Question: What is Haftara?
Answer: Jews read Torah out loud each week in synagogue in an effort to become more learned about their Jewish heritage.
There were many periods in Jewish history when the powers ruling over the Jews sought to destroy Jewish religion and culture by banning Torah reading. To circumvent these efforts, Jews would read portions from the unbanned Book of Prophets in place of the Torah. The Jews would choose a section each week from the Book of Prophets that was similar in some way to the Torah portion that was supposed to be read that particular week. Haftara refers to the Book of Prophets reading that follows the Torah reading on Sabbaths and holidays.
There are different opinions about the meaning of the word Haftara. Some believe Haftara means "to take leave of" and refers to taking leave of reading the Torah. Others think Haftara means "conclusion" as reading the Haftara concludes the day's biblical reading.
There are also different opinions about the origin of reading Haftara. Some believe the practice began during the time of the Syrian-Greek King Antiochus (second century BCE). Others believe it began about two thousand years ago when the Romans ruled over the Jews. The earliest reference to the Haftara reading is found in the Christian Bible, where Paul is invited to deliver a sermon after the reading of the Law and the Prophets.
Today Jews continue to read the Haftara each week following the reading of the Torah portion. The person who reads the last Torah verses (maftir) generally also reads the Haftara. Children celebrating their bar or bat mitzvah may also read Haftara. The Haftara is chanted to a unique tune.
Today's Haftara readings remind Jews of times when religious freedom was curtailed. Haftara readings also remind Jews of holy books besides the Torah which are important to Jewish religion and culture.