(Not) Under the Yoke / (No) Subjugation
The etymological meaning of the word 'subjugation': state of being brought under (sub) the yoke (jugum)
1. Background to our Text:
Conflicting responses to Babylonian power
Jeremiah 27: 1-4, 8-11
Note that the passages in chapters 27, 28, and 29 all relate to events of the year 594 BCE, the fourth year of King Zedekiah of Judah
- Kings gather in Jerusalem to oppose Babylon together; Jeremiah puts on a yoke
- Jeremiah opposes agitation and prophecy against Babylon; the yokes of wood or iron
- Jeremiah sends a letter to the exile community in Babylon with emissaries of King Zedekiah
John Bright, Jeremiah (Anchor Bible), Comment to ch. 29 (p. 211)
The fact that Jeremiah's letter was forwarded (29:3) through envoys sent by Zedekiah to Nebuchadnezzar's court fits well with a date in 594, for Zedekiah would have been obliged, after the disturbances that had taken place in Judah, to smooth matters over and assure Nebuchadnezzar of his loyalty.
2. Our Text
Prophet versus Prophet
3. Conflicts with a variety of prophets
Dalit Rom-Shiloni, Jeremiah (The Jewish Study Bible) (p. 970)
Chapters 27-29 form a special unit within Jeremiah, addressing theological and political issues between Jeremiah and other prophets whom he (and his followers) considered false prophets (this is a continuation of chapter 26, where Jeremiah himself is accused of being a false prophet). In this unique account these opponent prophets have names and they are active in Jerusalem, or already in Babylonia. The unifying theme is the false hope that the Jehoiachin exiles will soon be returning back home, and that the Babylonian regime is only a short-lived threat.
John Bright, Jeremiah (Anchor Bible), Comment to ch. 28, pp. 202-203
Most instructive...is the light that [this chapter] casts upon a problem which must have perplexed the people of the day profoundly: How could one tell a true prophet from a false one? One notes that Hananiah spoke in the form of prophet address, just as Jeremiah did. Nor is there anything to suggest that he did not do so sincerely. Jeremiah, indeed indicated that he wished that he could believe what Hananiah had said (vs. 6). ...
It is interesting that Jeremiah, when Hananiah confronted him, seemed to feel that at the moment he had no word from [the Lord] to say. He therefore did not call Hananiah a liar but (vss. 6-9) merely pointed out (a) that Hananiah's words were not in the tradition of the great prophets of the past (he doubtless thought of such prophets as Isaiah and Micah), and (b) that the event would have to show who was speaking the truth. Even when Hananiah snatched the yoke from his neck and broke it, Jeremiah said nothing, but meekly went away. It was only later, when a new revelation had come to him, that he denounced Hananiah in the name of [the Lord].
4. Jeremiah's Letter to the Exile Community
What was Jewish life like in Babylonia?
[Dr. Laurie Pearce, "Judean Life in Babylonia", The Torah.com https://www.thetorah.com/article/judean-life-in-babylonia
Lecturer in Akkadian in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, UC, Berkeley
Upon the conquest of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar deported many Judeans to Babylonia. What was their life like there? Were they assimilated, or did they stand out? What language(s) did they speak and what religious practices did they maintain? What was their social and economic standing? Babylonian records allow us glimpses into the lives of some of the deportees. ...
Subsequent to Nebuchadnezzar’s predations, Judeans who remained in the small villages of Judah probably continued to speak the local Hebrew dialects. However, as Aramaic served as the language of imperial administration, many Judeans would have learnt Aramaic. Certainly, those who were deported to Babylonia would have learned to speak Aramaic, but did they continue to speak Hebrew as well? ...
Shelamyah ben Nedavyah Owes Barley (see image above)
On the left edge of this tablet, five incised letters Š-L-M-Y-H spell the Hebrew name שלמיה, Šelamyah, rendered Šalam-Yāma (=Yawa=Yahweh) in the Akkadian text. Some of these letters present features distinctive to paleo-Hebrew script.
This mid-sixth century transaction (549 B.C.E.) belongs to a watershed period in the history of the Hebrew language when, even in Judah, the use of Aramaic script replaced the ancient Hebrew script, and yet the name on the side of this tablet is written in paleo-Hebrew script.
The tablet’s date suggests that: (1) Šalam-Yāma was born near the start of the exile, either in Judah or shortly after his family’s deportation, in Babylonia; and (2) that his father, Nadab-Yāma (נדביה), or someone in his circle, was literate and could have taught Šalam-Yāma to write in the script that would have been in use during his youth. ...
[Evidence from Jewish Names]
The name Šabbātaya, “the one of (i.e., born on) the Sabbath,” references a distinctive Judean observance, although its exclusivity to that community is not securely established. Similarly, the name Haggai marks an individual (or his parents) as a devotee of festival observance (Hebrew ḥag means a pilgrimage festival).
The names Šabbātaya and Haggai suggest that persons named for the special days on which they were born belonged to families that observed the Sabbath and holidays. However, not all Judeans, whether in Judah or Babylonia, observed relevant religious laws and injunctions. Contemporaneous biblical texts indicate that some Judeans, both before and after exile, ignored various Sabbath injunctions. For example, the author of the book of Jeremiah admonishes people to keep the Shabbat and not to carry burdens on the holy day (ch. 17)...]
5. Seek the welfare of the city...
"Praying for the Government," Rabbi Rachel Isaacs, director of the Center for Small Town Jewish Life at Colby College
My Jewish Learning (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/praying-for-the-government/) Visited 11/2021
The tension between synagogue and statecraft is an old one. Since the destruction of the first Temple in 586 B.C.E., the Jewish community has recognized how our fate is inextricably tied to the welfare of the states in which we live and the quality of their governance. The prophet Jeremiah wrote from Babylon: “And seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the LORD in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper.” Jeremiah 29:7 ...
...almost all Jewish communities today incorporate a prayer for the government into the weekly Shabbat service, most commonly as part of the Torah service. (A separate prayer for the State of Israel is also commonly recited at the point in the service.) The first such prayer was introduced into the Jewish prayer book by David Abudarham in the 14th century, but many prayers for the government have been crafted over the centuries. While the specific wording varies, most versions ask for blessings upon the land and for government officials to have the counsel necessary to make wise, compassionate decisions in line with the values of our tradition.
According to scholar Jonathan Sarna, the traditional prayer for local government, often called in Hebrew Hanoten Teshuah (“He who grants deliverance”), was firmly cemented into Jewish liturgy by the early 17th century. This prayer emphasizes Jewish loyalty to the broader polity and asks God to “bless, guard, protect, help, exalt, magnify, and highly aggrandize,” the sovereign in the hopes that these words of praise and God’s grace would protect the local Jewish community. The prayer represents Jewish hopes that open expressions of fealty in synagogue would provide security for their communities and lessen incidences of anti-Jewish discrimination or violence.
The original wording of Hanoten Teshuah underwent serious changes in an American context. A prayer that asks for the long and successful reign of kings and princes no longer fit a democratic context. Earlier references to European kings were replaced by the president, vice-president and appointed officers of the United States. The liberal Jewish movements changed the wording even further to fit a more progressive and self-assured relationship to governmental power.
The Traditional Prayer Book Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox), Behrman House, 1960, p. 260
Prayer for the Government
"Seek the welfare of the city whither I have caused you to migrate, And pray to the Lord for it." - Jeremiah 29:7
Heavenly Father, uphold and bless this our country, the United States of America. Implant brotherly love among all who dwell therein. Bless Thou the constituted officers of government in this land. Set in their hearts the spirit of wisdom and understanding to uphold peace and freedom.
Siddur Lev Shalom Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative) 2016
A Prayer for Our Country
Our God and God of our ancestors, with mercy accept our prayer on behalf of our country and its government. Pour out Your blessing upon this land, upon its inhabitants, upon its leaders, its judges, officers, and officials, who faithfully devote themselves to the needs of the public. Help them understand the rules of justice You have decreed, so that peace and secu- rity, happiness and freedom, will never depart from our land.
ADONAI, God whose spirit is in all creatures, we pray that Your spirit be awakened within all the inhabitants of our land. Uproot from our hearts hatred and malice, jealousy and strife. Plant love and companionship, peace and friendship, among the many peoples and faiths who dwell in our nation. Grant us the knowledge to judge justly, the wisdom to act with compassion, and the understanding and courage to root out poverty from our land.
[6 "Under the Yoke" in Jewish Liturgy]