The Book of Jonah: A Primer

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September 3, 2012
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The biblical book of Jonah tells the story of Jonah ben Amitai, whom God sends to Nineveh to warn the inhabitants of the city’s imminent destruction. Refusing his prophetic mission, Jonah flees aboard a ship traveling in the opposite direction — to Tarshish. God brings a storm that threatens the ship. To save their lives, the sailors throw Jonah into the sea, where he is swallowed by a great fish. For three days, Jonah lives in the belly of the fish and repents his disobedience. Vomited up onto dry land, Jonah proceeds to Nineveh and preaches God’s warning. The inhabitants of Nineveh promptly and sincerely repent all their sins. Witnessing their contrition, God spares Nineveh and its inhabitants. Jonah is overcome with great consternation at God’s forgiveness, and he asks that God end his life. But God has other plans for Jonah: First, a gourd appears, providing shade for Jonah from the blistering sun, and then a worm eats the gourd. God tries to teach Jonah to see the world through divine eyes and to practice divine mercy. The book of Jonah — one that is traditionally read on the afternoon of Yom Kippur — is an important story of teshuvah, repentance.

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