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Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim| 5763
Ask the Rabbi
Question: Why do we read the Haftara? What does the word mean?
Answer: Moshe Rabbeinu initiated the public reading of the Torah and Ezra expanded it (see Bava Kamma 82a). The reading of the Haftara was established at some later point during the period of the Second Beit Hamikdash, certainly before the end of the period of the Tanaim (as it is mentioned in Mishnayot in the 3rd perek of Megillah).
The Haftarot certainly mirrorthe reading of the Torah. The gemara (Megillah 23a) states that the Haftara should contain at least 21 p’sukim, corresponding to the 7 aliyot on Shabbat multiplied by the minimum of3 p’sukim per aliyah. The classic explanation, found as early as the Avudrohom (14th century) and brought by many since (see L’vush, Orach Chayim 284:1), is that the Haftara was instituted during the time that the Greeks decreed upon Jews not to read the Torah. Instead, they read from the Prophets something related to the Torah reading which also corresponded to the minimal length. The Levush (ibid.) and Tosafot Yom Tov (Megillah 3: 4) write that although the decree ceased, the practice, initiated under those difficult circumstances, was adopted permanently. This explanation fits with the root of Haftara (patur), that the Jews of that time exempted themselves from the normal obligation to read the Torah by reading the Prophets instead (Avudrohom).
Another approach, which Harav Yaakovson (Chazon Hamikrah, pg. 20) quotes from Likutei Pardes and others, sees the development of the Haftara as a natural, positive one. The ancient custom was that after daily prayer the congregation would remain in the synagogue and read the Tanach, Mishna and halachot. When poverty spread, people had to work longer hours. Although people did not have enough time to continue the custom, on Shabbat and Yom Tov, when people do not work and have more time, the custom was preserved and turned into the practice of Haftarot. According to this approach, Haftara may mean to exempt or fulfill the need to read from the Prophets. Rav Maimon (Chagim U’zmanim, pg. 197) suggests that the public reading of the Prophets was begun to counter the claims of the Shomronim who rejected their importance.
Other explanations of the term, Hafatara, relate to its position at the end of Torah reading at which point it is permissible to talk (until Musaf and at appropriate times) along the lines of the phrase “yaftiru safa” (Rabbeinu Tam). Similarly, it is the end of Shacharit (as we say, “ein maftirin achar hapesach…”).
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