What is the Haftarah?


Hi Rabbi,
What is the Haftarah? I read that it is a section that is read in the Synagogue after the weekly Torah portion each week, but what does it mean?

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.



  1. I have heard some people conjecture that the word “Haftarah” is related to the word “Torah” since it sounds similar and it immediately follows the Torah service in the Shabbat morning prayers. However, Rabbi S. R. Hirsch writes that the word Haftarah is based on the Hebrew root for “parting” or “taking leave” (peh, tet, reish). With the Haftarah reading, which consists of a selection from the writings of the Prophets related to the weekly Torah portion, we “take leave” and conclude the Shabbat morning prayers, called “Shacharit”. We usually follow this in the synagogue with an additional prayer service called “Musaf,” which literally means “addition.” In some places, the Rabbi gives an instructional and inspiring brief speech to the congregation soon after the Haftarah reading.

    The historical origin — the when and the why — of reading the Haftarah is actually a bit of mystery! Here is what my research has turned up:

    Two classic sources, the Avudraham and the Levush, wrote that the Haftarah custom began during the Greek occupation of the Land of Israel. (Think Chanukah!) At that time, the Greeks prohibited reading the Torah in public. In reaction, our Rabbis instituted reading a portion from the Prophets each week (in place of the banned Torah reading), a portion that had a connection either to that week’s Torah reading or to a special event related to the time of the year in the Jewish calendar. Accordingly, we can deduce that the Haftarah began in approximately 450 BCE.

    However, there are authorities who are of the opinion that the Haftarah reading was introduced at the time of Ezra the Scribe, around the time of the destruction of the First Temple. According to this, the Haftarah was instituted approximately 2,000 years ago.

    There are numerous customs related to the Haftarah, and sometimes there are different Haftarah readings in Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities. Two main, widespread customs are that a “Bar Mitzvah boy” is called to read the Haftarah and its blessings (before and after the reading), and also a groom reads the Haftarah. The latter custom is called (in Ashkenazic communities) “Aufruf.” In both cases, the one who is called to read the Haftarah also (re-)reads the last few verses of the weekly Torah portion, an aliyah that is referred to as Maftir. (Which also means “taking leave” from the Torah reading, as explained by Rabbi Hirsch.)

    Shabbat Shalom to you as well!

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team