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A voice of woe from Ramah's hoary tower,
A voice of wail from Sion's sainted hill ; Alas! my diadem and queenly dower,
The youthful honours I remember still, Dark is to me the solitary bower,
Who did of old a throne of splendour fill.
I was surnamed Jehovah's fairest bride,
But now am forced, forlorn, disconsolate,
My joys are flown, my heart is desolate.
For no one draweth near, my sorrows to abate.
Degraded from a peerless eminence
Victim of pride and wanton vanityMy beating heart, in trembling violence,
Strikes at her cage of hopeless misery : Judah laments in tearful penitence,
A widow mourning in captivity.
I was in Solyma, a radiant queen,
A golden cloud upon the mount of God; But now by infidels despoiled, I ween
No poorer pilgrim e'er the desert trod. Wrenchod from the bosom all my babes have beer.,
The murdered elders steep the soil in blood.
Doth no one lay my wretchedness to heart,
And no one check the swiftly-rolling tear, And no one soothe the soul-empiercing smart, And no one say,
“ The heathen shall not dare Call him my husband !" Oh, the poisoned dart,
The cruel mockings I am doomed to bear ! Father of mercies come, return with grace
To Sion's dwellings, beautified again. Let Israel's eye behold Thy dwelling-place
Restored : then list the hallelujah strain. The hymning voices of a ransomed race,
Greeting the rising wall of that eternal fane.“
These elegies recited, the Jews arise and say: "Shake thyself from the dust; arise and sit down, O Jerusalem ; loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion.” Several Psalms are now read, and prayers offered up for the coming of the Messiah. Their midnight prayers over, they begin studying Rabbinical books till daybreak, when they read the usual morning prayers. At three, p.m., they have the afternoon service; and, when the stars appear, their evening service.
In addition to the ordinary fasts and festivals kept by the orthodox Jews, the Jews at Jerusalem observe four public fasts. The first one is kept about the middle of September, on account of the murder of Gedaliah (2 Kings xxv). The second on about the 23rd of December, on account of Jerusalem being besieged by Nebuchadnezzar on the 10th day of Debeth. The third is about the 25th of June, because on that day Moses broke the tables of the ten commandments; on that day, the sacrifices ceased in the first temple ; on that day, the walls of Jerusalem were scaled before the destruction of the second temple; and on that day, Antiochus Epiphanes burnt the book of the law, and placed an image in the temple. The last fast is kept on the 9th of the month of Ab, or about the middle of July, because, according to tradition, on that day it was decreed that the generation who left Egypt should die in the wilderness; on that day, the first and second temples were destroyed; on that day, the town of Bither was taken; and on that day, Rufus ploughed up Mount Moriah.
It is needless to say that the fasts commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem are among those most solemnly observed by the Jews, whose homes are in the very place where their splendid temple once stood, and where again it. will be erected. Nor are these fasts kept only by the Jews of Palestine. Every exile of the race, in the different countries of his adoption, fondly calls to mind, and bitterly bewails, the lost glory and independence of his nation. The name of Zion is never forgotten by the Hebrew people, no matter where they may be situated. Even as Daniel of old, so the pious Jew of the present day turns his face thrice towards Jerusalem, and prays for its welfare and restoration. To him the words of the Psalmist still apply: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy." It is not, therefore, surprising that the anniversaries of the days on which calamities befel the Holy City should be commemorated with solemn punctuality.
During the whole of the three weeks intervening between the fasts of the fourth and fifth months, national mourning is observed. No marriages are solemnised during the interval, in fulfilment of the words of Jeremiah, that “there shall cease the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride." From the commencement of the month of Ab, the strict Jew abstains from meat and wine. Before sunset, on the eve of the eighth of the month, the meal of mourners is partaken of. The head of the family, sitting down on the ground, eats bread strewn with ashes, and then repairs to the synagogue.
At seven o'clock in the evening, I entered the Spanish synagogue on Mount Zion, and was received kindly by the mourners, and pointed out a seat. The synagogue was dimly lighted; each Jew present had a small wax taper* in his hand, and sat on the ground, chanting in doleful tones the history of his country's calamities. At the end of about half an hour every light was put out, and we were in total darkness. And now commenced sounds of weeping, wailing, and lamentation that were most painful.*
* This custom is not observed in Europe.
As I listened to their mournful cries and their low heartstricken sobs, I thought how the darkness of their synagogue was typical of their spiritual darkness! Sad, sad mourers ! well may you mourn; your sun is gone down, your glory departed, your house left desolate and destitute of the Comforter, because you refuse to bask in the Sun of Righteousness, and reject, as your ancestors rejected, the Messiah ! It was indeed a most painful ceremony, and made every Christian long for the time when all Israel shall exclaim : “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord !” How powerfully, as I listened to the wailing dirges around me, came this verse to my mind: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, and her
* “I will tell you what I noticed at Mogador, during the observance of the fast of Jerusalem. The night before the fast, the wailing and shrieking of the women in their wretched Jewish quarter, were most appalling, and resounded through the whole town. On the day of the fast, the women, with their dishevelled hair strewn with ashes, visited their burial-ground, and before the graves of their friends and relations, again renewed their terrible lamentations, which this time were accompanied by tearing of the hair, etc. Later on in the day occurred a ceremony for which nobody could give me any reason, and the like of which I had never seen before. It was this. All the women, covered from head to foot in their ample haiiks, assembled in the market-place, and began to steal right and left from the Moorish merchants, everything that came first to hand. This custom seemed to be permitted by the merchants, who contented themselves with keeping a sharp eye on the pilferers, and with demanding payment for the goods taken from the male friends of the women.”—Letter from a Friend.