• Rav Michael Siev

Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev
Megilla:15 - 23b


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Key words and phrases in Hebrew and Aramaic are marked in blue, and their translation/explanation can be seen by placing the cursor over them. 

From time to time, the shiur will include instructions to stop reading and do some task on your own. This will be marked by a


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It is highly recommended that you follow those instructions.

Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also written in red

This week, we begin a new mishna, which discusses the various situations in which we require a minyan.

The mishna lists quite a number of things; we will simply translate each of them, and after that we will define what they all mean.


We do not divide the shema

and we do not pass before the ark

and we do not lift their hands

and we do not read from the Torah

and we do not finish ("maftir") from the prophets

and we do not do the standing and sitting

and we do not say the blessing of mourners and the comforting of mourners

and the blessing of grooms

and we do not invite ("zimun") with the Name

with less than ten.

And with land - nine and a kohen,

and a person is the same (as land).

אין פורסין על שמע,

ואין עוברין לפני התיבה,

ואין נושאין את כפיהם,

ואין קורין בתורה,

ואין מפטירין בנביא,

ואין עושין מעמד ומושב,

ואין אומרים ברכת אבלים ותנחומי אבלים,

וברכת חתנים,

ואין מזמנין בשם

פחות מעשרה.

ובקרקעות - תשעה וכהן,

ואדם כיוצא בהן.

Let's define our terms!

1) Dividing the shema:

Rashi (s.v. ein porsin, third line of Rashi) fills us in:

A minyan that comes to the bet k'neset after the congregation has read the shema; one stands and says kaddish and barchu and the first of birchot k'riyat shema.

In other words, if a group of people has already davened but not with a minyan, and they now have a minyan, one of them can serve as a chazzan and can say kaddish and borchu, which must be accompanied by the following beracha of yotzer or. This is called "dividing the shema" because they are starting, but not completing, the birchot k'riyat shema.

On a practical level, there are two aspects of Rashi's explanation that later authorities question. Firstly, the Rama writes that the chazzan need not say the first beracha of k'riyat shema. Rashi's ruling was based on the assumption that since the chazzan said "bless Hashem," (borchu et Hashem hamvorach), it would be disrespectful not to follow that with a full-fledged beracha. Rama counters that the response "blessed is Hashem forever and ever" (baruch Hashem hamvorach l'olam va'ed) suffices. Secondly, Mishna Berura quotes some authorities who disagree with Rashi's application of this law to a group composed entirely of people who have already davened without a minyan. In their view, if everyone has already davened, they may not employ this (or the mishna's following) mechanism. "Dividing the shema" may only be done if at least one member of the group has not yet said birchot k'riyat shema.

2) Passing before the ark:

This refers to a chazzan repeating the shemona esrei (chazarat hasha"tz), including kedusha.

Tosafot (s.v. v'ein porsin) quote a debate regarding "dividing the shema," which applies as well to "passing before the ark." It is clear from the mishna that a minyan is required; it is not clear if a group may employ this mechanism if some or most of them have already heard borchu or kedusha (apart from the issue previously mentioned of how many of them have already davened by themselves). Tosafot quote a whopping five opinions on this issue as to the magic number of people who have not yet heard borchu or kedusha that is necessary to allow others to round out the minyan. The possibilities include 7, 6, 5, 3 and 1. The Shulchan Aruch writes that ideally there should be six (the majority of the minyan) who have not yet heard borchu / kedusha, but we allow "dividing the shema" and "passing before the ark" even if only one person has not yet heard borchu / kedusha. Nevertheless, the Mishna Berura (following Magen Avraham) writes that there is a difference between six and one. If less than six people have not yet davened, the chazzan should not repeat the entire shemona esrei, but should rather say the first three berachot aloud, including kedusha, and the rest of the shemona esrei to himself as his personal tefilla. If there are six who have not yet davened, the chazzan may say the entire chazarat hasha"tz, as per usual.

3) Lifting the hands (nesi'at kapayim) refers to birchat kohanim.

4) Reading the Torah - self explanatory.

5) Finishing with the prophets - the haftara.

We will take a short break from defining the terms of the mishna, because the gemara gives one reason for the necessity of a minyan that applies to each of the five things we have mentioned so far. The gemara says:


From where these words (what is the source for this ruling)?

R' Chiya bar Aba said in the name of R' Yochanan: the pasuk says "I shall be sanctified within b'nei yisrael" - every sanctified thing should not be with less than ten.

What implies (How does the pasuk quoted imply this rule)?

For R' Chiya taught: comes toch - toch (the word "toch" appears in two passages); it says here "I shall be sanctified within (b'toch) b'nei yisrael," and it says there "separate from within the congregation (mitoch ha-eda)

and comes eda - eda, for it says there (in a third passage) "until when will this evil congregation (eda) persist" - just as below (in the third passage, the reference is to) ten, even here (the reference is to) ten.

מה"מ (=מנא הני מילי)?

אמר רבי חייא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן: דאמר קרא (ויקרא כ"ב) "ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל" - כל דבר שבקדושה לא יהא פחות מעשרה.

מאי משמע?

דתני רבי חייא: אתיא תוך תוך, כתיב הכא ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל, וכתיב התם (במדבר ט"ז) הבדלו מתוך העדה,

ואתיא עדה עדה, דכתיב התם (במדבר י"ד) עד מתי לעדה הרעה הזאת, מה להלן עשרה - אף כאן עשרה.

Let's catch our breath here - the gemara has just employed a confusing two-tiered derivation of the precise meaning of the term "within" (toch). One of the 13 principles of derivations is g'zeira shava. This means that if one word is used in two different places, we can (when mandated by tradition) learn from one context to another. The gemara here employs this mechanism to teach us the meaning of a particular word.

Step 1: Our verse ("I shall be sanctified . . .") uses the word "within" (b'toch). That word is also used in another verse ("Separate from within . . ."). Thus, if we can discover what the word means in that context, we will know what it means in our context.

Step 2: That second verse also uses the word "congregation" (eda). The word eda is known to be a reference to ten individuals, as in the third verse that our gemara cites ("until when . . ."). That pasuk is a reference to the spies who brought a negative report about the Jewish people's chances of conquering Cana'an. Recall that there were 12 spies, two of whom (Yehoshua and Calev) did not join in the negative report. Thus, the term eda refers to ten people.

Step 3: Now that we know that the term eda refers to ten people, the second pasuk cited in the gemara, which also uses the term eda, must be referring to at least ten people. Since that pasuk refers to the same group of people with the word toch, the gemara concludes that the word toch must refer to a group of ten. Thus, in our pasuk as well, the word toch refers to a group no smaller than ten.

The gemara has introduced the phrase davar shebik'dusha, literally "something with sanctity," to refer to kaddish-borchu, kedusha, birchat kohanim, the Torah reading, and the haftara. The pasuk indicates that Hashem is sanctified (v'nikdashti) only in a group of ten. Therefore, none of these rituals can be performed in the absence of a minyan.

We can now return to our task of understanding the items listed in the mishna.

6) We do not do the standing and sitting:

Rashi (on the mishna, s.v. ein osin) explains that as part of the burial process, those carrying the deceased would pause seven times on their way to the burial. At these intervals, all assembled would sit and cry, and anyone who wanted could offer a eulogy. They would then arise and continue on their way.

The gemara explains the reason that this procedure was only done when there was at least a minyan of people present - we are up to the two dots, eight lines after the mishna:


And we do not do the standing and sitting with less than ten:

Since he (an appointed person) must say, "Stand, dear ones, stand! Sit, dear ones, sit!"

With less than ten it is not the way of the land (it is not appropriate).

ואין עושין מעמד ומושב פחות מעשרה:

כיון דבעי למימר "עמדו יקרים, עמודו! שבו יקרים, שבו!"

בציר מעשרה לאו אורח ארעא.

Rashi (on the gemara, s.v. lav) explains:

It is not the way of the land - to burden a messenger for this, and to call them "dear ones," for if so, what have we left for the when there are a lot?

We now continue with the terms mentioned in the mishna.

7) Blessing of the mourners - the gemara will explain this custom, so we'll come back to it in a moment.

8) Comforting of the mourners - upon completion of the burial, those present stand in a line and comfort the mourners.

9) Blessing of grooms - what we call sheva b'rachot.

The gemara now relates to these blessings:


And we don't say the blessing of mourners and blessing of grooms:

What is the blessing of mourners? The blessing of the square,

For R' Yiztchak said in the name of R' Yochanan: the blessing of mourners is with ten and the mourners don't count, the blessing of grooms is with ten and grooms count.

ואין אומרים ברכת אבלים וברכת חתנים (וכו')

מאי ברכת אבלים? - ברכת רחבה,

דאמר רבי יצחק אמר רבי יוחנן: ברכת אבלים בעשרה, ואין אבלים מן המנין. ברכת חתנים בעשרה - וחתנים מן המנין.

There are two questions that are immediately apparent from this short segment. Firstly, the gemara has asked for a definition of the term "blessing of mourners," and has explained that term with another that is equally murky - "blessing of the square." What is that? Secondly, the gemara then brought a statement of R' Yitzchak in the name of R' Yochanan, seemingly in proof of this definition - but that statement seems to be unrelated!

The key to this gemara is in the source of this statement of R' Yochanan. R' Yochanan's statement was made as part of a different discussion, and the gemara here briefly alludes to that discussion by quoting R' Yochanan. Thus, we must understand that other discussion in order to understand our gemara.

If you look at the standard page of gemara, there is an asterisk (*) at the beginning of R' Yochanan's statement. That asterisk takes you over to the side of the page, directly across from our gemara, on the inside part of the page. There is a short note there that says "Ketuvot 8a." That is the source of the other discussion that the gemara here draws from. You will notice that there are other references above and below this one. At the very top of the page, it says Mesorat haSha"s. The Mesorat haSha"s is a collection of references to other places in the Talmud where a particular statement or concept introduced in our gemara is also found. This can be a valuable tool to help one access related gemarot that can shed light on the sugya one is currently involved in.

That gemara in Ketuvot discusses the laws of sheva b'rachot, and raises the issue of whether the groom himself counts for the minyan necessary to make those berachot. In that context, the gemara quotes R' Yochanan's ruling that, in contrast to the mourner, the groom does count for the minyan. The gemara then questions what R' Yochanan meant by the "blessing of mourners," and proves that he meant the "blessing of the square." Our gemara, by quoting R' Yochanan's usage of "blessing of mourners," refers us to that discussion in Ketuvot, which proved that "blessing of mourners" means "blessing of the square."

We are now left with our first question - what exactly does "blessing of the square" mean? Rashi on that gemara in Ketuvot helps us. Apparently, the custom in Talmudic times was that the first meal eaten by the mourners after the burial, known as se'udat havra'a, was eaten publicly in an open area (the town square). This meal was accompanied by a blessing to the mourner, the jist of which was: "our brothers, may the One who comforts bring you comfort. Blessed is He Who comforts mourners." This blessing can only be recited in the presence of a minyan.

Once we have introduced the fact that the mourner does not count for a minyan in regard to this blessing, the simple question is why not - why shouldn't the mourner count, while the groom does count for the minyan necessary to offer him a blessing? Rashi on our sugya clues us in, once again based on that other sugya in Ketuvot. The "blessing of the square" was made by one person, as a representative of those comforting the mourner. That person would also say a blessing to the comforters, on behalf of the mourner. Since the mourner would make his own blessing (via the representative), he is not considered part of the group that makes the first blessing. Therefore, he does not count toward the minyan.

We'll see one more of the mishna's list.

10) Inviting (zimun) with the Name - this refers to the zimun that we say before bircat hamazon ("bentching"). We add the word לאלוקינו in the presence of a minyan.

The gemara explains:


And we do not "invite" for the food with the Name with less than ten:

Since he must say "let us bless our God" - with less than ten it is not the way of the land (not appropriate).

ואין מזמנין על המזון בשם פחות מעשרה (וכו')

כיון דבעי למימר נברך לאלהינו - בציר מעשרה לאו אורח ארעא.

We have discussed 10 of the 11 situations mentioned in the mishna that require a minyan. We will take some time (about a week) to digest all of this before we get to the eleventh case. In the meantime, I'll close with a trivia question - can anyone think of any situations that require a minyan other than those listed in our mishna? (Don't worry, if you can think of one, it is probably not the one listed in the mishna that we have not yet discussed.) I look forward to your answers!