For the week ending 13 April 2024 / 5 Nissan 5784

5784 - The Year of the Rare Haftarah Part II

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
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As discussed in the OhrNet to Parashas Vayigash, 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, 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 Parashas Kedoshim (both in sefer Vayikra).

As discussed in Part 1 of this series, this year, the haftarah of Parashas Mikeitz was actually leined. In fact the next time “Vayikatz Shlomo” (Melachim I Ch. 3:15), discussing the wisdom of Shlomo HaMelech – ordering to cut the disputed baby in half in order to determine his real mother, is the second rarest haftarah Ashkenazim read, averaging being read only once in ten years. The next time this haftarah is slated to be read is in another 17 years in 5801/2040.

This week, Parashas Tazria, the second rare haftarahV’ish ba,” (Melachim II Ch. 4:42) will be read. Although statistically speaking, it is on average read every 6 years (16.32% of the time), nevertheless, it practically has not been leined in 21 years – since 5763/2003! There are several reasons for this. The common minhag is that when the Parshiyos of Tazria and Metzora are read together - which they are in a standard year; they are only leined separately in a leap year - only the haftarah of the latter Parashah is read.

Although there is some debate about this among the Rishonim, this position is codified as the proper ruling by both the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 284:7) and Rema (Orach Chaim 428:8), and as far as this author knows, this was accepted by all of Klal Yisrael. The main reason this is so is to enable reading a haftarah similar to what was just concluded in the Torah leining, which translates to the second parashah that was just finished, and not the first parashah. So we see that 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. However, this means it is only possible for Tazria’s haftarah to be read in a leap year, which occurs only 7 out of 19 years.

Moreover, Tazria can also be Parashas HaChodesh, which as a special haftarah reading, would also trump its leining. That, plus the preponderance of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh or Rosh Chodesh falling on Sunday, both of which would preclude it from being leined, make this year’s Tazria’s stand-alone haftarah quite a rare read, indeed.

However, the calendarical-minded among us who appreciate rarities and statistics need not fret, as we will thankfully not have to wait another 21 years to hear Tazria’s haftarah. In fact, in the upcoming leap years, Tazria’s haftarah will be read somewhat often – in 5787, 5790, 5793, and then, after an 8 year break, again in 5801.

The remaining rare haftarah, and the reasons detailing why it will be specifically read this year, will be IY”H be discussed closer to the time it will be read.

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 calendarical 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 calendarical knowledge.

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