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    Finding love in the Song of Songs

    Shir HaShirim in the Rothschild Machzor, Italy, 1492.

    Shir HaShirim in the Rothschild Machzor, Italy, 1492.

    Q. What is the Jewish interpretation of the Song of Songs?

    A. The Song of Songs – Shir HaShirim – is a collection of love songs tracing the courtship of a young man and his maiden. It is read on Shabbat Chol HaMo’ed of Pesach.

    There are two main interpretations. According to the metaphorical approach, the book tells of the love between God and Israel. This love is so intense that ordinary words cannot describe it; hence the poet resorts to colourful language which at times is extremely daring.

    According to the literal approach, the book is about human love, and the poet’s concern is to show that the love between man and woman is beautiful and holy. Some pious Jews remind themselves of this concept by reading the Song of Songs on Sabbath eve.

    Nachmanides said in his Epistle on Holiness (Iggeret Hakodesh): “The act of marital union is holy and pure. When a man is in union with his wife in a spirit of holiness and purity, the Divine Presence is with them.”

    Although our cynical, permissive, a-moral age tends to cheapen marriage, love and sex, Shir HaShirim teaches that one can respect, love and cherish another human being; a couple can be in love and stay in love.

    In a sound, stable marital relationship of full mutual commitment, where the birth of children enriches the relationship, husband and wife share creative, lasting and indeed spiritual experiences and they feel the Divine Presence is with them.

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