Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 18 May 2024 / 10 Iyar 5784

5784 - The Year of the Rare Haftarah Part III

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
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As discussed in the Ohrnet Magazines to Parashas Vayigash andParashas Tazria, our current year, 5784, is quite a rare one indeed. Over the course of this special year, not just one, but three out of the six rarest haftaros are leined. The next time this will occur is in another seventeen years, in 5801/2040. But first, a bit of background is in order.

According to the Abudraham and Tosafos Yom Tov, the haftaros were established when the wicked Antiochus IV (infamous from the Chanukah miracle) outlawed public reading of the Torah. The Chachamim of the time therefore established the custom of reading a topic from the Nevi’im similar to what was supposed to be read from the Torah. Even after the decree was nullified, and even prior to the Gemara’s printing, this became minhag Yisrael.

Most haftaros share some similarity with at least one concept presented in the Torah reading. The Gemara Megillah (29b-31a) discusses the proper haftarah readings for the various holidays throughout the year, which are rather related to the holiday and generally trump a weekly haftarah. But it is not just Yomim Tovim that may “knock off” a regular haftarah, but special Shabbosos, and usually, even if Rosh Chodesh falls out on Sunday. Hence, practically speaking, there are several haftaros that almost never get a chance to be leined publicly.

But, as mentioned previously, this year, at least for most of Ashkenazic Jewry, three out of the six rarest haftaros are leined. They are the haftaros of Parashas Mikeitz (at the end of sefer Bereishis), Parashas Tazria, and last week’s haftarah, that of Parashas Kedoshim (both in sefer Vayikra). Previous chapters in this series discussed the first two rare haftaros. This article sets out to detail the rarest of all, the haftarah of Parashas Kedoshim, “Hasishpot” (Yechezkel Ch. 22:1).

Hasishpot” is actually read on average only once in seventeen years, or 5.8% of the time. The last time it was leined was in 5757/1997, twenty-seven years ago, and before that, twenty-four years prior, back in 5733/1973. There are even times when “Hasishpot” goes forty-four years in between leinings. The next several times it will be leined are in another 17 years, in 5801/2041, and following in an additional 27 years, in 5828/2068. As noted by Rav Moshe Feinstein, practically speaking, “Hasishpot”’s reading is considered so rare, that it is as if it is ‘k’maat hu ne’elam mi’stam adam, almost hidden from the average person’s conscience.’

Why So Rare?

Now that we established the ‘what,’ we can address the ‘why’. As mentioned previously, generally speaking, whenever there is a double parashah, the haftarah of the second parashah is read, as that is the Torah reading that we just concluded.

Yet, when it comes to the parshiyos of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim, it seems that it is not so simple. Although the Shulchan Aruch does not mention any difference between these and other double parshiyos, the Rema, the great codifier of Ashkenazic psak, rules that the haftarah of the first parashah, Acharei Mos, is the proper one to read.


The reason for the uncharacteristic change is that the haftarah of Parshas Kedoshim, ‘Hasishpot,’ includes what is known as ‘Toavas Yerushalayim,’ referring to a revealing prophecy of the woeful spiritual state and the terrible happenings that will occur to the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael for not following the word of Hashem. The Gemara in Megillah (25b) relates a story of Rabbi Eliezer and one who read such a haftarah, who was subsequently found to have his own family’s indiscretions exposed. Ultimately though, the Gemara concludes that that haftarah can indeed be read, and even translated.

Hazardous Haftarah?

Despite that, all the same, it seems that we are being taught that whenever possible, we should try to avoid having to read this condemning passage as the haftarah. Additionally, the content of Acharei Mos’s haftarah, ‘Halo K’Bnei Kushiyim’ (from Amos in Trei Asar Ch. 9) has similar content to Parshas Kedoshim as well. Therefore, the Rema rules that when the Torah reading is the double parshiyos of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim, and as opposed to every other double parashah, the haftarah for AchareiMos is read instead of Kedoshim’s.

Although the Levush vigorously argued against switching the haftaros, positing that it is a printing mistake in the earlier authorities to suggest such a switch, nevertheless, the Rema’s rule is followed by virtually all later Poskim and Ashkenazic Kehillos.

However, it must be noted that this switch was not accepted by Sefardic authorities and when Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are combined, they do indeed read Kedoshim’s haftarah, ‘Hasishpot.

Achareior Kedoshim?

But there is more to the story and a fascinating dichotomy. As mentioned previously, often special haftaros push off the regular one. For example, the Gemara states that whenever Rosh Chodesh falls out on Shabbos, a special haftarah is read: ‘Hashamayim Kisi,’ as it mentions both the inyanim of Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh. If Rosh Chodesh falls on Sunday, then on the preceding Shabbos, the haftarah of ‘Machar Chodesh’ is read, as it mentions the following day being Rosh Chodesh. This is the codified halacha as well, barring specific exceptions.

Rav Akiva Eiger, adding a wrinkle, writes that when Parshas Acharei Mos falls out on Erev Rosh Chodesh and its haftarah gets pushed off for ‘Machar Chodesh,’ then the proper haftarah for Parshas Kedoshim the next week is… Acharei Mos’s haftarah, and not Kedoshim’s! Rav Eiger’s reasoning is since we find precedent by a double parashah that we actively try not to read Kedoshim’s haftarah due to its explicit content, the same should apply for any other time Acharei Mos’s haftarah was not read, for whatever reason - that it should trump and therefore replace (and displace) Kedoshim’s haftarah!

Although not universally accepted, Rav Akiva Eiger’s rule is cited as the halachah by the Mishnah Berurah, and the proper Ashkenazic minhag by the Kaf Hachaim. The Chazon Ish, as well as Rav Moshe Feinstein, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky, all ruled this way as well. That is why in years when Acharei Mos is Shabbos Hagadol and its usual haftarah is not read, but rather replaced by the special haftarah for Shabbos Hagadol, ‘V’arvah’ (Malachi Ch. 3), many shuls read Acharei Mos’s haftarah on Parshas Kedoshim, instead of Kedoshim’s usual one. In other words, if either of the two parshiyos requires a special haftarah, Kedoshim’sHasishpot” is not leined at all, but rather Acharei Mos’ “Halo” is read on the other Shabbos.

So, practically speaking, unless a very specific year such as ours, the common Ashkenazic minhag is to almost never leinHasishpot.” But this year, for the first time in twenty-seven years, there is no special haftarah available to trump either of the two haftaros. And hence, the rarest of haftaros for Ashkenazim, “Hasishpot,” will actually, finally be leined.

Never Read?

However, there is an alternate, albeit not the common custom - an old Yerushalmi minhag - not to ever read the haftarah of Kedoshim. Even in a year such as ours, when the Parshiyos are separate, Acharei Mos’s haftarah, “Halo,” is instead read two weeks in a row. This minhag is claimed to be dated to the esteemed Rav of Yerushalayim of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Rav Shmuel Salant (to 5662/1902), with precedent cited for reading the same haftarah two weeks in row from the rare occurrence of Purim Meshulash in Yerushalayim.

However, as noted, this is not the common minhag, and actually Kedoshim’s haftarah, “Hisishpot,” the actual rarest haftarah read for most of Ashkenazic Jewry, was indeed read by the majority of Klal Yisrael this year – the first time since 5757/1997.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch famously wrote that “the Jew’s catechism is his calendar.” It is this author’s wish that by showcasing the uniqueness of our calendar year and its rare haftaros, this article will help raise appreciation of them and our calendrical customs.

*This author wishes to thank R’ Yosef Yehuda Weber, author of ‘Understanding the Jewish Calendar,’ for originally ‘tipping me off’ as to the rare haftaros being leined this year, as well as for being a fount of calendrical knowledge.

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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