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Sefer Habakuk with Avi Rockoff

Sunday, February 12, 2023 21 Shevat 5783

10:00 AM - 11:00 AMBayit

5 Sunday mornings at 10 AM, between February 12th and March 26th. (Exact dates TBD.)

Sefer Habakuk is the eighth of the Trei Asar, the twelve “minor prophets.” No one knows who Habakuk was, exactly when he lived, or what his name means.

Because the book is just three chapters long, we will be able to read it all. Sources will be in Hebrew and English, and everything in Hebrew will be translated:

  • The Aramaic Targum Yonatan, often cited by Rashi
  • The “New” JPS translation (the one used by Sefaria) from 1985, along with the earlier (1917) JPS and other English translations
  • Classic parshanim: Rashi, Radak, Abarbanel
  • More modern parshanim: Malbim (19th century), Da’at Mikra, published 1976 by Mossad HaRav Kook

Among the topics we will cover will be:

  • Historical background. Habakuk’s prophecy obviously refers to Babylonia and Nebuchadnezzar, but it is not exactly clear when, in relation to the hurban Beit HaMikdash Rishon (the destruction of the First Temple) and galut Bavel (the 70-year Babylonian exile).
  • Prophetic critique. The salient aspect of Sefer Habakuk is the prophet’s critique of G-d’s apparent toleration of injustice. Such critiques are not unprecedented (think Avraham and S’dom), but Habakuk’s is more strident and extensive. Among the aspects of that critique for us to explore will be:
    • Its justification. If the Jews are guilty of sin, and Bavel is the instrument of G-d’s punishment, why is that a problem?
    • What answers does Habakuk himself give to his own questions about G-d’s apparent injustice?
    • Is the injustice to which Habakuk objects just particular—what happens to Jews?—or are there universal dimensions?
  • Resonance in liturgy and Jewish culture. Some phrases from Sefer Habakuk have entered our liturgy. Others have been used in modern Hebrew songs. The biographer of one of the parshanim, Abarbanel, was Bentzion Netanhahu, whose judgment of Abarbanel’s failure of leadership at the time of the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion has reportedly had a profound effect on the policies and worldview of his son and current Israeli Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu.

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