Haftarah Parshat Kedoshim
April 30, 2011
26 Nisan 5771
Parshat Kedoshim (Amos 9:7-15)
Like many prophetic messages, Amos’ message is built upon despair and hope. Amos challenged the people with an admonition against their immoral behavior, comparing them with other nations and reminding them that justice would be meted out equally among the nations. Still, God promised the children of Israel that their nation would ultimately be restored: “I will restore My people. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them.” (Amos 9:14)
The fact that this promise had seemingly not been sufficiently fulfilled even in the period of the sages played an interesting role in a legal discussion in the following Mishnah: On that day, Judah the Ammonite convert came and stood before them in the Beit Midrash. He said to them: “Can I join the community?” Rabban Gamliel said to him: “You are forbidden [to become a member of the community].” Rabbi Joshua said: “You are permitted.” Rabban Gamliel said to him: “An Ammonite and a Moabite may not enter the community of God even unto the tenth generation (Deut. 23:4)” Rabbi Joshua said to him: “Do Ammonites and Moabites dwell in their original locations? Didn’t Sennacherib, the king of Assyria arise and mix all of the peoples, as it says: ‘I have erased the borders of peoples; I have plundered their treasures and exiles their vast populations.’ (Isaiah 10 13)” Rabban Gamliel responded: “But doesn’t Scripture say: ‘But afterwards I will restore the fortunes of the Ammonites’ (Jeremiah 49:6) and they have already returned.” Rabbi Joshua said: “But is it not written in Scripture: ‘And I will return the captivity of My people Israel and Judah’ (See Amos 9:14) and they have still not returned.” They immediately allowed him (Judah the convert) to become a member of the community. (Mishnah Yadayim 4:4)
The sages were confronted by a “tough case”. A convert approached them who was a descendent of one the surrounding nations which according to the Torah could not enter into the community. In the ensuing debate over the status of this convert, the fact that Amos’ prophecy concerning the return of the Israelites to their land had yet to occur was brought as proof that the genealogical purity of the inhabitants of the lands surrounding Judea was also no longer the same as in ancient times. Consequently, the convert who thought of himself as an Ammonite was not to be considered an Ammonite and could be welcomed into the community. For one generation this verse served as a source of hope. In another generation, it saved an individual from the throes of despair.
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.
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