Is a Haftarah Like a Half-Torah? Originally published March 2-3, 2018

NO!  Even though the haftarah reading is associated with the Torah reading, the word does not mean “half-Torah,” and it should not be pronounced “huff-TOE-ruh.”

So what is a haftarah (plural haftarot)?  I was taught that it is dessert, after the meal of the Torah reading.   The word הפטרה  refers to our taking leave of the knowledge of the Torah, letting us down gently, slipping us away with the additional words of the Prophets which usually have some relationship to the week’s Torah reading or to the time of year.  (On Yom Kippur and on Tisha BeAv we read two haftarot.)

According to, the haftarah may have originated as a way of distinguishing between the Jews and the Samaritans, who rejected most prophets after Moses.  There is some evidence in Christian history that a scroll of haftarot was in use during the first century CE (of the Common Era).

Another theory is that in 168 BCE Jews were forbidden to read Torah and adopted a substitute.  This was during the reign (and terror) of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (or, as a friend refers to him, Anti-Tuchus), who ruled the Seleucid Empire from 175 BCE to his death in 164 BCE.

As benei mitzvah students learn, there are special blessings said before and after the reading, by the person who chants the haftarah, using the prescribed trope.  (There are a few different styles of trope, some very fancy, but the diacritical markings are now standardized.  We should write about trope more fully some time.)

I learned my haftarah in Ashkenazic Hebrew, and called it a “huff-TUH-ruh” with the “uh” like the “oo” in “look.”  But never “huff-TOE-ruh,” which people say too often.

Being careful not to say “huff-TOE-ruh” helps folks understand that הַפְטָרָה and תּוֹרָה  are not grammatically related.  (Actually, haftarah is related to the word maftir, and the root of those words פטר  is the same as the root for “firing” or dismissing, thus also giving us a connection with Celebrity Apprentice.)