About Haftarot

Listening to the Haftarah in shul is an adventure.

Unlike the Parsha, which continues where the previous week left off, in a steady march through the Torah, the Haftarah is a wild ride through Nach. The Haftarot take us all over the Nevi’im, from the first chapter of Yehoshua through the last chapter of Malachi. There are random-seeming sections from Shoftim and Shmuel, little-known prophets such as Micha and Ovadiah, and glorious but difficult chapters from the Big 3 – Yeshayahu, Yirmiyahu, and Yechezkel.

Few of us are experts in Tanach to the degree that we can orient ourselves in any given chapter in its 24 books. And so we sit there, trying to puzzle out what’s going on – the basic meaning of the words, the message of the prophet, the historical background of the story, and the connection to the Parsha.

For there must be a connection, or else why was this section chosen from all the Nevi’im?

It’s not like the Haftarot were picked on a whim. The choice was made by Chazal[1] themselves –  the earliest references to which Haftarah is read for which Parsha are in the Mishna[2].  The custom to read Haftarot can be traced to an even earlier era, and it continued to develop throughout the time of the Gemara.  Just as we try to understand the logic and frames of reference that Chazal used in formulating Halacha, so, too, we must try to understand the logic they used in formulating what ends up being the very first commentary on the Torah – the choice of which chapter of Navi belongs with which Parsha.

Chazal saw all of Tanach as a single cloth, and derived patterns from words and themes used in the different sections. If they chose a section of Navi to correspond to a section of Torah, we must search for the pattern that they saw.

About this blog

My objective is to present some of the patterns that I found, through careful reading of the Text – of the Torah, of the Haftarah, and of the Midrashim[3] that relate the two.

The first step is to understand the historical background of the Haftarah.  Where is it in Jewish history? Before or after the building of the Temple? Before or after the First Exile? Who is the Navi talking to, and what problems are they facing?

Thus, the introductory page will contain a brief summary of the relevant time period, and whatever other background is necessary context for the Haftarah.

Second, we need to understand the verses themselves. To that end, the verses were divided according to Ta’amei HaMikra (cantillation and punctuation marks), and translated phrase by phrase. It is both more authentic and more poetic to read the Text as phrases rather than sentences. Since there aren’t any published translations that do that, I created my own translation, based on traditional commentaries, and on my own understanding of the Text. It is a modern translation, with the language and phrasing of our generation. The Prophets did not intend to be archaic and the people we meet in Tanach certainly did not mean to sound archaic. We should see them as living, breathing people, who would feel as we do, and speak as we would; I gave them the words they would use if they were speaking English at the beginning of the 21st century.

The comments and explanations are based on my personal reading of the Text, influenced by commentaries such as Radak, Malbim, and Abarbanel, as well as discussions with teachers and fellow students of Tanach.

The translated and annotated text will be presented as a separate web page in html, suitable for printing and taking to shul on Shabbat. I hope that it helps you enjoy the reading of the Haftarah.

In addition, there will be posts that explore some of the connections between the Haftarah and the Parsha. Often, this connection is based on unusual words or phrases that are used in both texts. Paying attention to specific words and their frequency is not a new tool in learning Tanach – the Midrash itself works that way. Once we have established that a textual connection exists, we can consider its purpose and meaning.

While preparing this work, I was often stunned and awed by the level of complexity and inter-connectedness in the Tanach, and by the themes and patterns that developed when different texts were juxtaposed. Truly it is as David Hamelech wrote: Torat Hashem Temima – the Torah is a single entity, whole and unblemished.

Copyright © Kira Sirote 
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל 



[1] Chazal is an acronym of “Chachamenu Zichronam Livracha” (our sages of blessed memory), and is commonly used to refer to the sages of the Mishna and Gemara, the authors of Midrash Aggada.

[2] Megilla 3 (1-4) lists what is read on the 4 Parshiyot before Pesach

[3] By “Midrash”, I mean Midrash Aggada, found in books such as Midrash Rabba that date to the time of Chazal, those mentioned in the Gemara, as well as those collected later into works like Yalkut Shimoni

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