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Grand Opening!

Question #1: Aramaic or Arabic?

Why is Kaddish in Aramaic? Isn’t it prohibited to pray in Aramaic and Arabic?

Question #2: Doing it right

In which arm does a lefty hold the sefer Torah?

Question #3: Caught in the act

Do I join everyone in reciting Berich She’mei when I am in the middle of pesukei dezimra?

Background

The structure of most of our prayers, including the Shemoneh Esrei and the berachos we recite surrounding the Shema, was created by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, 120 great leaders of the Jewish people who lived during the beginning of the second Beis Hamikdash. Many of these leaders had been exiled to Babylonia before the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash. This venerable group included such great leaders as Ezra, Mordechai, Nechemiah, Daniel, Chanaya, Mishael, Azaryah, Zerubavel, Shimon Hatzadik (of the famous story with Alexander the Great), Chagai, Zecharyah and Malachi (the last three prophets of the Jewish people). The Anshei Keneses Hagedolah authored and edited the last volumes of Tanach and organized it into its final form (Baba Basra 14b-15a).

Perhaps one way to recognize how great the leaders of this generation were is by realizing that Mordechai, whom we all knows was a great gadol, was not the greatest of his generation. All agree that this distinction belongs to Ezra.

Chazal tell us that Ezra was so great that he should have returned to Eretz Yisrael accompanied by the same types of miracles that occurred when Yehoshua led the Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. Then, the Bnei Yisrael experienced many overt miracles including what happened when the Jordan River was crossed, when Yericho was conquered, and when the Canaanite kings were eliminated (Berachos 4a). Unfortunately, the Jewish people in the days of Ezra were not on a high enough level to warrant such miracles, but the statement of Chazal provides an appreciation for the greatness of their leaders.

Ezra, fully aware of the problems that Kelal Yisrael faced in so many major areas — from intermarriage (see Ezra, Chapter 9), to Shabbos observance (see Nechemiah,Chapter 13), to knowledge of the laws germane to the Beis Hamikdash (see Chaggai, Chapter 2; Pesachim 17a) — instituted many takanos to assist the rebirth of the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael in his time (Bava Kama 82a). Among the many improvements he made was adding to the takanah made by Moshe Rabbeinu to read the Torah three times every week. After Ezra’s additions to this takanah, three people are called up every time the Torah is read, and it is read also at Mincha on Shabbos. Thus, in his day, the practice of reading the Torah already resembled the way we fulfill thismitzvah.

Berich She’mei

In last week’s article, I discussed some of the halachos and customs that we observe when we remove the sefer Torah from the aron hakodesh. We discussed the beautiful Aramaic prayer that begins with the words Berich She’mei. This prayer, whose source is in the Zohar (Parshas Vayakheil #206a\#225), was written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, the tanna quoted all over the Mishnah and Gemara simply as Rabbi Shimon, whose burial place on Har Meiron is the focus of much celebration, poetry, and three-year olds’ haircuts on Lag Be’Omer.

Bowing during Berich She’mei

In many communities, the custom is to bow before the sefer Torah when reciting the words desagidna kamei, “When I bow before Him,” during Berich She’mei. The authorities dispute whether this custom is proper. The Riaz, a rishon, is among those who contend that one should not bow other than to Hashem, not even toward the aron hakodesh or a sefer Torah (quoted by Shiltei Hagiborim, Kiddushin 14b note #1 and by Keneses Hagedolah, Yoreh Deah 282). Rav Yisrael Binyamin, an esteemed 16th century posek, also questioned this practice, contending that it might be forbidden because of the prohibition of worshipping idols (see Shu’t Ohalei Yaakov #57)!

The Kaf Hachayim concludes that we should not bow during Berich She’mei, since bowing when the sefer Torah is taken out is not mentioned in the Gemara, and the Gemara rules that we are to bow at specified points during the Shemonei Esrei – and not at any other time. This position is well-known as the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, who contended that we should not bow anywhere except when dictated by Chazal, not only during the Shemoneh Esrei, but also during such prayers as Kaddish and Aleinu (Biur Hagra, Orach Chayim 56:10).

On the other hand, the Maharikash, a highly respected 16th century posek, rules that it is correct to bow before the sefer Torah (Shu’t Ohalei Yaakov #57), because otherwise we are stating something untruthful when we declare (while saying Berich She’mei) desagidna Kamei — that we bow to Hashem but we do not. The Chida accepts this conclusion (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 134:3), which is subsequently followed by Rav Ovadyah Yosef (Shu’t Yabia Omer,Volume 5, Orach Chayim #8) who explains that bowing towards the sefer Torah is a sign of respect to Hashem, just as standing up for a sefer Torah is. This latter distinction is expressly opposed by the Riaz, who contends that it is required to stand up for a sefer Torah, but prohibited to bow to it.

A similar discussion is applicable regarding bowing when reciting Aleinu. Our custom is to bow when we say the words va’anachnu kor’im umishtachavim umodim¸ in which we say that we bow to Hashem. (Sefardim recite a shorter version here: va’anachnu mishtachavim.) Again, if we do not bow when we say these words, it appears as if we are being hypocritical and untruthful – we claim to be bowing, but we aren’t!

Language

Much halachic literature is devoted to the fact that Berich She’mei is recited in Aramaic. In general, we discourage prayers in Aramaic, although there are major exceptions, such as Yekum Purkan, some selections in our selichos, and, of course, Kaddish. Some even question why we sing the beautiful Shabbos zemer, Kah ribbon alam, written in Aramaic by the great posek and mekubal, Rav Yisrael Najara, which includes prayers and requests (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim #64). (By the way, there is no mention of Shabbos in Kah ribbon alam, and some Sefardim recite it as part of the daily davening, somewhat similar to the way we say Adon Olam or Yigdal.)

No Aramaic

The Gemara states that a person should not request from Hashem in the Aramaic language when he is praying by himself (Sotah 33a; Shabbos 12b). Many reasons are offered to explain this ruling (Elyah Rabbah 101:9); a more in-depth study of this topic will be postponed to a future date. For our purposes, I will share three approaches to the question, since there is an interesting halachic ramification that results.

A. Aramaic was viewed as a type of pidgin Hebrew, and therefore not acceptable for dignified procedures, such as davening (Ma’adanei Hamelech). As some authorities note, Arabic is also considered a slang offshoot of Hebrew, and, therefore, it would be prohibited to daven in Arabic, in private (Elyah Rabbah 101:9).

B. In the days when Aramaic was the common spoken language, there was concern that if Jews prayed in Aramaic, they would forget whatever Hebrew they still maintained (Tamim Dei’im, quoted by Elyah Rabbah 101:9).

C.Hashem made certain that the angels do not understand Aramaic, so that they would not get jealous of some of the beautiful Aramaic prayers we recite (Tosafos, Berachos 3a s.v. Ve’onin; Be’er Sheva, Sotah 33a).

According to the second and third reasons I cited, an individual could pray in Arabic, but not in Aramaic, whereas, according to the first reason, he should not pray in Arabic either.

We should also note that, since the prohibition against praying in Aramaic is only when praying privately, two of the three prayers we have mentioned, Kaddish and Berich She’mei, are not concerns, since they are recited only with a tzibur.

Reciting Berich She’mei during pesukei dezimra

What should someone do if he is in the middle of reciting pesukei dezimra when the sefer Torah is taken out? Should he recite the prayer of Berich She’mei, or does this constitute a prohibited interruption? Rav Shimon Greenvald, a greatly respected authority in pre-war Hungary, was asked this question, ruling that our davener should not interrupt pesukei dezimra to join the tzibur for Berich She’mei or any of the other prayers recited when the sefer Torah is taken out (Shu’t Maharshag 1:52:2). However, if he has completed the brocha of Yishtabach and has not yet begun the brocha of Yotzeir Or, nor has he yet answered Borchu, he may recite Berich She’mei and the other prayers, together with the tzibur (Shu’t Yabia Omer,Volume 5, Orach Chayim #8).

The reason for this ruling is that, although it is prohibited to interrupt between Yishtabach and Borchu, a very important matter may be performed at this time, and it is better to do it at this point in the davening than during the alternative options. For example, someone who did not have tzitzis or tefillin available before davening, or it was too early, then, for him to put them on, should put them on immediately after Yishtabach and, at that time, recite the appropriate berachos.

The basis for this is found in earlier authorities, who discuss whether mitzvah requirements or community needs are permitted to be discussed between Yishtabach and Borchu. The Tur (Orach Chayim 54) rules: “One may not interrupt between Yishtabach and Yotzeir, unless it is for community needs or (to solicit) for someone who needs to be supported from charity.” The Rema discusses this question at length (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 54:1) and codifies the ruling of the Tur in his comments to Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 54:3), although he concludes that it is best to attempt to avoid any interruption at all. Thus, we see that, when there is a necessity to interrupt, it is better to do so between Yishtabach and Borchu than either earlier or later.

Berich She’mei and Rabbeinu Tam tefillin

Many men have the practice of removing their regular tefillin, which they refer to as Rashi tefillin, toward the end of davening and then putting on a different pair of tefillin, called Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. (A discussion of this topic will need to wait for a different time.) The question is what to do on Rosh Chodesh, since, according to some kabbalistic sources, tefillin should not be worn any time after Musaf, thus limiting strongly the opportune times for putting on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. Some authorities permit putting on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin while reciting Berich She’mei (Yalkut Yosef 34:9), and wearing them through the reading of the Torah.

Being in the right

Returning to the laws of taking out the sefer Torah – the sefer Torah should be removed from the aron hakodesh using the right hand primarily and carry it by resting it against the right shoulder. This is because (1) the right hand and arm are used for most mitzvah actions. In addition, (2) various pesukim, such as, “His right hand embraces me” (Shir Hashirim 2:6) refer to our relationship with Hashem and the Torah in terms of the “right” hand.

Sefer Torah for southpaws

What should a left-handed person do? Should he pick up the sefer Torah primarily with his stronger hand and rest it against his stronger shoulder, or should he do both with his right hand and arm?

It should make a difference which of these two reasons is primary. If a right-handed person is to hold the Torah with his right hand because he uses it more to perform mitzvos, a left-handed person should take and hold the sefer Torah with his left hand, which is the one he uses to perform mitzvos. On the other hand, if the right hand is preferred because pesukim place emphasis on the right, a lefty should use his right hand, as in the pesukim.

We find different approaches among the halachic authorities. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 134:5) is uncertain whether a left-handed person give the left hand preference when taking out the Torah, and seems more inclined that he should. On the other hand, the Sha’ar Efrayim concludes that a left-handed person may emphasize either hand as he takes the Torah out, but he should rest it in his right hand against his right shoulder, notwithstanding that this is his weaker hand and arm, unless he is afraid that he might drop it (Sha’ar 10:2). The Mishnah Berurah (282:1) rules that when a sefer Torah is handed from one left-handed person to another, they should both emphasize use of their right hands.

Shabbos versus Yomim Nora’im

On weekdays, when the chazzan receives the sefer Torah, he invites the community to join him, reciting the posuk, Gadlu laHashem iti uneromemah Shemo yachdav (Tehillim 34:4), “Join me in declaring the greatness of Hashem: thereby, we shall exalt His Name, together.” On Shabbos and Yom Tov, two other pesukim are recited before the posuk Gadlu, both of which are recited first by the chazzan and then by the community in unison: the posuk of Shema Yisrael, and then the praise Echad Elokeinu, gadol Adoneinu, Kadosh Shemo, “Our G-d is one, Our Lord is great, His Name is Holy.” This last passage is not a pasuk in Tanach, but a praise that has its origin in Mesechta Sofrim (Chapter 14). (We should note that the procedure described in Mesechta Sofrim varies somewhat from our practice.)

On Shabbos, these two pesukim are recited only in the morning, but not at Mincha. The Aruch Hashulchan writes that he is uncertain why this is so (Orach Chayim 292:2).

When the chazzan recites the word Gadlu, he should bend over a little bit, reminiscent of bowing (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 282:1), although other authorities disagree with this practice, noting that one is not permitted to add additional bowings to our davening (Biur Hagra, Orach Chayim 56:10).

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the practice is to add the word venora (awesome) to the posuk Echad Elokeinu, so that it reads Echad Elokeinu gadol Adoneinu, Kadosh veNora Shemo. “Our G-d is One, our Lord is Great, His Name is Holy and Awesome!” Notwithstanding that our standard practice is to add the word veNora only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many authorities contend that the word veNora should be added also on Shabbos and other Yomim Tovim (Elyah Rabbah 134:4; Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 134:4). Mesechta Sofrim, the major source introducing this praise, mentions this practice, as does Rav Amram Gaon.

Follow the leader

The Shulchan Aruch mentions a practice, followed in most Sefardic congregations, that the entire tzibur follows the sefer Torah as it is removed from the aron hakodesh and brought to the shulchan from where it will be read. This is an honor for the sefer Torah, in that everyone follows it like an honored guest. The source for this practice is in Mesechta Sofrim (Chapter 14). However, when this is not a standard custom in the shul in which you are davening, there are authorities who feel that it is better to refrain from this practice, because it gives an impression of yohara, halachic conceit (Aruch Hashulchan 282:1).

Stand up for the Torah!

While the sefer Torah is moving, there is a requirement min haTorah to stand up and remain standing in its honor. This is derived by the Gemara (Kiddushin 33b) in the following way: The Torah requires that we stand when a talmid chacham walks by. The source for this law is the words in parshas Kedoshim, takum vehadarta pnei zakein, “You must rise and treat with respect the presence of an elder,” and Chazal explain that the term “elder” means someone worthy of respect because of his learning, even if he is still young. On the basis of a kal vechomer, the Gemara proves that it is a mitzvah min haTorah to show the same level of respect for the Torah itself: if we must stand for someone who studied the Torah, we must certainly stand for the Torah itself.

Conclusion

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 keriyas 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.




An Unusual Haftarah

Question #1: Haftaras Tzav

Why do we read the haftarah that we do this week?

Question #2: Shabbos Hagadol

What does parshas Tzav have to do with Shabbos Hagadol?

Question #3: Purim Meshulash

What is Purim Meshulash and what does it have to do with this week’s parsha?

Answer:

Although every chumash has a haftarah printed for parshas Tzav, in reality, we rarely read this haftarah, for several reasons:

(1) In all common (non-leap) years, which are 12 of our 19-year cycle, parshas Tzav falls on the Shabbos immediately before Pesach and is Shabbos Hagadol. On this Shabbos, accepted practice is to read the haftarah that begins with the words Ve’orvoh laHashem at the end of Malachi that closes the book of Trei Asar, the era of the prophets, and the section of Tanach that we call Nevi’im.

According to the Abudraham, Levush (Orach Chaim 428: 4), Knesses Hagedolah, and Elyah Rabbah (428: 5), the reason Parshas Tzav generally falls out on Shabbos Hagadol is that it mentions the halachos of kashering keilim (Vayikra 6:21), albeit regarding the korban chatas, thus reminding people of the preparations necessary for Pesach. In leap years, parshas Metzora is usually Shabbos Hagadol, and this parsha mentions kli cheres yishaver, that earthenware dishes cannot be kashered, again an appropriate reminder for Pesach.

(2) In leap years, parshas Tzav usually falls on parshas Zochor, in which case its haftarah discusses the war that Shaul fought against Amalek and how Shemuel admonished him. This haftarah, which is in the book of Shemuel, is usually referred to as Pakadti, as the haftarah begins with the words Koh amar Hashem Tzevaos pakadti eis asher assah Amalek le’Yisroel.

(3) On the occasional leap year when parshas Tzav does not fall on parshas Zochor, it sometimes falls on parshas Parah, in which case its haftarah is from the book of Yechezkel, often called Ben Adam, the first words of the second posuk of the haftarah. (We call it by the words of its second posuk, since the first posuk reads simply Vayehi dvar Hashem eilai leimor, “and the word of Hashem came to me, saying,” an expression that shows up several dozen times in sefer Yechezkel alone, as well as appearing many times in the seforim of both Yirmiyohu and Zecharyah.)

Thus, notwithstanding that the chumashim all instruct you that the haftarah for parshas Tzav is from the book of Yirmiyohu, in reality, the only time that we read the haftarah printed in the chumashim for parshas Tzav is (1) in a leap year, and when parshas Tzav is (2) neither parshas Zochor (3) nor parshas Parah. The only leap year when parshas Tzav does not fall on either parshas Zochor or parshas Parah is when Purim falls on a Thursday or Friday. In these years, Zochor falls on the Shabbos before Tzav and Parah on the Shabbos after.

In summary, the haftarah printed in the chumash for parshas Tzav is read only in a leap year when Purim falls on Thursday or Friday.

Purim Meshulash

To make things even more unusual, in a leap year when Purim falls on Friday, in Yerushalayim a special haftarah is read. This is because, in Yerushalayim, Purim is observed on the fifteenth of Adar, a day later than outside Yerushalayim. In a year when this happens, Purim everywhere else falls on Friday, but, in Yerushalayim, Purim falls on Shabbos. This creates a very complicated combination of practices commonly called Purim Meshulash, literally, triple Purim, so-called because, in common practice, the observances of Purim are divided among three days.

The Megillah is read and the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim is observed on Friday, the same day everyone else is observing Purim.

On Shabbos, the fifteenth of Adar, in Yerushalayim recite Al Hanissim, read Vayavo Amalek for maftir and a special haftarah in honor of Purim. This is the same haftarah that everyone reads for Shabbos Zochor, Pakadti. (In Yerushalayim, the same haftarah is read on two consecutive weeks!)

The mitzvos of Purim seudah and shalach manos are on Sunday, thus earning the observance its moniker of Purim Meshulash.

For the purposes of our topic, in those years, residents of Yerushalayim miss reading the haftarah of parshas Tzav. As a result, the only time in Yerushalayim the “regular” haftarah for parshas Tzav is read is in a leap year when Purim outside Yerushalayim falls on Thursday and in Yerushalayim on Friday – which is the case this year. So, this year is one of the very rare years in which the haftarah printed in the chumashim for parshas Tzav is read everywhere.

Everyone reads the same haftarah

On the other hand, when there is no “special Shabbos” on parshas Tzav, it appears that all the various different customs that we have, Ashkenazic, Chassidic, Sefardic and Italian, all read the same haftarah. Even the Abudraham, who upon occasion cites a different choice or choices for haftarah than we are accustomed to, also cites the same haftarah for this week. Although, in all likelihood, there once were places in which the custom was to read a different haftarah for parshas Tzav, I am unaware of any such custom. If any readers are aware of a different custom that exists or once existed, I would appreciate if you would let me know.

What is the name of the haftarah?

Although haftaros do not have a “name,” most of them are called by the words that open them or are near their beginning, similar to the way we name our parshi’os. In this instance, the first words of the haftarah are Koh amar Hashem Tzeva’kos Elokei Yisroel oloseichem sefu al zivcheichem, ve’ichlu basar,“So said Hashem of Hosts, the G-d of Yisroel: Add your korbanos olah to your korbanos shelamim that you bring – and eat meat!” (Yirmiyohu 7:21).

Since the first words of the haftarah, Koh amar Hashem Tzeva’kos Elokei Yisroel, “So said Hashem of Hosts, the G-d of Yisroel,” are not particularly descriptive of the uniqueness of this haftarah, it is usually called Oloseichem sefu, which is a brief way of referring to the unique words at the beginning of this haftarah. It is interesting that the naming of the parsha is also similar in this way in that its title, Tzav, is not in the first posuk of the parsha, but in the second, since there is nothing unique in the first posuk, Vayedabeir Hashem el Moshe leimor.

Where is the haftarah?

The haftarah is taken from one of the most difficult sections of the book of Yirmiyohu. The haftarah itself is not a pleasant one to read. The difficulty is not because the words are hard to translate, but because we do not want to think of the level to which the Jewish people (that means us) had fallen and the extent to which Yirmiyohu Hanavi was required to rebuke them – and apparently they (we) did not listen!

It is interesting to note that the haftarah that we read closes with the very same pesukim that close the haftarah that we read every year on Tisha B’Av, which begins with the words Asof asifeim (literally, “I will completely destroy them”). The reason for this is that Asof asifeim, which is taken from the same rebuke that Yirmiyohu was required to deliver, closes with a positive ending, “The wise man should not glorify himself with his wisdom, nor should the powerful man with his power, nor the rich man with his wealth. Only with this should someone glorify himself – by studying and knowing Me” (Yirmiyohu 9:22-23). The reading of Oloseichem sefu would end with a very negative closing (I refer our readers to Yirmiyohu 8:3), and so, custom developed to skip ahead and read the closing of Asof asifeim, in order to end the haftarah on a positive note.

What is the theme of the haftarah?

Yirmiyohu is telling the people, sarcastically — since you are not observing the mitzvos properly, why bother offering korbanos olah? Instead, eat them, and at least get the protein benefit from eating meat!

In a korban olah, the entire animal, except for its hide, is burnt on the mizbei’ach. The korban is called olah, an elevation offering, because it goes “up” entirely to Hashem, and, when bringing this korban, a person is to look at himself as completely submitting to Hashem’s Will – thereby, he “goes up” to Hashem, the same way.

In the case of korbanos shelamim, it is a mitzvah to eat the meat of the korban – some of the meat is given to the kohanim, who eat it with their families, and some of it is given to the person who offered the korban. This facilitated a huge celebration, since his family and friends would gather to eat the korban in Yerushalayim.

Yirmiyohu Hanavi is talking to the Jews in a derisive way. He takes issue with what had, apparently, become a very stylish observance of the Jewish religion in the period just before the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash. People had taken a much dichotomized approach to religion. Outside the Beis Hamikdash, they did whatever they felt like doing. Even such serious crimes as murder did not disturb them. But they would bring korbanos to the Beis Hamikdash and treat it with respect. Of course, this is not an acceptable observance of Hashem’s Torah.

According to Rav Yosef Breuer’s commentary on the posuk: If the Sanctuary no longer bears the message… to proclaim the truths symbolically taught — that the olah expresses moral dedication to Hashem, and the shelamim declares a vow to dedicate all of life’s joy to Him — then the “sacrificial cult” that remains is throwing animal flesh into the fire for no useful purpose. Instead, add your olah to your regular meals, and at least enjoy a decent meal!

Second posuk of haftarah

The second posuk of the haftarah looks at a similar theme, but from a different vantage point: Ki lo dibarti es avoseichem velo tzivisim beyom hotzi osam mei’eretz Mitzrayim al divrei olah va’zavach, “Because I did not speak with your fathers, nor did I command them on the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt concerning the korbanos olah and shelamim.” The navi notes that the people have made the “sacrificial cult” of the korbanos into the most important aspect of their being Jewish. Yet, no mention of these mitzvos was mentioned when the Jews were redeemed from Egypt and became a nation! Korbanos are to be observed as part of a framework of keeping all the mitzvos – they are never the primary focus.

We don’t identify with this view that Judaism is a sacrificial cult, because we have no Beis Hamikdash. However, people who park their observance of Torah in shul, and do not allow it to spill over into their personal or business lives are guilty of the same fallacy! Someone who wears Jewish garb, but runs his business without constantly recognizing Torah, is guilty of the same crime.

Therefore, Yirmiyohu tells the people: Since you lack the basic acceptance of the values and requirements of the Torah, why not just eat the korban. At least this way, you are getting some nutrition from the animal, whereas when slaughtering as a korban without any commitment to the Torah, you are getting no benefit from the korban, and it is a complete waste.

Why this haftarah?

An obvious question is: Why was Oloseichem sefu designated as the haftarah for parshas Tzav? Before answering this question, we need to analyze why we read the haftaros altogether.

Haftarah History

Early sources present two completely different reasons for the origin of the mitzvah to read the haftarah.

Reason #1:

Some early sources report that, in ancient times, a haftarah was recited towards the end of Shacharis every day of the year. At the point of davening when we recite Uva Letziyon, they would take out a sefer Navi and read about ten verses together with their Aramaic translation, the common Jewish parlance at the time. Then, they recited the two main pesukim of kedushah, Kodosh Kodosh Kodosh Hashem Tzvakos melo kol ha’aretz kevodo, and Boruch kevod Hashem mi’mekomo, together with their Aramaic translation. In those days, all men used to study Torah for several hours after davening, before occupying themselves with their daily livelihoods. The Navi was recited to guarantee that people fulfilled the daily requirement to study some Biblical part of the Torah, in addition to the daily requirement of studying both Mishnah and Gemara (Teshuvas Ha’ge’onim #55).

Why did this practice end?

This daily practice of incorporating some “haftarah” reading ended when people needed to spend more time earning a living (Teshuvas Ha’ge’onim #55). To ensure that this practice of studying some Tanach daily at the end of davening would not be forgotten, they still recited the verses of kedusha, a practice mentioned in the Gemara (Sotah 49a). Around the recital of these two verses developed the prayer we say daily that begins with the pasuk “Uva Letzion.”

Although the daily “haftarah” ceased at this time, on Shabbos and Yom Tov, when people do not work, the haftarah readings continued. As a result, there is no need to mention Uva Letzion immediately after  kerias haTorah on Shabbos and Yom Tov, since that is when we recite the haftarah.  For this reason, Uva Letzion is postponed until Mincha (Shibbolei Haleket #44).

A second reason for the haftarah

Other, later authorities cite a completely different historical basis for reciting the haftarah. At one time in antiquity, the gentiles prohibited the public reading of the Torah, but they did not forbid reading from the Nevi’im in public. Therefore, in lieu of krias haTorah, Jewish communities began reading selections from the Nevi’im that would remind people of the Torah portion that should have been read that day (Abudraham). Many of the haftarah readings were chosen to remind people of the observances of the day, such as the special haftaros for the Yomim Tovim, the four parshi’os, Shabbos Hagadol, Shabbos Shuva, and mochor chodesh, or to remind and console people for the seasons. Examples of the latter include the three haftaros read during the Three Weeks, and the seven haftaros, called the shivah de’nechemta,that are read from the Shabbos following Tisha B’Av until Rosh Hashanah.

Although the gentiles eventually rescinded the prohibition against the public Torah reading, the practice of reading the haftarah continued, even after the reinstatement of the Torah reading. At that time, it was instituted that the person reading the haftarah should first receive an aliyah to the Torah, which we call maftir (Megillah 23a), in order to emphasize that the words of the Nevi’im are not equal to the Torah in kedusha or in authority.

It is noteworthy that although the second reason is better known and is quoted frequently by halachic commentaries (from the Bach, Orach Chayim 284, onwards), I found the first reason in much earlier sources. While the earliest source I found mentioning the second approach was the Abudraham, who lived in the early fourteenth century, the first source is found in writings of the Geonim, well over a thousand years ago.

I suspect that both historical reasons are accurate: Initially, the haftarah was instituted when the Jews were banned from reading the Torah in public; they instituted reading the haftaros as a reminder of the mitzvah of public Torah reading. After that decree was rescinded and the mitzvah of kerias haTorah was reinstituted, Jews continued the practice of reading the Nevi’im and even extended it as a daily practice to encourage people to study the Written Torah every day. When this daily practice infringed on people’s ability to earn a living, they limited it to non-workdays.

According to the second reason, each week’s haftarah should serve as a reminder either of the Torah reading that should have transpired or of some other special occasion that Chazal wanted us to remember.

Haftaras Tzav

At this point, we are in a position to answer our opening question: Why is it that we read specifically this haftarah this week?

Some answer that the reason is to teach people that we should not lose sight of the reason why the korbanos are offered. Someone might think that the korbanos are, inherently, of the greatest importance, without realizing that their purpose is to bring us closer to Hashem in our observance of all the mitzvos (Commentary of Rabbi Mendel Hirsch).

Conclusion

I remember, as a child, assuming that the word haftarah was pronounced half-Torah, because it was always much shorter than the Torah reading. Unfortunately, I occasionally hear adults mispronounce the word this way, too. Although there are several interpretations of the word haftarah, it is usually understood to mean completing, as in “completing the reading of the Torah” (Levush, Orach Chayim 284:1). Recital of the weekly Haftarah is an ancient custom and a takanas Chazal,and must be treated with respect. The entire purpose of its reading is to ensure our study of some of the Written Torah, and to incorporate its eternal messages into our lives.




Minyan Matters

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Megillah 4:4) cites a Biblical allusion regarding the requirements for a minyan, based on the ten sons of Yaakov who traveled to Mitzrayim together.

Question #1: Ten for Haftarah?

“I know that a child may recite the haftarah. Does this require a minyan?”

Question #2: Ten for Kaddish

“We had a minyan when we began saying Aleinu, but when we finished, we were short. Can I still say kaddish?”

Question #3: Lost our Minyan

“In the middle of the sheva brachos, we lost our minyan. What can we do?”

Introduction

The Mishnah teaches that communal davening (tefillah betzibur), duchening, sheva brachos, reading of the Torah and the haftarah, and various other practices all require ten adult male Jews (Megillah 23b).

A different passage of Gemara explains that, at times, the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem also requires a minyan (Sanhedrin 74b). The situation is when an evil person coerces a Jew to violate the Torah only because he wants the Jew to violate the Torah, but not because he has any personal benefit from the prohibited activity. If this is done in public, the Jew is required to give up his life, rather than violate the Torah. This commitment to observing the Torah fulfills the mitzvah of sanctifying Hashem’s Name in public, kiddush Hashem (see Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:2). However, this halacha is true only if ten Jews are present. To quote this passage: Rabbi Yaakov quoted Rabbi Yochanan, “‘In public’ means that there are at least ten people.”

The Gemara continues: “It goes without saying that these ten people must be Jews, since the Torah states, ‘and I shall be sanctified among the Jewish people.’ Rav Yirmiyah inquired: ‘What is the law if there are nine Jews and one non-Jew?’” The Gemara concludes that the mitzvos of kiddush Hashem in public, and its opposite, chillul Hashem, should the Jew not be willing to give up his life, apply only when there are at least ten Jews present (Sanhedrin 74b). Based on evidence within the Gemara, the consensus of halachic opinion is that the mitzvos of kiddush Hashem and chillul Hashem in public apply when there are ten Jews aware of the situation, even if they are not present at the time of the coercion (Shach, Yoreh Deah 157:4; Darchei Teshuvah 157:23; cf. Or Ne’elam, cited in Darchei Teshuvah). (There are other situations in which the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem and chillul Hashem apply, which we will leave for a different article.)

The prayers of a minyan

Similarly, we are aware that prayers recited together with a minyan accomplish more than when one prays by himself. To quote the Rambam: “The prayer of the community is always heard. Even when there are sinners among them, the Holy One, Blessed is He, does not despise the prayer of a group of people. Therefore, everyone is required to make himself part of the tzibur. One should not pray in private any time that one is able to pray with a community” (Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

Number of minyan

How do we know that a minyan consists of ten people? Although the definition of a minyan as ten adult men is part of the oral Torah that Moshe received on Har Sinai, there are several Biblical and hermeneutic sources, in addition to the source from this week’s parsha that I cited above. For example, prior to Boaz arranging his betrothal of Rus, he gathered ten men (Rus 4:2). According to the Gemara (Kesubos 7a), this is the source that sheva brachos require a minyan.

Other Biblical sources for a minyan include the ten spies that the Torah refers to as an eidah,a community, which the Gemara (Megillah 21a) uses as a source for a minyan to be required for a davar she’bikedusha, such as for reciting kaddish or kedusha, repeating the shemoneh esrei (chazaras hashatz) and similar such communal prayer requirements.

Davar she’bikedusha

The Mishnah mentioned above requires a minyan for repeating shemoneh esrei. However, this presents a question. Since many halachic authorities rule that the requirement to pray daily is only rabbinic in origin, how can the laws of davar she’bikedusha, which are an aspect of this mitzvah, require a minyan min haTorah? This question is asked by the Ran, who explains that the requirement for davar she’bikedusha is certainly only rabbinic, and that each of the Biblical sources is only an allusion, what is called asmachta in halachic literature.

Haftarah

At this point, let us address our opening question: “I know that a child may recite the haftarah. Does this require a minyan?”

It is true that the haftarah may be read by a boy who is not yet bar mitzvah (Mishnah Megillah 24a), a topic beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, the Mishnah (Megillah 23b) requires a minyan of adult men for the haftarah to be read.

Disappearing minyan

What is the halacha if you begin your davar she’bikedusha with a proper minyan, but someone leaves, and you now have less than a minyan? For example, in the middle of the repetition of the shemoneh esrei, some men left, which they are not permitted to do, but, as a result, you no longer have ten men in attendance. Must you stop the communal prayers in mid-brocha?

This question is raised by the Talmud Yerushalmi, which answers that one may complete the section of prayer that was begun. The poskim conclude that this is true, provided one still has at least six adult men, which comprise the majority of a minyan (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 55:2).

Five and someone new

What is the halacha if you started chazaras hashatz with ten people, then five left, and subsequently one of the original ten who had left now returned, so that you have a majority of the original minyan, but, at one point, the minyan had been interrupted. Did the minyan effectively end when its number dwindled to only five, the return of an individual being unable to resuscitate it, or not?

In his notes on the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Akiva Eiger discusses this exact question, suggesting that once the minyan’s number had dwindled to five or less, the original minyan is considered to have dissipated, and adding people does not reconstitute it, unless one reestablishes a full minyan of ten. In conclusion, Rabbi Akiva Eiger leaves this matter as an unresolved halachic inquiry.

May not leave

Returning to our earlier question, notwithstanding that, if individuals leave so that the minyan has less than ten, one may complete the section at hand, the Yerushalmi states in no uncertain terms that these people may not leave, even for an extenuating reason. The Yerushalmi explains that the posuk in Yeshayahu (1:28), “Those who forsake Hashem will be consumed,” refers to those who walk out in the middle of the services, leaving less than a minyan behind.

This curse applies only if someone left them without a minyan. However, someone with an extenuating reason to leave shul will not receive this curse if there is a minyan without him (Rema, Orach Chayim 55:2). The Mishnah Berurah notes that, even under these circumstances, he is permitted to leave only if he has already heard kedusha and kaddish.

Already shorthanded

The Biur Halacha asks the following question: What is the law if one of the ten already left, and the minyan is proceeding shorthanded, as mentioned above, with only nine people, and one of the remaining people has an extenuating reason to leave? May he do so, notwithstanding the words of Yeshayahu, since they already are short of a full, proper minyan? The Biur Halacha leaves this question unresolved.

New section

The rishonim note that, although the Yerushalmi rules that one may continue the davening, even though the minyan is no longer intact, one may complete only the section of prayer that one has started, but one may not begin a new section of the davening. Of course, this ruling spawns a whole literature of halachic discussion: What is considered a different section?

The Terumas Hadeshen (#15) rules that if a minyan was assembled at the time that the chazzan recited borchu, they may complete through the birchos kerias shma, but may not proceed with anything requiring a minyan past that point. This means that should this happen at maariv, one is permitted to recite the half-kaddish that the chazzan says immediately prior to the shemoneh esrei, which is considered part of the birchos kerias shma section. However, one is not permitted to recite the full kaddish (kaddish tiskabeil) or any of the mourner’s kaddeishim at the end of davening.

If this should happen during shacharis, meaning that the minyan dissipates sometime between borchu and the beginning of the repetition of the shemoneh esrei, the chazzan cannot begin the chazaras hashatz, since that comprises a new section for which there is no requisite minyan. Since birchos kerias shma (between borchu and ga’alYisrael) and tefillah are two different mitzvos, they are treated as distinct prayer sections.

A new “section” has another halachic ramification. The Mishnah Berurah (55:12) explains that, if there are nine people, and a tenth person, who has davened already, joins them, so that they now have a minyan, he is required to stay until they complete the section, but he is not obligated to stay for a new section. Thus, should nine people be saying pesukei dezimra together and a tenth person joins them for kaddish and borchu, he is not required to remain with them once they said borchu, since chazaras hashatz is a different mitzvah. However, should he join them for chazaras hashatz, he may be required to remain with them until they complete the full kaddish at the end of davening.

By the way, pesukei dezimra is considered a section of its own and, therefore, if you had a minyan for part of pesukei dezimra that then dissipated, one may recite the kaddish before borchu, which is considered part of pesukei dezimra, but not borchu, which is part of a new section, that of the birchos kerias shma (see Aruch Hashulchan 55:7).

Started chazaras hashatz

What is the law should your minyan dissipate after the chazzan began the repetition of the shemoneh esrei?

The halacha is that one may complete the repetition of shemoneh esrei, recite the half kaddish said after tachanun (Levush, Orach Chayim 55:2) and also recite the full kaddish at the end of davening (Terumas Hadeshen #15; Levush, Orach Chayim 55:2). This is because the prayer beginning with the words tiskabeil tzelose’hon, accept our prayers, which is recited only as part of the full kaddish, refers back to the shemoneh esrei.

However, this shorthanded group may not take out a sefer Torah to read, which is a new mitzvah section, even though it is recited in the davening before the kaddish tiskabeil. The Terumas Hadeshen demonstrates that the full kaddish is part of the shemoneh esrei section, since, on Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamo’ed, we recite full kaddish immediately after shacharis, rather than at the end of davening as we usually do. This is because on  Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamo’ed there will yet be a musaf tefillah for which there is its own full kaddish.

Kerias haTorah

The Terumas Hadeshen explains that kerias haTorah is its own, independent section. Therefore, if the minyan dissipated during kerias haTorah, one can complete the required reading and recite the half kaddish that follows. If one was reading the Torah at mincha on Shabbos or a fast day and the minyan dissipated, he may complete the reading of the Torah and then recite the half-kaddish that precedes the quiet shemoneh esrei, but one may not continue with the chazaras hashatz. On a fast day, one would not be permitted to recite the haftarah (Aruch Hashulchan 55:8), since this is considered a separate section.

The Magen Avraham explains that, if the minyan dissipates during Shabbos morning davening, one should call up only seven people for their proper aliyos, but not add any extra aliyos, nor call up maftir.

One might ask: When you have less than ten people still attending your Shabbosminyan,” virtually everyone is getting an aliyah. Why would you want to add aliyos?

Here is a situation where you might want to. A family of kohanim or levi’im is celebrating a bar mitzvah and making their own minyan. The father of the bar mitzvah received the Kohen or Levi aliyah. The plan is for zeide to receive the acharon aliyah immediately before maftir, and the bar mitzvah bochur to receive maftir. In the middle of kerias haTorah, some people leave and they no longer have a minyan. What are they allowed to do?

The halacha is that they can complete the kerias haTorah and recite the half kaddish after the reading of the Torah, but they can call up only seven aliyos, excluding maftir. (What to do about the haftarah will be discussed in the next paragraph.) This would certainly mess up the family’s plans, since both the grandfather and the bar mitzvah bochur would be left without aliyos! Moral of the story: If you are invited to a bar mitzvah, don’t leave earlier than you should!

Torah and haftarah

Is reading the Torah and reading the haftarah considered the same section? The difference in halacha is in the following situation: Some time during the reading of the Torah, the minyan dissipates. As we have learned, one can complete the Torah reading and even recite the kaddish afterwards. The question is whether one may read the haftarah. The Magen Avraham (143:1) rules that one may complete the entire reading of the Torah, and implies that the seventh person (if it is Shabbos) should read the haftarah. The Elyah Rabbah disagrees, explaining that reading the Torah and reading the haftarah are two different mitzvos, created at different times for different reasons. The Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch Hashulchan both conclude like the Elyah Rabbah; the Mishnah Berurah does not even mention the opinion of the Magen Avraham, which is very unusual for him.

Ten for kaddish

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “We had a minyan when we began saying, but when we finished, we had less. Can I still say kaddish?”

This actual question is addressed by an early halachic authority, Rav Mordechai Yaffe, author of the multi-volume work called Levush Malchus. He rules that, even if they started Aleinu with a minyan and the minyan disappeared while they were reciting Aleinu, they may not recite kaddish (Levush, Orach Chayim 55:3). The beginning of this section is the actual reciting of kaddish. Thus, if they began kaddish with a minyan, and then the minyan disappeared, they may complete the kaddish (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 55:2).

Lost our minyan

At this point, we can discuss the last of our opening questions: “In the middle of the sheva brachos, we lost our minyan. What can we do?”

We first need to understand what is meant by, “in the middle of the sheva brachos?” The answer is that once someone recites the words, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu…, of the first of the sheva brachos (shehakol bara lich’vodo), it is considered that the section called sheva brachos has begun, and all the sheva brachos, including borei pri hagafen, may be completed, even though the minyan has dissipated (Sova Semachos 4:36, quoted by Hanisuin Kehilchasam pg. 272, footnote 121, based on Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 62:13 and Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 62:14). However, if the minyan dissipated prior to the actual reciting of this brocha, they will be unable to recite the sheva brachos, even if they have already begun reciting birkas hamazon and said Dvei haseir and baruch Elokeinu at the beginning of bensching. In other words, birkas hamazon and sheva brachos are two different sections.

Conclusion

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.




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.