Haftarot: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation

Haftarot: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation

Haftarot: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation

Haftarot: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation

Synopsis

A National Jewish Book Award Finalist

The haftarot are an ancient part of Hebrew liturgy. These supplemental readings are excerpted from the Prophets (Nevi'im) and accompany each weekly Sabbath reading from the Torah as well as readings for special Sabbaths and festivals. Noted Bible scholar Michael Fishbane introduces each haftarah with an outline and discussion of how that passage conveys its meaning, and he follows it with observations on how it relates to the Torah portion or special occasion. Individual comments, citing classical rabbinic as well as modern commentators, highlight ambiguities and difficulties in the Hebrew text, which appears in concert with the JPS translation. The haftarot are also put into biblical context by a separate overview of all prophetic books (except Jonah) that are excerpted in the haftarah cycle.

Excerpt

The haftarot (sg., haftarah) are the prophetic selections recited publicly on Sabbaths, festivals, and certain fast days after the required portion from the Torah (Pentateuch; Five Books of Moses). These communal readings developed as a component of classical Judaism—in both form and function. First and foremost, they are one of the three basic features of the ancient institution of the synagogue, wherein the sacred Scriptures were read aloud and interpreted. Primary among these features is the recitation of the Torah in a continuous sequence, from beginning to end during a fixed cycle, interrupted only when a holiday (or the intermediate festival week) falls on the Sabbath. Next in importance is a recitation from the prophetic literature, selected to complement the Torah reading in one way or another or to highlight the theme of a specific ritual occasion. For this reason, these prophetic readings are discontinuous and selective. And finally, the two recitations from Scripture were enhanced by a derashah, or homily, that variously interpreted the readings in the light of tradition, theology, or historical circumstance.

The foregoing triad (Torah, prophecy, and homily) represents three levels of authority in Judaism and three modes of religious instruction. Of these, the Torah is the most important—being divine revelation and the teaching of Moses, the foremost of the prophets, with whom we are told God spoke directly and not in any mediated fashion. Scripture states that the Lord spoke to Aaron and Miriam, saying, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the LORD arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses; he is trusted [ne’eman] throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the LORD” (Num. 12:6–8). According to later rabbinic tradition, this difference between the divine revelations to Moses and those granted other prophets was somewhat qualified—so that the distinction was not between a direct or indirect encounter with God, which seemed much too stark and bold, but between two modes of refraction: Moses saw God clearly, through a shining mirror (’ispeklaria’ me’irah), whereas all the others perceived Him through a glass darkly, as in an unclear or unpolished mirror (cf. B. Yevamot 49b).

The more mediated revelation of God to the prophets does not diminish the authority of their message, since this was also recited through divine inspiration. Nevertheless, by making such a formal distinction, the ancient Sages differentiated between the primary teachings of Moses—the Decalogue and the Law—and the secondary teachings of the prophets, whose purpose was to exhort the people to return in faithfulness to the covenant or to announce the consequences of sin and the future fate of the people. The synagogue preacher could see his task as explicating the one or the other (the teachings of Moses or the prophets), or both, on those occasions when God’s message was recited before the congregation.

The darshan (interpreter) thus added his human words of interpretation to the divine ones received in order to make their ongoing relevance and significance clear and immediate. Hence, even though he spoke on behalf of Moses and the prophets, the darshan’s authority came from the class of Sages and their role as mediators of the divine word. In . . .

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