The haftarah or (in Ashkenazic pronunciation) haftorah (alt. haphtara, Hebrew: הפטרה; "parting," "taking leave"), (plural form: haftarot or haftoros) is a series of selections from the books of Nevi'im ("Prophets") of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) that is publicly read in synagogue as part of Jewish religious practice. The Haftarah reading follows the Torah reading on each Sabbath and on Jewish festivals and fast days. Typically, the haftarah is thematically linked to the parasha (Torah Portion) that precedes it. The haftarah is sung in a chant (known as "trope" in Yiddish or "Cantillation" in English). Related blessings precede and follow the Haftarah reading.
The origin of haftarah reading is lost to history, and several theories have been proposed to explain its role in Jewish practice, suggesting it arose in response to the persecution of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes which preceded the Maccabean revolt, wherein Torah reading was prohibited, or that it was "instituted against the Samaritans, who denied the canonicity of the Prophets (except for Joshua), and later against the Sadducees." Another theory is that it was instituted after some act of persecution or other disaster in which the synagogue Torah scrolls were destroyed or ruined - it was forbidden to read the Torah portion from any but a ritually fit parchment scroll, but there was no such requirement about a reading from Prophets, which was then "substituted as a temporary expedient and then remained." The Talmud mentions that a haftarah was read in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, who lived c.70 CE, and that by the time of Rabbah (the 3rd century) there was a "Scroll of Haftarot", which is not further described, and in the Christian New Testament several references suggest this Jewish custom was in place during that era.
No one knows for certain the origins of reading the haftarah, but several theories have been put forth. The most common explanation, accepted by some traditional Jewish authorities is that in 168 BCE, when the Jews were under the rule of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, they were forbidden to read the Torah and made do with a substitute. When they were again able to read the Torah, they kept reading the haftarah as well. However this theory was not articulated before the 14th century, when it was suggested by Rabbi David Abudirham, but this explanation has several weaknesses.
An alternative explanation, offered by Rabbis Reuven Margolies and Samson Raphael Hirsch (except where otherwise identified, this is the Hirsch cited throughout this article), is that the haftarah reading was instituted to fight the influence of those sects in Judaism that viewed the Hebrew Bible as consisting only of the Torah.
However, all offered explanations for the origin of reading the haftarah have unanswered difficulties.
Certainly the haftarah was read — perhaps not obligatorily nor in all communities nor on every Sabbath — as far back as circa 70 CE: The Talmud mentions that a haftarah was read in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, who lived at that time. The New Testament indicates that readings from the Prophets - but not necessarily a fixed schedule - was a common part of the Sabbath service in Jerusalem synagogues even earlier than 70 CE.
Only one person reads the haftarah portion. This differs from the procedure in Torah reading, wherein the text is divided into anywhere from three to seven portions, which may be read by one person or divided amongst several.
The haftarah is traditionally read by the maftir, or the last person to be called up to the Torah scroll.
Traditions varied or evolved with regard to which person could read the haftarah. As an indication that, perhaps to make clear that the haftarah reading was not the same status as the Torah reading, a minor (i.e., a boy not yet bar mitzvah age) was permitted to chant the haftarah (at least on an ordinary Sabbath), and there were even communities where the haftarah reading was reserved exclusively for minor boys. In recent centuries, when the attainment of bar mitzvah age is celebrated with a distinct ceremony, the bar mitzvah boy (now an adult) will read the maftir portion and the haftarah. In some other communities, the haftarah could only be read by one who had participated in the Torah reading (in some practices, the maftir - the last man to have read from the Torah), or even the whole congregation would read the haftarah to themselves from the available humashim - this evidently to avoid embarrassing a reader who might make a mistake.
Rabbi Yosef Karo (16th century) reported that for many years there were no set haftarot: the maftir chose an appropriate passage from the Nevi'im. Over time, certain choices became established in certain communities; in contemporary Jewish observance one may not choose his or her own haftarah, explained Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, as that would run against accepted custom. Rabbi Karo's explanation, however, helps to explain why communities have varying customs regarding what to read as haftarah.
Unlike the Torah portion, the haftarah is, nowadays, normally read from a printed book. This may be either a Tanakh (entire Hebrew Bible), a Chumash (or "Humash") (volume containing the Torah with haftarot) or, in the case of the festivals, the prayer book; there are also books containing the haftarot alone in large print. Even when a scroll of haftarah readings is used, that scroll - unlike the Torah scroll - may be made of paper and may include such embellishments as the vowel points and trope.
However, according to most halakhic decisors (posqim ), it is preferable to read the haftarah out of a parchment scroll, and according to a small minority of posqim (mainly the followers of the Vilna Gaon), such a parchment scroll is an absolute requirement. This may take various forms.
It would seem that the initial resistance to using a printed book has diminished as the technology of printing, and therefore the accuracy and characteristics of the printed books, has improved. There were opinions that a haftarah scroll should not be stored in the holy ark, but other opinions (such as Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef) were that it was permitted; however the haftarah scroll is not decorated in the manner of the Torah scrolls but may be given distinctive (and inferior, such as copper) decorations.
Blessings both precede and follow the haftarah reading. One reason the reading of the haftarah is a special honor is because of the voluminous blessings the accompany the reading. These blessings are derived from the minor (and uncanonical) Talmudic tractate Massekhet Soferim - also called, simply, Soferim, which dates back to the 7th or 8th century CE. But it is possible that these blessings, or at least some of them, date from before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. At least some haftarah blessings were in use by the second century. The blessings are read by the person designated to read the haftarah portion; the blessing before the haftarah is read in the tune of the haftarah. The Sephardic practice is to recite, immediately after the text of the haftarah and before the concluding blessings, the verse of Isaiah 47:4 ("Our Redeemer! The Lord of Hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel!"). The blessings following the haftarah are standard on all occasions the haftarah is read, except for the final blessing, which varies by date and is omitted on some days.
There are five blessings, one before, and the others after, the haftarah reading. These blessings may go back as far as the haftarah ritual itself. It will be immediately noticed that the haftarah has more, and longer, blessings than the reading of the Torah itself; it is plausible that the reading from the Prophets was given this distinction in order to emphasize the sacred nature of the Prophetic books in the face of Samaritan rejection. If the haftarah is read by the maftir, then he had already recited two blessings for the Torah reading and the five haftarah blessings means he has recited a total of the significant number of seven blessings. The first blessing is not recited until the Torah scroll has been rolled shut. And, similarly, the haftarah text itself - whether a book or a scroll - remains open on the lectern until after the final haftarah blessing is concluded. The blessings have changed but only a little over the centuries, the current text apparently coming from the late 11th century Machzor Vitry, with slight differences from the texts perpetuated in the tractate Massekhet Soferim (possibly 7th or 8th century), and the writings of Maimonides, dating back to the 12th century.
The first blessing, chanted before the haftarah portion read, uses the same melody as the haftarah chant itself, also in minor mode. For this reason, many prayerbooks print this first blessing with the cantillation marks used in the Bible itself for the books of the Prophets, possibly the only instance of a non-biblical text to be equipped with such marks. This initial blessing is only two verses, but both begin with blessing God, yet are not interrupted by an intervening Amen.
The blessings are as follows: The first blessing precedes the reading:
Blessed are you, Lord [YHVH], our God, King of the universe,
Who has chosen good prophets,
And was pleased with their words spoken in truth.
Blessed are you, Lord, who has chosen the Torah, and his servant Moses,
And his people Israel,
And the prophets of truth and righteousness.
This is a somewhat free translation from the poetic Hebrew text which is the same in both Ashkenazic and Sephardic prayerbooks. This first blessing is straight from the minor tractate Massekhet Soferim, chapter 13, paragraph 7. The first verse praises God, "who has chosen good prophets" (presumably distinguished from false prophets not called by God), the second verse is one of the few places in the Sabbath liturgy that mentions Moses, also chosen by God as were the prophets. "Pleased with their words" because, while Moses wrote the Torah of words dictated verbatim by God, the prophets were each speaking their own words, which won Divine approval after they were spoken. In this context, 'Israel' means world Jewry wherever they may be.
Immediately after the last word of the haftarah has been read, many Sefardic, Mizrahi, and Italic congregations traditionally recite two Bible verses, which are then repeated by the maftir:
The blessings that follow the reading of the haftarah are chanted in the pentatonic scale.
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the universe,
Rock of all the worlds, righteous through all eras,
The trustworthy God, who says and does, who speaks and fulfills,
For all his words are true and just.
Trustworthy are you, Lord, and trustworthy are your words,
And not a single one of your words is recalled as unfulfilled,
Because you are God, king, trustworthy.
Blessed are you Lord, the God who is trustworthy in all his words.
Again, this is straight from Massekhet Soferim, paragraphs 8 and 10; Paragraph 9 set out a congregational response which seems not to have been adopted; after the first verse the congregation would rise and say "Faithful are you Lord our God, and trustworthy are your words. O faithful, living, and enduring, may you constantly rule over us forever and ever." This response apparently was in use in antiquity - the Jews of the eastern diaspora would recite this while seated, the Jews of Eretz Yisrael would stand. This practice appears to have ceased during the Middle Ages (it is not in Amram's prayerbook of the 9th century although a phrase of it ["Trustworthy are you Lord our God, living and enduring forever", right after "words are true and just"] is in the Mahzor Vitry , (ca. 1100), but in the 18th century Rabbi Jacob Emden criticized its omission. The second half of the blessing echoes Isaiah 45:23 and 55:11.
Be merciful to Zion, because it is the home of our life,
And save the downtrodden soon, in our own days.
Blessed are you Lord, who makes glad the children of Zion [or: makes Zion to rejoice in her children].
Very similar to Massekhet Soferim, paragraph 11, which begins "Comfort [Nahem, instead of rahem ], Lord our God, Zion your city..." and ends "who comforts the children of Zion." Zion means Mount Zion, the hill in Jerusalem on which the Temple stood, although it had been destroyed centuries before this blessing was composed. It is possible that Mount Zion is mentioned deliberately to refute the Samaritans, who centered their devotion to Mount Gerizim instead of Mount Zion. Instead of "save" (toshiya) the downtrodden, Massekhet Soferim has "avenge" (tenikum), which is used in the Yemenite version of the blessing. By the time of Amram Gaon (9th century) and Saadiah Gaon (10th century), as well as Mahzor Vitry (ca. 1100), 'be merciful' had replaced 'comfort' - but 'avenge' was still part of the text—and into the last century was still part of both Romaniot and Yemenite versions. It has been suggested that "save" replaced "avenge" in so many communities because of Christian and Moslem censorship or intimidation.
Make us glad, Lord our God,
with the Prophet Elijah, your servant,
and with the kingdom of the house of David, your anointed,
May he arrive soon and bring joy to our hearts.
Let no stranger sit upon his throne,
Nor let others continue to usurp his glory.
For you swore by your holy name that through all eternity his lamp will never go dark.
Blessed are you Lord, shield of David.
This is virtually identical to the text in Massekhet Soferim, paragraph 12, until the last line. Before the second "Blessed are you", Soferim contains the line: "And in his days may Judah be made safe, and Israel to dwell securely, and he shall be called, 'the Lord is our vindicator'." This line remained in Romaniot liturgy. Instead of "Shield of David", Soferim has "who brings to fruition the mighty salvation of his people Israel." But by the 3rd century, "shield of David" was the text in use, predating Soferim. "He" and "his" refer to the Messiah, a descendant of King David. The lines "let no stranger sit on his throne" and "others continue to usurp his glory" might date back to the earliest Talmudic times, when the Hasmoneans and Herodians, rather than true descendants of the royal house of David, were rulers of the Holy Land.
For the Torah reading, and for the worship service, and for [the reading from] the Prophets,
And for this Sabbath day [or: for this (holiday)], which you have given us, Lord our God,
For holiness and for respite, for honor and for splendor,
For all of this, Lord our God,
We gratefully thank you, and bless you.
May your name be blessed by every living mouth,
Always and forever.
Blessed are you Lord, who sanctifies the Sabbath.
This is from paragraph 13 of Soferim, which does not contain the phrase "by every living mouth", and which concludes with "who sanctifies Israel and the Day of [holiday name]." Amram Gaon and Maimonides concluded with "who rebuilds Jerusalem," but this appears to have been discarded by all factions. This final blessing is modified for the various festivals and holidays. In all traditions that last phrase, "who sanctifies the Sabbath", is replaced by the appropriate substitute when the occasion is something other than an ordinary Sabbath, if a holiday falling on a Sabbath the phrasing is "And for this Sabbath day and for this day of this...." (if not on a Sabbath, then merely "and for this day of ..."); e.g. (for Passover) "Festival of Matzos", (on Shavuous) "Festival of Shavuous", (on Succos) "Festival of Succos, (on Shemini Atzeres or Simhas Torah) "Festival of the Assembly", (on Rosh Hashana) "Day of Remembrance", (on Yom Kippur) "Day of Atonement", - but it appears from Kol Bo (14th century) that Yom Kippur is the only fast day with a name and therefore this final blessing is not recited at all on other fast days, such as Gedaliah or Esther or Tisha B'Av, since they have no such names that can be inserted into the blessing - and then the festival version of the blessing concludes:
"... which you have given us, Lord our God, [(on Sabbaths) for holiness and respite,]
for gladness and joy [on Yom Kippur this is replaced with: for pardon, forgiveness, and atonement],
for honor and splendor.
For all this Lord our God we thank you and praise you.
May your name be blessed by every living mouth, always and forever.
Blessed are you Lord, who sanctifies [the Sabbath and] Israel and the Festivals."
Blessed are you Lord,
the King who pardons and forgives our sins and the sins of his people, the family of Israel,
and who removes our iniquities year after year,
King over all the earth, who sanctifies [the Sabbath,] Israel, and the Day of Atonement.
In ancient times the haftarah, like the Torah, was translated into Aramaic as it was read, and this is still done by Yemenite Jews. The Talmud rules that, while the Torah must be translated verse by verse, it is permissible to translate other readings (such as the Haftarah) in units of up to three verses at a time.
Some generalities have been drawn from the haftarah choices, but they have exceptions. For example, that the haftarot have something in common, or some relevancy, with the Torah reading. But, for example, the relevance for the parsha Bamidbar is the one word, "wilderness", in (and, of course, the haftarot for special Sabbaths and holidays do not require any relation to the Torah reading for that week). Or, that the haftarah should be at least 21 verses in length, to match the minimal Torah reading, but, e.g., the haftarah for Ki Teitzei for Ashkenazim and Sephardim is only 10 verses; and the haftarah for Miketz is, for Ashkenazim and Sephardim only 15 verses, and for Italic Jews only 14 verses. The Tosefta mentions a haftarah in antiquity (before the 2nd century CE) that was just one verse, namely Isaiah 52:3, and some others that were only four or five verses. Another, that the haftarah reading should not end on a macabre or distressing verse, and therefore either the penultimate verse is repeated at the very end or else verses from elsewhere (sometimes even from different prophetic books) are used as a coda, such as with the haftarah for Tzav (Ashkenazim and Sephardim skip ahead in the same prophet to avoid concluding with the description of the dire fate of the wicked, a total of 19 verses; Chabad and Yemenite also skip ahead to avoid concluding with a different disquieting verse, a total of 16 verses; Karaites and Romaniote go back and repeat the penultimate verse, promising the reappearance of Elijah, rather than end with the word "desolation" - and the same applies when everyone else reads the same passage on Shabbat Hagadol ). Among the consistent characteristics is that entire verses are read; never is only a part of a verse read.
In antiquity there was no prescribed list of haftarah readings for the year, although the Talmudic literature (including the Midrash and Tosefta) does report some recommendations for specific holidays. It would appear that, in antiquity, the choice of portion from the Prophets was made ad hoc, without regard for the choice of previous years or of other congregations, either by the reader or by the congregation or its leaders; this is evidenced by recommendations in Talmudic literature that certain passages should not be chosen for haftarah readings, which indicates that, to that time, that a regular list for the year's readings did not exist. Further evidence of the lack of an ancient authoritative list of readings is the simple fact that, while the practice of reading a haftarah every Sabbath and most holy days is ubiquitous, the different traditions and communities around the world have by now adopted differing lists, indicating that no solid tradition from antiquity dictated the haftarah selections for a majority of the ordinary Sabbaths.
The haftarah is read with cantillation according to a unique melody (not with the same cantillation melody as the Torah). The tradition to read Nevi'im with its own special melody is attested to in late medieval sources, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic. A medieval Sephardic source notes that the melody for the haftarot is a slight variation of the tune used for reading the books of Nevi'im in general (presumably for study purposes), and Jews of Iraqi origin to this day preserve separate "Neviim" and "Haftarah" melodies.
Note that although many selections from Nevi'im are read as haftarot over the course of the year, the books of Nevi'im are not read in their entirety (as opposed to the Torah). Since Nevi'im as a whole is not covered in the liturgy, the melodies for certain rare cantillation notes which appear in the books of Nevi'im but not in the haftarot have been forgotten. For more on this, see Nevi'im.
As a generality, although the Torah was chanted in a major key (ending in a minor key), the haftarah is chanted in a minor key (as is the blessing before the reading of the haftarah) and ends in a pentatonic mode (and the blessings following the haftarah reading are also pentatonic).
The Haftarot for the morning of Tisha b'Av, and for the Shabbat preceding it, are, in many synagogues, predominantly read to the cantillation melody used for the public reading of the Book of Lamentations, or Eicha.
Some Rishonim, including Rabbenu Tam, report that a custom in the era of the Talmud was to read a haftarah at the mincha service each Sabbath afternoon — but that this haftarah was from the Ketuvim rather than from the Nevi'im. Most halachic authorities maintain that that was not the custom in Talmudic times, and that such a custom should not be followed. In the era of the Geonim, some communities, including some in Persia, read a passage from Nevi'im (whether or not in the form of a haftarah) Sabbath afternoons. Although this practice is virtually defunct, most halachic authorities maintain that there is nothing wrong with it.
Rabbi Reuven Margolies claims that the now-widespread custom of individuals' reciting Psalm 111 after the Torah reading Sabbath afternoon derives from the custom reported by Rabbenu Tam. Louis Ginzberg makes the analogous claim for the custom of reciting Psalm 91 in Motza'ei Shabbat.
In many communities the haftarah is read by a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah at his or her respective ceremonies, along with some, all, or, sometimes none of the Torah portion. This is often referred to, mainly in Hebrew schools and bar preparatory programs, as a haftarah portion.
The reading of the haftarah by the Bar Mitzvah is a relatively new custom, since it is not derived from either Bible nor Talmud. According to the Talmud, the lesson from the Prophets may be read by a minor (i.e., a boy younger than 13), if he is sufficiently educated to do it. A tradition that might have dated back to medieval times was that a boy would read the haftarah on the Sabbath prior to his Bar Mitzvah, and on the day of his Bar Mitzvah read the portion from the Torah but not the haftarah; this custom changed, in the United States, in the late 19th century or early 20th century, when the Bar Mitzvah would read both the Torah and haftarah on the Sabbath immediately following his 13th birthday. The custom of the Bar Mitzvah reading the haftarah is so recent that the appropriate procedure for a haftarah reading when two boys are Bar Mitzvah on the same day is still unresolved.
The selections of haftarot readings for the various weeks, and holy days, of the year differs from tradition to tradition - Ashkenazic from Sefardic from Yemenite from Mizrachi, etc. And even within a tradition there is no one authoritative list, but a multitude of different lists from different communities and congregations, usually differing from each other by only one or two haftarot. A study of the antiquity of each of these lists, and how they differ from each other, is beyond the scope of this (or any other brief) article but may be most informative on the history (including the contacts and separations) of the various communities.
The selection from Nevi'im [the Prophets] read as the haftarah is not always the same in all Jewish communities. When customs differ, this list indicates them as follows: A=Ashkenazic custom (AF=Frankfurt am Main; AH=Chabad; AP= Poland); I=Italian custom; S=Sephardic and Mizrahi custom (SM=Maghreb [North Africa]; SZ= Mizrahi [Middle and Far East]); Y=Yemenite custom; R=Romaniote (Byzantine, eastern Roman empire, extinct) custom; and K=Karaite custom. In some instances Isr.Wikip = the Israeli version of Wikipedia (in Hebrew) of this article had different readings in its list. In several instances, authorities did not agree on the readings of various communities.
Because, in the Diaspora, certain holy days and festivals are observed for an additional day, which day is not so observed in Eretz Yisrael, sometimes different haftarot are read simultaneously inside and outside Eretz Yisrael.
In general, on the dates below, the haftarot below are read, even if that entails overriding the haftarah for a Sabbath Torah portion. However, in certain communities, the first two haftarot below (that for Rosh Hodesh and that for the day preceding Rosh Hodesh) are replaced by the regular weekly haftarah when the weekly reading is Masei(occurring in mid-summer) or later. Some of these occasions also have specific Torah readings, which (for A and S) are noted parenthetically.
[The holidays and special Sabbaths are listed in their usual sequence during the year, starting with Rosh Hashanah ]
It was customary in many communities to read Isaiah 61:10 - 62:8 (Italic would read 61:9 - 62:9) if a bridegroom (who had married within the previous week) was present in the synagogue.
When a Talmudically specified haftarah was to be read on a certain Sabbath (e.g., on Sabbath of Hanukkah), some communities
did not read the bridegroom's haftarah, preferring to keep to the standard haftarah of the week. Again, customs varied:
Nowadays, this custom has virtually disappeared. No one reads a special haftarah for a bridegroom any longer, except the Karaites and perhaps intensely Orthodox congregations.