בסיעתא דשמיא

קינות לתשעה באב | Alelai Li: Woe is me! by Elazar ben Killir, circa 7th century CE (translated by Rachel Salston)


אִם תֺּאכַלְנָה נָשִׁים פִּרְיָם עוֹלְלֵי טִפּוּחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall women eating their own produce, the toddlers they raised with devotion. Woe is me!

אִם תְּבַשֵּׁלְנָה נָשִׁים רַחֲמָנִיּוֹת יַלְדֵיהֶן (נ”א יְלָדִים) הַמְּדוּדִים טְפָחִים טְפָחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall compassionate women cooking their own children, the ones who had been lovingly weighed bit by bit. Woe is me!

אִם תִּגּוֹזְנָה (נ”א תָּגוֹזְנָה) פְּאַת רֺאשָׁם וְתִקָּשַׁרְנָה לְסוּסִים פּוֹרְחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall their hair braids being torn away as they were  tied to running horses. Woe is me!

אִם תִּדְבַּק לְשׁוֹן יוֹנֵק לְחֵךְ בְּצִמְאוֹן צְחִיחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall the tongues of suckling babes sticking to the roofs of their mouths, dry from thirst. Woe is me!

אִם תֵּהֺמְנָה (נ”א תְּהוֹמֶינָה) זוֹ לְעֻמַּת זוֹ בּוֹאִי וּנְבַשֵּׁל אֶת בָּנֵינוּ צוֹרְחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall women shrieking one to the other, “Come, let’s cook our screeching children!” Woe is me!

אִם תִּוָּעַדְנָה זוֹ לְזוֹ תְּנִי בְנֵךְ וְהוּא חָבוּי מְנֻתָּח נְתָחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall those women getting together, saying, “Give me your child for dinner,” while the child is already hidden and chopped into bits and pieces. Woe is me!

אִם תַּזְמִין (נ”א תַּזְמֵינָה) בְּשַׂר אָבוֹת לַבָּנִים בִּמְעָרוֹת וְשִׁיחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall children being invited to dine on their parents’ meat in caves and pits. Woe is me!

אִם תְּחֻיַּבְנָה הַבָּנוֹת (נ”א בָּנוֹת) אֶל חֵיק אִמּוֹתָם נִתְפָּחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall girls having to become swollen from hunger, while held to their mothers’ bosom. Woe is me!

אִם תִּטּוֹסְנָה רוּחוֹת עוֹלְלִים בִּרְחוֹבוֹת קִרְיָה תְּפוּחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall the souls of toddlers floating over their swollen corpses in the streets of the City. Woe is me!

אִם תְּיַקֵּרְנָה בְּשִׁכּוּל רֶחֶם וְצִמּוּק שָׁדַיִם וְאֵם עַל בָּנִים שָׁחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall women being  burdened with miscarriage and shriveled up breasts and a mother upon her slumping children. Woe is me!

אִם תִּכָּשַׁלְנָה שְׁמוֹנֶה מֵאוֹת מָגִנִּים בַּעֲרַב אֲלוּחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall eight hundred defenders falling, rotting in the Arabian heat. Woe is me!

אִם תְּלוּהַטְנָה רוּחָם בְּמִינֵי מְלוּחִים וְנוֹדוֹת נְפוּחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall their spirits burning from salty food and swollen but empty waterskins. Woe is me!

אִם תִּמָּעַטְנָה מֵאֶלֶף מֵאָה וּמִמֵּאָה עֲשָׂרָה עַד אֶחָד לְמַפָּחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall their numbers diminishing in frustration from 1,000 to 100, and from 100 to 10, until only one. Woe is me!

אִם תָּנוֹסְנָה לְמָסַךְ הֵיכָל שְׁמוֹנִים אֶלֶף כֺּהֲנִים פְּרָחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall eighty thousand apprentice priests fleeing behind the Sanctuary’s curtain. Woe is me!

אִם תִּשָּׂרַפְנָה שָׁם כָּל אוֹתָם הַנְּפָשׁוֹת כְּקוֹצִים כְּסוּחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall those priests being burned alive like splintered wood. Woe is me!

אִם תֵּעָרַפְנָה עַל דָּם נָקִי שְׁמוֹנִים אֶלֶף כֺּהֲנִים מְשׁוּחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall 80,000 murdered priests, decapitated because of the innocent blood of Zechariah the Prophet. Woe is me!

אִם תִּפַּחְנָה נְפָשׁוֹת מְדֻקָּרִים מֵרֵיחַ תְּנוּבוֹת שִׂיחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall swollen stomachs rupturing from the smell of unattainable fruits of the field. Woe is me!

אִם תִּצָּבַרְנָה עַל אֶבֶן אַחַת תִּשְׁעָה קַבִּין מוֹחֵי יְלָדִים מֻנָּחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall heaping together on one stone, nine portions of mashed children’s’ brains. Woe is me!

אִם תֻּקַּעְנָה שְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת יוֹנְקִים עַל שׂוֹכָה אַחַת מְתוּחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall three hundred suckling babes being skewered and stretched on one tree branch. Woe is me!

אִם תֵּרָאֶינָה רַכּוֹת וַעֲנֻגּוֹת כְּבוּלוֹת עַל יַד רַב טַבָּחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall refined and sophisticated ladies being seen handcuffed by the chief butcher. Woe is me!

אִם תִּשְׁכַּבְנָה בֵּין שְׁפַתַּיִם בְּנוֹת מְלָכִים מְשֻׁבָּחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall opulent princesses having sex in the garbage mounds. Woe is me!

אִם תִּתְעַלַּפְנָה הַבְּתוּלוֹת וְהַבַּחוּרִים בּצִמְאוֹן צְחִיחִים. אַלְלַי לִי:
When I recall the virgins and young men fainting from dehydration. Woe is me!

וְרוּחַ הַקֺּדֶשׁ לְמוּלָם מַרְעִים. הוֹי עַל כָּל שְׁכֵנַי הָרָעִים.
The Holy Spirit roars against them, “Woe to all bad neighbors!”

מַה שֶּׁהִקְרָאָם מוֹדִיעִים. וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ לֹא מוֹדִיעִים. אִם תֺּאכַלְנָה נָשִׁים פִּרְיָם מַשְׁמִיעִים.
They let the world know what has happened to them,
But they do not let the world know what they have done.
That women eat their own children, they make noise about this.

וְאִם יֵהָרֵג בְּמִקְדַּשׁ יְיָ כֺּהֵן וְנָבִיא לֹא מַשְׁמִיעִים:
But, that they killed a prophet and a priest (the Prophet Zechariah) in the Temple of my Lord, they make no noise about this.

Alelai Li” is a kinah recited on the morning of Tisha bAv. It was written by HaKalir around the 7th century. According to the Koren Mesorat HaRav Kinot, it is number 17 of 50. The title is the refrain of the poem and is an onomatopoeic whimper (try saying it aloud, focusing on the alliteration). It is difficult to translate the opening word “im” which means “if” or “should”. This is an allusion to Job 10:15, “If I have done evil, then woe unto me.” I have decided to translate the kinah not in the conditional tense (which would render “If these horrible things happened, then woe is me!”) but as a lament upon memory; however, the former would be a more accurate (if not more awkward in English) translation.

Adding to the awkwardness of the poem’s language is the feminine conditional verb that each line has after the word “im”. I have maintained this strange verb tense and placement in my translation by using the English progressive tense. The kinah ends with a collection in lines in a different meter suggesting that the Holy One (and the paytan himself) is angered that the Jewish people announce their sufferings but not their transgressions.

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