Introduction to "Haftarot"
What are the "Haftarot?"
The "Haftarot" are selections from the Prophets that are read on special occasions (Shabbat, the Holidays, Fast Days) after the public reading of the Torah. The origin of this practice is traced, according to the opinion of the "Levush," cited by Rabbi Moshe Weissman in his work "The Midrash says - on the Weekly Haftaros" to a time that the Jews in Eretz Yisrael were forbidden to read from the Torah. Rabbi Weissman cites Tosfos Yom Tov on Megilla 3:4 as explaining that "the ban was made by the Emperor Antiochus in the period of the Chashmonaim." A portion from the Prophets related in one or more ways to the Section of Torah that "would have been read" was selected by the Rabbis and substituted in its place.
After the decree against reading the Torah was lifted, the Rabbis allowed the practice to remain in effect. Possibly the most important reason they did this was that by preserving the practice, whereby the Rabbis had selected a portion of the Prophets that they thought was linked to the Parshah, this would shed light on how the Rabbis understood the meaning of the Parshah.
An interesting aspect of the "Haftarot" is that over the centuries, differing traditions have developed among the various Jewish communities as to what portions of the Prophets should be read on a given occasion. Among these communities are the Ashkenazim (Northern and Western Europe) and the Sephardim (Spain, Portugal, Southern Italy, North Africa, and the Arabian Countries). Sometimes the Italian Jewish Community had its own tradition which differed from the others. Sometimes the differences are substantial, and there is no overlap; other times it is simply where the "Haftarah" begins and/or ends.
Rav Yissachar Yaakovson, in his work "Chazon HaMikra," cites a thought of Dr. Yoseph Carlebach on the subject of the difference between a work of the "Neviim," the Prophets, as compared to the Five Books of Moses. The latter is typified by the multiple occurrence of the expression, "And the L-rd spoke to Moshe, to say " This expression implies that here Moshe, who was indeed the "Master of the Prophets," was acting purely as a conduit, or pipeline, for the literal "words of Hashem." This is unlike the works of the other Prophets, who are presented by Hashem with certain content to deliver, generally to the Jewish People (Yonah is an exception), and this content is filtered and refracted through the lens of the personality and "style" of the individual Prophet. Hence, Yechezkel does not sound like Malachi, and Malachi does not sound like his contemporary, Zechariah.
After the Parshah is read, an additional portion of the Torah is read as a formal link
to the "Haftarah." This is usually a repetition of several of the ending verses
from the Parshah itself, but on the Holidays may be a different portion of the Torah, with
Holiday-related content. This piece is called the "Maftir." The person given the
honor of reciting the blessings on the "Maftir" piece is also the one who
recites blessings before and after the "Haftarah," the Reading from the
Prophets, and in most synagogues, is the one who performs that reading. Ideally, that
reading is done from a scroll of the particular Prophet whose Message is being read, but
the general practice is that the "Haftarah" is read from a regular printed text.
The concluding blessings praise Hashem as One Who unfailingly keeps His Word as given to the Prophets, and ask Him to treat the City of Jerusalem with Divine Mercy and to unite the City with its People in joy. They entreat G-d to bring the "Mashiach" and to restore the Kingdom of David. They thank Him for providing all the elements which have given the Jewish People the ability to be a Holy People, and Who has endowed the Shabbat or the particular Holiday with Holiness.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU