(Tehilim (Psalms
(Tehilim (PsalmsFlash 90

Q. The end of Psalm 137 ("Al Naharot Bavel") says, "Blest is he who takes and shatters your infants against the rock" about those who destroyed the Temple. How can the Psalm say something so offensive and vengeful?

A. Psalm 137 is a sad reflection of how bitter it was for the remnants of the Jewish people to be in Babylon and suffer under the harshness of the regime.

Imagine how the enemy taunted them: "Go on, sing one of your Jewish songs!"

What heartache is expressed in the verse, "How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?"

No wonder the people pledged to themselves and to God that they would never forget their Jewish identity, and they prayed that the Day of the Lord would overcome Babylon.

How many times over the last 2000 years did Jews echo this psalm…

What a tragedy it is that now that Jews can freely live a Jewish life in Israel, so many have got used to life in the Diaspora…

What a pity that it is resurgent antisemitism that is making European Jews interested in Aliyah….

The last verse of the Psalm is not a statement of religious dogma, but part of a poem, and no-one has to automatically applaud the poet’s phraseology.

It is one of several so-called psalms of vengeance, and in each case the idea is that those who commit wrongs will one day get a dose of their own medicine. Hence if the Babylonians were cruel to Jewish children, their own children will eventually suffer.

This may not be the noblest of sentiments, but it is the anguished cry of a people undergoing horrific suffering.


1. By Babylon’s rivers,
There we sat, we wept
When we thought of Zion.

2. Upon the willows in its midst
We hung up our harps –

3. For there our captors asked us for song,
Our tormentors wanted mirth:
"Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

4. How can we sing the Lord’s song
In a strange land?

5. If I forget you, Jerusalem,
Let my right hand wither;

6. Let my tongue stick to my palate
If I do not remember you,
If I do not place Jerusalem
Above my best joy.

7. Remember, O Lord,
Against the people of Edom
The day of Jerusalem;
Those who said, "Lay it bare,
Bare to its foundations!"

8. O city of Babylon,
Doomed for destruction –
Blest is he who treats you
As you have treated us.

9. Blest is he
Who takes and shatters your infants
Against the rock.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Applewas for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com