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The Book of Haftarot

For Shabbat, Festivals, and Fast Days

By Sol Scharfstein

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The Book of Haftarot is a companion volume to the highly successful The Five Books of Moses: An Easy-to-Read Torah Translation. The reading of the Torah as part of the synagogue service on Sabbaths, festivals, and fast days is followed by the reading of a selection from one of the prophetic books. This reading is known as the Haftarah, from the Hebrew word that means "conclusion" or "to take leave of."
The haftarah reading for each week was selected by the ancient rabbis because it has a correlation of some kind to the week's Torah portion. Many haftorot deal with the same theme or subject as the Torah reading, so that the haftorot seems to be an expansion or commentary on the Torah portion. Other Torah readings and haftorot are related in other ways.
The origin of the custom of reading a selection from the Prophets after the Torah reading is unknown. Rabbi David Abudarham, who lived in the 14th century in Spain, claimed that the custom originated during the persecution that led up to the revolt by Judah Maccabee in the 2nd century B.C.E. Antiochus, the Syrian king, prohibited Torah reading in a brutal effort to stamp out Judaism. The haftorot readings were introduced as a substitute. Later on, when the Jews won their freedom and restored the Torah reading, they retained the Haftarah readings in memory of this event.
The prophets of ancient Israel were a diverse group: some were farmers, some were shepherds, and some were members of the aristocracy; most were men, but a few were women. Whatever their background and training, they all boldly spoke out for God with prophetic messages calling for justice and peace.
Praise for The Book of Haftarot
Haftarot, the Hebrew word for "conclusion" (of the biblical lesson, that is), is the reading from the five prophetic books that follows the reading of the Torah on the Shabbat and festivals in synagogues. The reading for each week was selected by ancient rabbis and has a correlation to the week's Torah portion. On festivals, it relates to that day's service. In most congregations, it is considered a special honor to be called to read the Haftarot. Scharfstein, the author of The Five Books of Moses (2005), posits that the historical factors that led to the readings have been lost "in the clouds of antiquity," but Jews from the earliest times gathered to pray and to listen as Levites, priests, prophets, and rabbis explained and taught the messages found in the Torah. Here are the five books in English, along with commentaries; Scharfstein has written a readable and judicious study of a most difficult subject.
~ American Library Association

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