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Lamentations Rabbah


LAMENTATIONS RABBAH (Heb. Eikhah Rabbati), aggadic Midrash on the Book of Lamentations, the product of Palestinian amoraim.

The Name

In medieval rabbinic literature Lamentations Rabbah was also called Aggadat Eikhah, Megillat Eikhah, Midrash Kinot, Eikhah Rabbati, Eikhah Rabbah, etc. The designation "Rabbati" derives apparently from the verse: "How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of (rabbati) people" (Lam. 1:1); and is therefore not the same as the "Rabbah" by which the Midrashim to other books of the Bible are called (see *Genesis Rabbah and *Ruth Rabbah).

The Structure

Lamentations Rabbah is an exegetical Midrash which expounds the Book of Lamentations verse by verse, and sometimes word by word. It is a compilation of various expositions and aggadot. The work is divided into five sections, corresponding to the chapters of the Book of Lamentations. It has 36 proems (petihata de-ḥakkimei, "proems of the sages"), apparently

to correspond to the numerical value of איכה (Eikhah; the printed versions appear, at first glance, to have only 34, but two of them, 2 and 31, contain two proems each). These are of the classical type of proem found in amoraic Midrashim, introduced by an extraneous verse which is subsequently connected with the beginning of the Book of Lamentations. In 20 proems the extraneous verse is taken from the Prophets (10 from Jeremiah), in 13 it comes from the Hagiographa (2 from the Book of Lamentations itself), and only in 3 is the extraneous verse from the Pentateuch. Nearly all begin with the name of a sage (an amora), and are grouped according to the number of expositions given by him in diminishing order: first come the proems of the sages in whose name begin four, then three, then two, and finally one, proem.

The Midrash contains many aggadot and homilies on the destruction of the Temple (1:16) and the sorrows of subjugation and exile. On the other hand there are also aggadot with a message of comfort and encouragement to the mourning and oppressed Jewish people, and also entire sections devoted to humorous stories, such as those depicting the cleverness of Jerusalemites in comparison with the Athenians (1:1), which aim at finding consolation for the destruction of the Temple and for the defeat in the Jewish people's spiritual superiority over other nations. The Midrash also contains many aggadot on the Bar Kokhba revolt (2:2).

The Language

The language, like that of the Jerusalem Talmud, is a mixture of mishnaic Hebrew and Galilean *Aramaic, in which most of the stories and aggadot are written. The Midrash also includes many Greek words, as also a complete sentence in Latin: vive domine imperator ("Long live my lord the emperor"; 1:5).

The Date of its Redaction

Except for some later additions, the entire Midrash, including the proems, is a compilation redacted by a single redactor. No sage later than the fourth century c.e. is mentioned in it. The list of kingdoms that subjugated the Jewish people concludes with "Edom Seir," i.e., Rome and Byzantium (1:14). The redactor used tannaitic literature, the Jerusalem Talmud, Genesis Rabbah, and *Leviticus Rabbah. Lamentations Rabbah itself was used as a source for Ruth Rabbah and probably also for *Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, as well as for later Midrashim. In view of this and of its language, it was apparently redacted in Ereẓ Israel at about the end of the fifth century c.e. It is explicitly mentioned for the first time only in R. *Hananel's commentary to the Talmud.

In addition to availing himself of popular aggadot, the redactor made extensive use of homilies delivered in synagogues on the Ninth of Av. The scarcity of comforting aggadot is thus explained not only by the character of Lamentations but also by the prohibition of delivering comforting homilies on the Ninth of Av. Lamentations Rabbah is the earliest source that gives a list of the *Ten Martyrs of the Hadrianic persecutions (2:2), and is the first rabbinic work to give the aggadah of the mother and her seven sons (*Hannah and her Seven Sons), the mother here (1:16) being called Miriam the daughter of Tanhum (or Nahtom). This version is based not only on its source in ii*Maccabees but also on the account and significance given to it in iv*Maccabees; however it is clear that neither was directly used by the author or redactor.


The work was first published at Pesaro in 1519 together with the Midrashim on the other four scrolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Esther), although they are not homogenous. This edition became the basis of the many subsequent ones. In 1899 S. *Buber published a scholarly edition, based on manuscripts, with an introduction and notes. Despite its defects and inaccuracies it represented at the time a considerable advance. Most of the manuscripts of the Midrash have not thus far been utilized.


C. Raphael, The Walls of Jerusalem (1968); Zunz-Albeck, Derashot, 78f., Strack-Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (1996), 283–87; P. Mandel, in: Transmitting Jewish Traditions (2000), 74–106; idem, in: Ginze Kedem (2005), 163–70; idem, in: Merkaz u-Tefuzah (2004), 141–58; G. Hasan-Rokem, in: Tarbiz, 59:1–2 (1990), 109–31; Z.M. Rabinowitz, Ginze Midrash (1977), 144–54.

[Moshe David Herr]

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