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?”

Answer:

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).

Conclusion:

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).

Bimah in the Middle

Prior to Shavuos is an excellent time to review some of the less-known halachos germane to kerias haTorah, including whether the Bimah needs to be in the middle of the shul.

Question #1: Small Shul

“We have converted a storage area into a temporary shul for our neighborhood. Must we put the shulchan in the middle when, as a result, we will have less seating capacity?”

Question #2: Reading from the Front

“May I daven in a shul where the bimah is in the front of the shul?”

Question #3: The Beis Medrash

“Must the bimah of a yeshivah be located in the middle of the beis medrash?”

Where is the bimah?

Although we find allusion going back to the time of the tanna’im concerning the proper location of the bimah and the shulchan in a shul, most of the halachic discussion about the topic is within the last two hundred years, for reasons that will soon be obvious. Let us begin by citing the early sources for this halachah, and then analyze some of the responsa on the subject.

Introduction:

When the Rambam records the laws germane to the proper construction of a shul, he mentions that a shul should have a raised platform in the middle, which we call the bimah (Hilchos Tefillah 11:3, see Kesef Mishneh). The Rambam explains that the bimah is used for two purposes: in order to read the Torah and to facilitate public speaking, the goal, in both instances, being to enable people to hear. He then adds that the shulchan upon which the sefer Torah is placed (which he calls a teivah) should be positioned on top and in the middle of the bimah. We thus see that there is a halachic preference, if not an outright requirement, (1) to have the shulchan placed in the middle of the shul, (2) to have it on an elevated surface.

Notwithstanding this ruling of the Rambam, the Kesef Mishneh (ad locum) notes that many shullen are not built this way. To justify the custom, he explains that, when constructing a large shul, one should place the bimah in the middle so that people can hear the reading, but when a shul is small, it may be more practical to have the Torah read from a place that is not centrally located.

When Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Kesef Mishneh, wrote the Shulchan Aruch, he omitted the law requiring a bimah platform and that the bimah and the shulchan be in the center of the shul. This appears consistent with his opinion that the location of the bimah and the shulchan is not a requirement of shul design, but, rather, is a practical matter that is dependent on the construction and acoustics of the shul. However, both the Tur (Orach Chayim 150) and the Rema (ad locum) mention that the bimah should be in the middle of the shul.

Talmudic sources

The Gra cites Talmudic sources for the practice of placing the bimah in the middle of the shul (Glosses to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 150). The Tosefta (Sukkah 4:4) and the Gemara (Sukkah 51b) describe the huge shul in Alexandria, which had a seating capacity of many thousands, and which had a wooden bimah in the middle. The Gra apparently holds that these allusions provided the Rambam with his source requiring a centrally located bimah. The question now is, if there is indeed a Talmudic source requiring the bimah to be in the middle, how can the Kesef Mishneh rule that there is no such requirement? Apparently, he feels that a large shul must have a centralized bimah in order to make it possible for the maximum number of people to hear the reading of the Torah, whereas a small shul does not require that its bimah be centrally located. On the other hand, the Rambam, the Tur and the Rema contend that a centrally-located bimah is an important aspect of shul design and construction.

The Chasam Sofer

We find little other literature on this subject until the nineteenth century. The earliest work of that era on this topic is a responsum from the Chasam Sofer, regarding a plan to increase seating capacity in a shul by relocating the shulchan to the front (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #28). The Chasam Sofer discusses the points raised by the Rambam, the Tur and the Rema that the shulchan should be in the middle, and the Kesef Mishneh’s comment that a small shul is not required to have its shulchan in the center, since people will easily hear the kerias haTorah from wherever it is read. The Chasam Sofer writes that the Kesef Mishneh’s reason applies only in a case of a shul that was built originally without the bimah in the middle, but once the bimah was built in the middle, one may not move it to a different location. Furthermore, the Chasam Sofer writes that if a small shul was expanded to accommodate a larger crowd, they will now be required to move the shulchan to the middle so that everyone can easily hear kerias haTorah.

The Chasam Sofer then writes an additional reason why one may not change the location of the bimah and the shulchan after they have been built. He notes a ruling of the Talmud Yerushalmi concerning the marking of the boards used in the construction of the mishkan. Since the boards of the mishkan were identical, why were they marked to designate each one’s proper location every time the mishkan was reassembled? What difference does it make where one puts any particular board?

The Yerushalmi explains that even if all the boards are identical and perfectly interchangeable, one is required to have each board returned to the same relative location. Each board acquires a specific sanctity because of its location, and this should not be changed. The Chasam Sofer then quotes the Maharil, who ruled that one should be careful to replace the planks of one’s sukkah in the same place year after year, for the same reason as we have just mentioned. Each board has a claim to its location, and one should return it to the spot it held the year before. Similarly, contends the Chasam Sofer, the part of the shul on which the bimah and the shulchan rested should remain as their location, and therefore, one may not relocate the bimah away from the central place that it has held.

As proof to his point, the Chasam Sofer notes that, although the second Beis Hamikdash was larger than the first, the location of the menorah, the mizbechos (the altars) and all the other vessels remained the same — they were not moved to accommodate the new, larger structure. This was because the site where the holy vessels were located should not be changed. Similarly, rules the Chasam Sofer, even according to the Kesef Mishneh’s approach that a bimah need not be centrally located, this ruling does not permit relocating a bimah that has already been placed in the middle.

Shulchan is like the mizbeiach

In addition to the reasons just cited, the Chasam Sofer provides another reason why the shulchan should be in the center of the shul. The shulchan serves in a role similar to that of the mizbeiach, the altar of the Beis Hamikdash. This is because of the concept – based on the words of the prophet Hoshea, U’neshalmah parim sefaseinu – our lips, meaning our reading of the Torah, replace the bulls that were offered in the Beis Hamikdash. (This idea is conveyed in a passage of the Gemara in mesechta Megillah 31b.)

When we read about the korbanos during kerias haTorah, it is as if those sacrifices are being offered. This reading, then, provides the shulchan with some of the sanctity of the mizbeiach, and the shul with some of the sanctity of the Beis Hamikdash.

This idea can be demonstrated from the hoshanos that we perform on Sukkos (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 660), which are reminiscent of the hoshanos procedure performed in the Beis Hamikdash, when the four minim were carried around the mizbeiach. The original service of the hoshanos could be performed only by circling around the mizbeiach. So too, when we perform hoshanos, we walk around the shulchan, which serves as a surrogate mizbeiach. Similarly, on Simchas Torah, we carry the sifrei Torah around the bimah (Rema, Orach Chayim 669:1).

The Chasam Sofer explains that since the mizbeiach was in the middle of the Beis Hamikdash, so too, the shulchan should be located in the middle of the shul.

Meishiv Davar

Another major posek who associates a centralized bimah with the mizbeiach is the Netziv, Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, who was the Rosh Yeshivah of the yeshiva in Volozhin for many decades of the late nineteenth century. In a responsum (Shu”t Meishiv Davar #15), he notes that the shulchan is in the middle to parallel the mizbeiach, which explains why we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah from the bimah just as in the Beis Hamikdash they blew the trumpets at the time that the korbanos were offered. He rules that the shulchan must be exactly midway between the north and south parts of the shul, just as the outside mizbeiach was, but that it does not have to be midway between the east and west parts, because the outside mizbeiach was not located centrally in this axis.

The Netziv adds a few other reasons why it is prohibited to move the bimah — one of which is that people will assume that they can change other Jewish customs, without realizing that they are tampering with halachah.

Which mizbeiach?

When one reads the two responsa very carefully, that of the Chasam Sofer and that of the Meishiv Davar, one will notice that there is a bit of a dispute between them. Although both scholars compare the shulchan to the mizbeiach, the Chasam Sofer compares the shulchan to both the inner mizbeiach, which was made of gold and predominantly used for burning the ketores, the incense offered daily in the Beis Hamikdash, and also to the outside mizbeiach, whereas the Netziv compares it only to the outside mizbeiach.

The inner mizbeiach was located midway between the shulchan of the Beis Hamikdash, on which was placed the lechem hapanim (the showbread), and the menorah, which was kindled daily. The shulchan stood in the northern section and on the western side of the kodesh; the menorah stood opposite it on the southern flank, and the mizbeiach was exactly in the middle of the kodesh.

The outer mizbeiach, which was used all day long for the various offerings of the Beis Hamikdash, stood in the middle of the azarah, the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash. Actually, there is a dispute among tanna’im exactly where the mizbeiach stood. All agree that on the orientation of east to west, it was in the middle of the azarah. The dispute is from a north-south perspective, whether it was exactly in the middle, or whether it was somewhat off center, either to the north or to the south. According to some authorities, this dispute might affect whether one should try to make sure that the bimah and the shulchan are exactly in the middle of the shul, or whether it is sufficient that they are near the middle, but they do not need to be perfectly centered, as is the prevailing custom.

It should be noted that, notwithstanding that the Chasam Sofer and the Meishiv Davar both explain that the bimah must be in the middle of the shul because of its comparison to the mizbeiach, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that this is not a convincing reason for the practice (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:42).

Moving the bimah

According to what we have just said, one should not move the bimah in order to make more room to perform hoshanos. Although this seems to be the predominant approach among the halachic authorities, the Minchas Yitzchak (3:4) quotes from the Imrei Eish a justification of those who move the bimah in order to conduct the hakafos, on the basis that (1) there is no requirement to make the bimah represent the mizbeiach, and (2) even if there is such a requirement, the bimah does not need to be in the perfect center, and it is permitted  to move the bimah, provided it is not placed next to the aron, but in front of it. Nevertheless, all agree that both the hoshanos and the hakafos must go around the bimah, as expressed in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, chapter 660) and the Rema (Orach Chayim, chapter 669).

Imitating idolic practice

Until now, the discussion regarding the proper location of the bimah and the shulchan has involved only the laws of building a shul. However, a completely new issue is discussed by a disciple of the Chasam Sofer, the Maharam Shik (Shu”t Maharam Shik, Yoreh Deah 165). In a responsum dated erev rosh chodesh Adar, 5616 (1856), to Rav Yisroel Dovid, the av beis din of Feising, the Maharam Shik introduces a new halachic issue: the Torah violation of imitating the practices of the gentiles. In the mid-1800’s, those who wanted to locate the bimah and the shulchan to the front of the shul were, in general, not motivated by space concerns, but because they wanted their shullen to look similar to the way non-religious congregations appeared, which, in turn, were made to appear like churches. Following gentile practices in the observance of our mitzvos involves the violation of several verses of the Torah, such as, Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu, Do not follow their laws (Vayikra 18:3), Velo seilechu bechukos hagoy, Do not follow the laws of the gentile (Vayikra 20:23), and Hishamer lecha pen tinakeish achareihem, Be careful lest you be attracted to them (Devorim 12:30). This general prohibition is quoted by the Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 11:1) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah, Chapter 178:1).

In the details germane to understanding the laws of Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu, there was a dispute between Rav Yisroel Dovid and the Maharam Shik. Rav Yisroel Dovid felt that this prohibition would exist even when the reason for moving the bimah was to make more seating room. The Maharam Shik disagreed, demonstrating that Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu is violated only when the intent is to mimic non-Jewish practices. The Maharam Shik also prohibits having the bimah in front or moving it there when someone might assume that the bimah is in front in order to mimic non-Jewish practices, even when this was not the intention of those who planned and constructed this shul. When it is clear that the purpose for moving the bimah and the shulchan is to create more seating capacity, it is not prohibited under the heading of Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu, but only because of the reasons mentioned by the Chasam Sofer.

Turned-down position

The Minchas Yitzchak (3:4) quotes a letter from Rav Shimon Sofer (a son of the Chasam Sofer, who ultimately became the rav of Cracow) written to a very prominent community that had offered him the position of chief rabbi. Rav Sofer wrote a letter to the community turning down the post, because the bimah of their main shul was not located in the middle of the sanctuary and, also, because the chazan’s amud was located at a high point in the shul, when, according to halachah, it should be at a low place.

In this context, we should quote the Mishnah Berurah, “With our great sins, in some places the custom of the early generations has been ignored and the bimah is constructed near the aron hakodesh, out of desire to follow the practices that the gentiles observe in their temples. Regarding these communities, one should say, And Yisroel forgot his Maker and he built temples [Hoshea 8:14]. The later authorities already cast aspersions on these people” (Biur Halachah 150:5, s.v. Be’emtza).

Entering the shul

Is there any halachic problem with entering a shul whose bimah is in the front?

The Minchas Yitzchak (3:5) quotes from different sources that prohibited even entering such a shul.

However, Rav Moshe Feinstein holds a more moderate approach to this last question (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:42.) Rav Moshe was asked whether one may daven in a shul that has its bimah in the front. The questioner had heard that in Hungary they had prohibited davening in such a shul, an approach that would indeed be reflected by the above-quoted Minchas Yitzchak. Rav Moshe responds that he was unfamiliar with such a prohibition. If it did exist, it was because they needed to stamp out Reform, and it has the halachic status of a hora’as sha’ah, a ruling established because of a temporary circumstance. However, in other countries one is permitted to daven in such a shul. Rav Moshe concludes that when there are two shullen in a town, one with its bimah in the middle and the other with the bimah elsewhere, one should daven regularly in the shul whose bimah is in the middle.

Beis Medrash

At this point, let us discuss the third question asked at the beginning. “Must the bimah in a yeshivah be in the middle of the beis medrash?”

This question is discussed by the Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak, 3:6), who concludes that the rules governing the existence of a bimah and a shulchan and their location are germane only to a shul, but that there is no requirement to have a bimah in a beis medrash. The reason for this ruling is a topic for a different article. The Minchas Yitzchak writes that it is perfectly acceptable for a beis medrash to use a portable shulchan for kerias haTorah.

Conclusion

We all hope and pray that the day will soon come when we shall merit the third Beis Hamikdash. In the interim, we should be careful to treat our batei keneses and batei medrash with proper sanctity, including all their halachic details.

 

Nine and a Child

torah-1427213-639x479Since the beginning of parshas Tolados discusses the education of Yaakov and Esav, it is appropriate for us to discuss the topic of:

Nine and a Child

Question #1: Nine and a Chumash?

“A friend of mine once moved to a community where the local daily minyan was not that reliable. On a regular basis, services were conducted by having a ten-year old hold a chumash as the tenth man. Is there a basis for this practice?”

Question #2: Studying Chumash

“When the rishonim referred to a chumash, what did they mean? After all, they lived before the invention of the printing press.”

Answer:

When Avraham prayed for the people of Sodom and its four sister cities, he asked Hashem to save them if forty-five righteous people lived among them, which Rashi (18:28) explains would be the equivalent of a minyan of righteous people per city: nine plus Hashem counting as the Tenth. Can one consider that there is a minyan present with a quorum of less than ten?

The basis of this topic is the Gemara (Brachos 47b-48a), which discusses whether one may conduct services requiring a minyan or a mezuman when one appears to be short of the requisite quorum. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi ruled that if one has nine adults and a baby, one can bensch as if one has a minyan. Rav Huna stated that if one has nine adults present one can count the aron hakodesh to form a minyan. To this, Rav Nachman retorted, “Is the aron a person?” Rav Huna explained that he meant that there are situations in which a group of nine people can act as if they are a minyan. Rav Ami ruled that two great talmidei chachamim who sharpen one another in their halachic discussions can be considered the equivalent of three for a zimun. Rabbi Yochanan stated that a child who is almost bar mitzvah can be included as the third for a zimun. Some rishonim (Rabbeinu Yonah) quote a text that concludes that, on Shabbos, one can make a mezuman with two adults – with the day of Shabbos counting as the third “person.”

However, the Gemara concludes that we do not permit a mezuman with less than three adults or a minyan with less than ten — the only exception being that we can count a child for a zimun, if he is old enough to know to Whom we are reciting a brocha. Nevertheless, Rabbeinu Tam rules that one may rely on the above-quoted opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that nine adults and a baby qualify as a minyan even for prayer (Tosafos, Brachos 48a). The Rivash feels that one should not follow the lenient approach, but rules that those who do rely on it can do so only when the child is at least nine years old (Shu’t Harivash #451). Others understand that a minor can be counted as the tenth man, but only if he is twelve years old, which halachah recognizes as an age of majority regarding oaths and vows (Rabbeinu Yonah). We should note that none of these authorities permit counting more than one child to complete a minyan.

Nine and a chumash

Tosafos (Brachos 48a s.v. Veleis) reports that some people counted a child holding a chumash as the tenth “man.” He then notes that Rabbeinu Tam criticized this approach, explaining that if we follow Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s opinion, a child qualifies as the tenth man even if he is not holding a chumash, and if we do not follow that opinion, counting a child holding a chumash is without halachic basis. Rabbeinu Tam explained further that even should one locate a statement of Chazal that a child holding a chumash completes a minyan, the ruling would mean a chumash as was commonly used in the days of Chazal, which comprised one of the five chumashim (Bereishis, Shemos, Vayikra, Bamidbar, or Devorim) of the Torah written as a scroll, similar in style and appearance to a small sefer Torah or a navi scroll used for reading the haftarah. However, in the time of Rabbeinu Tam, although chumashim were still handwritten, they were no longer written as scrolls, but were bound into books. Thus, there would be no basis to permit counting a child holding the type of chumash used in his era.

What is the source?

What is the source for this custom of counting a child with a chumash for a minyan? Rabbeinu Tam was unaware of any such source in the halachic literature that he knew. However, since the practice was widespread, the possibility existed that there was a halachic source somewhere. Bear in mind that in the days of the rishonim, all halachic material was handwritten, almost always on parchment, and that it was therefore very expensive and difficult to have access to seforim. (Rabbeinu Tam lived approximately 300 years before the invention of the printing press.) Rabbeinu Tam had such profound respect for this custom of Klal Yisroel that he assumed that there probably was a statement of Chazal somewhere, one that he had never seen, with a source for the custom. This is what the Gemara refers to as hanach lahem leyisroel, im ein nevi’im hein, bnei nevi’im hein (see Pesachim 66a), “allow Jews [to continue their practice], if they are no longer prophets, they are descended from prophets,” and their customs are based on solid foundations.

However, Rabbeinu Tam understood that should such a statement of Chazal exist permitting a child holding a chumash to be counted as the tenth, it would include only a chumash written as a scroll and would not apply to what existed in his day.

Later authorities note that having a child hold a sefer Torah would count as the tenth man, according to this custom. Furthermore, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:18) notes that the requirement of having the child hold a sefer Torah scroll would not require that it be a kosher sefer Torah. Even a sefer Torah that is invalid because some words are no longer legible would qualify as a holy scroll for the purpose of counting towards a minyan.

Do we permit a child+Torah?

Most rishonim rule that one cannot count a child as the tenth man even when he is holding a chumash or a Torah. For example, the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 8:4) rules that a minyan for prayer must be a minimum of ten men, although for bensching he allows that the tenth “man” be a child who is seven years old or more (Hilchos Brachos 5:7). This is based on his understanding of the conclusion of the Gemara (Brachos 48a) we quoted above that allows counting a child for a mezuman or minyan for bensching, and this forms the basis of Sefardic practice. However, regarding prayer the Rambam does not allow counting a child who is holding a chumash or a sefer Torah. Praying with a minyan requires ten adult men, no exceptions.

Nevertheless, the Tur mentions that “some permit the inclusion of one child with nine adults if they place a chumash in his hand.” The Tur then notes that his father, the Rosh, wrote that one should never count a child as part of a minyan or a mezuman. This Rosh is the main approach followed by Ashkenazim.

Kerias Hatorah

Some early authorities conclude that a minor cannot be counted as the tenth “man” of a minyan for bensching or for prayer, but can be counted to allow the reading of the Torah (Tashbeitz Katan #201). The reason for this distinction is that a minor can sometimes be given an aliyah to the Torah (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 282:3 and commentaries). Some authorities permit giving a child even one of the seven aliyos, and all authorities permit giving a child maftir and having him read the haftarah. Thus, for this mitzvah he is indeed considered a man.

The Magen Avraham (55:4; 690:24) cites this position of the Tashbeitz, but does not accept it, demonstrating that both the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 143:1) and the Rema (Orach Chayim 690:18) do not accept the line of reasoning proposed by the Tashbeitz (see also Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 55:4).

Shulchan Aruch and Rema

In regard to prayer, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 55:4) concludes: “Some permit the recital of devarim she’be’kedusha [meaning kaddish, borchu, kedusha, reading of the Torah, etc.] when there are nine adults and one minor who is older than six years and understands to Whom we pray. However, this opinion is not accepted by the greatest of the authorities.” With these words, the Shulchan Aruch provides honorable mention to Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion that a child can count, on his own, as the tenth man, but he follows the majority of rishonim who reject it. The Rema comments that although one should not count a child as part of the minyan even if he is holding a chumash, there are those who permit it under extenuating circumstances.

Difference between bensching and davening

Some authorities note a curious reversal in the positions of the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema. The Shulchan Aruch rejects counting a child as the tenth man for tefillah (Orach Chayim 55:4), but accepts counting him as the tenth or third man for bensching purposes (Orach Chayim 199:10). This, of course, reflects the position of the Rambam and most Sefardic Rishonim.

On the other hand, although the Rema mentions the practice of counting a child as the tenth man under extenuating circumstances, he absolutely rejects counting him as the third or tenth for bensching (Orach Chayim 199:10). Thus, he accepts the Rosh’s ruling not to count a child as the third or tenth man for bensching, and cites a leniency only with regard to davening. This is strange, since the halachic sources imply that there is more basis to be lenient regarding bensching than there is regarding davening.

The Maharsham explains that the Rema rules that a minor can count as part of the minyan only if he holds a scroll, which to us would mean that he must hold a sefer Torah. In shul, one may take a sefer Torah out of the aron hakodesh and place it in a child’s arms in order to have a minyan. However, one would not be permitted to bring a sefer Torah to the dining room, and for this reason the Rema rules that one can never include a child in the count of a minyan or mezuman for bensching.

Later authorities

The Magen Avraham (55:5), whose opinion is highly respected by the later authorities, concludes that one may include one minor holding a chumash, but not more than one, to enable the recital of borchu, kedusha or a kaddish that is a required part of davening. However, when relying on a child to complete the minyan, one should not recite any of the kaddeishim at the end of davening (other than the full kaddish recited by the chazzan), since they are not obligatory. This means that when having a minyan of nine plus a child holding a sefer Torah, one may not recite kaddish after Aleinu, or after the shir shel yom.

After quoting this statement of the Magen Avraham, the Mishnah Berurah writes that many later authorities rule that one should not count a child as part of a minyan even under the limited circumstances established by the Magen Avraham. However, the Graz (Rav Shulchan Aruch 55:5) rules that one should not correct someone who completes a minyan under extenuating circumstances by counting a child at least six years old who understands to Whom we are davening, even if the child is not holding a chumash.

We should note that, although the Magen Avraham ruled that even those who are lenient permit the inclusion of only one child, a much earlier authority (Shu’t Min Hashamayim #53) ruled that one may include even two children, provided they are old enough to daven. He explains that since the mitzvah of davening with a community is rabbinic in origin, a child old enough to daven can be included in the count since he is also required to daven as part of his training in the performance of mitzvos (Mishnah, Brachos 20). (The obvious question is that this reasoning should permit counting more than two children, yet Shu’t Min Hashamayim permits only two, but we will leave this question for the moment.)

The shul in which I don’t daven!

In this context, it is highly educational to study two relatively recent cases recorded in the responsa literature. In the late nineteenth century, the Bruzhaner Rav, known also as the Maharsham, Rav Shalom Mordechai Hakohen Shvadron (the grandfather of Rav Shalom Shvadron, the famed maggid of Yerushalayim), was asked the following (Shu’t Maharsham 3:162): The only minyan in a small community in Hungary has been meeting for the past 25 years on Shabbos and Yom Tov in the house of a local wealthy individual. Recently, this individual has been insisting that they incorporate certain innovations in the davening, including changing the nusach of the “shul,” and requiring that the audience recite the entire davening extremely quietly and that not even amen should be answered aloud. The individual who owns the house where the minyan has been davening has now agreed to allow some members of the community to form their own separate minyan whereby they will be able to daven as they are accustomed. However, the group desiring to form their own shul has only nine adult men. Their question: May they lechatchilah begin their own shul, knowing that, according to most authorities, they will not have a minyan?

After listing many of the authorities who rule that they are forbidden to conduct services because they do not have a proper minyan, the Maharsham concludes that he is highly wary of the baal habayis of the original shul and therefore feels that they should rely on the lenient opinions and form their own minyan. He further concludes that they could rely on the opinion that, if necessary, upon occasion, they could have two children holding sifrei Torah to complete the minyan, thus ruling according to the above-quoted Tashbeitz and against the Magen Avraham. The Maharsham is the only late authority, of whom I am aware, who permits eight men plus two children to be considered a minyan.

Another responsum

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked a similar question in which an established shul’s membership had dwindled to the point where there were only nine adults at its daily minyan. If the shul cannot count a child for the daily minyan, it will be forced to disband. Rav Moshe discusses whether they may continue their minyan notwithstanding the fact that there is another shul in the neighborhood, although it is a bit distant. Rav Moshe notes that although a majority of poskim contend that one should not allow the recital of kaddish, kedusha, etc. when there are less than ten adult men present, maintaining the existence of this shul is considered extenuating circumstance. Since the prohibition of reciting a davar she’be’kedusha without a minyan is only rabbinic, this extenuating circumstance would allow one to follow the minority opinion against the majority. He concludes that since the members of this shul may not make the trek to the other shul, and will also stop attending the shiurim provided in their current shul, the minyan should be continued.

Rav Moshe then raises a few practical questions. The Magen Avraham, upon whom Rav Moshe is relying, permits counting a child for the tenth man only if he is holding a sefer Torah. However, this creates two interesting halachic questions.

  1. One is not permitted to hold something while reciting shma and the shemoneh esrei, so how can the child be holding the sefer Torah then?
  2. While the sefer Torah is being held by someone who is standing, everyone is required to be standing, which means that the entire membership of this shul will be required to stand for the entire davening. (It appears that Rav Moshe understands that one may count the child for a minyan only when he is standing. I am unaware of the source for this ruling.) Therefore, Rav Moshe suggests that the sefer Torah be placed on a table, and that the child stand next to the sefer Torah with his hands holding the atzei chayim, the “handles” of the sefer Torah, which Rav Moshe considers equivalent to holding the sefer Torah.

Rav Moshe writes that it is preferable to have a 12-year-old child hold the sefer Torah, citing the authorities we quoted above who permit a 12-year old to be the tenth man of a minyan.

Rav Moshe recommends that the shul relying on these heterim not have a repetition of shemoneh esrei (chazaras hashatz). This is because reciting chazaras hashatz without a minyan present involves a brocha levatalah, a brocha in vain, which, according to some authorities is prohibited min hatorah. Rav Moshe rules that the chazzan should not recite the quiet the shemoneh esrei, but, instead, should wait until everyone has finished their shemoneh esrei and then he should recite his own shemoneh esrei aloud.

Conclusion

At this point, let us return to our opening question: “A friend of mine once moved to a community where the local daily minyan was not that reliable. On a regular basis, services were conducted by having a ten-year old hold a chumash as the tenth man. Is there a basis for this practice?”

If we follow Rav Moshe’s psak and consider it applicable to their situation, then a child should hold the atzei chayim of a sefer Torah that is placed on the table. Only the kaddeishim required according to halachah should be recited, and no mourner’s kaddish or kaddish derabbanan. The chazzan should preferably not recite his own quiet shemoneh esrei.

The Gemara teaches that Ein Hakadosh Baruch Hu mo’eis bitefillasan shel rabim, Hashem never despises the prayers of the community. Certainly, this should inspire all of us to daven with the tzibur whenever we can.