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Ketuvim & Timeless Messages

September 04, 2011 Back
Ketuvim & Timeless Messages

Books of Poetry

The three books of poetry are Psalms, Proverbs and Job.  These three books are presented in a manner that capitalizes on their poetic features – in two columns.  They are known in Hebrew as Sifrei Emet , Emet being an acronym for the books’ Hebrew names.

Pslams, or Tehillim in Hebrew, refers to the content of this book, which is praises.  In the book, King David together with 9 other authors – Asaph, Jeduthun, sons of Korah, Moses, Heman and Ezra the Hedathites and Solomon – use poetry and song to praise G-d in all situations.  Many of the Pslams are said during Jewish prayer services and are the source of many liturgical poems.

Proverbs, also known as Mishlei, was composed by King Solomon.  However, there are references to other people as well.  The book contains practical and ethical teachings, many of which were repeated in Christian and Islamic texts.  The advice was also expanded upon in numerous Jewish works part of the Mussar movement that focused on character development and ethical behavior.  Among the most famous sections of this book is the final section called “Praise of the Virtuous Woman” or “Eshet Chayil” as it is sung on Friday nights as part of the Shabbat evening meal service.

Iyov, or Job, is the largest of the three books.  The book tells the story of Job, who encounters unimaginable suffering during his lifetime, and the various responses Job and his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu have to his situation.  The book ends with a discussion of divine justice and Job being returned to a position of wealth and a long life.  The text of Job has been used as the source for major philosophical discussions, namely the suffering of the righteous, the existence of evil, free will and divine justice.

The 5 Scrolls

The second section of Ketuvim is the Five Scrolls.  These books are the final books of Tanach and are typically read publicly during holidays.

Shir HaShirim, or The Song of Songs, was written by Solomon and is the poetic love story between a man and woman.   Jewish tradition, especially the Kabbalistic tradition, maintains that the story told is actually that of relationship of G-d and the Jewish people.  This book is read on Passover in Ashkenazi communities while Sephardic communities read it weekly on Friday night.

The second book, that of Ruth (Rut in Hebrew), is read traditionally during the Festival of Weeks also known as Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah.  This book tells the story of Ruth the Moabite and her experiences.  Ruth begins the story as a non-Jewish woman who married Mahlon, the scion of a well-known Jewish family.  Upon his death, she accompanies her mother-in-law to Judea, and converts to Judaism.  She ends up marrying Boaz and is the great-grandmother of King David, whose lineage is the closing lines of the book.

Lamentations, or Eicha in Hebrew, was written by the prophet Jeremiah (Yirmiyahu).  The book’s content is lamentations over the destruction of the Temple and the exile to Babylon.  The book opens with a description of the misery the Jewish people suffered.  Following this, Jeremiah describes the sins that caused the devastation, hope for the future, a second lament over Jerusalem’s destruction and finally a prayer for redemption.  The majority of Eicha is written in a common Jewish liturgical style, with each verse of the first four chapters starting with a letter of the alphabet going from Aleph to Tav.  Lamentations is read on the Ninth of Av, or Tisha B’Av in Hebrew.

Kohelet, or Ecclesiastes, was also written by King Solomon, but he uses the name Kohelet.  In this book, Solomon condemns materialism, analyzes the unfulfilling nature of such a lifestyle and discusses the need for spirituality.  The book contains the oft-quoted “To everything there is a season”.  Ecclesiastes closes with the statement that man’s duty is to serve G-d.  The book is read during Sukkot.

The most famous book is that of Esther.  The book takes place during the Persian exile, describes Haman’s genocidal intentions towards the Jews and the miraculous turn of events that led to the Jewish people’s salvation via a series of coincidences including the Jewish Esther being crowned Queen of Persia.  The book is read on Purim and is the source for the holiday.


The last three books are contain sections of Jewish history that are Post-Temple and include the books of Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles.

The book of Daniel is about Daniel, a Jew captured by the Babylonians and was Nebuchadnezzar’s servant.  In Babylon, he laid the foundation for Torah study that the area was famous for during the First Millennia CE.  The book of Daniel also contains some famous messages such as the “handwriting on the wall” at the end of the book and the metaphors of enemies being represented by beasts.  The book is almost entirely written in Aramaic and plays a prominent role in messianic calculations.

The book of Ezra-Nehemiah is about Ezra the Scribe and Nehemiah and the return to Israel with the permission of Cyrus I, the reconstruction of the Second Temple during the reign of Darius and other events during the reigns of Persian Emperoris Darius II, Xerxes and Ataxerxes and leading up to Alexander the Great.  The book contains the final chapters of recorded Jewish history.

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