• Rav Michael Siev


Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Megilla: 18: 24a-24b


A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at:

http://www.e-daf.com/dafprint.asp?ID=14579 for 24a, and

http://www.e-daf.com/dafprint.asp?ID=1460 for 24b

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


red pause box

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 who can perform various functions as part of the prayer service. The mishna is approximately two thirds of the way down the page on 24a. The opening statement connects this mishna with the previous one, which dealt with halachot of Torah reading and the haftara.  


He who finishes ("maftir") from the prophets - he divides the shema and he passes before the ark, and he raises his hands.

And if he was a minor, his father or teacher passes (before the ark) for him.

המפטיר בנביא הוא פורס על שמע, והוא עובר לפני התיבה, והוא נושא את כפיו.

ואם היה קטן - אביו או רבו עוברין על ידו.  

Rashi explains (s.v. hamaftir, first Rashi on the mishna - right after "מתני," which is short for matnitin, which means mishna, appears in big letters - about halfway down the page in Rashi):

 He who finishes from the prophets - one who usually finishes from the prophets, the Sages decreed that he should divide the shema.

Reading the haftara was not considered an honor, as it can be read by anyone, including a minor. It was therefore looked upon as a form of community service. Therefore, the sages decreed that one who consistently services the community in this fashion should be honored with the performance of some of the more glorious parts of the prayer service.


One of the things mentioned in the mishna is not like the others. Based on our explanation, which detail seems out of place?

We have discussed in previous shiurim the fact that "dividing the shema" refers to serving as chazan for barchu and the first b'racha of birchot k'riyat shema, and "passing before the ark" means serving as chazan for the repetition of the shemona esrei (i.e., chazarat hashatz). We have learned as well that "raising the hands," nesi'at kapayim, refers to birkat kohanim. How can birkat kohanim be a reward for one who reads the haftara? Firstly, only a kohen can do birkat kohanim. Additionally, it is an obligation incumbent upon every kohen present to do birkat kohanim, regardless of his record of community service! 

It is clear that this detail applies only to one who is a kohen. For a non-kohen, the other honors listed in the mishna suffice. Regarding the question of how this is an honor, the commentaries make several suggestions. Tosafot Yom Tov (a 17th century commentary on mishna) suggests that while all kohanim recite the birkat kohanim, a particular kohen can be honored by allowing him to lead the others in the blessing, as though he were the most important kohen present. 

Another answer is offered by Rashash (R. Shemuel Strashoun, a 19th century commentator on gemara). He points to the gemara in Masechet B'rachot that rules that if a kohen is the chazan and there are other kohanim present to do birkat kohanim, the chazan should not join in birkat kohanim, so as not to interrupt his repetition of the shemona esrei. Our mishna may be indicating that a kohen who is chazan because he was willing to read the haftara is an exception to this rule, and he should join in birkat kohanim. According to this explanation, there is no additional honor being granted to this kohen by allowing him to do birkat kohanim; it is rather a type of safeguard to another honor proposed in the mishna, that the one who reads the haftara should serve as chazan. We are dealing with someone who regularly reads the haftara - if he were to regularly serve as chazan and there were other kohanim present, this kohen would never be able to do birkat kohanim. Serving as chazan would thus not be an honor at all but rather a burden. In order to avoid this problem, the Sages decreed that he should do birkat kohanim even though he is the chazan. (On a practical level, the custom in many communities nowadays is that even if there are other kohanim present, a chazan who is a kohen does participate in birkat kohanim.)  

The mishna has implied that a minor may not serve as a chazan. We now expound on this point:


A minor reads from the Torah and translates, but does not 'divide the shema' and does not 'pass before the ark.' And he does not 'raise his hands.'

קטן קורא בתורה ומתרגם, אבל אינו פורס על שמע ואינו עובר לפני התיבה. ואינו נושא את כפיו.

Rashi (s.v. katan 5th line of Rashi on the mishna) explains why a minor cannot serve as chazan:

A minor does not divide the shema - because he comes to fulfill the obligation (on behalf of) the many, and since he is not obligated in it, he cannot fulfill the obligation (on behalf) of the many.

The chazan has a different function from that of the one who reads the Torah. The chazan actually fulfills the obligation of prayer on behalf of others. In fact, chazarat hashatz was instituted so that those who do not know how to daven may listen to the chazan's prayer and thereby fulfill their own obligation to pray. Similarly, the chazan would recite the first of the birchot k'riyat shema aloud, and the members of the congregation would listen carefully and thereby fulfill their own obligations. The general rule is that one may only perform a mitzvah on behalf of another if the performer is obligated in that mitzvah at the same level of obligation (or greater) as the one for whom he is performing the mitzvah. Thus, for example, a minor may not make kiddush on behalf of an adult. Similarly, he cannot serve as chazan. Torah reading is different - it is an obligation of the congregation rather than an obligation of individuals, and therefore when the minor reads the Torah he does not really help anyone else fulfill an obligation. Translating the Torah reading is yet more lenient; it is not an obligation at all but rather a service to the community. There is no reason that a minor cannot perform this service.

Based on this reasoning, the mishna's inclusion of birkat kohanim as something that a minor cannot do seems difficult. Other kohanim make the blessings for themselves, so it is clear that he is not fulfilling an obligation on anyone's behalf; why then should he not be able to say birkat kohanim? Rashi explains: "It is not the honor of the congregation to be subject to his blessing." Being blessed implies that the one bestowing the blessing is of a more elevated stature than those being blessed. It is therefore not befitting the honor of the community for a young child to bless the congregation.  

The mishna now moves on to discuss the abilities of two other types of people to perform various aspects of the prayer service:  


An exposed person divides the shema and translates, but does not read the Torah and does not pass before the ark and does not raise his hands.

A blind person divides the shema and translates. R' Yehuda says: Anyone who has not seen the luminaries in his life - does not divide the shema.

פוחח פורס את שמע ומתרגם, אבל אינו קורא בתורה, ואינו עובר לפני התיבה, ואינו נושא את כפיו.

סומא פורס את שמע ומתרגם. רבי יהודה אומר: כל שלא ראה מאורות מימיו - אינו פורס על שמע.

Following the discussion of a minor, the mishna moves on to one who is "exposed." This refers to someone whose clothes are tattered, thereby leaving parts of his body exposed. (Rashi attempts to prove that the person's legs are exposed, while Rif and others claim that it is the arms and shoulders that are exposed.) Such a person is still permitted to daven. However, it is not befitting the honor of the Torah to allow him to read the Torah, nor is it befitting the honor of the congregation to allow him to say chazarat hashatz or birkat kohanim. Apparently, serving as chazan for keri'at shema and its b'rachot is not as significant, and therefore it does not violate the honor of the congregation for the shabbily dressed person to serve as chazan for this section of davening. Indeed, while a person who davens shemona esrei is considered to be literally "in the presence of God," one does not have this status during other parts of davening. Therefore, we have a parallel difference in our standards of how the congregation's representative should be dressed.

The final category of people mentioned in our mishna is blind people. The issue here is different from most of those discussed until this point. It is no insult to the dignity of the congregation to allow a blind person to fulfill others' obligations on their behalf. A blind person can serve as chazan for chazarat hashatz, and the mishna does not find it necessary to even address this point. The issue at hand pertains to the unique nature of the first beracha of birchot keri'at shema. That first beracha, which the chazan would say aloud, thanks Hashem for creating the 'luminaries,' the sun, moon and stars. R' Yehuda maintains that someone who has never in his life seen these celestial bodies and has therefore not benefited from their light is unable to say this beracha. By definition, he would as well be unable to serve as chazan for borchu and the first beracha of birchot keri'at shema.

The mishna also emphasizes that a blind man can translate the Torah reading. This is in contrast to reading from the Torah. One who reads from the Torah must actually read the words from the Torah scroll; it is not enough to say the reading aloud by heart. The translation, on the other hand, may be recited by heart, and therefore a blind man can serve as translator.

The gemara

We now move on the the gemara's explanation of these halachot - beginning from the first mishna's first ruling. We are at the beginning of the gemara's discussion of our mishna, seven lines from the bottom of 24a.


What is the reason?  

Rav Papa said: because of honor

Rabah bar Shimi said: Because they will come to argue.

What is between them (the difference between the opinions)?

There is between them one who does it (serves as chazan) free.

We learned in the mishna: and if he was a minor - his father or teacher pass for him.

If you say because of arguments; will a minor argue?

Rather what, because of honor - is a minor one with honor?

Rather - there is the honor of his father and the honor of his teacher; so too, the there is the arguing of his father and the arguing of his teacher.

מאי טעמא?

רב פפא אמר: משום כבוד,

רבה בר שימי אמר: משום דאתי לאינצויי.

מאי בינייהו?

איכא בינייהו דעביד בחנם.

תנן: ואם היה קטן - אביו או רבו עוברין על ידו.

אי אמרת משום נצויי - קטן בר נצויי הוא?

אלא מאי משום כבוד - קטן בר כבוד הוא?

אלא: איכא כבוד אביו וכבוד רבו; הכא נמי איכא נצויי אביו ונצויי רבו.

The gemara here quotes a debate regarding the reason that the one who regularly reads the haftara should also serve as chazan. Rav Papa argues that it is a matter of honor; since the person extends himself to service the community in a way that does not bring him honor, he should be able to also serve the community in a way that does bring him honor. Raba bar (=son of) Shimi argues that the reason for the decree was to avoid fighting. Reading the haftara was not a paid position, while they generally had a regular chazan who was paid. Therefore, we are concerned that the reader of the haftara will be jealous of the chazan, which can in turn lead to fighting. The solution for this is to offer the regular haftara-reader the job of chazan as well.

The gemara attempts to bring a proof from the next line in the mishna. The mishna's ruling applies even to a minor who reads the haftara; a minor would presumably not cause a fight with someone older than himself. If the ruling applies even to minors, it must be that the reason is not because of a concern for fighting! The gemara rejects the attempted proof by arguing that Rav Papa's reasoning also does not apply to the minor. The answer must be that we are concerned with the sensibilities of the child's father or teacher. If so, either reason may apply. (Once we have concluded that we honor the child out of concern for his father or teacher's sensitivities, we also have a new appreciation for the fact that the honor is accorded to the father or teacher himself in lieu of the child.)

This concludes the gemara's explanation of the mishna's first clause - and our shiur for today. Have a wonderful rest of the week!