Saturday, 17 March 2018


As Jews around the world prepare for the Pesach Holy Day, perhaps it is time to rethink the message and lessons of this very significant and meaningful celebration in our history.

The Hebrew word Pesach means “Pass over.” It is derived from the Book of Shemot (Exodus), 12:7 where the Torah recounts the story of the ten plagues brought upon the Egyptians following Pharaoh’s refusal to “let my people go.”

When G-d was about to inflict the Egyptians with the tenth plague, smiting their first born sons, He told Moses to instruct the Congregation of Yisrael to mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood so that G-d could “pass over” their homes and spare them.

Subsequent to G-d’s wonderous work,  the Congregation of Yisrael was finally freed from slavery, at least the physical kind. Freedom and liberation, however,  as we all know, is not confined merely to unshackling the corporeal chains of bondage. It also involves ridding oneself of the obsequious and submissive mindset so emblematic to those who have been oppressed for a long period of time.

In order to better understand this point, allow me to go back to that verse in Shemot where Moses pleads with Pharaoh to “let my people go.”

That Hebrew verse, to be precise, does not use the term “let” or “free.” Rather, it says “send my people.” (Another unfortunate result of the disastrous mistranslation of our Tanach!) For me, the verb “send” implies a deliberate act with a specific destination, a much more powerful and calculated design by G-d. It was the first step towards becoming a free people, physically, spiritually, culturally and nationally. Not an easy mission for a nation that had been suppressed, abused, isolated and on the verge of eradication, considering Pharoah’s own version of a “final solution” to the Hebrews.

Any slave, be it an individual, a group or a People would have welcomed with open arms such a ploy, it would seem. For who enjoys the status of slavery?

I can almost feel the excitement of Benei Yisrael as they rush to bake their Matzah, pack their belongings, and prepare themselves for their destiny. I can see them gathering their flocks, children and preparing for the great occasion, their deliverance.
Unfortunately, the excitement seemed to have worn off rather fast. Once they realized the hardships ahead of them, they began to miss the slavery routine in Egypt.

Suddenly, the “house of Bondage” did not seem that bad. Moreover, it had swiftly turned into a house of luxury and plentiful, the idyllic place. “If only we had died by G-d’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and fish and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Shemot 16: 2-4)

The Yisraelites may have been freed from physical bondage. They were still, however, inflicted with an emotional and spiritual one, one that had been imposed upon them and their forefathers for a few hundred years.

G-d had, naturally, expected it. He knew that one cannot become free merely by removing physical shackles.  It is, therefore, I believe, that He instructed Moses to wander in the desert for forty years, when a brief overview of the map of the region shows that the route to the Promised Land could have been cut shorter.  Forty years is the approximate life span of a generation.

The slavery generation had to die off, it had to remain in the desert before Am Yisrael could live a free and fulfilling life in its ancestral Homeland. The younger generation had to be coached and prepared to run and oversee its own life without the daily pressure of persecutors.

Fast forward to our times. Has much changed?

It is only seventy years ago, with the establishment of the state of Yisrael, when the Jewish people were liberated from the House of Bondage called Galut (Diaspora). The Galut and its reality indoctrinated Jews to a submissive mentality, the kind that forced us to seek the approval and love of others. Jews were mental slaves.

Unfortunately, some of our people have not yet shed that mindset. They continue to seek endorsement of the nations. They are desperately needy of Love and acceptance and consider the support of strangers the “pots of meat and fish and ate all the food.” Have we forgotten the suffering we endured because of that very long chapter in our history?

My concerns and my questions are, if it took Moses forty years to rid the Yisraelites of a few hundred years old slavish Galut mentality, how long will it take the Jewish state and nation to rid some of its members of a two millennia old one?

How long will it take all of us to Pass Over the threshold from the slave disposition to that of a Free Nation, the kind G-d had intended us to be?

May we all have a meaningful Pesach, full of the celebration of Life and Freedom.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Can a “Good” Gentile Replace a “Not so Good” Jew?

Time and again and more so lately, we have noticed some trying to convince us that a “Christian Zionist” is better than a “non-Zionist Jew.”

We will not tire you, again, with definitions though we believe that such an approach stems from lack of understanding of Jewish terminology. At times, when discussing issues such as “Zionism” and “religion,” it seems as if many are speaking completely different languages and not communicating at all.  We are dealing with Jewish concepts here, concepts that, due to inadequate education and after centuries of being defined by others, are not clear to some Jews, not to mention non-Jews. 

Frankly, we care about Jews knowing Jewish ideas and concept first albeit that we see Gentiles, some utterly disconnected to the Jewish reality, engaging in efforts to define us and invariably falling short.

We also realize that many non-Jews are sincere and genuine about their desire to educate themselves on Jewish subjects, some from sincere interest, others looking for the roots of their own beliefs. Nothing wrong with it. Too often, unfortunately, such interests are in support of an agenda that is not always consistent with Jewish concerns and realities.

Why is it that so many non-Jews, Christians, Muslims and others get offended when we tell them that only Jews can be Zionists and can really understand what Zionism means to Jews since only Jews have practiced Zionism through their hopes and prayers over several millennia?

That is not to say that help and sympathy from Gentiles is unwelcome.  On the contrary, in a smaller and smaller world where we are all more and more interconnected, in a world where there are so many hostilities, interest by non-Jews in the justice of Zionism and the welfare of the Jewish People is most welcome, and those that speak out about the truth for us are most appreciated.

 There is, however, a line that must be drawn.  While support, help, advice of a real friend is always welcome, there is a line not to cross, and that is where non-Jews take it upon themselves to tell Jews what Jews should believe about Jewish issues and concepts.

Why?  Because it is akin to having a Chinese man who has read Shakespeare in Chinese only, thinking about it in terms of Chinese tradition and culture, going to Oxford University and lecturing English Shakespeare experts on what Shakespeare really meant, with the British experts afraid of offending the Chinese enthusiast.  Sounds silly?  Of course, it is. 

 When it comes to Zionism and Judaism, though, we too often see Christians crossing that line, telling Jews what Judaism and Zionism should mean to them, in some cases representing Jewish organizations as paid speakers and lecturers, other times as Missionaries aiming to convert Jews to their faith systems.   In some cases, we have seen Gentile activists from persecuted minority groups themselves, spending their energies telling Jews what to believe, while ignoring the plight of their own peoples.  A shame indeed when their own people need their help and energies.

Try to understand something.  Most Jews would love to see Kurdistan, for instance, as a free, independent and prosperous state.  After all, Kurds are one people among a small number of nations, that were always hospitable to Jews.  But while we support, argue for, and want to help Kurds achieve their freedom, that does not mean that we will ever fully understand what it is like being a Kurd, as we do not have their history, we do not speak their language, and we can’t see the world exactly as they might.  So, while we can be pro-Kurdish nationalism, we cannot be Kurdish nationalists.  We do not find that insulting or offensive if a Kurd says that to us. It is realistic and factual. 
In the same way, Gentiles can support Zionism, can help, and that help is welcome, but they cannot be expected to see and feel Zionism’s ancient historic role, it’s effects and consequences, as Jews experience it and see it.

The same goes when it comes to Judaism.  No one can see Judaism better than through Jewish eyes. No one can replace a Jew no matter how “bad” anyone believes that Jew is and no matter how saintly any non-Jew who wishes to replace them is.   That is why conversion to Judaism is not just a change in theology, but more akin to naturalization into an entire culture.

One more point that we hope will be understood as meant.
Some Jews who see Gentile support for Israel as great flattery and who are afraid of saying something that might offend even missionaries that are trying hard to convert us, how about those gentiles who threaten to stop supporting us if we call them and their agenda out?

Consider this: Friends love you for what you are and who you are.  If they do not, if they are so easily offended, they are not friends and never were.

Let us say it again, this time louder and clearer. If anyone attaches their support for us to being able to appropriate that is which is ours and threaten to cease that support at the drop of a hat if we resist and object to it, then they have never been genuine friends in the first place.

And with friends such as these, who needs enemies?

This article was written jointly by Roger Froikin and Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks

Shabbat Shalom.

Monday, 26 February 2018

It is great to have you back Home, Ms. X

Life can be one amazing rollercoaster for some. Mine has been. It is not only what happens to us that makes it that way, it is also those we attract and invite into it and those we inadvertently meet on our life’s path.

 Ms. X, the person whose story I am about to share with you, has been my friend on FB for sometimes now. Today, for some unknown reason, she shared it with me for the first time. Several hours later, I am still deeply touched by that revelation.

I decided to tell her story for two reasons. The first has to do with my desire to expose missionaries and their antics, an undertaking I have chosen as our people are very dear to me and I will fight to defend them against any efforts to steal our souls. The second, Ms. X’s story is an inspiring and in my view, a heroic account of a young woman who, despite repeated efforts to drown her spiritually and emotionally was able to unshackle herself from the chains that held her captive for a long time, educate herself about our great Jewish tradition, came back Home and is doing her share to educate young Jewish children so that they do not fall pray to missionaries and their devious antics.

Ms. X was born in the U.S. to two Jewish parents. Her biological father passed away when she was about 6 years of age. He mother remarried a Yisraeli man and they ended up living here for about two years before moving back to the U.S.

When Ms. X attended school in California, she met her first husband, a non- Jew. They settled in the Bible Belt area.

In a way, Ms. X represents a growing segment of the Jewish population in the U.S., the assimilated kind. Though born and raised in conservative Judaism, she felt that something was missing in her Jewish upbringing. It was her need to establish a personal relationship with G-d.

She was fertile ground for missionaries who rushed to fill in the void.

It happened one bright day when she was driving with her step daughter past a building which looked like a synagogue. It had Yisraeli and American flags flying side by side in front of it. The following Friday night, she to attend services there.

As she soon learned, it was a “messianic synagogue.” Upon arrival, she was greeted by a Jewish woman who befriended her and “took her under her wings” instantaneously. That woman and the “rabbi” explained to her how she could “have the best of both world” by becoming a member. They spoke to her about their close relationship with god, something they evidently learned was missing in her life and capitulated on it. They also offered solace for her terminally ill daughter and sensed that she was lonely with no family and no friends as her then husband was trying to isolate her from them. Naturally, he approved of her new affiliation. In short, she was the ultimate and perfect target for the missionaries’ mission.

At one point, her “benefactors” discovered that one of her close friends was dying of cancer. That is when they started to apply pressure on her to try and convince her dying friend to become a follower of their messiah. They laid on her that if her friend died without having accepted him, he was doomed to damnation and go to hell which, of course would be her fault.

When she tried to leave that group after over 5 years, she faced threats, pressure and intimidation. “As I was leaving the Messianics, I found you,” she told me. “I found your articles beyond helpful. I learned so much from you,” she added much to my surprise.  It was that dying friend, Ms. X told me, who had directed her to my articles. In fact, it was this mutual friend of ours that helped her during those days and bring her c back to Judaism.

Fortunately for her, Ms. X also turned to Chabbad and they, as always, were extremely supportive. It was the Chabbad Rabbi who told her, “The colour of your soul has always and always will be Jewish even if you were lost for a while.”

Ms. X is now happily married to a Jewish man. She teaches at a local Jewish school and volunteers at Chabbad Torah time. She is active in exposing missionaries, especially those targeting Jews. “My heart goes out to all those lost Jews. I want them to know that hope is not lost and that they can always come back Home.”

“I will help you in any way I can to expose their antics,” she later wrote to me in a private message. “Missionaries need to be stopped. They go after Jews and lie to them. They go after the vulnerable and the weak and exploit their need to be loved and supported.”

I will be going to sleep with a smile on my face tonight. Unbeknown to me, I have helped save a Jewish soul. According to our sages, that is akin to saving a whole world. Life is beautiful!

Happy Purim and may our Jewish People continue to go from strength to strength

Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Guardians of Shabbat

It is Shabbat morning here in Eretz Yisrael.

As I sit here, on this sunny and peaceful morning, sipping my morning coffee, I marvel at the wisdom of G-d, for dedicating one day a week to resting and turning the Shabbat into an Oneg , a pleasure.

Shabbat is the most important holiday in the Jewish/Hebrew calendar. It has got to be. Not only does it occur 52 times a year, it is first and foremost the sign of the Covenant between G-d and Am Yisrael, entered at Mount Sinai.

According to Shemot Rabba 25:12; Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 1:1 "the scion of David (Mashiach) will come if they [Am Yisrael] keep just one Shabbat, because the Shabbat is equivalent to all the mitzvot.”

Now, I am not an observant Jew in the traditional sense of the word. I do not have the self-discipline that is needed to be one. I do, however, respect this Mitzvah and remember it each Friday evening when I light Shabbat candles.

For me, Shabbat is a day of reckoning, a day or reflection and a day of expressing gratitude.

Shabbat, according to Ahad Ha'am, a Jewish writer and thinker, has also preserved and shielded Am Yisrael more than our people have kept it.

But is it not only remembering the Shabbat that we, Jews, are required. We are also commanded to observe it.

Let us be honest to ourselves, my fellow Jews. Have we ALL kept and observed this Mitzvah?

The answer, my friends, is known.

We, or at least most of us, do, however, remember Shabbat. In fact, here in Eretz Yisrael, it is impossible not to remember it. We feel it in the air each Friday. The stores are hustling and bustling with last minute shopping. Jews, observant, secular, atheists, as one, wish each other "Shabbat Shalom," as they rush home to prepare, each in their own way, for this very special day.

This few millennia old tradition has been passed on to us from generation to generation.

Time to pause and ask ourselves, who were the true guardians of Shabbat over the centuries?

The answer always leads me to one group, Hareidi and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Probably not the answer that many would like to hear. In my view, though, it is that very group which many of us disagree with, oppose, mock, despise and resent, which has contributed much to preserving the Shabbat legacy. And yes, there are many aspects of that segment in our Jewish society that I will never approve of.

Nonetheless, let us face it. It is them and their practices that have brought us thus far. If not for their staunch adherence and dedication, often at a dear and high price for their safety and well-being, the Mitzvah and tradition of keeping Shabbat would have not been observed and preserved, at least not the way and manner that G-d has intended for us.

I believe it is them, the few
 who our great national poet, Bialik described in his immortal poem “ אם יש את נפשך לדעת “ (“If your soul wishes to know” which I highly recommend to any Hebrew literate person to read) as “a few ears of grain, a shadow of what has remained, sorrowful Jews, with dried faces, Jews of the Galut (Diaspora), the ones carrying its burden, those who drown their sorrow in a fading page of Gemara, trying to consign to oblivion their poverty through the ancient debate of the Midrash, trying to forget their worries by reciting Psalms.” A poor sight indeed, but one that has ensured our role in history and has helped us remain the People of Eternity. They are, according to Bialik, “the treasure of our soul,” the “guardians of our great Jewish Spirit.” They are but “a spark,” a sliver of Hope, "the remnant that was miraculously rescued from the great fire which our forefathers had kept burning on their altars, always.”

Hareidi Jews, whether we like to admit it or not, also, are the guardians of our people and our tradition. I will never forget that. I cannot forget that and forever will be grateful to them and all the other Guardians of the wonderful gift of Shabbat throughout our turmoiled and eventful Jewish history.

Shavua tov.             

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The "Hidden Jews" of the East

Many of us have heard about the fate of the Spanish Jews who lived under the Inquisition, the Anoosim. Few, however, myself included, have heard about the Mashadi Jews in Iran who had to endure a similar fate.

A few days ago, I met with a descendant of one such family, Kami Izhakov. This is their story.

Their story begins in 1734 when a king by the name of Nadir Shah, a tolerant man, sought to fortify the northeastern border of then Persia. Towards that end, he brought Jews and resettled them in Mashad, in the District of Khorasan. It is the second holiest city to Shiite Muslims and was, therefore, forbidden to Jews.

The city of Mashad is situated on the silk road was renowned for commerce, mainly leather and fur. The King’s decision paid off. Soon after the resettlement of Jews there, prosperity followed. Their business sagacity coupled with their international connection soon helped the Jews turn the city into a vibrant business center. Even the Muslim residents who had treated the Jews contemptuously and had shunned them socially, soon enjoyed their contributions. Relationships between the two communities improved and both enjoyed the wealth and economic growth.

Unfortunately, after the assassination of the king twelve years later, Muslims began to persecute the Jews and make their lives unbearable.

According to some accounts, matters got worse following an incident which occurred in 1838. A Jewish woman who suffered from leprosy, sought the advice of her doctor. The latter suggested that she uses the blood of a dog to treat her ailment. The woman hired a young Muslim boy to kill a dog for her. The two had a scuffle and the young boy announced to the Muslims that Jews killed a dog during the holy fast day for the revered Ali whom the Shi’a Muslims consider the First Imam appointed by Muhammad.

That incident triggered the resurgence of Muslim hatred to Jews. On that day, crowds of Muslims burst into Jewish homes, pillaged, burned houses and the synagogue and murdered 32 Jews. The Jewish community at that time counted 400 people.
From that day on, the Jews of Mashad, endured a similar fate to the Jews of Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition. They became, outwardly, “Jadid Al Islam,” the New Muslims sadly assumed the role of leading a double life, one Jewish, one Muslim. It was reflected in their names, customs and practices.

The clever and pious Jews of Mashad, however, managed to remain loyal to their Judaism by using various means to deceive their Muslim oppressors. They prayed in cellars. They stationed a woman at the entrance to their buildings which stopped the entry of Muslims. They opened their shops on Shabbat but never conducted business. A child would generally be put in charge of the store and instructed to tell the customers that the owner was gone or that the merchandise they wish to purchase was not available.

Keeping Kashrut on Pesach was a more difficult endeavor. Yet, the Jews of Mashad never failed that either. They baked their own Matzah and continued to buy bread which they eventually shared among the poor residents of the city. Throughout their history, the Jews of Mashad postponed the Pesach celebration by about one week due to persecution and intimidation by their Muslim neighbours.

Kosher slaughter, another important tenet of our Jewish culture, as difficult as it was at times, was also adhered to by these Jews. On one occasion, a ritual slaughterer was caught, tortured and eventually killed for performing this important Mitzvah. 

Their double life was also reflected in the way, Mashad Jews attended houses of worship. Prior to entry into the mosque, they would ask forgiveness from G-d. On Friday mornings, they would go to the Mosque and in the evening observe the Shabbat rituals at home, in secrecy of course.

Under pressure applied by their Muslim authorities, many Jews were also forced to perform the custom of the Haj. Those that partook in the pilgrimage to Mecca, were honoured immensely. Funnily enough, they were the leaders of the Jewish community and were the most staunch and devout believers.

One of them was Kami’s grandfather.

Born in 1883 under the Name Rachamim Ben Yitzchak, he adopted the Muslim name Abdul Karim Izhakov. As one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Mashad, Rachamim was very influential. He was a successful businessman who travelled much and was there fore able to maintin valuable contacts with Jewish communities elsewhere. That important fact helped him smuggle a Sefer Torah to Mashad from Russia, a Sefer Torah that is proudly housed in a synagogue in Ramat Hasharon.

Moreover, when Rachamim made the Haj pilgrimage, he stopped in Eretz Yisrael and bought a piece of land in Yerushalayim. He was determined to ensure that he strikes Jewish Zionist roots for his future generatiosn here in Eretz Yisrael.

During WWII when Jewish children, later known as The Teheran Children, made their way out of the inferno in Poland on their way to Eretz Yisrael, it was Rachamim and his fellow Jewish community members that hosted them and helped ease the trauma that those kids had undergone.

With the rise to power of Riza Shah, the father of the late Shah, life became easier for the Jews of Mashahd. About 2000 of them realized their dream to move to Eretz Yisrael.

It is accounts like this one that  make my Jewish essence overflow with pride and awe echoing over and over again the ancient bliss, “Am Yisrael Chai!”

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Beware of Translations Bearing Wrong Meanings

Those who know me, have by now come to realize that for me, translations, or rather mis-translations, of the Tanach from Hebrew to Greek first and then to other languages, are one of the greatest injustices committed against the Jewish people. Translations, more than often fail to reflect one very important underlying factor in its equation, the culture that is endemic to the language which is translated.

That is especially the pattern with the endeavours to translate the Tanach.

Make no mistake, I am all for educating and enriching as many as possible about different cultures, including our own. Not, however, when there seems to be primary agendas and biases woven into it.

I have written, and more than once, about the breaches and their ensuing perversion, unintentional or otherwise, that resulted from such practices. Any translation, by default, is bound to include any underlying personal and cultural fabrics of the translator, two elements that could affect the world views and understanding of a foreign concept.

Last week, I saw yet another example of it which triggered the rebellion of my Jewish pride and sense of justice. It violated a very sacred and entrenched notion in our Hebrew – Jewish culture.

It happened when I saw the translation of רוח הקודש (Ruach Hakodesh) as “The Holy Spirit.”
A brief visit to the Concordance (a publication which cites all words that appear in the Tanach) reveals that the term Ruach Hakodesh, which in Hebrew means “The Spirit of Holiness” never appears in the Hebrew Tanach. What does appear, and more than once, is “Ruach Elohim,” the “Spirit of G-d.”

First, we see it in Genesis 1:2 “וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם” (and the Spirit of G-d hovers above the water).
Later, we see it in Bresheet 14:38 when Pharaoh seeks a person who has the “Spirit of G-d” in them to help solve his dreams. “הֲנִמְצָא כָזֶה--אִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים בּוֹ (Bresheet 41:38).

Another instance where we come across the use of the term is in Exodus, וָאֲמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ, רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, בְּחָכְמָה וּבִתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת, וּבְכָל-מְלָאכָה
(Shemot 31:3) where G-d is looking for an architect for the Mishkan (dwelling). This person will be filled with the Spirit of G-d, wisdom, understanding and knowledge, wisdom of the heart.

Next we see the notion in the Book of Numbers “ וַתְּהִי עָלָיו, רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים.
(Bamidbar 24:2). Here it is mentioned in connection with Bilaam who was sent to curse Am Yisrael and ended up blessing them once the Spirit of G-d is upon him.

There are many other citations on the concept throughout the Tanach but I trust the reader has gotten the essence of it. In all mentions of the concept, its underlying attribute is the inspiring means of communication between G-d and mankind just as its literal translation connotes, “The Spirit of Holiness” which G-d has kindly bestowed on some human.

In the literature of Chaza”l, our Jewish sages, the term “Ruach Hakodesh” refers only to the gift of prophecy. Moreover, it is considered the lowest level in the hierarchy of prophecy. What follows from their writings is that “Ruach Hakodesh” (The Spirit of Holiness) is inside each one of us.The Talmud goes further to say that  “משמתו נביאים האחרונים חגי זכריה ומלאכי נסתלקה רוח הקדש מישראל” (with the passing away of the last prophets, Hagai, Zechariah and Malachi, so has Ruach Hakodesh, Yoma 9:2).

Unlike the Jewish “Spirit of Holiness,” Christianity mistranslated Ruach Hakoesh as “The Holy Spirit,” one of the components of its trinitarian belief system. It is a concept that is utterly foreign to Judaism and has no relations to it whatsoever.

As I showed above, any interpretation that the “Holy Spirit” equals the “Father and the Son” is based on interpretation of verses in the New Testament and any attempt to argue their case or support them by passages from the Tanach are futile.

Wish to understand the Tanach and what it stands for? Learn Hebrew and avoid falling prey to erroneous mis-translations, innocuous or dis-translations cushioned with some underlying theological agendas.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Torah and Haftarah linked through the Wisdom of our Sages

Anyone who is slightly familiar with Torah (The first 5 books of Moses) knows that it is divided into 52 weekly portions. These portions are read on Shabbat at the synagogue.

However, it is not the only part that is read from the Tanach on Shabbat. Jews also read a section from the other part of the Tanach, namely, the prophets, after the weekly reading of the Torah portion. It is called Haftarah. Haftarah is also read on certain holidays. We should add that only selected passages from the Prophets make it into the Haftarah.

The word, ,הפטרה Haftarah, comes from the Hebrew root פטר, meaning “take leave,” “conclude.” The practice of reading the Haftarah probably started by 100 C.E. although the Talmud mentions that a Haftarah was read in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus. Hyrcanus lived in 70 C.E.

The Haftarah section was selected because it relates to the Torah portion of that week. In many cases, the connection is obvious. In others, it is hinted and is contingent on a word or two. It is also important to note that, unlike the Torah, which is read from a handwritten scroll, the Haftarah is read from a printed book.

What were the origins of the practice of reading the Haftarah?

There are a few explanations to it. The most common one, however, is the one suggested by Chabad and other scholars.

According to them, it started around 168 B.C.E. when the Jews were under the rule of the infamous king Antiochus IV (the one we know from the Channukah story). Antiochus decreed that Jews were not allowed to observe Shabbat, perform Brit Milah (circumcision) and study the Torah which, as stated above, includes only the five Books of Moses. No such decree was issued against reading the other parts of the Tanach.

Jewish brilliance and an unrelenting urge for survival by our Sages instituted that a section of the prophets be read instead, a section that included an idea which was related to the Torah portion of that week.

The practice, evidently, resumed even after it became safe again to read from the Torah.

 In his article dwelling on this subject, Rabbi Peretz Rodman teaches us that “The Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 29b) suggests that a Haftarah should “resemble” the Torah reading of the day. The Haftarah is, in fact, usually linked to a theme or genre from the Torah reading. For example, on the week when the Torah reading features the song sung by the Yisraelites when they witnessed the parting of the Red Sea at the exodus (Exodus 15), the Haftarah includes the Song of Deborah sung in response to the military victory of the Chieftain Deborah and her commanding general, Barak (Judges 5).” Rabbi Rodman brings other examples as support to his claim.

What such a practice boils down to is that Torah is more than the words on parchment.  Torah means “instruction”. And in their wisdom, our Sages, made an addition, the Haftarah, to illuminate, the “instruction”, so that we would better understand the lessons.

While our Sages at one point in history, seeing Jews scattered and being concerned about the consequences of dispersion, allowed the translation of the Torah, they made it very clear that the only authentic version was the Hebrew language one.  That tradition was extended to the writings of the Prophets and the rest of the core library of Jewish tradition.  They understood how translation under the influence of cultural environments could lead to misinterpretation, dilution and distortions of meaning.  The role of the Haftorah, then, became more important as a tool to reinforce the lessons of Torah, to guide our people to seek and grasp the original meaning, important for Jewish cultural survival.

Today, we appreciate the validity of the somewhat prophetic concern of our sages.  We see other religions taking our Jewish literature, translating it, losing up to 30% of meaning, interpreting it in terms of their own cultural outlooks and beliefs, distorting it in doing so. They attach their own source from THEIR gospel to “compliment” the Torah and its related Haftarah, as one can clearly see here,, even though their citation has nothing to do with the original sources.

Furthermore, and that is the real issue, we see Jews accepting these non-Hebraic and non-Jewish interpretations as if they are authentic, in some faulty almost desperate effort to find commonality, to see and define Judaism and Jewish culture in terms of currently fashionable cultural trends. Zionism, for instance, becomes, 20th Century Jewish national liberation and no longer a 3400-year yearning for what is uniquely Jewish while Judaism itself becomes just another belief, another “church of the land” sharing some ill-defined universal values, rather than a special, unique, humane, ethic culture. 

So, as our Sages knew, perhaps it is time to go back to the lessons, to the instruction, to the Torah and the Haftarah, reinforcing one another,  teaching us, in the original language, what we are, what we need to be, to be the “light unto the nations”  in a world that seems to be losing all moral standards.

This article was written jointly by Roger Froikin and Bat-Zion Susskind