For the month of April 2012, I made two temporary vows: to suspend my Facebook account and to give up alcohol for the duration of the month.  The latter, I suspect, was more symbolic than anything else; I do indulge a little too much on the weekends, and although I know that the absence of alcohol will probably help shed a few pounds, the induced abstinence resonates more with the idea of making a vow. I will write a separate post about breaking the Facebook addiction in the coming days.

Vows can be dangerous things to undertake. Witness the stupidity and eagerness for victory that accompanies undiluted vows from early Hebrew literature: in the Book of Judges, Yiftakh  (Jephthah/Jefthe) vows that he will offer a burnt sacrifice of the first thing that greets him at his gate, should his battle against Ammonites be a success. Foolishly assuming that this would be some sort of animal, he is horrified when his daughter (his only child, Yiftakh’s daughter is only apocryphally known by the name Adah – in most accounts she is nameless) comes out to celebrate his triumph.  Over the centuries the Rabbis have had many arguments as to what happened next – whether Yiftakh did, indeed, offer her as a sacrifice (against all Jewish tradition), or whether his daughter gave up a life of worldly concerns, and became a religious devotee (a prototype of the monk or nun). Before she either dies or goes into reclusion, she is given two months to farewell the world. The Italian composer from the early Baroque period, Giacomo Carrissimi, wrote a magnificent setting for that moment of the story, in his oratorio “Jephthe”. The composition is replete with lush suspensions in the very best late Renaissance, early Baroque style. Here’s a great recording, sung by The Gabrieli Consort under the direction of Paul McCreesh:

I guess that even though vows can be dangerous, they can also inspire great beauty …

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