Kerias HaTorah

Since Parshas Pinchas includes all the maftir readings of the holidays, and also the reading of Rosh Chodesh…

Question #1: Twice on Shabbos!

“Why do we read the Torah twice every Shabbos?”

Question #2: Missed a posuk

“What is the halacha if we began an aliyah a posuk later than the previous aliyah had ended?”

Question #3: Skipped a posuk

“After davening on Shabbos morning, we realized that the baal keriah skipped a posuk during the last aliyah. What do we do now?”

Question #4: Torah or rabbinic?

“Can there be a takanas chachamim that originates in the Torah itself? Isn’t this a contradiction?”

Introduction: The Four R’s

The mitzvah of reading the Torah that we perform regularly during davening in shul incorporates at least four different takanos, two of which were established while the Jews were in the Desert, a third which was created in the days of Ezra, when the Jews returned to Eretz Yisroel to establish the second Beis Hamikdash, and the fourth, which may have the halachic status of “custom” and which has an uncertain history. Answering our opening questions adequately will require that we examine the basic structure of these takanos; we will then be in a position to understand better the issues involved. But first, an overview of the four takanos:

  1. Regular reading – The requirement to read the Torah three times a week.

  1. Festive reading – Reading on the festivals something that relates to the holiday.

  1. Mincha reading – The requirement to read the Torah at mincha every Shabbos.

  1. Complete reading – The practice of completing the Torah every year.

Reminder reading

According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, there is another type of kerias haTorah, whose purpose is to make announcements – such as the four parshiyos and maftir on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:101:2). Since almost all these applications concern the maftir reading and not the primary Torah reading, I will not discuss them in this article.

1. Regular reading

One of the earliest takanos made by Chazal was the requirement to read the Torah three times a week. The Gemara (Bava Kama 82a) teaches this in an unusual passage that combines both halacha and midrash. In explaining the posuk in parshasBeshalach, And they (the Jewish nation) traveled three days without finding water (Shemos 15:22), the Gemara expounds:

The dorshei reshumos, those who “interpret hidden passages” (Toras Chayim), explain that water can mean only ”Torah,” as we find in Scripture, Behold, whoever is thirsty go to the water (Yeshayahu 55:1). Once the Bnei Yisroel had traveled three days without studying Torah, they immediately weakened in their commitment to Hashem. The prophets among them established that they read the Torah on Shabbos, on Monday, and again on Thursday, so that they should not  go three days without studying Torah.

Every Monday and Thursday

Yiddish has a popular expression – yeden Montag und Donnerstag,every Monday and Thursday – which means something that occurs fairly frequently. This expression may originate from the takanah that the Torah is read on these weekdays. But there are other ways that could guarantee that the Jews not go three days without studying Torah. Chazal could have established reading the Torah on Tuesday and Thursday, or on Monday and Wednesday; or, they could have left it up to each community to decide what to do. Why establish that the reading be specifically on Mondays and Thursdays?

Based on a Midrash, Tosafos (Bava Kama 82 s.v. Kedei) explains that Moshe ascended Har Sinai to receive the second luchos on a Thursday and descended with them on a Monday. Since these luchos created a tremendous closeness between Hashem and the Jewish people, these days are called yemei ratzon (literally, days of favor). Therefore, the leaders of that generation felt it most appropriate to establish the mitzvos of reading the Torah on these days. For the same reason, these days are often observed as fasts.

Min HaTorah or not?

Because there is Bibical origin for this mitzvah, one authority, the Bach (Orach Chayim, Chapter 685), considers the requirement to read the Torah three times a week to be min haTorah. However, the consensus of halachic authorities is that this requirement has the status of an early, and perhaps the earliest of, takanos chachomim, obligations established by the Sages.

2. Festive reading

Thus far, we have explained the origin of reading the Torah three times a week. The reading that takes place on a Yom Tov, each of which is about the festival on which it is read, has a different reason. The Mishnah (Megillah 31a) cites a Torah source for this requirement, that we should read on the Yom Tov about its mitzvos and its theme.

The following Mishnah (ibid. 21a) embellishes some of the details of these two mitzvos, the takanah to read the Torah on Monday and Thurday, and the special festival reading on holidays:

“On Mondays, Thursdays and Mincha on Shabbos, three people read the Torah. You may not have either less or more people read… The first person to read and the last one both recite berochos. On Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamoed, four people read the Torah. You may not have either less or more people read… The first and the last person to read both recite berochos.”

Rashi explains that on Monday and Thursday we limit the reading to three aliyos to avoid inconveniencing people, since it is a workday.

The Gemara (Megillah 21b) explains the Mishnah’s statement that the first person to read and the last one both recite berochos to mean that the first person reading the Torah on any given day recites the berocha before the reading (Asher bochar banu…) and the last person recites the berocha after the reading (Asher nosan lonu…. Rashi, in his commentary to the Mishnah, explains this to mean that only the first person and the last person were required to recite berochos, but that the others who read the Torah may recite the berochos, if they want.

Later, Chazal instituted that each person who reads from the Torah recites a berocha, both before and after his own aliyah. This was instituted out of concern that individuals who left shul before the completion of the Torah reading will think that there is no berocha after the reading; similarly, if only the first person recites a berocha before reading, those people who arrive after the reading of the Torah has begun will think that there is no berocha prior to the reading.

It is interesting to note Chazal’s concern for people whose behavior is not optimal. It is forbidden to leave in the middle of kerias haTorah, and we certainly hope that people come to shul on time. Yet, Chazal made new takanos so that these people not err.

Returning to the Mishnah (Megillah 21a), it then explains: “This is the rule: any day on which there is musaf, yet it is not Yom Tov, four people read. On Yom Tov, five (people read the Torah), on Yom Kippur, six, and on Shabbos, seven. You may not have less people read, but you may have more”. We see that the more sanctity the day has, the more people read from the Torah. Musaf demonstrates that the day has some kedusha, and therefore, on Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamoed, four people read. Yom Tov, which has greater sanctity than Rosh Chodesh or Chol Hamoed, requires that five people read. Since Yom Kippur has greater sanctity than other yomim tovim, it requires that six people read the Torah, and Shabbos, with even greater sanctity, requires that seven people read the Torah. That is why when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos, we call up seven people for the Yom Kippur reading in parshas Acharei Mos, whereas when it falls on a weekday, we call up only six, not including maftir.

According to Rashi, the statement that you may have more people read applies not only on Shabbos but on Yom Tov and Yom Kippur as well. This means that you may call up to the Torah more than five aliyos on Yom Tov and more than six on Yom Kippur. According to other rishonim (mentioned by the Ran), only on Shabbos may we add extra aliyos. In general, we follow the latter opinion and do not add extra aliyos on Yom Tov, with the exception of Simchas Torah, when most Ashkenazic communities follow Rashi’s opinion and add many aliyos (Rema, Orach Chayim 282:1).

In actuality, there is a dispute among tana’im whether Shabbos has greater sanctity than Yom Kippur, or vice versa. According to the tana who contends that Yom Kippur has greater sanctity, six people read the Torah on Shabbos and seven on Yom Kippur (Megillah 23a). The Turei Even explains that this tana considers Yom Kippur to be holier because of the extra prayer that we daven, tefillas neilah.

The Gemara mentions a dispute whether the maftir aliyah is considered one of the aliyos counted in the Mishnah or not, but this is a topic that we will leave for a future article.

Although the Mishnah does not mention how this is applied on fast days, Chanukah and Purim, since there is no musaf on any of these days, we conclude that only three people read.

Rosh Chodesh reading

The discussion of the festivals in parshas Emor does not make overt mention of Rosh Chodesh. Is there indeed a Torah requirement to read the Torah on Rosh Chodesh? This matter is disputed among acharonim, the Penei Moshe ruling that it includes Rosh Chodesh, and Rav Moshe Feinstein ruling that it does not (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:101:2; 2:8).

3. Mincha reading

The Mishnah (Megillah 21a) I quoted above also mentions that we read from the Torah at mincha on Shabbos. The Gemara (Bava Kama 82a) notes that this mitzvah is of later origin than the requirement to read the Torah on Monday, Thursday and Shabbos mornings. Reading the Torah at mincha on Shabbos was instituted by Ezra, at the beginning of the second Beis Hamikdash period. Its purpose was to accommodate the spiritual needs of those individuals whose business enterprises precluded them from making it to shul for kerias haTorah on Monday and Thursday (as explained by Shitah Mekubetzes). This reading provides these individuals with another opportunity to study Torah. A different approach is that this was instituted for people who spend their Shabbos afternoon in wasteful activity, and to provide them with an opportunity to be influenced by Torah to use their “free time” more wisely (Me’iri, Kiryas Sefer, 5:1). According to either interpretation, we see another situation in which Chazal created an obligation for everyone, because of concern for some individuals.

How much, how many?

The Gemara explains (Bava Kama 82a) that, although the original takanah when the Jews were in the Desert required reading the Torah three times a week, on Monday, Thursday and Shabbos, there was no requirement as to how much should be read. When Ezra instituted the additional reading at mincha on Shabbos, he also established several rules germane to that reading and to the reading on Monday and Thursday. He instituted that at least three people must be called to the Torah and that each reading must include at least ten pesukim. The Gemara explains that three people are called up to represent the Kohanim, Levi’im and Yisroelim, presumably to show that all three sub-groups within Klal Yisroel need to be involved in the fulfillment of this takanah.

With time, the custom developed that, on Shabbos mincha, Monday and Thursday, we read from the beginning of the next parsha (Me’iri, Kiryas Sefer, 5:1). Usually, we read what will be the kohein’s aliyah on the next Shabbos morning, but there are weeks when this is not followed precisely, either because the kohein’s aliyah is too short to accomodate three aliyos, or because his aliyah is longer than we want to read on Monday and Thursday.

4. Complete reading

The reading on Shabbos morning that was originally established when the Jews were in the Desert eventually included a custom that the entire Torah would be read in a cyclical pattern. Exactly when this was established is unclear; but it is very clear that, initially, there were at least two customs how often the entire Torah was completed in the weekly Shabbos readings. One custom completed the entire Torah as we do, every year, whereas the other approach completed it only every three years (Megillah 29b; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 13:1). At some point in Jewish history, it became common practice to complete the reading of the Torah every year, and to finish this reading on Simchas Torah (Megillah 31a; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 13:1). At that time, the division of the Torah into our current weekly parshios occurred, and the system of “double parshios” developed to accommodate the completion of the Torah whether it is a leap year or not.

After the practice to complete the entire Torah annually became universally accepted, the following became an issue: What is the halacha if you mistakenly skipped a posuk while reading the Torah — or the baal keriah misread something in a way that invalidates the reading — but it was not realized until later. Must you reread the Torah portion for the week?

Missed a posuk

At this point, we can return to one of our opening questions: “What is the halacha if we began an aliyah a posuk later than the previous aliyah had ended?

Based on Mesechta Sofrim (11:6) and Hagahos Maimoniyos, the Shulchan Aruch rules as follows:

On Monday, Thursday, Shabbos mincha or Yom Tov, the rule is as follows: Provided each person called to the Torah had an aliyah of at least three pesukim, and the reading of the Torah was at least ten pesukim, there is no need to repeat the reading. However, if this happened on Shabbos morning, even if we already returned the sefer Torah and davened musaf, we must take out the sefer Torah again and read the missed posuk and two more pesukim next to it, to make it into a proper aliyah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 137:3).

Thus, to answer this question, “What is the halacha if we began an aliyah a posuk later than the previous aliyah had ended,” we need the following information:

1. During which keriah did this happen?

2. Did the two aliyos, the ones before and after the skipped posuk, still have three pesukim?

3. Were at least ten pesukim read for the entire kerias haTorah?

Assuming that the answers to questions 2 and 3 were both Yes, and this happened to any keriah other than Shabbos morning, there is no need to do anything. If either of these rules was not observed, meaning that one of the people received an aliyah of less than three pesukim, or the entire reading was less than ten pesukim, then the sefer Torah should be taken out, one person should be called to the Torah, and he should read at least three pesukim (if rule 2 was broken) or four pesukim (if rule 3 was broken).

If this happened during a Shabbos morning keriah, and, as a result, one posuk from the week’s parsha was not read, then they should take out the sefer Torah and read the skipped posuk, together with two other pesukim next to it. There is no need to reread the entire aliyah.

Skipped a posuk

At this point, let us address a different one of our opening questions:

“After davening on Shabbos morning, we realized that the baal keriah skipped a posuk during the last aliyah. What do we do now?”

The brief answer to this question is that it is the subject of a dispute between early acharonim. The Keneses Hagedolah, by Rav Chayim Benveniste of Turkey, one of the most prominent poskim of the 17th century, rules that we do not take out a new sefer Torah to read the end of the parsha in this instance. He is disputed by the Maharif, Rav Yaakov Feraji Mahmah, who was the rov, av beis din and rosh yeshiva of Alexandria, Egypt, in the early eighteenth century. The Maharif’s contention is that once it is established practice where we stop reading the Torah each Shabbos, which the Levush (Orach Chayim 137:5) calls a takanas chachamim, we are required to complete that reading on Shabbos, even if we need to take out a sefer Torah a second time to fulfill it. The Keneses Hagedolah apparently holds that we are required to call up seven aliyos, but once the baal keriah completed the seventh aliyah and the sefer Torah was returned, we can fulfill the takanah of completing the entire Torah by beginning the next week’s parsha early; thereby making up for the missing pesukim.


In the introduction to Sefer HaChinuch, the author writes that the main mitzvah upon which all the other mitzvos rest is that of Talmud Torah. Through Torah learning, a person will know how to fulfill all of the other mitzvos. That is why Chazal instituted a public reading of a portion of the Torah every Shabbos twice and on Mondays and Thursdays. Knowing that the proper observance of all the mitzvos is contingent on Torah learning, our attention to kerias haTorah will be heightened. According the Torah reading the great respect it is due should increase our sensitivity to the observance of all the mitzvos.