is the gist of Qohelet (contrary to popular theories that it is a gloom-and-doom expose on the tragedy of life and the welcoming of death).


Christopher said...

Doesn't sound too doom-and-gloom to me... see here!

...okay, trusting Pete Seeger's interpretation isn't the most academically rigorous rendering of Ecclesiastes I can imagine, but it never struck me as that fatalistic. Maybe I haven't been reading all the depressing writings of gloomy mediƦval monks that I should be reading as a Catholic. ; )

I guess that's all I have. I started trying to write more, but none of it made enough sense to be worthwhile... so I'll leave you with that moment of levity instead.

peace, my friend,


Daniel Saunders said...

I seem to recall reading an interesting essay on Qohelet on the Azure magazine website a few years ago which also came to the conclusion that it is optimistic in the end (although the same author wrote another essay on the site arguing that the eternal soul definitely is a biblical concept). Unfortunately, the Azure website seems to be down at the moment.

By the way, if you haven't come across Azure before, you will almost certainly like it, once the site is up and running again. It's a quarterly magazine, published simultaneously in Hebrew and English, full of essays on all kinds of things related to Judaism, and the on-line version is completely free (although you do need to register). I find the more political essays a bit too right-wing for me, but the historical, religious, philosophical and cultural essays are very rewarding.

chaviva said...

Christopher: There are varying opinions, but there are those hardliners who think it's a very negative piece.

Daniel: I haven't seen Azure before, but thanks for pointing me that way :) I'm reading several books now that address the varying takes, of which there really *are* endless opinions. Hopefully I can create some coherent thoughts out of it all, though.

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