Haftarah: Judges 11: 1 – 33 Yiftach (Jephte)- warrior, 12th- 11th C. BCE
I’ve been away for a while, preparing for an art exhibit, but I’m back. Here are thoughts and art pertaining to this week’s haftarah
The haftarah for Hukkat focuses on the story of a man named Yiftach (Jephte) who led his tribe to victory against the Ammonites. Yiftach was an accomplished fighter. He was driven out of the family by his half brothers- the “legitimate” sons of Gilead who said they did not want to share their land inheritance with him. When the Ammonites declared war against B’nei Yisrael, the sons of Gilead begged their half-brother Yiftach to lead them to battle. They said they would appoint him as leader of their tribe if he led them to victory.
Yiftach tried to negotiate with the enemy but they would neither negotiate nor compromise. With God’s support Yiftach led his army to victory and consequently he became leader for six years. ( The victory is followed by a terrible incident caused by an unnecessary oath Yiftach made to God. The result of this oath is a well known and tragic story that is not included in this week’s haftarah.)
To paint Yiftach leading his fighters into battle I tried to find images of Jewish warriors. I looked at ancient paintings, medieval haggadot and early manuscript paintings confident that I would find something- after all b’nei Yisrael was involved in many battles in throughout the bible. I couldn’t seem to find historical images of Jewish soldiers.
I finally came across this beautiful rendering from “The Duke of Sussex Pentateuch”. “V’Yidaber” Duke of Sussex Pentateuch, by Hayyim, c. 1300
The Duke of Sussex Pentateuch was written and illuminated in southern Germany around 1300 by a scribe-artist known only as Hayyim. The “carpet page” (illuminated title page) shows four knights drawn in fine line work and with surprisingly delicate features. Each represents one of the tribes that camped around the Tent of Meeting, displaying their tribal flags. The fantastical beasts with human faces are quite intriguing.
It is intriguing that the Jewish artist had painted the leaders of the tribes of Israel as crusaders. I assume that was the only context the Jews of Germany had for soldiers. Even though these men are wearing crusader uniforms they are b’nei Yisrael warriors ready for battle. I gave them weapons and the flag of the Tribe of Menashe.
Rather than depending on the uniforms of other nations, now we can be proud of our Jewish soldiers in a Jewish army defending our Jewish State of Israel in their own uniforms.
The story of Yiftach is yet another story of family relationships, discussion, and pride. The brothers selfishly expelled Yiftach from their family. When they were desperate for help they appealed to him and he returned. He didn’t allow his pride to stand in the way of saving his tribe. Both Moses and Yiftach tried to negotiate with the nations who stood against them in order to avoid war. Either pride or greed stopped the Amorites and the Ammonites from settling with the Israelites. In each case the Israelites won the battles. These narratives are lessons to us to negotiate in good faith and fulfill our relationships with open hearts, and good faith.
Now, about the exhibit. For the last few years I have been posting blogs featuring paintings referring to Tanach and Bible narratives. Now these images are on display at the Beth Tzedec Museum in Toronto, Canada. As well as 88 prints from my haftarah series, there are also ketuboth, handmade books, and the Megillat Esther I created for the Gilbert-Schachter family. Most of the work on display is available for purchase. The exhibit is up until October 24, 2019. Please come and take a look, and let me know what you think!
Beth Tzedec Reuben and Helene Dennis Museum 1700 Bathurst St, Toronto, ON M5P 3K3 Hours: When the synagogue is open 7 days a week, 8:00 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya