Jeremiah 7:? The Israelites? "Edifice Complex"

The prophet takes on the people's mistaken assumption that they can safely persist in unethical behavior--and that God would never destroy the Temple.

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Jeremiah 26 retells the Temple sermon and includes the details of the response:

"Now it came to pass, when Jeremiah had finished speaking…that the priests and the prophets and all the people grabbed him and said, 'You shall surely die! Why have you prophesied in God's name that this house will be like Shiloh…'"

This is not the only time when Jeremiah's life is threatened; one can only wonder what would motivate him to continue to try to intercede for Israel.

Bitter Rebuke, Then Consolation

Chapter 7 concludes with a series of brief statements condemning Israel's behavior, and, in particular Israel's idolatry and disregard of God's message. The final verse presents a particularly bitter image:

"Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall be desolate" (7:34).

This image becomes a trope for Jeremiah. Twice more in the book is the image repeated negatively; the first time, when Jeremiah is commanded himself not to marry since any resulting children would have to suffer through the coming disaster (16:9), and the second time when the seventy years of captivity is foretold (25:10). The third time, Jeremiah repeats the image in the positive, establishing the language which is adopted by Jewish liturgy as the final of the seven blessings of the wedding ceremony:

"Once again will it be heard…in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem…the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of bride…For I will cause the captivity of the land to return as in the beginning, says the Lord" (33:10-11).

This image of consolation seems strange after reading the harsh condemnations of chapter seven. Indeed, some scholars have even questioned whether all of the consolatory materials in Jeremiah are original to the book and not later accretions. On the other hand, perhaps Jeremiah's ongoing prayers on behalf of the people of Israel actually had some positive result. Or perhaps the assumption of the people in the Temple courtyard that some kind of forgiveness would come was correct, but misplaced. The Temple cannot be counted on as a source of forgiveness and restoration, but God can be.

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Jeffrey Spitzer is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy, The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., and a member of the Institute's Tichon Fellows Program.