The Book of Lamentations: An Optimistic Drama

Found In: Tisha b'Av & Minor Fast Days

By Dr. Aryeh Strikovsky, with Rabbi Melissa Klein | Complete Ceremony

Tisha B'Av, which usually falls late in the summer, is the traditional day of mourning for the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. It is a powerful fast day that enables a community to gather together to transform the many forms of loss in our lives into hope for the future. On Tisha B'Av, we recite The Book of Lamentations (Eicha), which is attributed to the prophet Jeremiah as he witnessed the destruction of the First Temple over 2500 years ago. The Book of Lamentations is a difficult text because it appears to be a collection of dirges by different authors with radically different perspectives. Dr. Aryeh Strikovsky has discovered the possibility of reading the Book of Lamentations as a play with a cast of characters, rather than as a narrative. This approach preserves the integrity of the original text. His student, Melissa Klein, created the following transcript for use in synagogues.

Cast of characters:
Jeremiah
Bat Zion
Group of women mourners
Voice of Shechina (hidden off to one side—only the voice is heard)
Passer-by
Nations (at least 2)
Child
Elders (sit next to Bat Zion, not a speaking part)
Mourners (everyone else)

Scene:

The congregation is seated in a large semi-circle, either in chairs or on the floor. The room is dark and disordered, with overturned chairs and books strewn on the floor to create the feel of destruction.  Bat Zion is seated alone in the middle of the stage, with a fallen Jewish flag (either the Israeli flag or another symbol of the Jewish people). The nations are seated on either side of Bat Zion, with their flags standing upright.  he nations are initially only a few feet away from her, and after verse 16 they will move further away from her. Jeremiah moves around as he/she addresses the assembled mourners. The hall leading to the room and the room itself can be lit by candlelight.

Note that italics indicate stage directions.

 
Act I
Jeremiah (wearing kippah, at this point
Jeremiah is in the role of news reporter,
and wanders around the circle)

1. Eicha! How lonely sits the city
Once thronging with people!
She that was great among nations
has become like a widow;
Once princess among states
has become a slave.

2. Bitterly she weeps in the night,
Her cheek wet with tears.
There is none to comfort her
among all who loved her.
All her allies have betrayed her;
They have become her enemies.

3. Judah has gone into exile
Because of suffering and endless servitude;
When she settled among the nations,
She found no rest;
All her pursuers overtook her
In narrow straits.

4. Zion's roads are in mourning,
Empty of festival pilgrims;
All her gates are deserted.
Her priests sigh,
Her maidens are unhappy—
She herself is embittered!

5. Her adversaries have become her masters,
Her foes are at ease,
Because God has afflicted her
For her many transgressions;
Her young children have gone into captivity
Before the enemy.

6. Gone from Fair Zion
Is all her splendor.
Her leaders were like deer
That found no pasture,
But walked on without strength
Before the pursuer.

7. All the precious things she had
In the days of old
Jerusalem recalled
In her days of woe and sorrow,
When her people fell by enemy hands
With none to help her;
When enemies looked on and gloated
Over her downfall.

8. Jerusalem has greatly sinned,
Therefore she has become a wanderer.
All who once admired her disparage her,
For they have seen her nakedness;
She herself sighs and turns away.

9. Her uncleanness clings to her skirts.
She gave no thought to her future;
She has sunk appallingly,
With none to comfort her.—

Bat Zion:
See, O God, my misery;
How the enemy has become great!

Jeremiah:
10. The foe has laid hands
On everything dear to her.
She has seen her Sanctuary
Invaded by nations

(to God) Whom You had forbidden
To enter Your congregation.

11. All her inhabitants sigh
As they search for bread;
They have bartered their treasures for food,
To keep themselves alive—

Bat Zion:
(To God) See, O God, and behold,
How abject I have became!

12. (To Nations) May it never befall you,
All who pass by this road.
Look about and see:
Is there any pain like my pain,
Which was dealt out to me
When God afflicted me on His day of wrath?

13. From above God sent a fire
Down into my bones.
God spread a net for my feet,
God hurled me backward;
God has left me forlorn,
In constant misery

14. The yoke of my offenses is bound fast,
Lashed tight by God’s hand;
Imposed upon my neck,
It saps my strength;
God has delivered me into the hands
Of those I cannot withstand.

15. God in my midst has rejected
All my heroes;
Proclaiming a set time against me
To crush my young men.
As in a press God has trodden
Fair Maiden Judah.

(The nations move away from Bat Zion)

16. For these things do I weep,
My eyes flow with tears:
Far from me is any comforter
Who might revive my spirit;
My children are forlorn,
For the foe has prevailed.

Jeremiah:
17. Zion spreads out her hands,
She has no one to comfort her;
God has summoned enemies against Jacob;
Jerusalem has become among them
A thing unclean.

Bat Zion:
18. God is in the right,
For I have disobeyed.
Hear, all you peoples,
And behold my agony:
My maidens and my youths
Have gone into captivity!

19. I cried out to my friends,
But they played me false.
My priests and my elders
Have perished in the city
As they searched for food to keep themselves alive.

20. (to God) See, O God, the distress I am in!
My bowels are stewing,
And my mind has flipped out.
I know how wrong I was to disobey.
Outside the sword deals death;
Indoors, the plague.

21. When they heard how I was sighing,
There was none to comfort me;
All my  foes heard of my plight and exulted.
For it is Your doing:
You have brought on the day that You threatened.
Oh, let them become like me! (pointing to nations)

22. Let all their wrongdoing come before You,
And deal with them
As You have dealt with me
For all my transgressions.
For my sighs are many,
And my heart is sick.

Act II

Jeremiah:
1.  Eicha!
God in anger has shamed Fair Zion,
Has cast down from heaven to earth
The glory of Israel.
God did not remember His Footstool
On His day of wrath.

2. God has laid waste without pity
All the dwellings of Jacob;
God has razed in anger Fair Judah's strongholds
Down to the ground.
God has profaned
The kingdom and its leaders.

3. In blazing anger God has cut down
All the dignity of Israel;
God’s right hand has been withdrawn
In the presence of the foe;
God burned through Jacob like a flaming fire,
Consuming on all sides.

4. God bent His bow like an enemy,
Poised His right hand like a foe;
God slew all who delighted the eye.
God poured out His wrath like fire
In the Tent of Fair Zion.

5. God has acted like an enemy.
God has consumed Israel,
Consumed all her citadels,
Destroyed her strongholds.
God has increased within Fair Judah
Mourning and moaning.

6. God has stripped His Booth like a garden,
And has destroyed His Tabernacle;
God has made Zion oblivious
Of Festival and Sabbath;
In His raging anger God has spurned
King and priest.

7. God has rejected His altar,
Disdained His Sanctuary.
God has handed over to the foe
The walls of its citadels;
They raised a shout in God’s House
As on a festival day.

8. God resolved to destroy the wall of Fair Zion;
God measured with a line, refrained not
From bringing destruction.
God has made wall and rampart to mourn,
Together they languish.

9.  Her gates have sunk into the ground,
God has smashed her bars to bits;
Her king and her leaders are in exile,
There is no Torah;
Her prophets, too, find no vision from God.
(covering eyes, lowering head)

[A few mourners and children congregate behind Jeremiah]
(10. The elders of Fair Zion sit on the ground in silence;
They have strewn dust on their heads
And girded themselves with sackcloth;
The maidens of Jerusalem have bowed
their heads to the ground. This verse is not read aloud, but is rather a stage direction.)

11. My eyes are spent with tears,
My heart is in tumult,
My being melts away
Over the ruin of my poor people,
As babes and sucklings languish
In the squares of the city.

Child (pulling at mother’s shirt):
12. Mother, where is bread and wine?
Where is bread and wine?

Jeremiah:
These children languish like battle-wounded
In the squares of the town,
As their life runs out in their mothers’ bosoms.

(to Bat Zion) With what shall I bear as witness for you?
To what can I compare you, O Fair Jerusalem?
What can I match with you to console you,
O Fair Maiden Zion?
For your ruin is vast as the sea:
Who can heal you?

14. Your prophets have seen visions for you
Of delusion and folly.
They did not expose your iniquity
So as to bring you back in repentance,
But prophesied to you oracles
Of delusion and deception.

15. All who pass your way
Clap their hands at you;
They hiss and wag their head
At Fair Jerusalem.

Nations:
Is this the city that was called
Perfect in Beauty,
Joy of All the Earth?

Jeremiah (to Bat Zion):
16. All your enemies jeer at you;
They hiss and gnash their teeth, crying:

Nations:
We’ve ruined her!
Ah, this is the day we longed for;
We have lived to see it!

Jeremiah:
17. God has carried out His decree
That was ordained long ago.
God has torn down without pity.
God has let the foe rejoice over you,
Has exalted the might of your enemies.

18. Their heart cried out to God.
O wall of Fair Zion,
Shed tears like a torrent day and night!
Give yourself no respite,
Your eyes no rest.

19.  Arise, cry out in the night
At the beginning of the watches,
Pour out your heart like water
In the presence of God!
Lift up your hands to God
For the life of your infants,
Who faint for hunger
At every street corner.

Bat Zion (to God, crying):
20. See, O God, and behold,
To whom you have done this!
Must women eat the fruit of their wombs?
The children they have held in their arms?
Should priest and prophet be slain
In the Sanctuary of God?

Voice of Shechina (echoes):
Priest and prophet are slain
In the Sanctuary of God.

Bat Zion:
21. Prostrate in the streets lie
Both young and old.
My maidens and youths
Are fallen by the sword;
You slew them on Your day of wrath,
You slaughtered without pity.

22. You summoned, as on a festival,
My neighbors from roundabout.
On the day of the wrath of God,
None survived or escaped;
All whom I have held in my arms and reared
My enemies have consumed.

Act III

Jeremiah (without kippa, sitting on knees):
I am the man who has known affliction
Under the rod of God’s wrath.
It was I who God drove on and on
In unrelieved darkness.
On none but me God brings down His hand
Again and again, without cease.
God has worn away my flesh and skin;
and shattered my bones.
All around me God has built
Misery and hardship;
God has cast me in a place of darkness,
Like those long dead.
God has walled me in and I cannot break out;
God has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I cry and plead for help,
He rejects my prayer;
God has walled in my ways with blocks of stone,
And made my paths a maze.
God lies in wait for me like a bear,
Or a lion in hiding;
God has forced me off my way, mangled me,
And left me numb.
God has bent His bow and made me
The target of His arrows:
He has shot into my vitals
With shafts from His quiver.
I have become a laughingstock to all nations,
The butt of their gibes all day long.
God has filled me with bitterness,
Sated me with wormwood.

God has broken my teeth on gravel,
Has ground me into the dust.
Peace has gone from my life,
I have forgotten what happiness is.
And I say, “Gone is my world and my hope”
Remember my distress and my misery;
the wormwood and poison;
Whenever I think of them,
I become despondent.

(Jeremiah rises to standing)
But this do I call to mind,
Therefore I have hope:
The kindness of God has not ended,
His mercies are not spent.
They are renewed every morning—
Ample is Your grace!
“God is my portion,” I say with full heart;
Therefore will I hope in God.
God is good to those who trust in Him,
To the one who seeks Him;
It is good to wait patiently
Till rescue comes from God.
It is good for a man, when young,
To bear a yoke;
Let the young man sit alone and be patient,
When God has laid it upon him.
Let him put his mouth to the dust—
There may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to the smiter;
Let him be surfeited with mockery.
For God does not
Reject forever,
But first afflicts, then pardons
In His abundant kindness.
For God does not willfully bring grief
Or affliction to man.

Non-believer (walking by):
Nor crush under His feet
All the prisoners of the earth.
To deny a man justice
In the presence of the Most High,
To wrong a man in his cause--
This God chooses?

Jeremiah:
Whose decree was ever fulfilled,
Unless God willed it?
Is it not at the word of the Most High,
That weal  and woe befall?
Of what shall a living man complain?
About his own sins!

Let us search and examine our ways,
And turn back to God;
Let us lift up our hearts with our hands
To God in heaven:

Jeremiah and mourners (together):

We have transgressed and rebelled,
And You have not forgiven.
You have clothed Yourself in anger and pursued us,
You have slain without pity.
You have screened Yourself off with a cloud,
That no prayer may pass through.
You have made us filth and refuse
In the midst of the peoples.
All our enemies loudly
Rail against us.
Panic and pitfall are our lot,
Death and destruction.

Jeremiah:
My eyes shed streams of water
Over the ruin of my poor people.
My eyes shall flow without cease,
Without respite,
Until God looks down
and beholds from heaven.
My eyes have brought me grief
Over all the maidens of my city.
My foes have snared me like a bird,
Without any cause.

They cut off my life in a pit
And cast stones at me.
Waters flowed over my head;
I said: I am lost!
I have called on Your name, O God,
From the depths of the pit.
Hear my plea;
Do not shut Your ear
To my groan, to my cry!
You have ever drawn nigh when I called You;
You have said,

Shechina:
Al tira—do not fear! Al tira.

Jeremiah:
You championed my cause, O God,
You have redeemed my life.
You have seen, O God the wrong done me;
Oh, vindicate my right!

You have seen all their malice
 (points to both Bat Zion and nations)
All their designs against me;
You have heard, O God, their taunts,
All their designs against me,
The mouthings and pratings of my adversaries
Against me all day long.
See how, at their ease or at work,
I am the butt of their gibes.

(points to nations)
Pay them back their due, God,
As they have done.
Give them anguish of heart;
Your curse be upon them!
Pursue them in wrath and destroy them
From under the heavens of God!

Act IV

Group of women mourners:

Eicha!
The gold is dulled,
Debased the finest gold!
The sacred gems are spilled
 At every street corner.

The precious children of Zion;
Once valued as gold—
Alas, they are accounted as earthen pots,
Work of a potter’s hands!

Even jackals offer the breast
And suckle their young;
But my poor people has turned cruel,
Like ostriches of the desert.

The tongue of the suckling cleaves
To its palate for thirst.
Little children beg for bread;
None gives them a morsel.

Those who feasted on dainties
Lie famished in the streets;
Those who were reared in purple
Have embraced refuse heaps.

The guilt of my poor people
Exceeded the iniquity of Sodom,
Which was overthrown in a moment,
Without a hand striking it.

Her elect were purer than snow,
Whiter than milk;
Their limbs were ruddier than coral,
Their bodies were like sapphire.

Now their faces are blacker than soot,
They are not recognized in the streets;
Their skin has shriveled on their bones,
It has become dry as wood.

Better off were the slain of the sword
Than those slain by famine,
Who pined away, as though wounded,
For lack of the fruits of the field.

With their own hands, tenderhearted women
Have cooked their children;
Such became their fare,
In the disaster of my poor people.

God vented all His fury,
Poured out His blazing wrath;
God kindled a fire in Zion
Which consume its foundations.

The kings of the earth did not believe,
Nor any of the inhabitants of the world,
That foe or adversary could enter
The gates of Jerusalem

It was for the sins of her prophets,
The iniquities of her priests,
Who had shed in her midst
The blood of the just.

They wandered blindly through the streets,
Defiled with blood,
So that no one was able
To touch their garments.

“Away! Unclean!” people shouted at them,
“Away! Away! Touch not!”
So they wandered and wandered again;
For the nations had resolved:
“They shall stay here no longer.”

God’s countenance has turned away from them,
God will look on them no more.
They showed no regard for priests,
No favor to elders.

Even now our eyes pine away
In vain for deliverance.
As we waited, still we wait
For a nation that cannot help.

Our steps were checked,
We could not walk in our squares.
Our doom is near, our days are done—
Alas, our doom has come!

Our pursuers were swifter
Than the eagles in the sky;
They chased us in the mountains,
Lay in wait for us in the wilderness.

Bat Zion (crying):
The breath of our life, God’s anointed,
Was captured in their traps--
He, [the king], in whose shade we had thought
To live among the nations.

Jeremiah (in tallit and kippa):
(to nations) Rejoice and exult, Fair Edom,
Who dwell in the land of Uz!
To you, too, the cup shall pass,
You shall get drunk and expose your nakedness.

(to Bat Zion) Your iniquity, Fair Zion, is expiated;
God will exile you no longer.

(to nations) Your iniquity, Fair Edom, God will note;
God will uncover your sins.

Act V

All:
Remember, O God, what has befallen us;
Behold, and see our disgrace!
Our heritage has passed to aliens,
Our homes to strangers.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
Our mothers are like widows.
We must pay to drink our own water,
Obtain our own kindling at a price.
We are hotly pursued;
Exhausted, we are given no rest.
We hold out a hand to Egypt;
To Assyria, for our fill of bread.
Our fathers sinned and are no more;
And we must bear their guilt.
Slaves are ruling over us,
With none to rescue us from them.
We get our bread at the peril of our lives,
Because of the sword of the wilderness.
Our skin glows like an oven,
With the fever of famine.
They have ravished women in Zion,
Maidens in the towns of Judah.
Princes have been hanged by them;
No respect has been shown to elders.
Young men must carry millstones,
And youths stagger under loads of wood.
The old men are gone from the gate,
The young men from their music.
Gone is the joy of our hearts;
Our dancing is turned into mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head;
Woe to us that we have sinned!

This is why we are sick at heart;
All this is why our eyes are dimmed:
Because Mount Zion lies desolate,
Foxes prowling over it.

But you, O God, are enthroned forever,
Your throne endures through the ages.
Why have You forgotten us utterly,
Forsaken us for all time?

Jeremiah:
Take us back, O God, to Yourself,
And let us come back;
Renew our days as of old!
For truly, You have rejected us,
Bitterly raged against us.

All:
Take us back, O God, to Yourself,
And let us come back;
Renew our days as of old!

Singing:
Hashiveinu, hashiveinu, hashem eilecha,
Venashuva, venashuva
Chadesh, chadesh, yameinu kekedem.

 

Used by permission of the author