Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tazria-Metzora or Behar-Bechukotai?

A few years ago when I blogged about the question of what 1-day yom tov communities do about Torah reading in years (such as next year) when the 1st day of Pesach falls on Shabbat, I quoted Rabbi Solomon Freehof's CCAR responsum from the 1960s.  He wrote, in regard to non-leap years (such as next year):

But if, as happens fairly often, the eighth day of Passover is on a Saturday, then in Israel, which considers the eighth day a regular non-festival Sabbath, the regular cycle of Torah reading resumes. Therefore Israel is one week ahead of the rest of the Jewish world in the Torah cycle. But not for long! Israel continues ahead until they come to the first double portion. On Pesach, which usually takes place on the Sedra Tzav, the dislocation continues for only two weeks, when the double portion Sazria-Mezoro comes. That week Israel just reads Sazria separately, and the next week Mezoro separately, and thus the rest of world Jewry catches up with them.

I wrote in response:

But I'm not sure this is an accurate description of Israeli practice. Or perhaps there are multiple practices in Israel (though that's a little bit hard to believe, with the pervasiveness of the Jewish calendar there), or the practice has changed. In my post on single and double Torah portions, I wrote (based on Israeli calendars) that in this case, Israelis read Behar and Bechukotai separately (not Tazria and Metzora), even though that's not the next opportunity to get everyone back in sync. I don't know why that is, but it seems to be supported by empirical evidence. Can anyone shed light on this?

And now it turns out that the plot has thickened.  I looked into this issue and found that the Magen Avraham and the Mishnah Berurah (both at 428:4) both say that there are two different minhagim in Israel in this situation:  separating Tazria-Metzora, and separating Behar-Bechukotai.

So there are actually 3 different possible calendars of Torah reading:

Shabbat   2-day yom tov     1-day yom tov #1  1-day yom tov #2
=======   =============     ================  ================
15 Nisan  1st day Pesach    1st day Pesach    1st day Pesach
22 Nisan  8th day Pesach    Shemini           Shemini
29 Nisan  Shemini           Tazria            Tazria-Metzora
6 Iyar    Tazria-Metzora    Metzora           Acharei-Kedoshim
13 Iyar   Acharei-Kedoshim  Acharei-Kedoshim  Emor
20 Iyar   Emor              Emor              Behar
27 Iyar   Behar-Bechukotai  Behar-Bechukotai  Bechukotai
5 Sivan   Bemidbar          Bemidbar          Bemidbar

For 1-day yom tov communities, the advantage of calendar #1 is that it minimizes the amount of time that 1-day and 2-day communities are out of sync (while doing so in a way that 1-day communities can maintain their integrity and self-respect, unlike some of the solutions currently in use in Reform congregations).  According to an article by R. Mordecai Kornfeld, the reason for calendar #2 is that "it is Behar and Bechukotai which are kept apart, because they were joined together not by virtue of a similarity between them but only out of necessity", in contrast to Vayakheil-Pekudei, Tazria-Metzora, and Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, which all have thematic connections between the two parshiyot.  That article presents evidence for the thesis that "whatever the criteria are for deciding whether to combine two particular Parshiot or to read them separately, bridging the gap between the Jews of Israel and those of the diaspora does *not* seem to play a major role, if any at all."  And indeed, as far as I can tell, the modern Israeli calendars I have found use calendar #2.

So I'm full of questions:
  • Is it historically accurate that the two Israeli calendars once coexisted?  (The authors of the Magen Avraham and the Mishnah Berurah didn't live in Israel, so they wouldn't have had firsthand knowledge.)
  • Does anyone in Israel today use calendar #1?
  • If the answer to the first question is yes, then how, when, and why did calendar #2 become dominant in Israel?  (Kornfeld suggests a "why", but doesn't cite a source and may just be speculating.)
  • Do self-respecting Diaspora 1-day yom tov communities (i.e. those that don't read the "8th day of Pesach" reading on a Shabbat that they don't consider yom tov, and don't split a parashah over two weeks) use calendar #1, #2, or some of each?
Any answers would be appreciated.  Thanks!


  1. For 1-day yom tov communities, the advantage of calendar #1 is that it minimizes the amount of time that 1-day and 2-day communities are out of sync....

    Though in either case, they're out of sync for much less time than they are in leap years when Pesach starts on Shabbat.

    My question is: Why in two-day communities is the choice for which to double in when Pesach ends on Shabbat in a leap year different from the choice of which to double when the 2nd day of Shavuot is on Shabbat? Surely either Chukat-Balak or Mattot-Masei is a better choice for doubling than the other; why hedge bets?

  2. It's not either/or -- in the years when they double Chukat-Balak, they also (as in most years) double Matot-Mas'ei.

  3. See my comments on this very question at

  4. Best Zaydie-
    Thanks! Do you have a source for any of this? I'm curious about when this came about, and whether there have been variant minhagim in the past.

  5. I passed your question along to the leining list on Google Groups, and here's their answer:

    I hope it's visible to non-members of the group.

  6. thanbo-
    Thanks! (And yes, it's visible to non-members.) But I'm not sure this answers my questions, except for the "why" part of the 3rd question (see my reply to Best Zaydie).

  7. Looking at the Magen Avraham (s`if katan 6) he brings these sources:

    כ"ה רי"ט ח"ב סי' ד' ותיקון יששכר וע"ש דף פ"ט

    I don't know how to read the first source, other than chelek 2, siman 4. Crowdsourcing the question! I've never heard of the Tikkun Yissachar, but I will try to find it B"N.

  8. OK, the Tikkun Yissachar is too much work for me, because it looks long and complicated, but fortunately, it's online:

    BZ, it looks right up your alley, but like I said, long (300 pages, I might be able to find this issue in a printed volume, but I can't go through 300 PDFs).

    The author has a Wikipedia page, natch:

  9. [facepalm]

    I shouldn't have to look through the whole sefer, the Magen Avraham told me what page it's on! More later.

    In the meantime, I looked up the Mishna Brura. He quotes the Maharit, which explains the first source in the Magen Avraham. The Maharit has his Wikipedia page at (obviously I found the Hebrew pages first by googling, but linking the English ones).

    I despaired of finding what the actual source was, because he was a prolific writer, and then I remembered that the Magen Avraham told me section 2, siman 4. It's a long tshuva and I haven't read much of it, but it's also available online, and I've found you the page this time: is the tshuvot of the Maharit--this includes sections 1 and 2 of the tshuvot. Page 224 in the hebrewbooks web version.

    I would like to shout-out to the Magen Avraham (no disrespect intended, adderabba) for finding me these sources by linking to his Wikipedia page too:

    Anyway, I couldn't find the page in the Tikkun Yissachar, try as I might. Maybe a misprint in the Magen Avraham, just as likely the hebrewbooks publication is not what he had. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know) the source for many of his minhagim is the Avudraham...

  10. What, no followups? Are my comments visible to anyone else?

  11. JXG-
    Thanks! I just checked out the Maharit, and he doesn't seem to be addressing the case in this post (non-leap years), but is instead addressing leap years (as in Desh's comment). In such years, 1-day communities have no degrees of freedom, since they're already reading all 54 parshiot separately. So the question before the Maharit is why 2-day communities combine Matot-Mas'ei in such years, rather than combining Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (as in non-leap years). And he gives basically the same answers that have been given in these other links.

    Side note: it's interesting that a 2-day-yom-tov guy is much more willing to question why the 2-day Torah reading schedule is the way it is -- there is at least a hava amina that it could be otherwise -- whereas the modern Reform movement just assumes it as a given (and ok, even I do that too in this post).

    Interestingly, the Maharit also asks a version of Desh's question and asks why not combine Chukat-Balak (as in years when the 2nd day of Shavuot is on Shabbat) instead of Matot-Mas'ei, and gives the same answer (not combining parshiot until it's absolutely necessary, to place Tish'ah B'Av into the week of Va'etchanan). He cites the Tikkun Yissachar, who says that in Syria they do in fact combine Chukat-Balak under these circumstances! (Does anyone know if this is still the practice in Syrian Jewish communities (outside of Israel, of course)? 2016/5776 is the next such year to look up.)

    I'll check out the Tikkun Yissachar next.

  12. JXG-
    Thanks! The Tikkun Yissachar is awesome! One day I should learn it in depth.

    After I figured out the organization of the book (it's organized according to the 14 year-types, but there are long digressions within each one), I found this question addressed on p. 104 of the version.

    Here's a summary: The author gives calendar #2 (Tazria-Metzora together, Behar-Bechukotai separately) as the practice for Israel. This launches a discussion.

    Q: Why not separate Tazria-Metzora, and therefore get back in sync with the Diaspora faster?
    A: Come on, would YOU want to read about skin diseases for 2 weeks if you didn't have to?
    Q: Ok, but then why not split the difference and separate Acharei Mot-Kedoshim?
    A: "Why should I change? He's the one who sucks." 2-day yom tov is a crazy minhag. If the 2-dayers are going to keep up this minhag, then bully for them, but there's no reason they should drag the 1-dayers along with them. Instead, the 1-dayers should just do what they were going to do.

    That said, there are some Sephardi communities in Tzfat (where the author lived, according to the Wikipedia article) that in fact do calendar #1 (splitting Tazria-Metzora), to get back in sync with the 2-dayers. In contrast, the Musta'arabi Jews (i.e. the Jews who were in Israel all along, as opposed to the ones who left Spain after the expulsion) have a minhag of calendar #2, since they weren't in contact with the Diaspora and staying in sync was never an issue for them.

    Then a later note says that after the book was completed, in the year 5305 (1545), the sages of Tzfat got together and decided to go with calendar #1, in accordance with the minhag of the longtime residents. Then, in 5305 (1548), the Sephardi rabbis got together again and changed their minds back to calendar #1, and put it into practice, and asked the Musta'arabi rabbis to do calendar #1 too. They responded hell no, calendar #2 is our longstanding minhag.

    The author codifies calendar #2 since it is the more established minhag. He then notes that there are two other situations when the 1-dayers and 2-dayers are split (8th day Pesach on Shabbat in a leap year, and 2nd day Shavuot on Shabbat), and doesn't understand why this situation (8th day Pesach on Shabbat in a non-leap year) should be special, and more worthy of keeping the two calendars in sync. Then he gets into lots of examples where different communities (within the Diaspora) have different practices of when to combine or separate double parshiot, or even where to break up the parshiot -- there are examples of communities that always combine Behar-Bechukotai or Chukat-Balak or Matot-Mas'ei, and communities that split Mikeitz or Va'era or Mishpatim into two parshiot.

  13. That second year should say 5308 (1548), of course.

  14. And he says that some communities even complete (or used to complete) the Torah in 3 years instead of 1! (He's talking about the real triennial cycle, not the fake one.)

  15. I checked Hebcal, and yes, both 5305 and 5308 fit this pattern.

    As calendar watchers know, this pattern is going to become very common in this decade. We'll have the non-leap-year version in 2012, 2015, and 2018, and the leap-year version in 2016 and 2019.

  16. Does he detail how the 3-year cycle worked? It seems like one prerequisite for a community actually doing this in modern times would be finding some authoritative way to divide the parshiyot and making other decisions, like what to do with the 4 parshiyot before pesach (I think I once heard the theory that those might *replace* rather than be appended to the regular triennial reading).

  17. BZ, thanks!

    I can't say I would have summarized it the same way, exactly, but very helpful.

    Regarding the triennial cycle, note that the Tikkun Yissachar is quoting the Rambam and Rabbi Binyamin (Benjamin of Tudela? not sure), not saying that he saw it himself. In fact he says that the original town near Cairo (Massar alle zika, or something, I'm Ashkenazi, forgive me) where they had the two big shuls, each doing a different cycle, basically had a bare minyan of Jews left, and every Shabbat a minyan of Cairene Jews would come to daven in the shul of Eliyahu Hanavi (i.e. the one where they used the triennial cycle, and has in the attic a sefer Torah from Ezra (!)) to honor the place; and the Tikkun Yissachar adds that he davened there a few times.

    Desh, the divisions of the parshiyot are actually known, and if you have a Koren or Breuer chumash, you'll find that the sedarim are marked in the margins. I will grant that dividing the sedarim into aliyot can be challenging bordering on impossible given standard halachic restrictions.

    Regarding the 4 parshiyot, why shouldn't they just be read for maftir, as they are in the 1-year cycle? If they replaced the regular reading, Zachor would be read a whopping 8 consecutive times, trying the patience of everyone in shul.

  18. Desh writes:
    Does he detail how the 3-year cycle worked? It seems like one prerequisite for a community actually doing this in modern times would be finding some authoritative way to divide the parshiyot

    He doesn't detail it here (but I haven't read through the whole book). But this paper attempts to (begin to) reconstruct the authentic triennial cycle. (h/t B.BarNavi, who posted this in the comments of my triennial cycle post, though note that the URL has changed.) And yes, JXG, according to this paper it was Benjamin of Tudela.

    and making other decisions, like what to do with the 4 parshiyot before pesach

    I'm with JXG - these could be handled the same way they are now.

    (I think I once heard the theory that those might *replace* rather than be appended to the regular triennial reading).

    Yes, this is the plain sense of the Mishnah (Megillah 3:4), which says that after the 4 parshiyot are over, we return to the regular order (implying that the order was interrupted). In the Gemara (Megillah 30b), R. Yirmiyah interprets this to mean return to the regular order of haftarot, which is what we do now, but R. Ami reads the Mishnah the other way, and Abaye concurs.

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  20. Very interesting post.

    Say that the reform in Israel follow the most common minhag in Israel (1-day yom tov # 2) and these years (as the current) reads Shemini on 22 Nisan, Tazria-Metzora on 29 Nisan, Behar on 20 Iyar and Bechukotai on 27 Iyar (and not as reform in galut that usually split a parashah, this year Shemini I on 22 Nisan and Shemini II on 29 Nisan, and reads Behar-Bechukotai on 27 Iyar): Reform in Israel this year:

    שבת פרשת " שמיני", כ"ב ניסן, 11.4

    שבת פרשות "תזריע ומצורע", "שבת תקומה", כ"ט ניסן, 18.4 שבת מברכים

    שבת פרשות "אחרי מות" ו-"קדושים", ו' אייר, 25.4

    שבת פרשת "אמר", י"ג אייר, 2.5

    שבת פרשת "בהר", כ' אייר, 9.5,

    שבת פרשת "בחקותי", כ"ז אייר, 16.5 שבת מברכים

    שבת פרשת "במדבר", ה' סיוון, 23.5, "שבת כלה" "שבת דרך ארץ"