Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Rosh Ha-Shanah 5768/ September 13-14, 2007

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,



The Haftarah Readings of Shabbat (Te)shuvah


Menahem Ben-Yashar


Department of Bible


There are several traditions regarding the haftarah to be read.

S. Y. Agnon wrote in his anthology for the High Holydays, Yamim Nora’im (p. 188):

The Sabbath between Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuvah because the haftarah  reading is shuvah yisrael.  In our time it is called Shabbat te-shuvah because it falls during the days of repentance (Heb. = teshuvah).

There are indeed special Sabbaths whose names derive from the Torah or haftarah readings on those days, such as Shabbat Hazon, Shabbat Nahamu, and perhaps one could even include Shabbat ha-Gadol, going by the concluding words of the haftarah.   However, the case of the Sabbath between the New Year and the Day of Atonement is different, since not only the common people but also some great scholars have called it Shabbat Teshuvah, as for example in Responsa Noda’ bi-Yehudah ( second edition, Yoreh De’ah, 187), Resp. Rav Pe’alim (2.16), and the abridged Shulkhan Arukh called  Hayyei Adam (118.17).  The reason for this is that on this Sabbath it is ostensibly clear that the haftarah reading opens with the passage beginning with the word shuvah, at the concluding chapter of Hosea’s prophecy (14:2-10); however a glance at the literature on halakhah and Jewish custom indicates that this is far from generally agreed.

The literary basis for the customs regarding this haftarah comes from Pesikta de-Rav Kahana (as implied by the Vitri Mahzor, 1502, p. 223); there, from homily (Pisqa) 13 through 25, are twelve drashot or sermons for the Sabbaths between the 17th of Tammuz and the Day of Atonement (or through the festival of Tabernacles – see below), whose acronym is D-sh-kh N-v-‘ A-r-q Sh-d-sh, [1] which mnemonic device also appears in Tosafot on Megillah 31b (s.v. rosh hodesh), in Rashi’s prayerbook (p. 202), and in the Vitri Mahzor (p. 223), and is repeated later in many other books.   The acronym expands as follows: the first three homilies and haftarah readings foretell disaster, leading up to the ninth of Av. They are:  Divrei Yirmiyahu (= “The words of Jeremiah,” Jer. 1:1); Shim’u (= “Hear the word,” loc. sit., 2:4); Hazon (= “The prophecies of Isaiah,” Isa. 1:1; however, in Pesikta de-Rav Kahana the ckorresponding homily is based on the verse:  Eikhah (= “Alas”), Isa. 1:21); then come seven haftarah readings of consolation, from the ninth of Av until the end of the month of Elul, namely:  Nahamu (= “Comfort,” Isa. 40:1); Va-tomer Zion (= “Zion says,” Isa. 49:14); ‘Oniah soarah (= “Unhappy, storm-tossed one,” Isa. 54:11); [2] Anokhi anokhi (= “I, I am He,” Isa. 51:12); Roni ‘akarah (= “Shout, O barren one,” Isa. 54:1); Kumi ori (= “Arise, shine,” Isa. 60:1), and the last haftarah of the year: Sos asis (= “I greatly rejoice,” Isa. 61:10).  After these comes a sermon entitled Ba-hodesh ha-shevi’i (= “In the seventh month,” Lev, 23:24) for the New Year and then two of repentance:  Dirshu (= “Seek the Lord,” Isa. 55:6; in which the verse is applied to the Ten Days of Repentance) and Shuvah (= “Return,” Hosea 14:2).

The difficulty which led to the development of different customs was that the last haftarah readings on the list, Dirshu and Shuvah, naturally belong during the Ten Days of Repentance.   Indeed, in the books of customs they are called Tartei de-Teyuvta (Aramaic, = “the two of repentance”), and in Pesikta de-Rav Kahana they are listed between the homily for the New Year (“In the seventh month”) and the homily for the Day of Atonement (Aharei mot = “After the death”). [3]   Between the New Year and the Day of Atonement, however, there is only one Sabbath; so how could it have two haftarah readings?  Perhaps the redactor of Pesikta de-Rav Kahana listed them as two possible alternatives for the same Sabbath. [4]   This possibility was not accepted by the rabbis of the Middle Ages, in whose time there were already fixed haftarah readings for each Sabbath and festival; therefore, Jewish communities adopted different practices regarding the two haftarah readings whose acronym was D-sh:  Dirshu and Shuvah.

Surprisingly, we discover that in the literature on halakhah and customs (although perhaps not in actual practice in Jewish communities through the ages), the Sabbath during the Ten Days of Repentance is not necessarily Shabbat Shuvah; rather, depending on the calendar, sometimes it is Shabbat Dirshu and sometimes it is Shabbat Shuvah.   How so?   The following recommendation was made by the tosafists (s.v. Rosh hodesh) in Megillah 31b, by Rabbenu Tam in the Vitri Mahzor (p. 224) and, following them, by many Ashkenazi books of customs:  When a Sabbath intervenes between the Day of Atonement and the festival of Tabernacles, then the haftarah of Dirshu is read during the Ten Days of Repentance, and Shuvah on the Sabbath before Tabernacles.   The reasons given for this are as follows:  Dirshu is appropriate to the Ten Days of Repentance, according to the remarks of Rabbah bar Abuha in the gemara, Rosh ha-Shanah 18a:   Dirshu Hashem be-himatz’o (= “Seek the Lord while He can be found”) – this refers to the ten days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement,” and Shuvah is appropriate after the Day of Atonement as well, according to Rabbi Isaac in Rosh ha-Shanah 16a; 18a:  “Crying out becomes a person, whether before judgment is passed, or after judgment is passed.”   Indeed, it is generally considered that judgment is not finally sealed until Hoshanah Rabbah.   According to this custom, when there is no Sabbath between the Day of Atonement and the festival of Tabernacles, the haftarah of Shuvah is read on the Sabbath known as Shabbat Shuvah, and the reading of Dirshu receives its due as the haftarah on the Fast of Gedaliah [Ashkenazim read it on every fast day].

This is presented as an Ashkenazi custom in the 1524 Venetian edition of Mikraot Gedolot; in Pri Magadim on Orah Hayyim 228.8 and in several contemporary Bibles, such as the Pentateuch with the commentary Ha’amek Davar and the Sephardic Pentateuch published by Sinai Press, Tel Aviv 1974.

The haftarah readings could follow another scheme, in practice today in most communities, although relatively little represented in the literature:  the reading of Shuvah is always read during the Ten Days of Repentance, and Dirshu is left for the afternoon service on the Fast of Gedaliah.   This is mentioned in Abudarham as the custom of “most places in the Sephardic world,” in Sefer ha-Pardess (attributed to Rashi), p. 351, and in the Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 428.8 as the prevailing opinion.  According to this view, when there is a Sabbath between the Day of Atonement and Tabernacles, the haftarah that is read is matched to the Torah reading:  David’s song (II Sam. 22) after the reading of the Torah’s poem of Ha’azinu.   The custom in Yemen and Italy is to read the haftarah of Tzameret ha-Erez (= “From the lofty top of the cedar”) on this Sabbath – a passage dealing primarily with matters of judgment and repentance in Ezekiel 18, and beginning at the end of chapter 17 (22-23) with the themes of good destiny and trees, appropriate to the festival of Tabernacles.

A third possibility is to read Shuvah as the haftarah on the Sabbath before the New Year, Dirshu on the Sabbath during the Ten Days of Repentance, and Sos asis on the Sabbath between the Day of Atonement and the festival of Tabernacles.  The reasons for this are as follows:    Shuvah is read before the New Year in order to inspire repentance as the days of judgment approach, and the haftarah reading of redemption and rejoicing, Sos assis, is read after the Day of Atonement as an expression of the confidence that our sins have been forgiven; as the Vitri Mahzor put it (p. 223):   Sos asis – for you have become wrapped in a robe of victory since their sins have been pardoned,” according to what is said in the haftarah:  “For He has clothed me with garments of   triumph, wrapped me in a robe of victory.”

In Tosafot on Megillah 31b, Rabbenu Tam rejects this order, since he inserts the “second one of repentance” before Sos asis, which is the last of the seven haftarah readings of consolation, thus breaking the pattern of beginning with seven readings of consolation and then, after them, two of repentance, [5] so that the end of the acronym D-kh-sh N-v-‘ A-r-k Sh-d-sh becomes ShuvahDirshuSos.  Therefore, Rabbenu Tam calls the rabbi who made this order a “Rabbi who impairs, turns topsy-turvy and confuses.”  These rabbis who confuse and turn upside down, however, are none other than Rashi, in his prayer book; his disciple, Rabbi Simhah, in the Mahzor Vitri, and the author of Sefer ha-Eshkol, who attests that “now this is the practice,” and the Algerian Jewish community through recent generations.

This scheme, placing Shuvah before the New Year and postponing Sos asis until after the Day of Atonement, could lead to a situation in which the haftarah of Sos asis might not be read at all, in those years when there is no Sabbath between the Day of Atonement and the festival of Tabernacles, and this clashes with the principle that the acronym is fixed.  Orhot Hayyim (by Rabbi Aaron ha-Cohen of Lunel) mentions a custom which resolves this difficulty:  Shuvah before the New Year, Dirshu on the Fast of Gedaliah, and Sos asis on Shabbat Teshuvah; however, it is strange that on the Sabbath which falls during the Ten Days of Repentance one not read a haftarah whose theme is about repentance.

This chart summarizes the different approaches:



New Year


Day of Atonement



Approach I

(Mikraot Gedolot from Venice, 1524; Pri Magadim and others)

Sos asis

Dirshu Hashem

Shuvah Yisrael


Approach II

(Aburdarham, Sefer ha-Pardess and the prevailing opinion in the Shulhan Arukh)

Sos asis

Shuvah Yisrael

Song of David (II Sam. 22)


Yemen & Italy –Tzameret ha-Erez” (Ezek. 17:22-18)

Approach III (Rashi’s prayer book, Vitri Mahzor, Sefer ha-Eshkol and Algerian community

Shuvah Yisrael


Sos asis




In years when there is no Sabbath between the Day of Atonement and Tabernacles


Nitzavim – Va-Yelekh  


Approach I


Shuvah Yisrael (Dirshu on the Fast of Gedaliah)

Approach II

Sos asis

Shuvah Yisrael (Dirshu on the Fast of Gedaliah)

Approach III

Shuvah Yisrael

Sos asis (Dirshu on the Fast of Gedaliah)


Additions to the haftarah of Shuvah

Most of the books on Jewish custom and most Pentateuchs add several verses after the nine verses in the haftarah of Shuvah at the end of the book of Hosea, and this they do for two reasons:

  1. Hosea’s prophecy concludes with the words, “While sinners stumble on them,” and it is undesirable to finish on a bad note, according to the saying in Ecclesiastes (8:3):  “Do not tarry in a dangerous situation.”  Hence the halakhah and the custom of skipping around in readings of the prophets; that is, when the haftarah ends on a bad note, one skips from there to a good note with which to conclude (Megillah 4.4).
  2. The passage of Shuvah contains a mere nine verses, while the halakhah stipulates that from the outset the length of each haftarah ought to be twenty-one verses (Megillah 23a).

Only the Yemenite tradition does not add to the nine verses of Shuvah.  In terms of the brevity of the haftarah, it has been ruled that there is no need to add on further verses when the subject matter has been finished in fewer that twenty-one verses (see Mahzor Vitri, p. 97), and as for the down-beat ending, “while sinners stumble on them,” one could say that “when the wicked perish there are shouts of joy” (Prov. 11:10).

There are two passages which are traditionally added, either alternatively or both together:  one from Joel, the other from the end of Micah.   Indeed, it is fitting to continue from Hosea on to Joel, which comes next in the Twelve Minor Prophets.   The reading in Joel continues as far as the positive ending, “And My people shall be shamed no more” (2:27).   This is indicated in most books following the tradition of Ashkenaz, France, and Italy, although there is no uniformity as to where the reading in Joel begins.   The Vitri Mahzor and Sefer ha-Pardes say:  “One begins with Joel,” by which perhaps they meant from the beginning of Joel, as a direct continuation of the end of Hosea.  An extremely long haftarah results, although it does preserve continuity of the text.  According to most sources and customs, the reading from Joel begins at 2:15, with the words, “Blow a horn in Zion,” so that together with Shuvah the haftarah is 22 verses long, and the verses that are read from Joel mention the shofar, fasting, beseeching, agricultural blessing, and sanctification of the name of   G-d in its wake – all of which are themes pertaining to the season of the High Holy Days.

The above-mentioned tosafot text on Tractate Megillah, the Vitri Mahzor (p. 225), and other books on Jewish custom add four more verses to this haftarah, beginning with Joel 2:1:   “And the Lord roars aloud.”   The reason given is that this reminds us of thunder and rain (see Tanhumah, Va-Yishlakh 2), just as further on in Joel verse 23 explicitly mentions rain in due season.   The books that recommend the haftarah of Shuvah on the Sabbath before Tabernacles give as the reason, among other things, the juxtaposition of the reference to rain in Joel with the prayers for rain during the festival of Tabernacles.

There might be another reason for beginning the additional passage from Joel with the verse, “And the Lord roars aloud.”   In the above passage in Tanhumah, as well as the paragraph about Shuvah in Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, this verse is interpreted as relating to the theme of judgment on the New Year, the Day of Atonement, and the intervening days of awe.

Another non-contiguous passage to be added to the reading of Shuvah is mentioned in Abudarham (p. 303), and is practiced primarily by Sephardic and Eastern Jewish communities, as well as Habad:   namely, the last three verses of Micah (7:18-20). [6]   Both the advantage and disadvantage of this as a concluding passage lie in its brevity – an advantage, in that it is not tedious on the public, and a disadvantage, in that it does not bring the total number of verses to twenty-one.  Even if we said that one could make do with fewer verses if the subject-matter has been completed, it seems that during the Ten Days of Repentance one ought to be more strict in this regard, just as one tends to be more strict about other things at that time.   The concluding verses from Micah are indeed far from the passage in Hosea; on the other hand, Dagul Me-Revavah notes on the Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 428.8, that there is a chronological proximity between the two prophets (according to Pesahim 87a, both of them were active during the same period).   The same passage in Dagul Me-Revavah, citing Elijah Rabbah, says that in Prague it was customary to add both the passage from Joel as well as the one from Micah.   A special appendix on the customs of the Jewish community of Mainz, in the Rödelheim prayer book 1982, attests the same also of that community.  Dagul Me-Revavah asks why one needs two additional passages with positive endings, and recommends dividing them:  when Shuvah is read as the haftarah for the Torah reading of Va-Yelekh, which speaks of the Lord’s anger at Israel (Deut. 31:17), it recommends that the haftarah be concluded with the passage from Micah, which says:  “Who has not maintained His wrath forever” (7:18); [7] and when Shuvah is read with Ha’azinu, which mentions rain (Deut. 32:2), it recommends concluding with Joel, in which rain is also mentioned.   Some Humashim specify these passages in the list of haftarah readings, such as the Sephardic Pentateuch published by Sinai Press, 1974. According to the order of the Sabbaths, it puts the additional passage from Micah before the passage from Joel.

It turns out that this example was copied by widespread Ashkenazi editions of the Pentateuch, printed of late; however, they omitted the note that one of the additions is for the Sabbath of Va-Yelekh and the other for Ha’azinu.  Thus, we have the peculiar occurrence of a haftarah consisting of passages from Hosea, Micah and Joel.  Now, even though in the Twelve Minor Prophets one may skip around from prophet to prophet, one may not skip backwards (Megillah 24a), in order not to disrupt the order of the prophets.  The late Rabbi Moses Feinstein complained about the double additions and skipping backwards; he proposed a different scheme (Iggerot Moshe I, 174):  when the haftarah is read from a printed book, one should conclude with the brief verses from Micah, in order not to be tedious to the public.  When the haftarah is read from a scroll of the Twelve Minor Prophets, following the custom of the Vilna Gaon, then the public is inconvenienced and the reading is stalled by having to roll the scroll from Hosea to Micah, and therefore then one should conclude with the verses from Joel, which come immediately after Hosea.  Be that as it may, the annotated books following the Ashkenazi tradition, such as the prayer book Avodat Yisrael (Rödelheim 1964, p. 407), Siddur Otzar ha-Tefillot (Vilna, 1915, p. 574), and calendars for the Land of Israel by the Tikochinsky family and the calendars of the Union of Synagogues (the Heikhal Shlomo Calendar) all say that according to the Ashkenazi practice only the verses from Joel should be added to the haftarah of Shuvah. [8]


[1] Tosafot on Megillah 31b, as well as most of the sources, imply that the acronym itself is spelled out in Pesikta de-Rav Kahana. However this is not the case.  The acronym was developed later, according to what we find in Pesikta.   It follows from Mahzor Vitri, p. 224, that the originator of the acronym was Rabbenu Tam.

[2] Thus far, the three haftarah readings of consolation are read in the order in which they occur in Scripture; the last four readings of consolation again are arranged as in Scripture.  Perhaps this reflects an ancient custom, still followed in the Italian tradition, to read only three haftarot of consolation rather than seven, through the end of the month of Av, one for each of the three readings foretelling doom.

[3] Before the homily on Aharei Mot comes another sermon under the heading Selihot (penitential prayers); Buber in his notes to the Pesikta holds that this is nothing but a continuation of the homily on Shuvah.   Another possibility is that it represents an alternative haftarah reading, since it does not begin with a verse from Prophets, rather with a verse from Job; perhaps it was read on the Sabbath in con-junction with a reading from Scriptures (Ketubim), see Shabbat 116b.

[4] Just as there are alternative homilies in Pesikta Rabbati.   For example, it has six sermons for the (maximum of) two Sabbaths of Hanukkah, including two passages that begin with a verse from Prophets:  “Then Elijah took” (I Kings 18:31), and “At that time” (Zeph. 1:12).   To the seven paragraphs of consolation, Pesikta Rabbati added one more, “Rejoice greatly, Fair Zion” (Zech. 9:9).

[5] Clearly, the order of beginning with readings of consolation and then of repentance is not imperative; however, it is based on the order of the derashot in Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, and the acronym is built entirely on the order in Pesikta de-Rav Kahana.

[6] The last three verses of Micah are also used to conclude the reading of Jonah on the afternoon of the Day of Atonement; since the book of Jonah ends with the words, “and many beasts as well,” it needed a more sympathetic conclusion.   Likewise, the same verses from Micah comprise the main part of the Tashlikh service on the New Year.   Perhaps therefore these verses came to be transferred to the haftarah of Shuvah.

[7] This is the introductory remark of Dagul Me-Revavah, which essentially says that one af (rendered as “anger”) be put next to the other af (rendered as “wrath”).

[8] A general remark:  just as customs vary between reading Shuvah from Hosea or Dirshu from Isaiah as the haftarah in the month of Tishre, so too the customs vary regarding the Ninth of Av:  most Jewish communities read Dirshu as the afternoon haftarah on the Ninth of Av; but some Sephardic communities read Shuvah instead (see Yehaveh Da’at 5.40).