Must/should the Haftarah be chanted in Hebrew? Can it be chanted in another language such as English in English-speaking countries, Spanish in Spanish-speaking countries, etc.?

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    What translation could you use? At least, it would have to be an impeccable one – Double AA May 27 '18 at 16:47
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    Welcome to MiYodeya Sue. Great to have you learn with us! – mbloch May 27 '18 at 16:59
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    The original practice, which Yemenites still follow, is to read the Aramaic translation after each verse. It's not completely illogical to extend this to reading an English translation (or Spanish etc.) instead, but in practice nobody does today. Take a look at the comments and answers here. – Heshy May 27 '18 at 17:00
  • How would you chant the Haftorah in any language other than the original? – ezra May 27 '18 at 21:04

The universal practice in all Orthodox synagogues is to chant the Haftarah in the original Hebrew.

In Talmudic times (see the gemara in Megila 24a), there was a meturgeman (translator) who would translate the Haftara verse-by-verse (or 3 verses by 3 verses) into Aramaic (the spoken language at the time). Since this didn't replace the Hebrew but was in addition to it, we might find there the source to always read the Haftarah in Hebrew up to today.

I checked the traditional codes of law (e.g., Shulhan Aruch, Shulhan Aruch HaRav) and performed a detailed Google search but none mentions any deviation from this practice.

In addition, as noted by ezra in the comments above, there is no way of chanting the Haftarah in any other language than Hebrew since the traditional musical notes are only known for the Hebrew text.

In conclusion, nothing would prevent someone from reciting in addition the Haftarah in local language, either verse-by-verse, 3 verses-by-3 verses or after the Hebrew reading, but this wouldn't replace the traditional reading.

Of course, CYLOR if you need a practical ruling.

  • "since the traditional musical notes are only known for the Hebrew text" Seriously? Why couldn't we use the same notes with English words? And why do the notes even need to be used? – Double AA May 28 '18 at 14:01
  • @DoubleAA the OP asked if the haftarah could be chanted. And if you wanted to use the same notes, where would you know which to use when using an English translation? – mbloch May 28 '18 at 14:03
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    Either you could just apply the notes from the Hebrew verse over as was done in many old Chumashim for Onkelos, or you could go back to the rules of Trop and work out what notes would apply to those words, or you could make up a new tune, or use a simpler Eastern style Trop system which largely just punctuates anyway – Double AA May 28 '18 at 14:57
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    Several years ago I found a portion of the US Declaration of Independence with haftorah trope applied for the Bicentennial (1976). It was quite awkward, to say the least, part of the problem being trope goes right to left, English goes left to right. – Dennis May 29 '18 at 19:27

This extremely well-done documentary on the Sephardic Communities of Seattle has Congregation Bikur Holim chanting the Haftorah in Judeo-Spanish in order to preserve liturgical use of the language. Certainly not definitive halacha ("look what they did at this one congregation in the 70's!") but worth taking into consideration nonetheless.

Documentary: "The Sephardic Tradition"

  • Interesting. Is that in addition or instead of the traditional Hebrew chanting of the Haftara? – mbloch May 29 '18 at 3:37
  • If memory serves, @mbloch, the narrator was fairly ambiguous on whether they did both or just Judeo-Spanish. I'll try to watch it again in the next week or so and update my answer if possible – Josh K May 29 '18 at 5:20
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    This is also the tradition in Turkey today still in certain kehilot. – Me. Jun 26 '19 at 6:09

The universal availability for many years of authoritative printed linear and parallel Torah and Haftorah editions has largely obviated the basic translation issue, although much is to be gained in learning why one particular translation was used rather than other possible ones. Although there are many vastly different traditional niggunim (trops) for Haftorah, they all preserve the poetic forms and sentence structure - and hence, the intelligibility - of the text. These simply don't survive translation.

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya. If your point is that the haftorah may not be chanted in another language because it is the traditional niggunim don't survive translation, consider editing your answer to state that explicitly. The question was whether it may be chanted in another language, so the "yes" or "no" is the most important part of the answer. – Alex May 29 '18 at 19:17
  • The editor wants a "yes" or "no" answer. There really isn't one. You can chant a haftorah in any language or any melody - I don't think there is any halachic requirement. But it seems to me that the whole point of chanting in any mesorah (tradition) rather than just reading it is to honor H' in that mesorah. When a Moroccan chants in his mesorah, it's certainly as beautiful and m'hodor as when I chant in my Chabad mesorah - we're both honoring H'. – Pinchas Jun 5 '18 at 23:55
  • If your answer is that there is no answer then that should be edited into the post itself. If you are saying that you are not answering the question at all, but providing interesting related information, then it should probably be a comment instead of an answer. You can learn more about the specifics of formulating answers and comments for this site by visiting the "help center and other resources" tab in the upper right corner of the screen. – Alex Jun 6 '18 at 0:03

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