Second Zachor Readings

Question #1: Birchos haTorah min haTorah

Is birchos haTorah min haTorah?

Question #2: Parshas Zachor

Should a second parshas Zachor reading have a minyan?

Question #3: America, America

Is there an American angle to this halachic discussion?

Foreword

The halachic authorities dispute whether women are obligated to hear parshas Zachor, the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah #603) ruling that they are exempt, whereas Rav Yaakov Ettlinger (author of Aruch Laneir and posek hador of western and central Europe during his lifetime), obligates them (Shu”t Binyan Tzion 2:8). A third opinion is that, although women are definitely required to observe the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to us, they are not required to hear parshas Zachor because it is a time-bound mitzvah miderabbanan (Shu”t Toras Chayim, Orach Chayim #37; Kaf Hachayim 685:30).

There is a second dispute, whether an individual is required min haTorah to hear the reading of parshas Zachor with a minyan, annually, which some rishonim require (Rosh, Berachos 7:20; Terumas Hadeshen 1:108) and others exempt (Sefer Hachinuch). If we combine the strictest interpretation of both rulings, we would conclude that women are obligated min haTorah to hear parshas Zachor annually with a minyan, although I am unaware of any early halachic authorities who rule this way.

In contemporary practice, women strive to hear parshas Zachor. To enable those taking care of children during the morning reading, many shullen schedule an additional reading some time later that day, to facilitate the hearing of parshas Zachor.

Some contemporary authorities have questioned this practice because of the following observation: There are poskim who forbid reading from a sefer Torah in public without reciting a berocha before and after the reading (Toras Raphael, Hilchos Keri’as HaTorah #2). This is based on the ruling of earlier prominent authorities who contend that such readings require the recital of a berocha min haTorah (Be’er Sheva, Sotah 41a; Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov, Orach Chayim #63). Several early authorities attribute this position to the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shu”t Meishiv Davar 1:16; cf., however, Toras Raphael who disagrees) or other very early sources.

On the other hand, when there is no obligation to read from the Torah, many authorities forbid reciting a berocha when reading from a sefer Torah, considering it a berocha levatalah, one recited in vain (Elyah Rabbah 566:3; Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav Orach Chayim 566:7; Chayei Adam 31:11; Meishiv Davar 1:16; Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim #52, #69, #70). This may potentially create a conundrum: It would be forbidden to recite berochos for an extra reading of parshas Zachor because of concerns about berocha levatalah. Yet, some authorities prohibit reading from the Torah in public without a berocha. Thus, we have a predicament whose obvious solution is to avoid extra public reading from a sefer Torah. On the other hand, we want to have an extra reading to facilitate fulfilling the mitzvah for those who cannot be in shul for the regular reading.

Other readings

A similar, but not identical, shaylah occurs on several other occasions, depending on various local customs. Many have the minhag to read sefer Devarim, or sections thereof, from a sefer Torah on the night of Hoshana Rabba. Similarly, many Chassidic kehillos read, on the first twelve days of Nisan, the passage in parshas Naso describing the dedication of the Mishkan, called parshas hanesi’im. There was also a custom that, upon completing the writing of a new sefer Torah, the sofer read from the brand new sefer Torah in front of the assembled (Toras Raphael). Other customs of reading from a sefer Torah on various occasions are recorded in different halachic sources (e.g., Shu”t Tashbeitz 2:39; Levush; Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 8:84). Explaining the sources for this discussion and suggesting resolutions is the topic of this article.

Introduction

After the Rambam wrote his Sefer Hamitzvos, in which he listed his opinion of the count of the 613 mitzvos, the Ramban wrote an extensive commentary disputing dozens of points made by the Rambam. The Ramban also listed 34 mitzvos, 17 mitzvos aseih and 17 mitzvos lo saaseh, which he felt should be included in the count of the mitzvos according to the Rambam’s rules, but were omitted. In the Ramban’s listing of the “missing” mitzvos aseih, he includes the mitzvah (#15) to recite a berocha prior to reading the Torah.

Although it is unclear whether the Ramban here is counting a mitzvah to recite birkas haTorah prior to studying Torah, or a mitzvah to recite it prior to reading from a sefer Torah, several authorities assume that he meant the latter. In other words, although reading the Torah in public is not required min haTorah, when doing so, the requirement to recite a berocha is. All halachic authorities agree that the berocha after an aliyah is only a mitzvah miderabbanan.

Berocha before leining

The major discussion on this topic stems from the writings of three prominent acharonim, the Be’er Sheva (commentary to Sotah 41a), the Mishkenos Yaakov (Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov, Orach Chayim #63) and the Toras Raphael (Hilchos Birchos haTorah #2).

These acharonim base themselves on a careful analysis of a passage of Gemara:

Rav Yehudah said, “What is the source from which we know that there is a requirement min haTorah to recite birkas hamazon after eating: ‘When you have eaten and been satisfied, you shall bless Hashem, your G-d, for the wonderful land that He gave you’ (Devarim 8:10). What is the source from which we know that there is a requirement min haTorah to recite birkas haTorah before Torah: ki sheim Hashem ekra, havu godel lei’lokeinu (Berachos 21a, based on Devarim 32:3), in which Moshe told the Jewish people, ‘I am about to sing praise to Hashem. Prior to my doing so, I will recite a berocha (ki sheim Hashem ekra) to which you should answer amen’” (havu godel lei’lokeinu) [Rashi, Berachos 21a s.v. Ki].

(1) What did Rav Yehudah mean when he required a “berocha before Torah?” Was he referring to:

            (a) What we usually call talmud Torah or limud Torah,or

            (b) Before reading from a sefer Torah, what we usually call keri’as haTorah?

(2) If he meant what we usually call limud Torah, what type of limud Torah is included?

The Gemara (Berachos 11b) cites a four-way dispute among amora’im what type of limud Torah requires birkas haTorah:

            (a) Only the written Torah.

            (b) The written Torah and the halachic midrashim on the written Torah.

            (c) In addition to the above, also before studying Mishnah.

            (d) In addition to everything mentioned above, also before studying Gemara.

The Gemara concludes that we recite birkas haTorah prior to any type of Torah learning. However, this does not teach us whether this is required min haTorah or only miderabbanan.

Let us return to the passage of Gemara quoting Rav Yehudah’s ruling that birkas haTorah is min haTorah and is derived from the pasuk in parshas Ha’azinu.

Rabbi Yochanan then adds to, and somewhat disagrees with, Rav Yehudah’s statement by claiming that, with the use of two applications of the principle of kal vechomer, we can derive that reciting a berocha before eating is min haTorah, as well as a berocha recited after learning. The Gemara ultimately refutes the applications of kal vechomer and, therefore, Rabbi Yochanan’s two rulings. Thus, recital of a berocha before eating and after learning are not required min haTorah.

The question that concerns the Be’er Sheva and the Mishkenos Ya’akov is:

To which berocha after Torah is Rabbi Yochanan referring? The only time we ever recite a berocha after Torah is the berocha recited after keri’as haTorah. This implies that the “berocha before Torah,” which both Rav Yehudah and Rabbi Yochanan agree is min haTorah, means the berocha recited before reading the Torah in public. The Be’er Sheva and the Mishkenos Ya’akov, therefore, conclude that the requirement min haTorah of birkas haTorah applies when reading the Torah in public. This includes:

(A) What we call keri’as haTorah on Shabbos, Mondays, Thursdays and holidays.

(B) The mitzvah of hakheil, when the Jewish king reads selections of sefer Devarim to the entire Jewish people on chol hamo’ed Sukkos in the year following shemittah (Mishnah Sotah 40b).

(C) When the Yisraelim who were on ma’amados, “Temple Duty,” read the Torah daily, during their rotation at the Beis Hamikdash (Mishnah Ta’anis 26a).

These acharonim conclude that the mitzvah of reciting birkas haTorah before we begin studying Torah every day is only miderabbanan.

Because the Be’er Sheva and the Mishkenos Yaakov conclude that both Rav Yehudah and Rabbi Yochanan agree that there is a requirement min haTorah to recite a berocha prior to any public reading of the Torah, this applies even if someone already recited birkas haTorah earlier in the day. The earlier recitation fulfilled only a mitzvah miderabbana, while the subsequent reading of the Torah in public requires recital of a berocha min haTorah.

However, as mentioned above, many authorities prohibit reciting birkas haTorah on a reading of the Torah that was not instituted either by the Torah or by Chazal. An interesting historical example is when the Netziv was asked, in the 1880’s, by a rav in Cincinnati the following shaylah: The community was dedicating a new sefer Torah, and the convenient day to schedule the dedication was Sunday, when people were off from work. In honor of the auspicious occasion, one of the organizers included a reading of the Torah, complete with berachos. The rav in Cincinnati strongly opposed this, contending that the berachos would constitute berachos levatalah, since Chazal never established reading the Torah on a Sunday that is not a Jewish holiday. The Netziv agreed with the rav’s ruling, commenting that it is permitted to read from the Torah, providing that no berachos were recited. However, according to the Be’er Sheva and the Mishkenos Yaakov, it is prohibited min haTorah to read from the Torah in public without reciting birkas haTorah.

Family feud

On the other hand, in response to a similar shaylah, Rav Raphael Shapiro, the Netziv’s son-in-law, author of Toras Raphael, ruled that it is prohibited to read from the Torah altogether. This is because some authorities prohibit reciting a berocha on this reading, and others, the Be’er Sheva and the Mishkenos Yaakov, rule that it is prohibited min haTorah to read the Torah without first reciting a berocha. The Toras Raphael concludes that the only solution is not to read from the Torah in public when it is not required.

Birchos haTorah min haTorah

At this point, we can address our opening question: Is birchos haTorah min haTorah?

The answer is somewhat complicated. According to the Ramban, there is definitely a requirement min haTorah, at times, to recite birchos haTorah. However, it is uncertain whether this means before studying Torah every day, or before reading the Torah in public. Among the rishonim,we find a dispute whether birchos haTorah before studying Torah every day is required min haTorah, a dispute that the Toras Raphael analyzes at great length. And we have two very prominent acharonim, the Be’er Sheva and the Mishkenos Yaakov, who contend that the requirement to recite birchos haTorah is min haTorah only before reading the Torah in public, but not when studying the Torah, in which case the requirement is only miderabbanan.

Later authorities

The question concerning whether we may read from the Torah in public to fulfill a custom without reciting birchos haTorah is discussed in some more recent teshuvos and articles. For example, Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak (8:84) discusses the custom, particularly but not exclusively, among Chassidim, of reading from a sefer Torah on the first twelve days of Nisan the portion of parshas Naso that describes the offerings that the nesi’im brought when the Mishkan was dedicated. Those who observe this custom do not recite a berocha before reading the Torah, nor should they, since most authorities rule that such a berocha would be levatalah, since no takkanas chachamim is observed. However, according to the Toras Raphael, it would seem that this should not be read with a minyan present, in order not to violate (according to the Be’er Sheva and the Mishkenos Yaakov) the mitzvas aseih of reading from a sefer Torah without a berocha.

Disputing the analysis of the Toras Raphael, the Minchas Yitzchak explains that, although these early poskim ruled that the requirement to recite birkas haTorah before keri’as haTorah is min haTorah, they never stated that it is required to recite a berocha prior to a reading that is optional. The Minchas Yitzchak concludes that since many great talmidei chachamim read from the Torah parshas nesi’im in the month of Nisan without reciting a berocha, this is the accepted halacha, not the ruling of the Toras Raphael.

Another, similar reason why these practices do not conflict with the ruling of the early acharonim is that, in these instances, each individual would like to read the Torah by himself, and the public reading is simply because of efficiency. Therefore, this is not considered a public reading of the Torah and there is no requirement to recite birchos haTorah (Shu”t Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:380). Rav Moishe Shternbuch, who suggested this last approach, was referring to the custom of reading the book of Devarim on the night of Hoshanah Rabbah, which is also performed without a berocha.

Parshas Zachor

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: Should a second parshas Zachor reading have a minyan?

Now we can understand our conundrum: If a second parshas Zachor reading is scheduled and there is a minyan in attendance, the Toras Raphael would certainly require the recital of a berocha. According to the Be’er Sheva and the Mishkenos Ya’akov, it would seem that it is prohibited to read the additional reading of parshas Zachor without first reciting a berocha, because this violates the mitzvas aseih of the Torah. On the other hand, if no one is required to still hear the reading of parshas Zachor, many authorities would rule that reciting a berocha is a berocha levatalah. According to the Netziv, there would be nothing wrong with reading from the Torah when Chazal did not require it, as long as no berocha is recited. Thus, in his opinion, the second reading may take place as long as no berocha is recited. However, according to the Toras Raphael, we should, perhaps, not read the Torah in public at all, to avoid getting involved in the dispute. A simple solution might be not to have a minyan when the second reading takes place.

America, America

Is there an American angle to this halachic discussion?

Surprising as this might be, there are several angles to this discussion that involve American Jewish individuals and communities. I mentioned above that the responsum of the Netziv was addressed to a rav in Cincinnati, although I have no idea as to the identity of the rav. By doing some research, I was able to determine that the responsum of his son-in-law, the Toras Raphael, was addressed to Rav Yehudah Eliezer Anixter, a talmid of the Volozhin yeshivah who immigrated to the United States in 1871, eventually becoming a prominent rav in Rochester and Chicago, and the author of a sefer titled Chiddushei Avi. The Toras Raphael read one of the responsa in Chiddushei Avi and wrote the author his own responsum, in partial disagreement with Rav Anixter’s conclusion. And the above quoted Minchas Yitzchak was penned in reference to Chassidim from America visiting Eretz Yisroel who noted that the method of reading the parshas ha’nesi’im was done differently in Eretz Yisroel from the way it is done in chutz la’aretz, and asked the Minchas Yitzchak which approach is preferred.

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 keri’as haTorah will be increased, as well as our sensitivity to the recital of its berachos and our kavanah when reciting and listening to those berachos. This should lead to greater respect and attentiveness to the observance of all the mitzvos.

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