Haftarah Parshat Reeh
Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Elul
August 18, 2012
30 Av 5772
This Shabbat, three distinctive special occasions coincide. First, it is the third of the seven special Shabbatot which follow Tisha b’Av (Shiva d’Nehamta – the seven of consolation). It also happens to be the first of the two days of Rosh Hodesh Elul. This confluence of events means that the tradition had three different potential haftarot for this Shabbat: 1. the special haftarah for Shiva d’nehamta (Isaiah 54:11-55:5); 2. the special haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh (Isaiah 66:1-24); 3. the special haftarah for when Rosh Hodesh falls on Sunday (Mahar Hodesh – 1 Samuel 20:18-42).
These three possibilities prompted a debate among the sages of the middle ages, leading to two different practices. One option was to choose the third special haftarah for after Tisha b’Av. The basis for this choice is found in the Tosofot (Megillah 31b s.v. Rosh) which notes that the custom was established in the Peshikta [d’Rav Kahana] ( a fourth century Eretz Yisrael midrash) to recited three haftarot of admonition before Tisha b’Av and seven haftarot of consolation after it followed by two of repentance. This custom, noted in the Tosaphot, in fact, records a custom already established from the time of the Talmud in Eretz Yisrael. The Tosafot assert that this custom should not be uprooted. This opinion was maintained among Sephardic authorities (See Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Laws of Prayer 13:19) as well as by the sages of Provence (see Rabeinu Avraham ben Natan Hayarhi, Sepher HaManhig, Laws of Fasts 16) and is codified as the Sephardic position by Rabbi Joseph Karo in the Shulchan Aruch Orach Hayim 425:1. The Sephardic tradition takes into account the other events of the day by having the haftarah reader read the first and last verses of the special haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh and the first and last verses for the haftarah for when Rosh Hodesh falls on a Sunday. (See Rabbi Ovadiah Yoseph, Yechaveh Daat 3:42)
The Ashkenazic tradition diverges from this practice based on the principle that where two practices conflict, the more frequently occurring one is preferred (tadir v’she’eino tadir, tadir kodem). Since the haftarah for when Shabbat coincides with Rosh Hodesh occurs more than once a year, it takes precedence over the special haftarah for the period after Tisha b’Av which occurs only once a year. This position was adopted by Rabbi Eliezer ben Yoel (Raviah – Germany 12-13th century) and later quoted in his name by Rabbi Yitzhak ben Moshe of Vienna (13th century), the author of the Or Zarua (2:392). Raviah also contends with problems created by this position. Since liturgically the haftarot during this period are supposed to offer comfort, he points out that the special haftarah for Shabbat – Rosh Hodesh contains messages of comfort. In addition, he notes that since in two weeks (Parshat Ki Tetzei) we read the section in Isaiah which precedes what would have been this week’s haftarah, it would be proper to combine the two haftarot on that Shabbat so that what was missed this week will be made up then. Raviah, however, ignores the special reading for when Rosh Hodesh falls on a Sunday. This position become the norm for Askenazic Jewry and was codified by Rabbi Moshe Isserles as an addendum to the position cited above in the Shulchan Aruch.