Shenayim Mikra Ve-echad Targum (Part 1)

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


            The gemara in Berakhot (8a) documents the halakha of reviewing the weekly Torah parasha by reading the pesukim twice complemented by reading through the parallel sections of targum (Onkelos's translation into Aramaic).  This practice, known as "shenayim mikra ve-echad targum," is cited by the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chayim 285).  The gemara provides little additional details and the nature of this halakha is not immediately apparent. 




            A landmark and provocative position of the Ra'avan identifies this mitzva in an unmistakable fashion.  In siman 88 he claims that the mitzva applies only to those who will not hear actual keriyat ha-Torah.  Absent of this ability, they should perform a 'personal keriyat ha-Torah' by synchronizing their shenayim mikra with the time of keriyat ha-Torah in the most proximate town.  In addition the structure of shenayim mikra reflects the anatomy of actual keriyat ha-Torah: Reading the pasuk twice corresponds to the notion of sirsur – stationing at least two people on the bima during keriya.  The added reading of targum reflects the ancient practice of complementing keriyat ha-Torah with a targum-based explanation. 


            The Ra'avan's comments clearly reflect his definition of the mitzvah: It functions as a personal keriyat ha-Torah for those who cannot attend ACTUAL keriyat ha-Torah.  In fact, even though the Ra'avan concludes by recommending shenayim mikra even for keriyat ha-Torah attendees, he justifies his recommendation by worrying that insufficient attention will be directed to ACTUAL keriyat ha-Torah.  To assure fulfillment of keriyat ha-Torah and insure against deficient concentration during ACTUAL keriyat ha-Torah, shenayim mikra is universally recommended.  At no point does the Ra'avan veer from his assertion that shenayim mikra is merely a BACKUP to keriyat ha-Torah. 


            Generally the Ra'avan's position is not adopted and shenayim mikra is obligated across the board - even for people who will attend and carefully follow ACTUAL keriyat ha-Torah.  However the Ra'avan's theory may underwrite the mitzva even if his limitations are rejected. 




            At first glance shenayim mikra could have been viewed as a quota for personal Torah study.  Typically, Torah study is not guided and each individual chooses the area and quantity of interest.  Shenayim mikra may be an attempt to impose a minimum standard for universal Torah study; independent of personal interest each Jew has an obligation to jointly study the weekly parasha - a type of Scriptural antecedent to daf yomi! In a similar manner the gemara in Kiddushin (30a) demands a "three part" allocation of resources to Bible, mishna and gemara.  This curriculum constitutes an attempt by Chazal to demarcate a general roadmap of Torah study.  Likewise, shenayim mikra may be an effort to forge a baseline of universal Torah study.  Instead of establishing a daily quota and topic, Chazal worked with the weekly unit and the associated Torah portion.  Interestingly enough Rashi, in his comments to Kiddushin claims that the three-part allocation can be spread across the WEEK rather than a twenty-four hour period.  Namely, the week must be divided in three equal parts of mikra, mishna and Talmud.  On a daily basis a person has the right to invest disproportionately as long as the WEEKLY balance is maintained.  Rashi's position indicates Chazal's willingness to employ the week as a framework for creating Torah curriculums.  Shenayim mikra may just be a parallel designing of minimum Torah study during the course of that week. 


            The Ra'avan's theory clearly raises a different identity for shenayim mikra.  Instead of viewing it as a Torah study quota, it constitutes a keriyat ha-Torah enhancer.  Moshe and Ezra each fashioned the mitzva of keriyat ha-Torah (see Bava Kama 82a) and shenayim mikra was added to improve the experience.  According to the Ra'avan it was added for people who could not fulfill the ACTUAL mitzva of keriyat ha-Torah.  Even if we extend the mitzva to everyone it may be seen as a keriyat ha-Torah enhancer rather than a Talmud Torah study quota. 


            Perhaps the clearest indication that shenayim mikra is not a Torah study quota but rather a keriyat ha-Torah enhancer, stems from the Shulchan Arukh's comments in Orach Chaim 554:4.  Though a person is prohibited from studying Torah on Tisha Be-av, he is allowed to engage in shenayim mikra! Many question this ruling since they view shenayim mikra as a form of Torah study which should be forbidden on Tisha Be-av! Viewing shenayim mikra as an additive to keriyat ha-Torah may help explain its allowance on Tisha Be-av.  Though TORAH STUDY is prohibited, KERIYAT HA-TORAH and its associated practices are allowed. 




            The Terumat Ha-Deshen (1:23 and in the second volume known as Piskei Maharani 170) raises a fascinating question which would seem to be flavored by the fundamental issue of how to view shenayim mikra:  Does the obligation extend to reviewing the reading prior to a Yom Tov? Presumably, if shenayim mikra prepares a person for keriyat ha-Torah and enhances that experience it should be practiced prior to a Yom Tov keriya as well.  The Terumat Ha-Deshen cites Rabbenu Chananel who extends the practice to Yom Tov readings and assumes that he would view it as a keriyat ha-Torah enhancer.  The Terumat Ha-Deshen himself disagrees and limits shenayim mikra to Shabbat portions.  If shenayim mikra represents a Talmud Torah quota designed along the weekly Torah readings it would not apply to unique Yom Tov readings! The curriculum was superimposed upon the weekly framework with its associated Torah sections and would not be affected by special days and their Torah readings.


            Similarly, the Mordechai (in his comments to Hilkhot Mezuza – found in the Mordechai on Menachot) exempts us from shenayim mikra of the weekly haftara and Shabbat mincha Torah readings.  Applying similar logic we may contend that the Mordechai views shenayim mikra as a Talmud Torah quota.  The curriculum was designed around Torah and not Neviim and therefore no necessity to read haftara exists.  Similarly, the Shabbat mincha Torah reading is merely an introduction to the ensuing week's parasha which will be studied during the course of that week's shenayim mikra process. 


            However, viewing shenayim mikra as a keriyat ha-Torah accompaniment may obligate us to the haftara and mincha readings since these are each integral parts of keriyat ha-Torah! Adopting the Ra'avan's theory (though not his application) may lead to a rejection of the Mordechai's limited scope of this mitzva. 




            This question may have additionally informed a famous debate about substituting in place of targum.  Tosafot in Berakhot cite opinions which consider translations into other languages as suitable substitutes for targum Onkelos.  After all, reading an English translation may be more educational than mouthing Onkelos which many do not understand.  Tosafot themselves reject this option since foreign translations may not capture meaning as precisely and responsibly as Onkelos does.  Tosafot postulate that targum possesses crucial "meanings" which cannot be independently recovered through alternate translations.  Tosafot reject foreign translation on "technical grounds." 


            Even though the substitution of foreign translations is roundly rejected a different option emerges.  The Rosh suggests substituting Rashi or other Biblical commentaries as a superior option to Onkelos since they are more illuminating and more comprehensible to some.  By contrast the Semag (positive commandment #19) cites many geonim who insist on targum since it was delivered at Har Sinai (according to the gemara in Megilla 3a).  Facing this standoff the Shulchan Arukh sides with the Rosh but adds that a yerei shamayim (God fearing individual) should read both Rashi and Onkelos.  It is likely that Rashi or other commentaries would be preferred if the design of shenayim mikra is Torah study.  These commentaries undoubtedly provide a more profound comprehension – especially to many who lack the linguistic facility to understand Onkelos.  Alternatively, if shenayim mikra is a keriyat ha-Torah additive it may be an experience which should shadow actual keriyat ha-Torah.  Since keriyat ha-Torah is a reenactment of Har Sinai we may prefer Onkelos which was delivered at Sinai.