Epistle to Yemen/X

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Iggeret Teiman, translated by Boaz Cohen, notes by Abraham S. Halkin

us to worship idols, by citing the verse "And ye shall serve other gods" (Deuteronomy 11:16). Other illustrations could be multiplied ad libidinem. To sum up, it is wrong to interpret any given verse apart from its context.

In order to comprehend unequivocally the verse under discussion namely, "A prophet will the Lord thy God raise up unto thee, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren," it is necessary to ascertain its context. The beginning of the paragraph whence the verse is taken, contains prohibitions of the acts of soothsaying, augury, divination, astrology, sorcery, incantation and the like. The Gentiles believe that through these practices they can predict the future course of events and take the necessary precautions to forestall them. The interdiction of these occult proceedings were accompanied with the explanation that the Gentiles believe they can depend upon them to determine future happeneings. But you may not do so. You will learn about the time to come from a prophet who will rise up among you, whose predictions will come true without fail. You will thus arrive at a foreknowledge of circumstances without being obliged to resort to augury, divination, astrology and the like, for he will spare you that. Matters will be facilitated for you by the fact that this prophet will live within your borders. You will not be compelled to go in search after him from country to country, nor to travel to distant parts, as is implied in the phrase, "from the midst of thee."

Moreover, another notion is conveyed in the words "from the midst of thee from thy brethren like unto me," namely, that he will be one of you, that is, a Jew. The obvious deduction is that you shall be distinguished above all others for the sole possession of prophecy. The words "like unto me" were specifically added to indicate that only the descendants of Jacob are meant. For the phrase "of thy brethren" by itself might have been misunderstood and taken to refer also to Esau and Ishmael, since we do find Israel addressing Esau as brother, for example, in the verse, "Thus saith thy brother Israel" (Numbers 20:14). On the other hand, the words "like unto me," do not denote a prophet as great as Moses, for this interpretation is precluded by the statement "And there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses." (Deuteronomy 34:10). The general drift of the chapter points to the correctness of our interpretation and will be confirmed by the succession of the verses, to wit "There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire etc.," (Deuteronomy 18:10), "For these nations, that thou art to dispossess, hearken unto soothsayers, and unto diviners; but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do ." (Verse 14). "A prophet will the Lord thy God raise up unto thee, from the midst of thee, of they brethren, like unto me," (Verse 15). It is obviously clear that the prophet alluded to here will not be a person who will produce a new law, or found a new religion. He will merely enable us to dispense with diviners and astrologers, and will be available for consultation concerning anything that may befall us, just as the Gentiles confer with soothsayers and prognosticators. Thus we find Saul advising with Samuel concerning his lost asses, as we read, "Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he said: 'Come and let us go to the seer'; for he that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer." (Samuel 9:9).

Our disbelief in the prophecy of Omar and Zeid8 is not due to the fact that they are non-Jews, as the unlettered folk imagine, and in consequence of which they are compelled to justify their standpoint by the Biblical statement "from thy midst, out of thy brethren." For Job, Zophar, Bildad, Eliphaz, and Elihu are all considered prophets and are non-Jews. On the other hand, although Hananiah, the son of Azur was a Jew, he was deemed an accursed and false prophet. Whether one should yield credence to a prophet or not depends upon the nature of his doctrines, and not upon his race, as we shall explain presently. Our ancestors have witnessed Moses, our Teacher, foremost among the prophets, holding a colloquy with the Divinity, reposed implicit faith in him when they said to him, "Go thou near and hear," (Deuteronomy 5:24). Now he assured us that no other law remained in heaven that would subsequently be revealed, nor would there even be another Divine dispensation, as the verse, "It is not in heaven," (Deuteronomy 30:12) implies. Scripture prohibits us from making any amendments to the Law or eliminating anything, for we read "Thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it" (Deuteronomy 13:1). We pledged and obligated ourselves to God to abide by His Law, we, our children, and our children's children, until the end of time as Scripture says "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever." (Deuteronomy 29:28). Any prophet, therefore, no matter what his pedigree is, be he priest, Levite, or Amalekite, is perfidious even if he asserts that only one of the precepts of the Torah is void, in


8 Cf. Chajes, Torat Ha-Nebiim, ch. XI, p. 26b, note.