Photo Credit: Feldheim

Title: Meaningful Kinnos
By A. Broder
Feldheim, 104 pages

 

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For many of us, Tisha B’Av is a day of dread – not only because of the 25 hours of fasting, but because of the hours of sitting in shul engaging in what often devolves into a mindless recitation of kinnos. I suspect that most Jews want to understand kinnos but despite their best efforts find them to be impenetrable. And it’s not just the language barrier that poses a problem. I consider myself to be proficient in Hebrew when it comes to ordinary tefillos, but I routinely find myself stumped by the extremely difficult Hebrew of the liturgical poets. Combine this with the unfamiliar Scriptural allusions, the obscure references to aggadic literature, and the speed of the kinnos-recitation in shul, and you’ll end up with a recipe for frustration.

This is the situation that prompted A. Broder to write Meaningful Kinnos, the goal of which is “to bring clarity and meaning to the kinnos we say on Tisha B’Av,” by “[enhancing] the reader’s spiritual and emotional connection” to what we read. The ideas in the book are based on the shiurim and writings of renowned Torah scholars, including Rabbi Yisroel Reissman, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz and others.

Broder’s book includes the 45 kinnos that are traditionally recited on the night and day of Tisha B’Av, plus the two modern kinnos composed for the Holocaust and the full text of Megillas Eichah. Each kinnah is preceded by a short paragraph summarizing its theme, along with a sentence or two commenting on its structure. The full Hebrew text is included on the right side of the page, with a layout designed to highlight the kinnah’s structure. For some kinnos, a line-by-line translation is provided in clear non-archaic English on the left side. For others, each stanza is paraphrased in English. And for others, no English is provided for the text of the kinnah itself, aside from the aforementioned thematic synopsis.

At first I was perplexed by this decision. How was it determined which kinnos to translate, which to paraphrase, and which to leave entirely untranslated? Why not simply provide a translation for each one along with the introductory commentary? I reached out to the author, who explained that the decision was based on a single consideration: Which English treatment will best enhance the reader’s spiritual and emotional connection to the particular kinnah and to Tisha B’Av as a whole?

In some cases, a word-for-word translation provides the most direct way to tap into the meaning. For example, Kinnah #1 enumerates the tragedies that befell us on the 9th of Av, which we ask Hashem to recall; it is relatively easy to grasp how each stanza contributes to the thematic unity and strengthens the emotional impact. In other cases, the author felt that any English translation would be a distraction from the central theme. For example, the author’s explanatory preface to Kinnah #5 states: “This kinnah is based on the midrash that on Tisha B’Av, Hashem aligned all of the mazalos (constellations) against the Jews. In this kinnah, all of the mazalos now cry for the role they played in the destruction of the Beis ha’Mikdash.” Broder omitted the translation of this kinnah out of concern that the average reader might lose sight of the main theme when reading the detailed descriptions of the constellations provided in each stanza – or worse, walk away with the impression that Judaism shares the same attitude towards the Zodiac signs as those who believe in astrology.

Likewise, many of the kinnos incorporate excerpts from and allusions to Megillas Eichah, the Tochecha, and other parts of Tanach. These literary references tend to involve a great deal of poetic ingenuity and lexical gymnastics on the part of the paytanim. Broder felt that it was not possible to capture these Hebrew nuances without compromising the reader’s meaningful connection to the heart of the kinnah. In these cases, a thematic overview was deemed more valuable than a literal translation.

As for the middle option – kinnos that are paraphrased rather than translated – I thought it would be best to compare an example of Broder’s treatment with two of the widely used English Kinnos:

 

The Artscroll edition (Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer and Rabbi Avie Gold) translates the opening/refrain of Kinnah #3 as: “On this night, weep and wail, my children, for on this night my Holy Temple was destroyed and my palaces were burnt down; the entire House of Israel shall lament over my agony, and they shall bewail the conflagration that Hashem has ignited.”

The Koren Mesorat HaRav Kinot (Lookstein) edition (Tzvi Hersh Weinreb), translates the same passage as: “Tonight, my children weep and wail. Tonight, my Sanctuary was ruined and my palaces burned. The entire house of Israel expresses my agony, and cries for the fire God kindled.”

Broder prefaces Kinnah #3 with the following thematic overview: “This kinnah discusses how the night of the 9th of Av was designated as a night of sorrow. This designation was ordained when the Jews cried on the night of the 9th of Av after believing the evil report of the Spies who had scouted out the land of Israel. The date of Tisha B’Av became the night of many tragedies, including the destruction of both Batei Mikdash.” The opening refrain is rendered simply as: “On this night Bnei Yisrael cry and wail because the Beis HaMikdash was burned.”

Such paraphrasing sacrifices the poetry for the pshat, the simple meaning, but that is precisely the point: those who prefer to read the kinnos in full have plenty of options at their disposal, but those who seek assistance in keeping their eyes on the ball now have a valuable tool to assist them. Some might also appreciate the abridgment, which amounts to a 50 to 75 percent word reduction in the example above.

This book was written for a diverse range of readers, including:

. . . those who are new to kinnos, or who are not comfortable or fluent enough in the Hebrew to keep pace with the congregation in a meaningful way,

. . . teenagers seeking a more accessible version they can recite in shul,

. . . parents looking to provide their children with a more age-appropriate option,

. . . individuals who are more fluent in Hebrew but are looking for a way to stay focused on the themes without losing the forest for the trees,

. . . congregants who wish to supplement the explanations offered by the rav in shul,

. . . those who are short on time (either in the time period leading up to Tisha B’Av or on Tisha B’Av itself) and are looking for a quick way to connect to the day,

. . . and yeshiva bochurim, seminary students, and scholars who are looking for a way to jumpstart their own analysis of kinnos.

Personally, I look forward to using Broder’s prefaces as a sort of Metzudas David on Kinnos: a concise commentary I can rely on to provide direction for thinking about the kinnos that I decide to focus on each year. I can also think of a number of baalei teshuvah I know who would appreciate this user-friendly addition to their Tisha B’Av observance.

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Rabbi Matt Schneeweiss taught high school for 12 years, and is now a rebbi and administrator at Yeshiva Bnei Torah in Far Rockaway, N.Y.
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