Sep 282012

As I mentioned previously in my translation of Natan Zakh’s “A Moment,” a professor of mine has been developing a claim that Admiel Kosman’s poem of the same name represents an oblique response to the heavy-of-tongue existentialism of Zakh’s original. Dan Miron argues with some force that Zakh’s “A Moment” describes a failed and final opportunity for modern man to gain access to “transcendental knowledge,” knowledge man so desperately needs to contend with the miseries of existence and muster some measure of empathy for his fellow: “Everybody is equally myopic, for all people have lost the power of ‘divination’ in the original theological sense of the term.”1 My professor sees in Kosman’s description of one of his characteristic moments of transcendent unity with the sublime an implicit rejection of the notion that “transcendental knowledge,” a shard of nevu’ah, is beyond our grasp.

Miron draws a parallel between the “garment” the narrator of “A Moment” fails to touch with the mantle Elisha inherits from Elijah in 2 Kings chapter 9 that gives him, in effect, the authority and ability of a prophet (the Hebrew word Zakh uses that I have translated as “garment”, ‘adéret, is the word used for Elijah’s mantle of prophecy). But I translated “yakhólti lagáʕat be-shuléi ‘adartó” as “I could have touched the hem of his garment” because, well, I listen to a lot of black music, and the Hebrew phrase immediately called to mind a certain Sam Cooke number:

The reference, of course, is to the account in both Mark and Matthew of a zavah healing herself by touching a part of Jesus’ clothes (“hem of his garment” is from the King James translation of Matthew; most commentators seem to think the reference is to one of Jesus’ tzitzit). Interestingly, all of the Hebrew translations of the New Testament I looked at online before I wearied of offers to send me a free copy of the good news render “hem of his garment” as “kenáf bigdó,” rather than Zakh’s shuléi ‘adartó – but, as Miron points out2, Zakh enjoys playing with loaded Christian motifs, and drawing a fairly explicit parallel between a lost chance at transcendental knowledge and the prophet the Jews “missed out on” (well, one of the two) seems a good way to provoke the Jewish reader. My professor also brought up the interesting point that Zakh, apparently the child of a German-Jewish father and an Italian Catholic mother, is one of the few (non-Arab) non-halakhically Jewish Hebrew poets, and may have come by his evident familiarity with the Christian Bible through his mother.

Either way, I would simply like to take this opportunity to point out that everyone should listen to more black music: whether you’re into Hebrew poetry or something, I don’t know, practical (Business Administration?), it will inevitably prove relevant. I can’t even rifle through the Psalms without a few dozen reggae songs cuing up simultaneously in the Dragon Stout-drenched soundsystem that is my subconscious.

  1. Dan Miron, The Prophetic Mode in Hebrew Poetry, 546.
  2. 543

  One Response to “Zakh, Kosman, Cooke and the hem of their garment(s).”

  1. You have a wonderful blog. This was truly an interesting read.

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