When Yonah descended to Jaffa to find a ship to Tarshish, he provided
much grist to later commentators. This is because Jaffa was a secondary
port and because it appears to have been much farther from where Yonah
lived and presumably received his prophecy. The Jerusalem Talmud in Sukkah
5:1 reports that Yonah was the son of the Tsorfite woman who during the
famine in the reign of Achab had given shelter to Eliahu. If so, he
stemmed from the tribe of Asher, or, according to another opinion there,
his father was from Zebulun while his mother was from near Sidon, from the
territory of Asher. The natural port of reference for that area would be
Akko, or perhaps, Tyre. The choice is especially surprising in light of
the close associations of seafaring with Tarshish and the port of Tyre.
Isaiah 23, 1 (see also 10 and 14) The burden of Tyre. Howl ye, ships of
Tarshish for it is laid waste… Kings I, 22 - For the king had at sea a
navy of Trashish with the navy of Hiram (king of Tyre)… Ezekiel 27 …take
up lamentation for Tyre…Tarshish was thy me The Talmud offers the
following solution: "Rabbi Yonah said: Yonah son of Amitai was at
piligrimage to Jerusalem and he entered the rejoicing of water drawing
(simchas beit hashoeva) and the Holy Spirit rested upon him." From
Jerusalem, the closest port is Jaffa. This explanation certainly throws
light on Yonah's repeated reference to "your holy temple" in his prayer
from the belly of the fish.
I said, I have been driven away out of Your sight, Nevertheless I shall
gaze again upon Your Holy Temple …and My prayer came before You, Into Yo
However, if Yonah had come from the north, the choice of Jaffa is deeply
significant for it underlines the desperation and finality of his flight.
This is simply because setting forth to Tyre would take him northwest and
in some measure in the direction toward Nineveh that lies to northeast.
Yonah fled in the opposite direction, to the southwest precisely to head
in as radically opposite direction as possible. He who runs away from G-d
rarely suffices to merely move to the side; part of the psychology of
escape is to go all the way, as far and in as contrary direction as
possible. A true rebel does not suffice with discarding a few observances
or with moving to another denomination; he jettisons all and everything
and often, like Yonah, must "hit the bottom of the sea (2:7)", before
coming back again.
Finally, it is certainly significant that the three cities - Jaffa,
Nineveh and Tarshish define the dramatic space in which the story of Yonah
unfolds. It is not for nothing that the acrostic of the first letters of
their names consonantally spells Yonah. Y is for Jaffa, N is for Nineveh,
and T, allowing for H to T interchange (see Ibn Ezra to Exodus 1, 16), is,
of course, for Tarshish. It is one of many allusions in this remarkably
deep and profound book. IN this vein, Yonah's name in itself is in
allusion to Noah's dove (yonah in Hebrew) and his mission "upon the faces
of the waters". Like it, Yonah goes out twice, and only succeeds on second
Next week, we will, please G-d, discuss the city of Tarshish and its
meaning within the overall structure of the story.