Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 25 August 2018 / 14 Elul 5778

The Double-Header Haftara in 2018

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
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Directly due to recent interesting circumstances of Parshat Re’eh/Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul (a few weeks ago), an unusual occurrence will transpire this week on Parshat Ki Teitzei: a double haftara. Not a printing mistake, this double haftara will actually be recited by the vast majority of Ashkenazic congregations worldwide.

Many do not realize this special occurrence even exists. In fact, one recent time when this occurred I mentioned the uniqueness of this situation to the gabbai on that Shabbat itself. He responded that he had never heard of a double haftara! However, his skeptical response was quite understandable as the previous occurrence of a double haftara to that Shabbat was fourteen years prior!

Haftara History

To properly understand why there can be a double haftara, some background is needed.

According to several Rishonim, the haftarot were established when the wicked Antiochus (infamous from the Chanukah miracle) outlawed public reading of the Torah. The Sages of the time therefore established the custom of reading a topic from the Nevi’im (Prophets) similar to what was supposed to be read from the Torah. Even after the decree was nullified, and prior to the Gemara’s printing, this became minhag Yisrael.

Most haftarot share some similarity with at least one concept presented in the Torah reading. The Gemara Megillah (29b-31a) discusses the proper haftara readings for the various holidays throughout the year. The Pesikta (an early Midrash cited by many early authorities)continues the teachings of Chazal as to the proper haftara readings, starting from the Fast of Shiva Assur b’Tammuz.

During the ‘Three Weeks’ from 17 Tanmuz until Tisha B’Av we read ‘Tilasa d’Paranusa’ — ‘Three Readings of Punishment’. After Tisha B’Av (starting with Shabbat Nachamu, dubbed so due to its haftara of ‘Nachamu Nachamu Ami’) until Rosh Hashana, ‘Shiva d’Nechemta’, or ‘Seven Readings of Consolation’ are read. This is followed by a reading of Teshuva, during the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, aptly named ‘Shabbat Shuva’ for its repentance-themed haftara starting with ‘Shuva Yisrael’. The AbuDraham, as well as Rabbeinu Tam, conclude that these special haftara readings are so important that they are never pushed off!

Head-to-Head Haftarot

Our dilemma arises when that rule goes head-to-head with another rule. The Gemara (Megillah 31a) states that whenever Rosh Chodesh falls out on Shabbat, a special haftara is read: ‘Hashamayim Kisi’, as it mentions the topics of both Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. If Rosh Chodesh falls out on Sunday, then on the preceding Shabbat the haftara of ‘Machar Chodesh’ is read, as it mentions the following day being Rosh Chodesh.

The $64,000 question becomes: What happens when Rosh Chodesh Elul falls out on Shabbat or Sunday? Which ruling trumps which? Do we follow the Gemara or the Pesikta? Do we stick with the ‘Shiva d’Nechemta’ or the special Rosh Chodesh reading?

The answer is that there is no easy answer! In fact, the Mordechai cites both as separate, equally valid minhagim, with no clear-cut ruling. So what are we supposed to do? Which minhag do we follow? It turns out that the correct answer, as well as the double haftarah, depends on the divergence of Sefardic and Ashkenazic custom.

Sefardic Selection

The Beit Yosef writes that the halacha follows the AbuDraham, as he was considered an expert in these topics. Consequently, in his authoritative Codex, the ShulchanAruch, he rules that on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul, only that week’s haftara of consolation, ‘Aniyah So’arah’ is read. This would also hold true if Rosh Chodesh fell on Sunday, that only that week’s haftara of consolation would be the reading, and not ‘Machar Chodesh’. This is the general Sefardic ruling on this topic.

Ashkenazic Choice

Yet, the Rema, citing the Sefer Haminhagim of Rav Yitzchak Isaac Tyrnau, argues that since the special reading of Shabbat Rosh Chodesh also contains words of consolation, it is therefore the proper reading, even for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul. Moreover, this reading is mentioned specifically by the Gemara as the proper reading for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, with no special dispensation given for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul. Additionally, since it is recited more often (as Shabbat Rosh Chodesh falls out at least twice a year), one will fulfill the Talmudic dictum of ‘tadir v’sheino tadir, tadir kodem’ — preference is given to the more common practice, by reading this haftara instead.

Parenthetically, and conversely, if RoshChodesh would only fall out on Sunday, all would agree that only that week’s haftara of consolation would be read, as there is no conciliatory theme in ‘Machar Chodesh’.

Ground-Rule Double

However, by maintaining the Rosh Chodesh priority, it would seem that we would miss out on one of the ‘Shiva d’Nechemta’, as there are not enough weeks before Rosh Hashana to fit in all seven of these special haftarot when one of the haftarot (occurring when Rosh Chodesh falls out on Shabbat Parshat Re’eh) is taken up by ‘Hashamayim Kisi’. Yet, the Pesikta and Rishonim stressed the importance and necessity of each and every one of them being read.

Therefore, the Sefer Haminhagim maintains that we need to make up for the missing haftara, and this is done as an addition, on Parshat Ki Teitzei, two weeks later. The reason is that the haftara of Parshat Re’eh, ‘Aniyah So’arah’ in the original Navi (Yeshayahu 54: 11) follows consecutively after the haftara of Parshat Ki Teitzei, ‘Runi Akara’ (Yeshayahu 54: 1). Therefore, this solution turns two separate haftarot into one long double-header, and thereby fulfills everyone’s requirement to hear all seven of the Conciliatory haftarot.

This resolution of having a double-header haftara on Parshat Ki Teitzei when Rosh Chodesh Elul falls out two weeks earlier on Parshat Re’eh is cited and codified in halacha by many authorities, and is the definitive Ashkenazic ruling. Sefardim, on the other hand, do not experience this interesting occurrence, as they follow the Shulchan Aruch’s rule of never pushing off any of the ‘Shiva d’Nechemta’, and thereby never having the need to double up haftarot.

One need not worry about flipping pages to keep up with this double haftara. It can be easily found in its full (combined) glory as the singular haftara of Parshat Noach, as one of the topics mentioned in it is a reference to the Great Deluge, referred to as the ‘Mei Noach’.

Those who miss this unique opportunity should not fret too much, as we don’t have to wait an additional fourteen years to have a Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul. In fact, aside from this occurring in 2015, 2016, and again this year, it will fall out several more times over the next few years. Hopefully, by then, the gabbai will remember that double-headers are not exclusively reserved for ballgames.

  • The author wishes to thank R’ Yoel Rosenfeld and R’ Shloime Lerner for raising awareness of this unique issue, and serving as the impetus for my interest and research in this topic.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda.

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