If you don’t read the whole article, please skip to the end to find a free resource on Haftarah Bereshit (the prophetic reading for the first week in Genesis) being offered only on Messianic Jewish Musings.
Haftarah. That must mean “half of the Torah,” right?
Well, it might as well the way many of us treat the Haftarah. It is just that other passage we read on Shabbat. I include myself in the critique, believe me.
For the uninitiated, the Haftarah readings are selections from the prophets that are read to accompany the weekly readings from the Torah. This upcoming week is a good example. The Torah portion is Ha’azinu. The Haftarah readings are special for this week, selected to go with the theme of repentance and forgiveness on this Shabbat Shuvah (Sabbath of Return, the Sabbath between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur). Thus, we will read Hosea 14:2-10, Micah 7:18-20, and Joel 2:15-27.
As you follow the Torah cycle and seek to understand it, you find that the Haftarah portions are chosen with two things in mind: themes from the weekly Torah portion and times of the year. The Haftarah portions are a microcosm of Torah and calendar. They are easier to digest in many cases than the longer Torah readings. They often add an emotional or imaginative theme to the Torah topic of the week.
So why are they neglected? I think the first reason is that there is so much in Torah already. The Haftarah is added work and many don’t find time to add anything to the weekly d’rash about it (me included). The second reason is that Haftarah readings skip around the prophets and so there is often no context to follow. You have to know Judges and Ezekiel and Isaiah well to take a selection pulled out seemingly at random and understand where it is coming from.
The New and Definitive Commentary for Messianic Judaism
Daniel Lancaster is a great researcher and thinker, not to mention writer. He has been rewriting First Fruits of Zion’s Torah Club materials for the past half a decade or more and doing a great job.
First Fruits of Zion has just released the new Torah Club Volume 3 written by Lancaster. As usual, it is a tool for both beginners and more advanced students of the Bible and the Jewish system of readings. Consider, for example, this explanation offered by Lancaster for the Haftarah. It is both foundational and up to date:
The exact meaning of the word “haftarah” is not entirely certain. “Haftarah” does not mean “half of the Torah” as some English speakers may assume. Some sources suggest it means “to take leave of.” That is, taking leave of the Scripture reading because the haftarah is the last scripture read in a synagogue service. Others suggest that it means “conclusion,” indicating that the reading from the Prophets con-
cludes the public reading in the synagogue.
Also uncertain is the origin of the custom of reading the haftarah on Sabbaths. A medieval legend suggests that the practice began during the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes IV, which preceded the Maccabbean Revolt (165 BCE). According to this legend, Antiochus prohibited the Jewish people from studying Torah. They compensated by creating a reading cycle of passages from the Prophets, which
mirrored the weekly Torah portions. Since the law did not forbid the study of the Prophets, they thereby kept the letter of the king’s prohibition while surreptitiously learning Torah. Although the legend enjoys popular support, it has no historical documentation and is probably an apocryphal explanation.
In Torah Club Volume Three, Lancaster makes use of ancient rabbinic sources as well as some modern scholarship. If I had a wish it would be that Lancaster had also made use of medieval commentators, particularly Kimhi, and also more modern scholarship.
That small wish notwithstanding, FFOZ’s Torah Club Volume 3 is the only Messianic Jewish guide to Haftarah. In the Walk series by Jeff Feinberg there are excellent short summaries, but as they are limited to one small page per summary, they are in no way competition for Torah Club Volume 3.
For $25 a month you can receive a month’s worth of Haftarah commentaries at a time and a set of high quality binders to store them in for future reference. To receive these materials sign up here at ffoz.org.
Bereshit Haftarah (Isaiah 42:5-43:10) Commentary Free for Messianic Jewish Musings Readers
Here it is, over 20 pages of free material. The Torah cycle begins again October 17. Get ahead by studying the Bereshit Haftarah portion from Isaiah 42:5 – 43:10.