By January 6, 2016 Read More →

Haftarah Introduction, Bryna Jocheved Levy


The haftarah or haftorah is the selection from the books of the Prophets (Nevi’im)  read publicly in the synagogue following the Torah reading on Sabbath and Jewish holidays. The word haftarah derives from the Hebrew word meaning “parting” or “taking leave” since it concludes the scriptural readings in the morning Sabbath and Holiday service. Typically, the haftarah is thematically linked to the Torah portion (the parasha) that procedes it. The haftarah is sung in cantillation (known as “trop” in Yiddish or “trope” in English) Related blessings precede and follow the haftarah reading. (link)


The origin of haftarah reading is enshrouded in mystery, and several theories have been proposed to explain its role in Jewish practice. One suggests that it arose in response to the persecution of the Jews under the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 BCE) which preceded the Macabean Revolt. Since Torah reading was prohibited the Jews chose an alternative reading from the Prophets. Others suggest that the haftarah reading was instituted as polemic against the influence of sects such as the Samaritans or Sadducees who viewed the Hebrew Bible as consisting only of the Torah.(link to Rabbi Yitzhak Etshalom, “Seven Weeks of Consolation” http:/ )


The Talmud mentions that a haftarah was read in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkynus who lived c.70 CE. Rabbinic literature also correlates haftarot with Sabbatot and Festivals. In the Christian New Testament  several references suggest this Jewish custom was in place during that era. Remarkably, the custom of reading the haftarah has been with the Jewish people for thousands of years.


We read the passages from the Prophets  during the Shabbat morning service, in the form of the Haftarah.  The haftarah was built into the service to accompany the weekly Torah reading.  The haftarah is traditionally read by the  last person to be called up to the Torah scroll. He is called the maftir from the same Hebrew root meaning “the one who takes leave”.

Rabbi Joseph Karo in the Shulchan Aruch reports that for many years there were no set haftarot (except for holidays). The maftir chose an appropriate passage from the Prophets. Over time, certain choices became established in certain communities; in contemporary Jewish observance one may not choose his own haftarah, explains 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.

The widespread custom in Jewish communities throughout the world is that children, upon becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah, are called up to read the haftarah.


Interestingly, most of the yearly haftarot are from the Book of Isaiah. In fact 17 haftarot are from Isaiah! An entire season of the year is dedicated to readings related to the themes of destruction and rebuilding. This period is during the summer months and is called “The Three Weeks”, officially called “Bein Hamitzarim” in Hebrew means between the narrow straights, a place identified in Lamentations as our own increasing sense of narrowness after the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. Dr. Erica Brown explains:

The Three Weeks begins with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz and ends with the fast of the 9th of Av. This period represents a time when ancient Jerusalem was under siege and both Temples were destroyed. The Talmud adds other calamities to the list, including the breaking of the Ten Commandments when Moses saw his people betraying God through their worship of a golden calf .To honor this period of time, traditional Jews adopt certain mourning practices, largely refraining from group celebrations. We relive loss together both as a consolation and also as a reminder of what to strive for as a collective entity.

Spiritual life in the ancient Jewish world had a center. It had an address. Today, only our prayers are directed to Jerusalem and the Temple that stood at its heart; but once upon a time, we traveled there three times a year to create a collective sense of empowerment and to act as a community in showing our gratitude for our many blessings. On Yom Kippur, we waited anxiously as a prayer community for forgiveness. We thought about ourselves and our guilt as a people, not only as individuals. On Passover, we grouped together to tell our majestic master narrative, not only around a private dining room table but everywhere you looked.

We’ve lost not only the memory of such gatherings; we don’t even remember to remember what they were like. Most Jews today do not fast in commemoration of these times, nor do they even nod in the direction of these tragic events. But if you’re Jewish, chances are good that you base your future on your past. You think about what it means to walk in history as a living citizen of a world that is unfolding. In that story, what is the role of tragedy (besides our acute Holocaust-elephant memories)? How does an acknowledgement of past suffering redeem us?

Today we live in an ahistorical culture that prides itself on the present, with barely a wink to the past. We are a young country but also one very youthfully ignorant of the sacrifices that brought us to today. Israel as state is technically younger than the United States, but there is a completely different attitude to the way that the past informs the present and future there. Every stone seems to tell a long story. (Erica Brown, In the Narrow Spaces, (Maggid, 2011)

During the Three Weeks before Tisha B’Av we read two haftarot from the Book of Jeremiah (“The Words of Jeremiah” Jeremiah 1-2:4 and “Hear the Words of God” Jeremiah Chapter 2) and one from the Book of Isaiah (“The Vision of Isaiah” Isaiah Chapter 1). This triad of haftarot  is called, “The Three of Catastrophe” – the title reflects their themes.  The seven weeks following Tisha B’Av begins a series of seven haftarot know as “The Seven of Consolation” – haftarot revolving around the themes of comfort, hope, destiny and redemption. All of them are from the magnificent words of the Prophet Isaiah.

List of Haftarot from the Book of Isaiah

Parshah          Chapter & Verse

Bereishit          42:5 – 43:10  (Sefardim 42:5 – 42:21)

Noah                54:1 – 55:5  (Sefardim 54:1 – 54:10)

Lekh Lekha      40:27 – 41:16

Shemot            27:6 – 28:13; 29:22-23 (Ashkenazim only)

Yitro                6:1 – 7:6; 9:5-6  (Sefardim 6:1 – 7:13)

Vayikra            43:21 – 44:23

Devarim          1:1 – 1:27 (“The Vision of Isaiah”)


Va’etchanan    40:1 – 40:26 (“Be Comforted, Be Comforted My People”)

Ekev                 49:14 – 51:3 (“But Zion said God Has Left Me”)

Re’eh               54:11 – 55:5 (“Impovershed One Who Has Endured Storms”)

Shofetim          51:12 – 52:12 (“I, even I, am the One Who comforts you”)

Ki Tetzei          54:1 – 54:10 (“Sing out, O barren One”)

Ki Tavo            60:1 – 60:22 (“Arise, Shine forth ”)

Nitzavim          61:10 – 63: 9 (“I will surely delight in the Lord”)

Pesach (8th day, Outside of Israel)      10:32 – 12:6

Every Shabbat Rosh Chodesh  66:1 – 66:24

Tisha B’Av (Minchah)              55:6 – 56:8 (Ashkenazim only)

Yom Kippur (Shacharit)           57:14 – 58:14

All other fasts (Ta’anit Tzibur (Minchah)       55:6 – 56:8


Most of the time, we try to be happy.  We try to do things we like doing.  If you like spending time with your family, or hanging out with your friends, the odds are good that you will spend time each week doing both.  If you are athletic, you will most likely play sports.  If you are musical, you will most likely play a musical instrument or sing, or at the very least, listen to music. If you are artistic….well, you get the idea.

For the most part, we try to make sure that we aren’t sad.  But the interesting thing is that every so often, we actually try to be sad.  Not when sad things happen to us – then, we’re sad without having any choice about it.  But there are times when sad things are not happening that we try to make ourselves sad anyway.

One of those times is Tisha B’Av, when being sad makes sense because of all the terrible events that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history.  The day is specifically set aside for mourning the Temples, destroyed in 586 B.C.E. by the Babylonians and in 70 C.E. by the Romans respectively, but many Jews use the day as a time to mourn any and all of the national tragedies.

After you are sad, however, it’s hard to remember how to be happy.  Just telling yourself that it’s time to be happy doesn’t necessarily work.  Our emotions are very strong.  If you are sad, your parents or your friends try to cheer you up.  Your parents might remind you that they love you no matter what happens.  In the same way, Jews have some traditional ways to cheer themselves up, to make sure that they don’t stay mourning all year long.  One of these ways is by reading together passages from the Bible that remind us that God loves the Jewish people.

We read the passages together during the Shabbat morning service, in the form of the Haftarah.  As you may know, the haftarah was built into the service to accompany the weekly Torah reading.  Some people suggest that Jews began reading the haftarot at a time when reading the Torah publicly was prohibited.  Others suggest that the haftarot were designed to show how important the books of the Prophets were.  Still others suggest that the Jews loved all of the Bible so much that they weren’t satisfied by reading only from the Torah, and therefore expanded to reading from the books of the Prophets as well.  Either way, reading a haftarah has been part of the Shabbat morning service for at least two-thousand years.

Often, the themes of the haftarah mirror those of the Torah reading.  In the weeks after the sadness of Tisha B’Av, however, the haftarot are used to help remind the Jewish people to be happy, each with a different way of reminding them that God is on their side.


Michael Fishbane. The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002. ISBN 0-8276-0691-5.

  • Laura Suzanne Lieber. Study Guide to the JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002. ISBN 0-8276-0718-0.
  • David L. Leiber. “Etz Hayim: Torah & Commentary” available from, 2001.
  • Jacob Blumenthal & Janet L. Liss. “Etz Hayim Study Companion” available from the Jewish Publication Society, 2005. ISBN 0-8276-0822-5
  • Kenneth S. Goldrich. “Yad LaTorah; Laws and Customs of the Torah Service. A Guide for Gabba’im and Torah Readers. ISBN 0-8381-0216-6 Available from the Book Service of, 2002
  • J. H. Hertz. “The Pentetuch and Haftorahs”. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1917.
  • Shlomo [David] Katz. The Haftarah: Laws, Customs, & History. Silver Spring, Maryland: Hamaayan/The Torah Spring, 2000.
  • W. Gunther Plaut. The Haftarah Commentary. New York: URJ Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8074


Links to posts by Dr Bryna Yocheved Levy:

Hazon Isaiah.

Shabbat Nachamu –  Isaiah Chapter 40.

Parshat Eikev – Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3.

Parshat Reah – Isaiah 54:11 – 55:1-5.

Parshat Shoftim – Isaiah 51:12 – 52:12.

Parshat Ki Tetzeh – Isaiah 54:10.

Parshat Ki Tavo – Isaiah 60:1-22.

Parshat Nitzavim – Isaiah 61:10-11, 62:1-12, 63:1-9.










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