While its origins remain obscure, the practice of reading a haftarah (lection from the Prophets) to conclude the public Torah reading service in the synagogue dates back at least to the end of the Second Temple period. Rabbinic literature (see tMegillah 4:1 and bMegillah 31a) prescribes some, but not all, of the portions to be read, which is likely the reason for the differences in customs among the various rites down to the present day.
In antiquity, haftarot were read from parchment scrolls like the ones used during the Torah reading service. With the gradual adoption of the codex, many communities, particularly in Christian lands, switched over to this new book technology for reading the haftarot; some, however, maintained an ancient tradition according to which the lections were copied from the various books of the Prophets into a single parchment (sometimes paper) scroll. This sefer aftarta (at times referred to as a sifra de-aftarta), whose use was ultimately sanctioned after some controversy (see bGittin 60a), has remained popular among Eastern Jews and select Ashkenazic communities into modern times.
The earliest haftarah scrolls that have come down to us were discovered in the Cairo Genizah. Perhaps the first mention of the practice to write haftarot in scroll form in Germany specifically can be found in Rabbeinu Gershom ben Judah Me’or ha-Golah’s (ca. 960-1028) comments to bBava batra 13b, s.v. ella be-kerekh ehad. Over the following centuries, a long line of Ashkenazic rabbinic authorities discussed the sefer aftarta in their halakhic discourses, though its use seems, with time, to have become limited to Western German communities.
The present lot is a rare, relatively early Ashkenazic exemplar (according to a note at the front of the scroll, an inscription on the original wooden rollers, now lacking, dated it to 1762). Based on the haftarot included here, it may have been produced in Frankfurt am Main or another German community that followed a similar rite. Some of its more distinctive features are as follows: for Parashat va-yetse, it gives two options (Hos. 11:7-12:12 and 12:13-14:10), saying that most communities read the latter; for Parashat mi-kets, there is a note about what to read when it coincides with Hanukkah but no haftarah text is given for when it does not; the haftarot for Parashiyyot aharei mot and Kedoshim are taken from Ezek. 22:1-19 and Amos 9:7-15, respectively; the haftarah for Parashat va-yelekh is the same as that for public fast days (Isa. 55:6-56:8); on the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the haftarah skips Hos. 2:11-14; on the Sabbath that falls during the intermediate days of Passover, Ezek. 36:37-37:17 is read; on the second day of Shavuot, the haftarah begins at Hab. 3:1; and on Shemini Atseret, it ends at I Kings 8:66.
Sotheby’s is grateful to David Roth for providing information that aided in the cataloging of this manuscript.
Nathan Fried, “The Hafṭaroth of T.-S. B 17, 25,” Textus 3 (1963): 128-129.
Nathan Fried, “Some Further Notes on Hafṭaroth Scrolls,” Textus 6 (1968): 118-126.
Benjamin Solomon Hamburger, Shoreshei minhag ashkenaz, vol. 3 (Bnei Brak: Mekhon Moreshet Ashkenaz, 2002), 112-228.
Israel Yeivin, “A Palestinian Fragment of Hafṭaroth and Other MSS with Mixed Pointing,” Textus 3 (1963): 121-127.
Shlomo Yosef Zevin (ed.), Entsiklopedyah talmudit le-inyanei halakhah, vol. 10 (Jerusalem: Entsiklopedyah Talmudit, 1995), cols. -32, -728.
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