Haftarah for July 4: Declaration of Independence in Haftarah Chant

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Brief history by Rabbi Arthur Waskow; haftarah trope by Hazzan Jack Kessler

Attached is a copy of the US Declaration of Independence with Haftarah Trope marked, as created by Hazzan Jack Kessler and delineated by Rabbi Marcia Prager.

The graphic shows the first page of the text with Trope marks; available for download is the entire text. (Click on "attachment" at the end of this post).

Honoring the Declaration in this way has a pedigree in the havurah and Jewish-renewal movements, beginning in 1974.

That year at the July 4 gathering of the East Coast Havurot (Havurat Shalom, the NY Havurah, and Fabrangen), we took special note of the Declaration as a prophetic call, in the name of a Universal God, for liberty and justice. We called people up to read from the text, using the brakhot, "as if" it were an extension of the prophetic tradition. (I recall that Rabbi Hershel Matt, may the memory of that tzaddik continue to be for a blessing, was the first so called up.)

What evolved over the years was this practice, carried out at every B’nai Or/ P’nai Or/ ALEPH Kallah beginning with the first one in 1985, and in many years at Elat Chayyim as well:

We treated July 4 (or the nearest Shabbat) NOT as a national holiday but as a step forward in the general spiritual development of the human race, worthy of being marked by a Jewish community in the way Jews mark festivals: with a special reading of a Torah passage and a Haftarah.

The Torah passage we have read is the one that sets limits on the powers of a king --- "Perek HaMelekh/ "Chapter on the King" in Devarim/Deuteronomy 17: 14-20. We call up for an aliyah, with the Torah blessings, those members of the congregation who feel most committed to affirming the sovereignty of the people as a whole in accord with God’s desire for justice, rather than unaccountable top-down power exercised by a government or any other institution (in our generation, that might mean giant corporations), and someone chants from the Sefer Torah that passage:

If, when you have entered the land
that YHWH [the Breath of Life] your God is giving you,
and you possess it and settle in it,
should you say:
I will set over me a king
like all the nations that are around me—
you may set, yes, set over you a king
that YHWH your God chooses;
from among your kinfolk you may set over you a king,
you may not place over you a foreigner
who is not kin to you.

Only: he is not to multiply horses [cavalry] for himself,
and he is not to return the people
to Mitzrayyim/ Tight and Narrow Place/ Egypt
in order to multiply horses [his army],
since YHWH has said to you:
You will never return that way again!

And he is not to multiply wives for himself,
that his heart not be turned-aside,
and silver or gold he is not to multiply for himself to excess.

But it shall be:
when he sits on the throne of his kingdom,
he is to write himself a copy of this Teaching in a
before the face of Levitical priests.

It is to remain beside him;
he is to read out of it all the days of his life,
in order that he may learn to have-awe-for YHWH his God,
to be-careful concerning all the words of this Teaching
and the deep-carved laws, to observe them,
that his heart not be raised above his kinfolk,
that he not turn-aside from what-is-connective,
to the right or to the left;
in order that he may prolong (his) days over his kingdom,
he and his children,
in the midst of Israel [all those who wrestle God].

[Adapted from the translation by Everett Fox in The Five Books of Moses (Schocken)]

Then someone chants all or part of the Declaration of Independence. Since Hazzan Kessler has worked out the pattern shown in the attached document, using it has become the custom.

At the first [B’nai Or] Kallah in 1985, people were then invited to call out and to write on a huge bed-sheet our own midrashic renewals / revisions of the Declaration, and red-white-and-bue tzitziot were then attached to its corners. It has been carried to every Kallah since. The custom of orally “revising” the Declaration in the light of our own concerns has continued.

A treasury of materials on the Fourth of July can be found at http://www.theshalomcenter.org/treasury/103

Shalom, salaam, shantih --- peace, Arthur


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