To Repeat or not to Repeat?

Question #1: Shul Feud

“There is an ongoing dispute in my shul between the baal keri’ah, who is not particularly careful how he accents words, and the gabbai, who periodically insists that the baal keri’ah reread a word because it was accented wrongly. Who is correct?”

Question #2: Reading, Righting…

“Since the Torah prohibits humiliating someone, and particularly in public, why do we correct a baal keri’ah who errs during the reading? Isn’t this embarrassing someone in public?”

Question #3: Monday Morning Quarterback

“We finished the keri’as haTorah and now realize that the baal keri’ah misread a word. What do we do?”


Anyone who is the shaliach tzibur for the public, either to fulfill the mitzvah of reading the Torah (the baal keri’ah) or to lead services as the chazzan or baal tefilah, must be alert to recite everything correctly. This includes reading and accenting each word properly, being careful not to run words together, reading the passages so that their implication is correct, and understanding their connotation. A person unable to prepare the reading properly should decline the honor and defer to someone who can recite it acceptably. The only excuse for a chazzan or baal keri’ah not being appropriately prepared is that there is no one else available to read the Torah and he does not have the ability to prepare it properly (Terumas Hadeshen 2:181). The halachic discussion germane to the last circumstance is a topic for a different time.

Correcting errors

What is the halachah if a baal keri’ah misread part of the reading? Are we required to correct him so that we hear an accurate rendition? On the one hand, the Torah is very adamant about not embarrassing a person, and more particularly so in public. On the other hand, distorting a passage of the Torah is a serious offense. (See Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 4:9, who explains how strict we must be.) Thus, if someone read inaccurately, the entire tzibur failed to observe the mitzvah of reading the Torah.

Indeed, whether one should correct an errant baal keri’ah is a dispute among the rishonim, some contending that one is required to ignore the error, because correcting the baal keri’ah embarrasses him in public. Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 22b s.v. Rigla) quotes a midrash that someone reading the Torah who skipped a syllable, thereby saying ‘Haron’ instead of ‘Aharon,’ has fulfilled his requirement to read the Torah — we do not correct the misreading, even though the letter aleph was skipped. This midrash is quoted also by several other rishonim (Hagahos Ashri, Shabbos 6:13; Sefer Hamanhig, Laws of Shabbos). (I was unable to locate this midrash as the rishonim quote it. Presumably, the manuscript source of this Chazal has been lost or distorted during the intervening centuries.)

On the other hand, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Megillah 4:5) states that one is required to correct a baal keri’ah who errs in his reading: “Rabbi Chinina, the son of Andrei, quoted Rabbi Zakai of Kabul: ‘If someone erred and read the wrong word during the reading of the Torah, we have him reread the passage correctly.’ Rabbi Yirmiya said to Rabbi Zeira: ‘Do we indeed follow this practice [despite the fact that it involves embarrassing a person in public]?’ Rabbi Zeira replied: ‘We correct even a more minor error, such as if he had omitted the letter vav.’”

We see that it was an early dispute among Chazal whether the community’s hearing a meticulously accurate reading is more essential, or whether embarrassing the baal keri’ah is more of a concern. (However, we will soon see an alternative way to resolve the seemingly incompatible passages of the midrash and the Yerushalmi.)

Among the rishonim, we find that Tosafos and the Baal Hamanhig quote the midrash that one should not correct an error, notwithstanding the fact that the Talmud Yerushalmi disagrees. On the other hand, the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 12:6) rules in accordance with the Yerushalmi, that a reader’s error cannot be left uncorrected.

Is there a resolution?

Can we possibly resolve the two statements, the midrash and the Yerushalmi, so that they do not clash?

The Beis Yosef, quoting the Mahari ibn Chabib, provides an answer to resolve the conflict: The midrash is discussing a case where the inaccuracy does not affect the sense of the passage, whereas the Yerushalmi refers to a situation in which the error does change its meaning. According to this approach, all agree that one must correct any inaccurate reading in which the meaning of the passage is distorted.

How do we rule?

When the author of Beis Yosef records his decision in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 142:1), he states very succinctly: “One who read and erred, even in a detail regarding only one letter, must repeat the reading.” The early acharonim dispute to what extent the Shulchan Aruch ruled this way: The Rema contends that the Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion requires rereading only when the error changed the meaning of the passage, whereas the Pri Chodosh rules that one must reread, even when the blunder did not alter the meaning (Chayei Odom 31:31). According to the latter opinion, although the Beis Yosef had quoted the Mahari ibn Chabib’s resolution of the conflict between the midrash and the Yerushalmi, in Shulchan Aruch he agreed with the more obvious way of understanding the Rambam and the Yerushalmi, which concluded that any inaccuracy must be corrected.

Most late authorities rule, in agreement with the Rema, that we reread only when the meaning was changed by the error (Mishnah Berurah 142:4; Bi’ur Halachah 142:1 s.v. Ein). We also correct someone who skipped an entire word, even if the passage’s meaning does not change as a result (Bi’ur Halachah 142:1 s.v. Aval).

Common error

I have heard people assume that certain types of errors, such as where one accents the word and how one chants a passage of the reading (called the taamei hamikra or the trop), never require repeating. This assumption is halachically inaccurate. Many times these errors affect the meaning of the verse. An error in the “trop” or in accenting the wrong syllable may change the meaning of the passage and invalidate the reading, as I will now explain.

Taamei hamikra

The Torah is read with a specific tune, determined by certain note symbols on each word. In Yiddish, these notes are called the trop and in Hebrew they are usually called either taamei hamikra or taam hanikud. Which notes apply to each word in Tanach is a halachah leMoshe miSinai (Chayei Odom  31:31). Although most people think that these notes affect only how the Torah reading is chanted, this is not accurate, since the meaning of the Torah is often affected by the taamei hamikra.

One can divide all the taamei hamikra into two general categories, called in Hebrew mesharsim, servants, and mafsikim, stops. Just as in English, the meaning of a sentence depends on where one puts commas and the period, so, too, in Tanach, the meaning of a passage depends on the punctuation, which, in this case, are the mafsikim. The mesharsim are on words where one should not stop. The Mishnah Berurah (142:4), quoting the Shulchan Atzei Shittim, rules that misreading the taamei hamikra in a way that changes the meaning requires that the passage be reread acceptably.

Here is an example. When Pharaoh instructed Yosef about his family’s accommodations, he told Yosef to settle them in the best area of Egypt — Goshen. However, understanding Pharaoh’s instructions to Yosef depends on how you read the pasuk. Reading the verse according to the taamei hamikra, it states: “In the best of the land settle your father and your brothers. They should live in the land of Goshen (Bereishis 47:6).” This means that the land of Goshen is, indeed, the best part of Mitzrayim, and that all of Yosef’s family should move there. However, reading the verse without concern about the taamei hamikra could result in the following: “In the best of the land settle your father. And your brothers should live in the land of Goshen.” This would mean that Yaakov was directed to choose the best part of Mitzrayim, whereas the brothers were assigned Goshen, which may not have been the best part. This misreading is a falsification of Torah. According to halachah, if the passage was read without proper respect for the taamim, such that it would now be “stopped,” or punctuated this way, the passage must be reread.

Stop sign

It is important to note that not only should one be careful to read according to the taamei hamikra, but that one must also be careful to follow the rules of mafsikim and mesharsim, meaning to pause slightly at all mafsikim and not to pause at mesharsim. In some well-meaning communities, it is rather common that baalei keri’ah read as quickly as they can and not make any noticeable stops, until they need to pause for breath. It is possible that this approach does not fulfill the mitzvah of keri’as haTorah, because the reader may stop for breath at inappropriate places and not pause at the correct ones.

Wrongly accented

As I mentioned above, many people are under the mistaken impression that how one accents the words while reciting the Torah or the prayers is not a serious concern. However, emphasizing the wrong syllable may change the meaning of a word, with the result that one does not fulfill the mitzvah of keri’as haTorah. This requires a brief explanation of some of the rules of correct Hebrew diction.

Accenting the wrong syllable

In correctly pronounced Hebrew, all words are accented either on the last syllable of the word, called mi’lera¸ or on the next to last syllable, called mi’le’eil. The word mi’lera is the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew mitachas, meaning below or later (see, for example, Targum Onkelos, Bereishis 35:8, 49:25 and Shemos 2:3), whereas mi’le’eil means above.

In most instances, accenting the wrong syllable does not create a word that changes the intended meaning. Although the word was mispronounced, since the error does not create a new meaning, one does not need to reread the word. However, there are occasions in which a word has two distinctly different meanings, depending on whether it is pronounced mi’lera or mi’le’eil. In these instances, accenting the wrong syllable changes the meaning, and, as a result, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah in his reading. In such cases, the baal keri’ah has prevented the entire tzibur from fulfilling the mitzvah of reading the Torah.

For example, the word ba’ah changes its meaning depending on which syllable is accented. Accented on the first syllable, the word is past tense, meaning she has come, whereas, inflected on the second syllable it is present tense, meaning she is coming. Thus, the meaning of the two pesukim in parshas Vayeitzei, Perek 29, pesukim 6 and 9, changes, if one accents the words incorrectly, as Rashi notes there.

Here is a far more common error. In the mitzvah that we fulfill twice each day, reading the Shma, we read a sentence, ve’ahavta es Hashem elokecha bechol levavcha uvechol nafshecha uvechol me’odecha. Following the rules of Hebrew grammar, the word ve’ahavta has two different meanings, depending on whether it is accented on the last syllable, ta, or on the previous syllable, hav. When accented on ta, as is required when reciting Shma and reading keri’as haTorah, the passage means “and you shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your abilities.” However, accenting the word on hav distorts its meaning to “you have loved Hashem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your abilities.”

Similarly, the word vedibarta, two pesukim later in Shma, changes meaning when not accented on the last syllable. Accenting the word on the middle syllable, bar, changes its meaning to “and you spoke to them [the words of Torah],” rather than “and you shall speak it to them.” Again, one wrong accent, and one does not fulfill the mitzvah.

Shul feud

At this point, we can address our opening question:

“There is an ongoing dispute in my shul between the baal keri’ah, who is not particularly careful how he accents words, and the gabbai, who periodically insists that the baal keri’ah reread a word because it was accented wrongly. Who is correct?”

The halachah is that the baal keri’ah is required to learn the rules for properly accenting Hebrew, and he must also be careful how he reads the passages. There are certainly places where accenting the word on the wrong syllable changes its meaning. In these instances, one who misread the passage must read it over correctly.

Taking out the Torah again

At this point, let us examine the third question above:

“We finished the keri’as haTorah and now realize that the baal keri’ah misread a word. What do we do?”

If the reader misread a word in a way that one did not fulfill the mitzvah, we noted above that one is required to reread the passage. Does this halachah change if one has already completed the Torah reading and returned the sefer Torah to the aron kodesh?

Let us examine some background to this question.

Mesechta Sofrim (11:6) teaches the following: Someone who skipped a pasuk during keri’as haTorah, but nevertheless read ten pesukim correctly does not return to keri’as haTorah. If the original keri’as haTorah was exactly ten pesukim, then he is required to return. When do we follow this approach? On weekdays and mincha of Shabbos… However, if he forgot a pasuk during the main Shabbos reading, he must return to the keri’as haTorah, even if, in the interim, they recited the haftarah and davened Musaf.”

We see that one who missed part of keri’as haTorah on Shabbos morning must take out the sefer Torah again to read the missing passage. One is not required to do so if one missed part of the reading on Monday, Thursday or at Shabbos mincha, provided that one read enough to fulfill the minimum mitzvah on those days, which is to call up three people, each of whom reads at least three pesukim, and to read in total at least ten pesukim.

How much must I reread?

In a situation where one is required to take out the sefer Torah again, how much of the reading must be repeated? Again, Mesechta Sofrim comes to our rescue, where it says (21:7): If he skipped a pasuk and said kaddish, he must reopen the sefer Torah, recite a brochah, read [a pasuk] and two others.” Based on this quotation of Mesechta Sofrim, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 137:3; 282:7) rules that if, on Shabbos, the baal keri’ah skipped a pasuk of the reading, and now the reading has been completed, the sefer Torah returned to its place, and musaf has been davened, one must take out the sefer Torah again to read the omitted verse. Since Chazal required that one may not read an aliyah of less than three pesukim, this means that the requirement will be to read three pesukim, including the previously omitted pasuk. The Mishnah Berurah (282:35) notes that this same halachah is true if one omitted a word of the reading. Since one has missed an essential part of the reading, one must take out a sefer Torah and read three consecutive pesukim, one of which includes the word that was previously missed. The Mishnah Berurah rules this way, also, if one misread part of a word or the taamei hamikra in a way that changes the meaning. However, in the last instance, he concludes that although one should take the sefer Torah out of the aron kodesh again and reread three pesukim, one should not recite a brochah prior to the reading (Bi’ur Halachah 142:1 s.v. Machzirin). Furthermore, the requirement to repeat what one missed is only at the Shabbos morning reading, but on weekday readings or Shabbos mincha, one does repeat the reading for a missed word or even a missed pasuk (Bi’ur Halachah 142:1 s.v. Machzirin).


The Gemara (Brachos 15b) teaches that whoever reads Shma and is meticulously careful about enunciating the words merits that Gehenom is cooled for him. What is meant by this very strange passage of Gemara? In what way is cooling the fires of Gehenom a reward for reciting Shma slowly?

This could be explained in the following way. Often, we are in a rush to finish davening – there is so much to do, I need to get to work. We know too well the yeitzer hora’s methods of encouraging us to rush through our davening. In order to daven and read the Torah properly, one needs to do these mitzvos slowly and carefully.

Now, at the end of a person’s days on earth, he is called for his final judgment. We are all aware, ein tzadik ba’aretz asher yaaseh tov velo yecheta; everyone has done some aveiros that will require punishment. The Satan, who operates Gehenom, has measured out his cauldron according to the punishment deserved, particularly if the person performed aveiros for which he did not do teshuvah. At this point, the mitzvos of having read the Shma slowly and carefully rise to the forefront. After all, this individual slowed down for the sake of Hashem’s honor, and the Satan has to admit that attempts to get him to rush were, at times, not fruitful. These mitzvos force the Satan to wait until his boiling cauldron is cooled off and is only a bit uncomfortably warm, barely enough to be considered a punishment for the aveiros committed (see Iyun Yaakov).