Sermon: Introduction to Megillat HaAtzma’ut as Haftarah
Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 22 April 2023
We are about to do something that, I think, we have not done in this community before. Certainly not in my relatively short time here.
We are about to chant a portion of text as our haftarah that is not biblical or rabbinic (as we have done in our Kollot services since 2013).
Rather, we are about to chant a modern text, a text written in the twentieth century, in the lifetime of some in this room.
As we are about to do something unusual, it deserves a moment of explanation.
We are about to read a section from Megillat HaAtzma’ut, the Israeli Declaration of Independence.
We will read it as haftarah:
We will frame it with blessings declaring it a writing of wisdom;
Cantor Tamara will chant it in our haftarah trope.
What are we doing?
One thing we are doing is to fulfil one of the main objectives of haftarah, this additional text that we read after our Torah portion. One of its functions is to draw our attention to the Jewish calendar.
As we near the 75th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel, we acknowledge this in our haftarah as part of our Jewish calendar. Whatever is going on in its politics, we acknowledge Israel unambiguously as part of our Jewish lives; described in our liturgy as the first flowering of our redemption.
We are doing something else as well. We are also placing ourselves in direct connection with our colleagues and friends in the Progressive Movement in Israel, from whom this tradition of chanting the Declaration comes. Many Progressive communities in Israel will chant this text in their services on the morning of Yom HaAtzma’ut.
Like all the best haftarot, though, our passage this morning has another element as well.
The best haftarot are also a commentary on Torah, an expansion of the portion we just read.
This morning’s haftarah is to be read in connection with the third scroll from which Bella read for us this morning, our special portion from Deuteronomy.
In some ways they have a similar idea underpinning them:
In our Torah portion, we saw an idealised vision of the Land of Israel.
One flowing with milk and honey; a land of hills and valleys, that soaks up its water from the rains of heaven; a land on which God always keeps an eye all year round.
In the section of the Declaration we have chosen for this morning, we read an idealised version of the State of Israel. A Jewish state based on a Jewish vision, on the prophetic call for freedom, justice and peace; a state intended to be one of equality, of rights for all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.
But the haftarah is often an act of subversion of Torah – and that is part of what we are doing this morning.
For our portions are different in one very important way:
In our Torah portion we are presented as receivers of a promised land, one in which God is the protector and the guarantor of the wellbeing of the land.
In reading from the declaration as our haftarah we affirm that we are not receivers of a promised land but builders of one. That this passivity, the receiving of the land, the ‘being there’, being on it is not enough – that is not the fulfilment of the Prophetic vision.
It is the nature of the state that is created that is the fulfilment of the Prophetic vision.
We read this text not as idealised vision of what Israel is but to declare ourselves as invested in the intent of the founders of the State of Israel to build something idealistic, something which still requires building.
So we chant Megillat HaAtzma’ut not as a declaration of entitlement, but as a declaration of aspiration;
Not as a declaration of independence but as a declaration of a task as yet unfulfilled.
We recognise that God is not the guarantor of the wellbeing of the land – those who live there are, and so are we as Jews in the diaspora.
From Megillat HaAtzma’ut
By virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, we hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.
The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.