A Question of Jewish Law

October 31, 2016

34. When Is a Festival not a Festival?

Filed under: Festivals,Jewish Law,Prayers and Blessings,Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 10:17 am

Question:  After reading the Haftorah on the intermediate Shabbat of the festivals, does one recite the blessing for Shabbat or the blessing for the festival?

Answer: The Haftorah is a passage from the prophets which is read after the Torah reading on Shabbat and Yom Tov. There is no Haftorah reading on the intermediate days of the festivals. For this reason, our first instinct would be to say that since the Haftorah is being read only because of Shabbat, it is a ‘Shabbat Haftorah’ and therefore only the blessings for Shabbat should be recited. However, although the Haftorah is definitely a ‘Shabbat Haftorah’ the day is still a ‘festival day’! Why shouldn’t the festival also be mentioned? Shouldn’t the festival be acknowledged wherever the day is mentioned in a blessing, regardless of whether the activity specifically belongs to the festival or not?

Although the Talmud does not discuss this question directly, it does discuss a related question. In Tractate Shabbat [24 A and B] the Talmud asks whether the special addition for Hanukkah [Al HaNissim] should be added during the Musaf prayer of Rosh Hodesh Hannukah. There is no Musaf for Hanukkah and the prayer is only a ‘Rosh Hodesh prayer’. After some discussion, the Talmud concludes that the Hannukah paragraph is added. We also mention Shabbat in the Neila prayer on Yom Kippur. Although there is no Neila prayer for Shabbat, the day is still Shabbat. Shabbat is mentioned on all the prayers of Yom Kippur whether they are Shabbat prayers or not. This suggests that the Haftorah blessings of the intermediate days of festivals should mention the festival regardless of whether we consider this to be a ‘festival Haftorah’ or not.

But does an intermediate day of a festival count as being enough of a festival for the purpose of mentioning it in the Haftorah blessing. Although the intermediate days have some features of festivals, they are essentially weekdays. It is possible that they are simply not ‘festival’ enough to justify changing blessings.

Surprisingly, in normative Ashkenazi practice, there is a difference between Pesach and Succot. Our practice is that on intermediate Shabbat of Pesach we recite the Shabbat blessing but on the intermediate Shabbat of Succot we recite the festival blessing. The intermediate days of Succot are considered more of a festival than the intermediate days of Pesach.

The roots of this can be found in the Torah. When describing the festival of Succot the Torah dedicates a full paragraph to each of the days of the festival. For this reason, each day is considered a festival in and of itself, and therefore the festival blessing is recited. However, when describing the festival of Pesach, the Torah simply states “you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days” [Lev 23:6] including the intermediate days in this general statement. For this reason, the intermediate days of Pesach are not considered to be separate festivals. Therefore, we use the festival blessing for the Haftorah on Succot but for not for Passover.

This perhaps explains another difference between the two festivals. During the festival of Succot, we recite the full Hallel on each of the days of the festival. But during Pesach, we recite the full Hallel on the Yom Tov at the beginning of the festival, but not on the intermediate days.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Tishre 5777

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