The Enigma of the Book of Ecclesiastes: A Webinar with Rabbi Jack Bemporad

On November 16th, the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue was honoured to host a lecture on the Book of Ecclesiastes with Rabbi Jack Bemporad, in which he discussed some of its mysterious interpretations.

Rabbi Bemporad explained his interest in the Book of Ecclesiastes, or Qohelet, by the fact that many scholars and believers still consider it an enigma. This controversial book was not readily accepted into the Jewish Biblical Canon. Its seeming scepticism and uncertainty as to its true religious significance rendered it suspect. Numerous interpretations have been offered as to its meanings, and still, there is no universal agreement on what it means.

Reminding the webinar participants that the Book of Ecclesiastes is a part of wisdom literature, Rabbi Bemporad highlighted its four main characteristics that distinguish this type of writings. It is always individual (not social), universal (not national), moral (not cultic), and philosophical (not theological).

Speaking about the name of the book, Rabbi emphasized the feminine dimension of the word “qohelet,” which appears relatively uncommon in the biblical context, but, at the same time, he masterly linked it with Jewish “chokhmah “, or wisdom, which is also a feminine word. Another essential issue was the book’s authorship that is a popular topic for scholarly debates until today.

When Rabbi Jack reflected on the Jewish understanding of wisdom, he said that it was always opposite to the Greek philosophy with its cyclical cosmology and values of achieving wisdom, fame, and pleasure. Referring to chapter 17 of 2 Kings, Rabbi aptly pointed out, “To fear God means to practice religion.” In this sense, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Job 28). However, it is essential not to become “overwised” since it bears consequences (Eccles. 7:16).

Inspiring the listeners, Rabbi Jack Bemporad concluded his speech, “What has to be done is that you have to take a way of looking at things that are beyond the sun.” Are you wondering what Rabbi Jack meant? Click here to watch the video