Skip to main content

21b: The Aliyot of Various Torah Readings

Rav Ezra Bick

A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at: (the mishna section) (the gemara section)

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. 

Starting this week, we are firmly in the Kriat HaTorah section of the perek, with the laws of the megilla put on an extended hold. While we have examined several laws of kriat haTorah in previous shiurim, this arose out of a comparison to the laws of the reading of the megilla. The line in the mishna to which the discussion of the gemara referred dealt with the megilla reading; the gemara deduced that the corresponding rule concerning the Torah reading differed from the mishnaic rule concerning the megilla. The basic idea of contrasting the rules of megilla-reading to those of Torah-reading derives, I think, from the mishna itself, which, as we shall immediately see, juxtaposes the two.

So, first, back to the mishna.


I am going to add more formatting and punctuation than usual to my version of the bilingual mishna below. I think it would be a good idea if you first tried to read the unpunctuated printed version, and then my version, in Hebrew and English. So first I shall reproduce a picture of the printed Talmud, with the section we are reading marked. (You also get to see the Rashi on the mishna parallel to the text - try reading Rashi together with the mishna as you progress.) Immediately below the picture of the scanned Talmud will come my 2-column bilingual version.




On Monday, Thursday, and Shabbat at mincha, three read.

  • We do not subtract from them, or add on them, and we do not finish with (a portion from) the Prophets.
    He who opens and he who concludes in the Torah recites a blessing before it and after it.

On the New Moon and the Intermediate Days (of festivals), four read.

  • We do not subtract from them, or add on them, and we do not finish with (a portion from) the Prophets.
    He who opens and he who concludes in the Torah recites a blessing before it and after it.

    This is the rule: A day that has musaf and is not a festival, four read.

On a festival, five; on Yom Kippur, six; on Shabbat, seven.

  • We do not subtract from them, but we may add to them, and we finish with the Prophets.
    He who opens and he who concludes in the Torah recites a blessing before it and after it.

בשני וחמישי בשבת במנחה קורין שלשה 

  • אין פוחתין מהם
    ואין מוסיפין עליהם
    ואין מפטירין בנביא.
    הפותח והחותם בתורה מברך לפניה ואחריה.

בראשי חדשים ובחולו של מועד קורין ארבעה

  • אין פוחתין מהם
    ואין מוסיפין עליהם
    ואין מפטירין בנביא.
    הפותח והחותם בתורה מברך לפניה ואחריה.
  • זה הכלל: כל שיש בו מוסף ואינו יום טוב קורין ארבעה.

ביום טוב חמישה; ביום הכיפורים ששה; בשבת שבעה

  • אין פוחתין מהם
    אבל מוסיפין עליהם
    ומפטירין בנביא.
    הפותח והחותם בתורה מברך לפניה ואחריה.

The mishna  is fairly straightforward, and the formalistic style in fact makes it even easier to follow. The mishna sets a different number of readers for each type of day when the Torah is read. It is important to remember that the mishna assumes that each portion is read by a different person. In modern custom, we "call up" 3-7 people, who make the berachot but do not read the Torah; this is done by an official reader. In the mishnaic practice, each "oleh" actually read the Torah. So when the mishna says that on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat at mincha, "three read," it means that there are three aliyot.

There are five categories, with a different number of aliyot for each.


a) Monday, Thursday, and Shabbat mincha 3
b) Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamoed 4
c) Yom Tov 5
d) Yom Kippur 6
e) Shabbat 7

Each category has a list of laws that applies to it. The first question relates to whether the number of aliyot is fixed. In all cases, it represents a minimum; in some, you can add more.

The second question relates to whether there is a concluding reading from the prophets - what we call the haftara

Finally, for every case, the mishna states that "He who opens and he who concludes in the Torah recites a blessing before it and after it."

What is the source for reading the Torah on these days? Rashi comes to the rescue.


On Monday and on Thursday, on Shabbat, and on Shabbat at mincha. Ezra (the scribe) enacted that they should read on Monday and Thursday, in Bava Kama in perek Meruba (82a). Here it tells us that (the readers) are three, a kohen, levi, and a yisrael.

בשני ובחמישי בשבת ובשבת במנחה. עזרא תיקן שיהו קורין בשני וחמישי, בבבא קמא בפרק מרובה (דף פב.). והכא אשמעינן דשלשה הן, כהן לוי וישראל. 

Rashi refers us to a gemara in Masechet Bava Kama, which provides the source for the Torah reading on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat mincha. Our mishna adds to that information (which you are presumed to know) by telling us how many people read from the portion of the Torah; namely, three, a kohen, a levi, and a yisrael.

The gemara in Bava Kama reads as follows:

Ezra enacted ten enactments: (1) That they should read on Shabbat at mincha; (2) That they should read on Mondays and Thursdays....

That they should read on Shabbat at mincha - because of street-dwellers (Rashi: Storekeepers, who all week engage in commerce and do not read on Mondays and Thursdays; for them he enacted an additional reading).

That they should read on Mondays and Thursdays - Ezra enacted this? Was it not an earlier enactment? As we are taught: "They walked three days in the desert and did not find water." The expositors of verses said: "Water" means "Torah," as is written, "All you who are thirsty go to the water." When they walked three days without Torah, they became weak. The prophets in their midst arose and enacted that they should read on Shabbat, pause on Sunday, read on Monday, pause on Tuesday and Wednesday, read on Thursday, and pause on Friday, so that they should not go three days without Torah. [Answer] Originally, they enacted one person and three verses, or alternatively, three people and three verses, corresponding to kohanim, levites, and yisraelim; he (Ezra) came and enacted three people and ten verses, corresponding to the ten idle persons.

    Idle persons??? You exclaim! Why do we read verses in the number of the idlers, whoever they are? Once again, Rashi comes to the rescue. The ten batlanim are not idle from learning Torah, and do not hang around doing nothing. Rather, they are "honest individuals who do not work, in order to take care of the needs of the community, and to come first to the synagogue so that there will be ten ready for prayer, and they are supported by the community." They are public servants - specifically, they maintain the existence of the prayer minyan.

    The gemara in Bava Kama posits that there was an ancient enactment, from the period in the desert after the Exodus, to read the Torah several times a week, in order to prevent a situation where three days would go by without Torah. Three days without Torah is apparently dangerous; it weakens the Jew. (The gemara states in Masechet Shevuot that one can go no more than three days without water). Torah is spiritual sustenance, on the level of water, the basis of life. Three days without Torah leaves you on the brink of spiritual death. Torah is not something you need to know, but something you need to imbibe.


    Need I mention that the VBM is delivering life-nurturing Torah. Of course, based on this gemara, you need to learn at least once every three days in order to avoid spiritual dehydration.

    At a later time, Ezra widened the ancient law by requiring ten rather than three verses, and that is the rule today.

    If you will ask what exactly is the meaning of having a number of verses correspond to the ten batlanim, I will have to admit that I do not exactly know. We find this idea of having different aspects of the Torah reading parallel other institutions more than a few times, as we shall shortly see. I leave it to you to think more deeply about these parallels.

    Back to the mishna. For each category, a number of laws are defined.

    1. We do not subtract from them. This simply means that the number of aliyot for each day is the minimum that the Sages enacted for that day.
    2. Adding to them. For the first two categories, the number of the aliyot is also the maximum. Rashi (s.v. "ve-ein") explains that these are work days, and so we are not permitted to delay the congregation, who need to get to work. Shabbat mincha is assumed to be close to the end of the day, so again, we do not wish to prolong the prayers. The other categories are days when work is prohibited; hence, there is no problem with adding aliyot.
    3. A portion from the prophets - the haftara. Rashi explains that this is exactly the same problem as adding aliyot; i.e., prolonging the prayers.
    4. "He who opens and he who concludes in the Torah recites a blessing before it and after it." This is genuinely unclear. Rashi tells us to wait for the gemara, so we will follow his advice.

    Let us turn the page now to the gemara, where we left off.

    We are on 21b, the 26th line (in the standard printed editions).

    On Monday, Thursday, and Shabbat at mincha, three read, etc.: These three, corresponding to what?

    • Rav Assi said: To Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings

      Rava said: To kohanim, levites, and yisraelim.

    But that which was taught by Rav Simi: We do not read less than ten verses in the synagogue, and "vayidaber" is counted - these ten, corresponding to what?

    • R. Yehoshua b. Levi said: To the ten idlers who are in the synagogue.
    • Rav Yosef said: To the ten statements given to Moshe at Sinai.
    • (Rav Levi said: To the ten praises said by David in the Book of Psalms).
    • And Rav Yochanan said: To the ten sayings with which the world was created.
    What are they? The (instances of) "vayomer" in Genesis (chapter 1).
    But those are nine (and not ten)?
    "Bereishit" ("In the beginning...") is also a saying, as is written: "The heavens were made with the word of God, and all their hosts with the spirit of His mouth."

    בשני וחמישי בשבת במנחה קורין שלשה וכו': הני שלשה כנגד מי?

    • אמר רב אסי: כנגד תורה נביאים וכתובים.

      רבא אמר: כנגד כהנים לויים וישראלים.

    אלא הא דתני רב שימי: אין פוחתין מי' פסוקין בבית הכנסת, "וידבר" עולה מן המנין - הני עשרה כנגד מי?

    • א"ר יהושע בן לוי: כנגד עשרה בטלנין שבבית הכנסת.

      רב יוסף אמר: כנגד עשרת הדברות שנאמרו למשה בסיני.

      (רבי לוי אמר: כנגד עשרה הילולין שאמר דוד בספר תהילים.)

      ורבי יוחנן אמר: כנגד עשרה מאמרות שבהם נברא העולם.

    הי נינהו?

    ויאמר דבראשית.

    הני תשעה הוו?

    בראשית נמי מאמר הוא, דכתיב: "בדבר ה' שמים נעשו וברוח פיו כל צבאם".

    First things first. You will notice that an entire line in the gemara is in parentheses - "Rav Levi said: To the ten praises said by David in the Book of Psalms." A small marginal note on the right side of the printed text explains why. In Masechet Rosh HaShana 32a, the mishna states that on Rosh HaShana we recite ten verses as part of the musaf prayer, and asks why ten. The first answer is that of Rav Levi. The ten "praises" ("hilulim" - הילולים) in the Book of Psalms refers to those places where the word "halleluya" appears. The gemara in Rosh HaShana immediately points out that there are far more than ten instances of "halleluya" in the Book of Psalms and answers that we are only counting those where a shofar is also mentioned. This is a fine answer for the gemara in Rosh HaShana, but would make no sense here. The editor of the gemara has therefore suggested that the appearance of Rav Levi's answer in masechet Megilla is a mistake, and should be erased. Actual erasing is considered to be bad form, for who can be absolutely certain that he is correct when emending the Talmudic text; hence, the acceptable method is parentheses.

    As we pointed out when reading the mishna, there is a great emphasis on number correspondence here. To truly understand this section of the gemara, we should try and understand what is the true connection between the number of aliyot (three) or the number of verses (ten) in the reading and the various suggestions. There is very little to go on, and that basically calls for a bit of speculation on our parts. I would be happy to hear your suggestions during the coming week - write to [email protected].

    A small and simple calculation. If there are three aliyot, and ten verses, then each oleh reads 3 1/3 verses. Since this clearly is not going to happen, one of them will have to read four verses, while the other two will read three. The next section in the gemara, is based on this necessary bit of arithmetic. Feel free to continue on your own for the next seven lines of gemara, which we will begin with next week.

    This website is constantly being improved. We would appreciate hearing from you. Questions and comments on the classes are welcome, as is help in tagging, categorizing, and creating brief summaries of the classes. Thank you for being part of the Torat Har Etzion community!