This coming Shabbat we are faced with a dilemma as to which haftarah to read. On the one hand, Chazal (Megillah 31a) teach that on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh we read HaShamayim Kisi, the last Perek of Sefer Yeshayahu, which in part discusses Rosh Chodesh. On the other hand, Tosafot (Megillah 31b s.v. Rosh Chodesh) cite the pesikta, a midrashic source, which teaches that we recite seven consolatory haftarot from Yeshayahu (the “shiva d’nechemta”) from the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av all the way to Rosh Hashana.
When Rosh Chodesh Elul falls on Shabbat, as it does this year, we must choose between the haftarah for Rosh Chodesh or the third of the shiva d’nechemta (Aniyah So’arah). It turns out that the Rishonim (Orchot Chayim, at the end of his Hilchot Kri’at HaTorah) cite two differing customs regarding this question. The matter emerges as a dispute between Rav Yosef Karo, the primary halachic authority for Sephardic Jews, and the Rama, the primary authority for Ashkenazic Jews (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 425:1). It is therefore not surprising that Sephardic Jews follow Rav Karo and read the third of the shiva d’nechemta and Ashkenazic Jews follow the Rama and read the selection for Rosh Chodesh.
Reasons for the Ashkenazic Practice
There are compelling reasons for both practices. One could argue to read the Rosh Chodesh selection due to the celebrated principle that appears many times in the Gemara, “Tadir u’shei’eno tadir, tadir kodem” (the more frequent mitzvah is performed first). For example, men wear their tallit before donning their tefillin since tallit is worn every day and tefillin are not worn on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Similarly, on Friday evening we recite the Boreh Pri HaGefen before we say the bracha on the Kedushat HaYom (acknowledging the holiness of the day). One could similarly argue that we choose the Rosh Chodesh haftarah since it is read more frequently than Aniyah So’arah.
Moreover, included in the Rosh Chodesh haftarah are beautiful words of nechama/comfort, such as just as a mother comforts a child, so too does Hashem comfort us, and rejoice over Jerusalem, all those who mourn it. Thus, by reading the Rosh Chodesh selection one achieves both haftarah goals: a Rosh Chodesh theme and a post-Tisha B’Av comfort theme.
Reasons for the Sephardic Practice
Proponents of the Sephardic practice may argue, though, that the rule of “tadir” applies only to precedence and not to whether to choose one before the other. In other words, frequency is a reason to perform the mitzvah first, such as wearing a tallit before tefillin in the aforementioned example. However, it does mean that the more frequently performed mitzvah eliminates the less-frequently observed mitzvah (as stated by Tosafot Shabbat 23b s.v. Hadar).
Moreover, adds Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 3:42), the haftarah of Aniyah So’arah is completely devoted to nechama, which is far superior than the few pesukim devoted to nechama that are included in the haftarah of Hashamayim Kisi. In addition, notes Chacham Ovadia, Tosafot present the seven haftarot as escalating in intensity of the nechama. Digressing from the shiva d’nechemta on Rosh Chodesh Elul would disrupt the nechama momentum that ascends from Tisha B’Av to Rosh Hashana.
Finally, Rav Karo in his Beit Yosef notes that the Avudraham, a Spanish Rishon who authored the most authoritative commentary on the siddur, endorses the reading of Aniyah So’arah on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul. The Beit Yosef had so much respect for the Avudraham’s proficiency regarding the liturgy that he ruled in accordance with his view regarding this matter.
Two Interesting Points
One interesting footnote to this discussion is that Ashkenazim make up the recital of Aniyah So’arah after reading the haftarah “Rani Akarah” on Parshat Ki Teitzei (Mishna Berurah 425:7). Thus, Ashkenazim read a double haftarah this year for Parshat Ki Teitzei.
Also interesting is that the Vilna Gaon (cited by the Mishnah Berurah 425:9) agrees, surprisingly with Rav Karo’s preference to read Aniyah So’arah on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul. Rav Yosef Adler reports that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik felt that we should follow the ruling of the Vilna Gaon (this is hardly surprising as the tradition in the Soloveitchik family is to very often follow the opinion of the Vilna Gaon; the Soloveitchiks are descendents of Rav Chaim of Volozhin, the leading disciple of the Vilna Ga’on). Thus, at Tenaeck’s Congregation Rinat Yisrael where Rav Adler serves as the senior rabbi, Aniyah So’arah will be read this Shabbat.
Most compelling is the decision to read Aniyah So’arah on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul. In fact, Sephardim have their proverbial cake and eat it too, since they recite the first and last pesukim of HaShamayim Kisi. This serves to announce Rosh Chodesh and proclaim our acceptance of the day as Rosh Chodesh. Thus, Sephardim and followers of the Vilna Gaon both maintain the shiva d’nechemta order and also give a nod to Rosh Chodesh by reading at least a symbolic portion of HaShamayim Kisi.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.