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Haftarah Parshat Kedoshim

Haftarah Parshat Kedoshim (outside of Israel)
(Amos 9:7-15)
May 14, 2016 /6 Iyar 5776
Israel Independence 68

This week’s haftarah is taken from the last chapter of the book of Amos. It ends on a redemptive note, anticipating the restoration of Israel to an idyllic existence in its homeland: “I (God) will restore My people Israel. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. They shall till their gardens and eat their fruits. And I will plant them upon their soil, nevermore to be uprooted from the soil that I have given them, said the Lord your God.” (9:14-15)

Amos’ prophecy anticipated the redemption of his people from exile. Its optimism was intended to raise up the hopeful expectations of the people but the prediction did not happen during the lifetime of the prophet, nor, as we will see, did the sages of the rabbinic period see it during their lifetimes. This fact prompted the following rabbinic debate:

“A Tanna taught: “and wherever the expression ‘on that day’ is used, it refers to that day (the day when Rabban Gamaliel was deposed as the nasi and the doors of the Beit Ha-Midrash were opened to all comers) — and there was no halacha about which any doubt existed in the Beth ha-Midrash which was not fully elucidated. Rabban Gamaliel also did not absent himself from the Beth ha-Midrash for a single hour (even though he had been deposed), as we have learned: On that day, Judah, an Ammonite proselyte, came before them in the Beth ha-Midrash, he said to them: Am I permitted to enter the assembly (namely, marry into the Jewish people)?  Rabbi Joshua said to him: You are permitted to enter the congregation. Said Rabban Gamaliel to him (Rabbi Joshua): Is it not already laid down: ‘An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord?’ (See Deut. 23:4) Rabbi Joshua replied to him: ‘Do [the nations of] Ammon and Moab still reside in their original homes? Sennacherib king of Assyria long ago went up and mixed up all the nations, as it says: ‘I have removed the bounds of the peoples and have robbed their treasures and have brought down as one mighty their inhabitants’ (Isaiah 19:13); and whatever strays [from a group] is assumed to belong to the larger section of the group. Said Rabban Gamaliel to him: But has it not been said: ‘But afterward I will bring back the captivity of the children of Ammon, said the Lord’ (Jeremiah 49:6), so that they have already returned? To which Rabbi Joshua replied: ‘And has it not been said, And I will turn the captivity of My people Israel’ (Amos 9:14), and they have not yet returned? They immediately permitted him to enter the congregation.” (Berachot 28a)

This fascinating piece of legal exegesis uses the fact that a prophecy has not come true to perform a legally redemptive act allowing a convert who might not have been able to marry to marry. There is no shortage of “poetic” irony in this story. And perhaps that was the whole point of relating the story in the first place!

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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