Reciting the Haftorah in French
In the early days of this blog I posted on Rabbi Yosef Messas. Since in a post at Seforim Marc B. Shapiro has mentioned R. Messas, I figured that it was time to write about him again. My intention was to write about a responsum of his, which while not about some earth-shattering topic, I think it illustrates some of his halakhic creativity. While looking for that responsum I came across a different one which was also very interesting, so in the spirit of performing a mitzvah when the opportunity presents itself, here are some words about the other responsum that I found.
in his Otzar ha-Michtavim (vol. III, no. 1523), Rabbi Messas answers a responsum addressed to R. Mordechai Haddad of Sefkes (?), Tunisia. R. Haddad asked about someone who requested that the haftorah be recited only in French in order that the entire congregation would understand it. R. Haddad was uncomfortable with it being recited only in French so he suggested that the first and last three verses be recited in Hebrew. R. Messas points out that this question was already asked of R. Meir of Padua (see Responsa of Maharam Padua, no. 78). R. Meir of Padua was responding to a question of R. Eliyahu Kapsali who described his desire to put a stop to an old custom that on Yom Kippur at mincha the first three verses of Jonah would be read only in Hebrew, as would the last three verses that are read from Micah at the end of the haftorah, but the rest of Jonah would be translated into Greek. Maharam Padua isn’t so supportive of the custom itself, but he thinks that except for extreme cases one should try and find a justification for old customs. R. Messas feels that if the custom of translating the haftorah was not already observed, then it shouldn’t be instituted. He says that with people clamoring for reform in every area, we must be careful about the slippery-slope, “ומהקל נמשכים מעט מעט אל החמור”. What he does suggest is that after the haftorah is read someone translate it and there would be two benefits. The first is that people will understand, and second, it is another opportunity to “sell” an honor and raise money for charity.
There is evidence from the Talmud that the haftorah was translated at some time, and on certain days it continued until some point in the medieval period. See bMegillah 23b and Tosafot s.v. lo shanu. Also see the entry on “haftorah” in the Talmudic Encyclopedia and the sub-section on “ha-Targum” for other sources regarding the translation of the haftorah. On the translations of part of the liturgy in the modern period, see Moshe Samat, Ha-Hadash Assur min ha-Torah, p. 230, n. 8.