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Reading the Prophets on Shabbat

June 19, 2015

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, June 19, 2015.

Reading the Prophets on Shabbat

In addition to reading the Parashah – the Torah portion – on the Sabbath, the “Haftarah,” or “conclusion” was read: a parallel section from the Prophets  (that middle section of the Hebrew Bible that quotes the ancient prophets of Israel). No one knows for sure when this practice began, but most scholars believe it happened after the return to Zion from the Babylonian Exile with Ezra, and  long before the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans.  Already in the Middle Ages, Jewish writers claimed that during the time of the Maccabees, the King Antiochus outlawed the reading of the Torah. The Jews at the time began reading other sections of the Bible with similar themes, or with the Prophetic message of consolation and hope in the future in order to keep the teachings of the Torah alive. So, even today that system is used throughout the Jewish world – only the Prophetic reading is used in addition to the Torah reading. Hence, the reading from the Prophets that goes with the very first reading of the year in Genesis is Isaiah 42 which begins, “Thus saith God the Lord: He that created the heavens, and stretch them forth... ” And, the Haftarah of Beshallach (Exodus 13 – 17) which describes the splitting of the Red Sea and the song that the Children of Israel sang after their victory, is Judges 4, which describes the victory of the Prophetess Deborah over the Canaanites, and the song that Deborah sings at the victory.

Shabbat Shalom