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Shabbat Parashat Ki Teitzei 5773

Ask the Rabbi: Mistakes in the Reading of the Haftara

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: In my shul, the maftir reads the haftara out of a Chumash, and still many people do a poor job. No gabbai stands with him. People used to correct, but the maftir so often ignored them that no one bothers anymore. How does this affect those who read along and those who do not?


Answer: While we will discuss the issues regarding the various practices and paint a picture of halachic preferences, a shul’s rabbi or other leadership must decide what works best overall for the shul.

Ideally, an expert ba’al koreh reads from a scroll of the appropriate navi (see Mishna Berura 284:1 & Yechaveh Da’at V:26, based on Levush, Orach Chayim 284:1), not from a Chumash. Possible reasons include: 1. Haftara was instituted to use a klaf. 2. It is improper to write unconnected segments of Tanach and thus to read from them (Magen Avraham 284). 3. It is like reading by heart (Chatam Sofer, OC 68); 4. One cannot be motzi someone else in this way (ibid.). Until a few hundred years ago, navi scrolls were rare, and it is still not the norm. An alternative is to read from a full volume of navi, which may suffice for our purposes (Magen Avraham ibid.). The practice of many shuls to read individual passages of the haftara found in a Chumash has halachic supporters (Tosefet Shabbat 284:1; Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 284:4).

Classical sources seem to indicate that everyone must follow the reader and fulfill the mitzva through him. That is the most accepted explanation for the halacha (Sota 39b) that the maftir should wait until gelila is finished to start reading the haftara, so the gollel won’t miss anything (see Beit Yosef, OC 284; Mishna Berura 284:11). The Sha’arei Ephrayim (9:33) says that everyone should listen to the reading of the person reading the haftara, although he suggests reading along quietly. He argues that haftara, as an obligation of the community that requires a minyan, must be done by listening to one reader, like kri’at hatorah, and he therefore opposes the old minhag that everyone chants the haftara and ignores the ba’al maftir. Nevertheless, the old minhag is still prevalent among Hassidim and has a source in the writing of the Arizal. The Chatam Sofer (ibid.) explains that because we do not read from a klaf, individuals cannot be yotzei with the maftir, and thus there is no need to try to hear him.

Thus we see different approaches about whether, without a klaf, people are to rely upon the maftir to fulfill the mitzva. Those who just listen certainly seem to rely upon him. For those, who read along silently, they can hold that they definitely do not need the ba’al maftir (like the Hassidic minhag) or can be “hedging their bets.” Therefore, in addition to the matter of the dignity of the public reading, proper reading has some importance for the individual in shul.

In general any mistake in laining that changes the text’s meaning should be corrected (Shulchan Aruch, OC 142:1), although this is a difficult rule to apply. In some ways, individual mistakes may be more problematic at the Shabbat morning Torah reading, as one must go through the entire Chumash text during the year (see Be’ur Halacha  ad loc.; Igrot Moshe, OC IV:23). This does not always apply to haftarot, although sometimes if a part of the haftara is read invalidly, it will be missing the minimum length (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 284:1). Sometimes poskim are more lenient regarding haftara than kri’at hatorah due to the fact that it is a later and weaker institution.  Nevertheless, sources indicate that serious mistakes compromise the haftara as well (see Rama, OC 142:2; Mishna Berura 142:7; there are also accounts that this was Rav Soloveitchik’s opinion).

If many in shul read along correctly even when the maftir errs, his mistakes are much less of an issue. Considering those who do not read along, it is hard to abolish correcting.  However, when incessant correcting causes embarrassment or fighting (standards for who can read the haftara are hard to uphold), a rabbi or gabbai who does not “rock the boat” has whom to rely upon.
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