Parshat Mattot Massey
(Jeremiah 2:4-27; 3:4; 4:1-2; Isaiah 66:1,24)
July 21, 2001
Rosh Hodesh Av falls on Shabbat infrequently. Should this special occasion interrupt the cycle of haftarot which stresses the themes of chastisement and destruction or should we read the haftarah which we normally read on Shabbat Rosh Hodesh?
The Talmud (Megillah 31a-b) records that we read a passage from Isaiah on Shabbat – Rosh Hodesh because it contains the following verse: “And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Shabbat to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me, said the Lord.” (Isaiah 66:23) However, further on the Talmud states explicitly in the name of Rav Huna that when Rosh Hodesh Av occurs on Shabbat we should read the rebuke found in the first chapter of Isaiah as the haftarah.
This is one of the unusual instances where the halacha does not follow the opinion of the Talmud. Rather, it follows one of two possible positions found in two separate Tosafot. The Tosafot are a 12th-13th century French commentary on the Talmud. In one opinion, it states that we should read the special reading from the book of Jeremiah which recalls the period before the destruction of the First Temple. This opinion is based on the custom found in the land of Israel in rabbinic times. The other opinion asserts that the haftarah reading for Rosh Hodesh takes precedent. According to both of these opinions, the haftarah reading suggested in the Talmud is recited on the Shabbat immediately preceding Tisha B’Av.
Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the 16th century Polish rabbi and halachic sage who recorded Ashkenazic practice in his time, codified both positions. Some Ashkenazic communities read the haftarah for Rosh Hodesh, while Sephardic Jews and followers of the Vilna Gaon read the haftarah for the three weeks of mourning. (see Shuchan Aruch Orach Haim 425:1)
In our synagogues three possible alternatives are possible. The first follows the practice which calls exclusively for the reading of Shabbat Rosh Hodesh (Isaiah 66:1-24). These Jews combine the joy of proclaiming “the heavens are My throne and the earth is My footstool” (Isaiah 66:1) with the somber warning against worship of God without sincerity. (see verses 2-3)
In the second alternative (Jeremiah 2:4-27; 3:4; 4:1-2), the reading reminds us that our relationship with God requires constant loyalty and gratitude. Coincidentally, some rabbis also found an oblique reference to Rosh Hodesh Av in a verse which refers to Israel’s sinful behavior: “None that seek her need grow weary- in her season (month) they will find her!” (Jeremiah 2:24)
The third possibility combines the reading from the book of Jeremiah together with the first and last lines of the haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh in order to remind of both of the tragic season commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem and the glory of renewal which we experience on Rosh Hodesh. (see the United Synagogue Guide to Synagogue Practice – Goldrich)
May we experience the renewal of our commitment to God, the Torah, and the land and people of Israel in order to build a future worthy of redemption.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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