FJMC’s Sefer Haftarah

FJMC’s Sefer Haftorah program is now in its fifth year. The Sefer Haftorah scroll was created in Israel and contains all Haftorot, including vowels and trop.

Since it was first unveiled during the 2003 FJMC Biennial Convention in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the FJMC Sefer Haftorah scroll has travelled around North America to Men’s Clubs and Brotherhoods, to regional retreats and to FJMC conventions. It has been used in synagogues from West Coast to East Coast, and from Florida to Canada.

 

History of the Haftorah

 

The Haftorah has been part of Jewish liturgy since Roman times. They were introduced in order to counter a Roman decree that forbade the reading of the Torah in public assemblies. During the 9th Century CE, the Ben Asher family developed the system of cantillation and punctuation (trop and k’tiv). From that time onward, it became traditional for the haftarot to be chanted. It was common during the Middle Ages to have books of the prophets in the Ark next to the Torah scrolls. When it became time to read from the Haftorah, a scroll was taken out of the Ark and the Haftorah was chanted. Books of haftorot in scroll form have been in use for more than a century but have almost been totally eclipsed by the printing press. The Haftorah, unlike the Torah, does not have to be chanted from a scroll (though many of us feel it would enhance the spirituality of the act if it were read from a scroll instead of a book).

 

The FJMC’s Sefer Haftorah Scroll

 

When several FJMC members were in Jerusalem, they had the opportunity to view a Sefer Haftorah scroll that had been commissioned for an Orthodox synagogue. They immediately saw a number of possibilities if FJMC commissioned its own scroll. The scroll has the outward appearance of a Torah scroll and contains all the Haftorot chanted during the year. It was written by one of the finest scribal groups in Israel. The differences between the Sefer Haftorah and a Torah are readily apparent, however, as soon as one opens the scroll. The Haftorah scroll, unlike the Torah, has the vowels and the trop cantillation, which facilitate the chanting of it. Also, the Haftorah scroll lists the various sponsorships of the individual Haftarot. The main purpose behind commissioning the Haftorah scroll was utilitarian in nature. FJMC would now have a scroll that could travel from Men’s Club to Men’s Club to be used in congregations all across North America. It would create a sense of pride and accomplishment among the member clubs and provide opportunities for them to highlight FJMC activities for members of their congregations. Additionally, FJMC would use the scroll at its various conventions and meetings, while FJMC regions would use it at their retreats. Sponsorships would enable FJMC to subsidize the administrative costs of transporting the scroll across North America. FJMC dedicated its Sefer Haftorah scroll during its 2003 international convention; incoming international president Danny Stern chanted the first Haftorah from it.