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HaftOrah or HaftArah? 

10/16/2023 12:29:20 PM


Some of you may have noticed that I prefer to refer to the passage from the prophets that is chanted after the Torah reading as a haftArah rather than a haftOrah. Why is that? I mean, what is the big deal you might ask? It is true that the Ashkenazic pronunciation most of us grew up with is haftOrah with the accent on the middle syllable. However, I have found that this pronunciation leads to confusion especially among those who have no idea what a haftorah (or haftarah) actually is. Many think they hear the word TORAH and they understandably conclude that the haftorah is some kind of a Torah reading. In fact when I ask most people, young and not so young what a haftorah is,   they often  answer: "A half torah"? 

No, sorry, that is not a thing. 

I prefer to stick to the Sephardic pronunciation:  haftArah with the accent at the end of the word. Haf-ta-RAH. first of all, let's understand what a haftarah is. A haftarah is selection from the books of Nevi'im ("Prophets") of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) that is publicly read in synagogue following the weekly Torah reading. The prophetic passage that is read usually has a slight connection to the Torah portion - either sharing a similar theme (ie. a battle, birth of a child) or sometimes the haftarah references an individual we read about in the Torah portion. Sometimes the haftarah is read on a particular day because of a link to a festival. 

The word "haftarah" is not etymologically connected to the word "Torah". The word haftarah is based on the root that means to conclude or depart. The haftarah is the concluding piece of scripture that we read on a shabbat or holiday morning. On shabbat or a festival morning, the Torah portion is broken down into segments (7 for shabbat, 5 for a festival on a weekday). Then we read an "extra" portion and honor an individual  to whom we refer as the "maftir". The person who is called up as the "maftir" also chants the haftarah. The word maftir and haftarah share the same root letters. The tradition arose of honoring  a  bar mitzvah as the maftir: the one who reads the last aliyah (and/or recites the torah blessings)  and  chants the haftarah.  

We are  blessed this fall with a  cadre of excellent students who will be celebrating becoming b'nai mitzvah.  I hope you come to services and enjoy our young people who will be chanting their haftararot, reading from the Torah and leading tefillot.  

Thu, February 22 2024 13 Adar I 5784