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August 30, 2015 | 15th Elul 5775


  1. Mar 2006 Digest 041

    This past Shabbat while preparing for the Torah service, we looked for the special Zachor reading in Rabbi Plaut's Chumash and were surprised to find chapters from Esther rather than Samuel. I know there are other haftarot that our Movement has changed…I am curious about the reason for these changes…

  2. Mar 2006 Digest 041

    The traditional Haftarah for Shabbat Zachor is based on the rabbinic association of Haman the Agagite with Agag, king of the Amalekites (this is quite possibly an association that was intended by the author of Esther).

    The reading from 2 Samuel is, shall we say, somewhat bloodthirsty (Agag is vivisected, and Saul is rejected as king for having shown him mercy rather than separating his head from his body, as God has ordered)--not exactly edifying fare morally or spiritually, and not G-rated, either. The classical Reform position was not to read such pieces in public, but instead to substitute something more uplifting. In fact, the four special Sabbaths between Rosh Hodesh Adar and Rosh Hodesh Nisan were not observed in classical Reform congregations in North America (three deal with Temple rituals and this one deals with vengeance). The custom of the Arba'ah parashiyyot for the four special Sabbaths was, in fact, reinstituted in the Plaut Chumash. But even Plaut had second thoughts about the traditional Haftarah for Zachor and substituted Ch. 7 of Esther in its stead. (Have a look at Chs. 8 and 9 of Esther if you want to see more gratuitous bloodshed and revenge fantasies taken to comic extremes!) But a decade later, in Plaut's Haftarah commentary volume, he gives the traditional Haftarah reading for Shabbat Zachor. Esther 7 remains, though, as the Haftarah in last year's revised edition of the Plaut Chumash. (Zachor, by the way, is the only Haftarah that is completely different from the traditional reading in the Plaut Chumash. Some of the rest have been shortened, but no other was completely changed.) Both sides of this "argument" have good points to make. Yes, 2 Sam is the traditional reading. Yes, reading something a bit less savage is a good option. The choice is up to each congregation (that's what makes us Reform and not simply knee-jerk traditional!).

    You might find it interesting to have a look at the various tables of Torah and Haftarah readings that were published in various Reform prayer books in North America--UPB newly revised (1940), Gates of Prayer (1976--the list, by A. Stanley Dreyfus, is found in Gates of Understanding and Gates of the House, since GOP was already too thick without it), and finally in On the Doorposts of Your House (Chaim Stern, 1995).


  3. Nov 2006 Digest 167

    On the Haftarah and Haftarot--"Haftarah" means "conclusion" or "dismissal" and refers not to the end of the Tanakh as a collection of books, but to the end of the public reading/recitation of Scripture as part of the synagogue ritual. The early rabbinic custom was to conclude with prophetic words of consolation and the messianic promise of redemption. The Haftarot for the traditional annual cycle of Torah readings (which originates in Babylonia) are all from that portion of the Tanakh that is called "Nevi'im"--"Prophets." Those are the books from Joshua through Malachi, which include both the so-called "historical books" (Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings) and the books of the literary prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve [shorter books]). The readings on the Three Festivals, Purim, and Tisha b'Av from the Writings (Song of Songs, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Esther, and Lamentations) are not Haftarot, but Megillot--"Scrolls"-chosen for those special occasions. They are to be read in addition to Torah and Haftarah readings for those days (there is no Haftarah for Purim). Yes, many of the earlier Reform attempts at fashioning "triennial cycles" (shorter Torah portions to be read over a longer period than a year) included Psalm texts and a few other texts from the Writings as Haftarot. (There is also some evidence suggesting that there were weekly Psalms recited on Shabbatot in synagogues in the Land of Israel during the Byzantine period--but not necessarily as Haftarot). Plaut replaced the traditional Haftarah for Shabbat Zachor (the story of Samuel's vivisection of Agag, king of the Amalekites and "ancestor" of Haman the Agagite) with a section from Esther as a way of mitigating the violence in the original Haftarah, but he restored the original in his Haftarah commentary volume.


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