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Shiur #22: Reading the Haftarah

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Talmudic Methodology
Yeshivat Har Etzion


 Shiur #22: Reading the Haftarah

By Rav Moshe Taragin


The third perek of megilla describes the roster of keriyat ha-Torah.  It iterates the days during which the Torah is read as well as determining the requisite Torah readings and aliyot.  The first mishna asserts that though the Torah is read publicly on Shabbat during both Shacharit and Mincha, the haftarah is added ONLY during Shacharit and not subsequent to afternoon keriyat ha-Torah.  The gemara does not clarify the source of haftarah; for that matter no gemara in the whole Talmud identifies the source of haftarah.   

There are two variant reasons offered for the source of haftarah.  Perhaps the most familiar one is cited by the Tosafot Yom Tov in Megilla 3:4 who cites a sefer known as Sefer ha-Tishbi.  According to this account the Assyrian King Antiochus – the villain of Chanukah - banned public Torah reading.  Substituting permissible reading of sections from the Prophets was a solution to sustain public readings during these difficult periods.  Even after the repeal of this ban, haftarah was sustained as a complement to keriyat ha-Torah.   

By contrast, the Shibolei Ha-Leket in chapter 44 cites a response of Rabbenu Shelomo which describes the common practice of devoting post-Shacharit morning hours to communal Torah study.  A broad variety of Scripture, Neviim, mishna and Talmud was studied to adhere to the gemara in Kiddushin (30) which urges us to allocate Torah study time to all tracts of Torah.  As economic conditions worsened, this morning study was curtailed and ultimately vanished.  In memory of this experience the first two verses of the section known as "uva le-tziyon" were instituted.  These verses are taken from Isaiah (59:20-21) and address, among other issues, the eternity of Torah study (lo yamushu mipichaad olam).  These verses were fitting reminders of the bygone experiences of post-Shacharit Torah study.  Of course, Shabbat still allowed post Shacharit study and this experience was institutionalized as haftarah.  Unlike the first version which views haftarah as a SUBSTITUTE for, and ultimately a complement to, keriyat ha-Torah, this opinion sees it as an independent experience appended to the conclusion of Shacharit.  Incidentally, the haftarah succeeds keriyat ha-Torah but in no way is an incorporated element of that keriya.


Perhaps these two structural views - one which incorporates haftarah with keriyat ha-Torah and one which assigns it independent function - are already evident in an interesting etymological question: What does the term haftarah refer to.  Though references to this question and its answer are scattered throughout Rabbinic literature, the most comprehensive list of answers is supplied by the Avudraham.  One view he cites attributes the name haftarah to the term 'patur' (exempt); by reading the haftarah we have completed and thereby acquitted ourselves from the mitzva of keriyat ha-Torah.  This version seems to view haftarah as an appendage of keriyat ha-Torah.  Until the haftarah is read, keriyat ha-Torah has not concluded.  Alternatively, the Avudraham cites an opinion which attributes the term haftarah to the root of 'peter' which means to open and release.  A peter rechem refers to a first born which 'opens' the womb.  Similarly the advent of haftarah releases the prohibition to speak – which according to the gemara in Sota applies to the entirety of keriyat ha-Torah.  After Torah reading this prohibition is released and people can literally OPEN THEIR TONGUES to speak about important (presumably Torah centric issues) which were forbidden during keriyat ha-Torah proper.  This second tracing of the term haftarah evokes a very different form for haftarah.  Interestingly enough viewing haftarah as a post Shacharit tanakh-based study session would justify the relaxing of the strict prohibition against talking.  


This analysis of the root of haftarah - both the historical root as well as the verbal root - may impact some interesting halakhic considerations.  For example, the need for ten men to facilitate haftarah reading may be justified by haftarah's function as an element of keriyat ha-Torah.  The mishna in Megilla (23b) lists haftarah as one of the experiences of davar she-bikedusha which requires a minyan.  This association is not immediately obvious.  In fact, the Rashba queries this identification and does not reach a conclusive answer.  Similarly the Meiri attributes this condition to a coincidental factor.  Since every reader of haftarah must first read from the Torah 10 men are necessary for that introductory berakha.  Some actually view the prefatory berakha to haftarah as a davar she-bikedusha which requires 10; the actual reading is not deemed davar she-bikedusha and can be performed without the requisite 10 (if, for example, 10 attended the introductory berakha and subsequently some departed - see Shulchan Arukh)

If, however, we view haftarah as an historical substitute for keriyat ha-Torah- a substitute which was subsequently incorporated- we may view it as an INTRINSIC davar she-bikedusha as it carries the identity of keriyat ha-Torah!

Perhaps an additional halakha may be explained based upon this notion.  The gemara in Megilla (21b) claims that the reader of the maftir must first read from the Torah - hence the practice of calling him up as 'maftir' – beyond the 'natural' quota of aliyot for that day.  The gemara subsequently questions whether the maftir aliya can actually be counted toward the base quota.  For example, can the maftir be counted as the seventh aliya on Shabbat morning or must it be an independent additive BEYOND the desired quota.  Again it would appear that maftir - and by extension haftarah's linkage to keriyat ha-Torah is being explored.  If the haftarah experience is integrated with keriyat ha-Torah it is likely that the prior Torah reading should be considered basic to keriya and contribute to the aliya enumeration.

The gemara demands that the haftarah reader read some Torah prior to reading from tanakh.  It would be dismissive to Torah for a person to start reading tanakh without first reading Torah - AFTER seven others have read from the Torah.  What is unclear is whether a congregation can read haftarah if collectively they cannot read from the Torah beforehand (if for example they are not in possession of a Torah).  The Shulchan Arukh rules that a haftarah cannot be read without a prior Torah reading.  Viewing haftarah as an adjunct to keriyat ha-Torah would highlight haftarah's dependency upon keriyat ha-Torah in a structural fashion.  Torah must be read first not merely to avoid prioritizing tanakh and trivializing Torah.  Torah must be read first to establish the framework which warrants a haftarah reading!!

An interesting final issue surrounds the selection of Neviim and not Ketuvim as the source for haftorot.  All formal haftorot are selected from Neviim and not Ketuvim.  Rabbenu Tam believed that under certain conditions Ketuvim were chanted but certainly not within the legal framework of haftarah.  Understanding this selection may first require a deeper understanding of the difference between Neviim and Ketuvim.  Rav Chayim claimed that Neviim contains prophecies which were delivered to be spoken and were only subsequently transcribed.  Alternatively Ketuvim were instructed as written works - which can subsequently be chanted or spoken.  This variance of delivery establishes Neviim as a closer 'approximation' of Torah than Ketuvim.  Of course seminal differences still divide Torah proper and Neviim, but Torah as well was first spoken by Moshe and subsequently written (Rav Chayim derived this from a gemara in Menachot 30a).  

If haftarah is an attempt to create a substitute for keriyat ha-Torah we may likely chose Neviim (over Ketuvim) as a closer reproduction of Torah per se.  Yet, if haftarah is merely a post-Shacharit study session, the selection of Neviim over Ketuvim would remain unanswered.