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24a: More Rules For Torah Reading

Rav Michael Siev

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

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

Last week, we ended with the mishna on 23b-24a that discussed procedures relating to reading from the Torah and from the nevi'im. We begin this week with the gemara's discussion of these procedures.

The first topic is the mishna's ruling that one who is called to the Torah should not read less than three pesukim. We go to the beginning of the gemara, which is the fourth line of 24a.


These three (verses) correspond to what? 

Rav Assi said: They correspond to Torah, the Prophets, and Writings.

הני שלשה פסוקין כנגד מי?

אמר רב אסי: כנגד תורה נביאים וכתובים.  

The gemara has questioned the significance of the number three with regard to Torah reading; why is three verses the minimum number that one can read? The answer is that the number parallels the different sections of Scriptures - "Tanach" stands for Torah, nevi'im and ketuvimNevi'im refers to the books of the Prophets, while ketuvim refers to the books written with Divine inspiration that are not actually prophetic.

Why should the procedures of Torah reading parallel the three sections of Tanach? Perhaps the implication is that while we are currently reading just the first section of Tanach, we accept the authority of all of its sections, and hope to live in accordance with everything that Hashem has communicated to us, by whichever medium.

If you look on a standard page of gemara, you will see a circle-like symbol, partially filled in, before the word amar, which is the second word on the fifth line of the gemara. That symbol refers to the Gilyon HaShas, short notes written by R' Akiva Eiger (19th cent.). If you look on the very bottom of the page, you will see the words Gilyon HaShas, followed by a reference to our gemara. R' Akiva Eiger there refers us to the Midrash on Parshat Ki Tavo, which gives two alternative explanations of why the minimum number of pesukim one can read from the Torah (in one aliya) is three. One explanation is that it parallels Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, and the other is that it parallels Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam, "through whom the Torah was given." Why do we wish to recall these historical figures specifically at this time?

Perhaps we can explain as follows. Our forefathers are the ones who initiated the special relationship that the Jewish people share with God. In continuing to publicly read and expound the Torah, we demonstrate that we remain committed to this relationship. Similarly with regard to the leaders who gave us the Torah and helped us inculcate its teachings - we demonstrate through the Torah reading that those teachings remain part of us.

We return to the gemara, which discusses the next line in the mishna:


And he should not read to the translator more than one verse, and from the prophets three verses.

And if the three of them were three sections - he reads them one by one,

such as: "For thus said Hashem, you were sold for naught," "For thus said Hashem Elokim, My nation originally descended to Egypt," "And now what do I have here - the word of God."

ולא יקרא למתורגמן יותר מפסוק אחד ובנביא שלשה פסוקים.

ואם היו שלשתן שלש פרשיות - קורא אחד אחד,

כגון (ישעיהו נ"ב) כי כה אמר ה' חנם נמכרתם, כי כה אמר ה' אלהים מצרים ירד עמי בראשנה, ועתה מה לי פה נאם ה'.   

We have already discussed the fact that the common practice  in Talmudic times was to have a translator repeat the Torah readings and haftara in Aramaic as the reader read them in Hebrew. We discussed as well the reason for the mishna's ruling that the reader should pause after every pasuk of the Torah reading in order to allow the translator to translate, but that with regard to the haftara, he may read three pesukim at once before pausing. The gemara here qualifies that ruling, stating that if the three pesukim are independent sections, they should not be read together between pauses for translations. The gemara then gives an example of such a series of pesukim - the three pesukim of Isaiah ch. 52, v. 3-5, which are part of the haftara for parshat Shoftim.

The word the gemara uses here for "sections" is parshiot. That word generally refers to the sections of text that are set apart through empty spaces (what we would think of as paragraph spacing). Occasionally, a section of text will conclude with an open space before the text resumes on the same line - this is known as a parsha s'tuma, literally a "closed section." At other times, the rest of the line will be left open and the text will resume on the next line - this is known as a parsha p'tucha, an "open section." Most printed Tanachs follow these stylistic details, as do most printed Chumashim - though some simply insert the Hebrew letter pei into the text to denote a parsha p'tucha, and a samech to denote a parsha s'tuma. Thus, at first glance, the gemara is saying that if the verses are separated by a space in the text that denotes the end of a section, they should not be read together before pausing to allow for translation.

There is a problem with this understanding of our gemara - while there is a section break after the first pasuk mentioned by the gemara, the latter two pesukim mentioned are not separated by a section break. Therefore, it is clear that the reference here is not to formal section breaks in the text but to separate conceptual themes. Each of the three pesukim alluded to makes a point that stands on its own. Therefore, they should be read separately, without grouping them together.

Back to the gemara

We return to the gemara, which now analyzes the final rule of the mishna - that unlike readings from the prophets, we do not skip from place to place during a Torah reading. Rashi on the mishna (3rd line from the top of 24a, s.v. v'ein) explained the reason for this rule:

We do not skip in the Torah - because the listener of one who skips from place to place - his heart is not settled to listen.

In other words, we are concerned that the listener will be unsettled by the skipping, and will be unable to give the reading his full attention. As we saw last week, we are more concerned about Torah readings than about haftarot, and therefore this concern is decisive only with regard to Torah readings.

In the gemara, we are up to the two dots - 3rd word on the 11th line of 24a.


We skip in the prophets and we do not skip in the Torah

They presented a contradiction: "He (the kohen gadol, on Yom Kippur) read Acharei mot and V'ach b'asor;" but he skips (the two readings are 7 chapters apart)!

Abaye said: This is not difficult - here (our mishna refers to a pause that is) enough for the translator to stop, and here (regarding the practice of the kohen gadol the pause was) - not enough for the translator to stop.

But we learned on it (our mishna): We skip in the prophets but we don't skip in the Torah, and how much can he skip - so that the translator will not stop; that implies that in Torah, we do not (skip) at all!

Rather, Abaye said: This is not difficult - here (regarding the practice of the kohen gadol) in one topic, and here (in our mishna) in two topics. And (similarly) the b'raita says: we skip in the Torah in one topic, and in the prophets it two topics; here and here so that the translator should not stop.

Another b'raita: We do not skip from prophet to prophet, and in the prophets of "twelve," we skip - as long as he does not skip from the end of the book to the beginning.

מדלגין בנביא ואין מדלגין בתורה

ורמינהי: קורא (ויקרא ט"ז) אחרי מות (ויקרא כ"ג) ואך בעשור. והא קא מדלג!

אמר אביי: לא קשיא: כאן בכדי שיפסוק התורגמן, וכאן - בכדי שלא יפסוק התורגמן.

והא עלה קתני: מדלגין בנביא ואין מדלגין בתורה, ועד כמה הוא מדלג - עד כדי שלא יפסוק התורגמן; מכלל דבתורה כלל כלל לא!

אלא אמר אביי: לא קשיא: כאן - בענין אחד, כאן - בשתי עניינות. והתניא: מדלגין בתורה בענין אחד, ובנביא בשני עניינין; כאן וכאן בכדי שלא יפסוק התורגמן.

תניא אידך: אין מדלגין מנביא לנביא, ובנביא של שנים עשר - מדלג, ובלבד שלא ידלג מסוף הספר לתחילתו.  

The gemara here challenges the mishna's ruling that we never skip around while reading from the Torah. there is an explicit mishna elsewhere that describes the kohen gadol's service on Yom Kippur, where he reads from the Torah, both from Vayikra 16, which describes the sacrificial service of Yom Kippur, and from Vayikra 23, which describes the general laws of Yom Kippur. If the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur read from separate places in the Torah in one reading, clearly that is not forbidden!

The gemara, or rather Abaye, suggests two possible answers, both of which qualify our mishna's blanket ruling that forbids skipping during the Torah reading. The first is that it depends how much is being skipped. If the reader can find the new place before the translator finishes translating what has previously been read, that is permitted. Therefore, there is no contradiction between the mishnayot; our mishna only forbids skipping so much that the new place cannot be found without causing a delay after the translator is finished, while the kohen gadol was able to find the new place (a full 7 chapter away!) without necessitating such a pause. This answer seems to assume that the reason it is difficult for listeners to follow along when the reader skips around in the Torah reading is because the pauses in the action allow him to get distracted and lose focus.

The gemara rejects this answer. If our mishna is referring specifically to a situation in which there is a pause as the reader finds the new place, it is clear that when the mishna permits skipping during haftarot, it permits even skipping that necessitates such a pause. This understanding is contradicted by the very next line in the mishna, which limits the leniency regarding haftarot to situations in which there is no pause due to the skipping. If this is the only case in which it is permitted to skip during haftarot, then clearly even such a skipping is forbidden during Torah readings.

The gemara therefore presents a different qualification of our mishna. Skipping is only forbidden when the reader skips from topic to topic. If the two sections are thematically related, it is permissible to skip. This also solves the apparent contradiction between the mishnayot. The kohen gadol read two sections that are both related to Yom Kippur, while our mishna prohibits only skipping from topic to topic. This answer, which is accepted by the gemara, assumes a different understanding of why skipping may cause the listener to be lose focus. It is not the pausing that may distract the listener, but the switching of topics that may cause the listener to become confused. Additionally, the mishna's rule of not skipping enough to cause a pause, even during a haftara, still applies. Presumably, this is a separate concern of kavod hatzibur - it is not appropriate to make the entire congregation wait while the reader finds the new place.


This second answer of the gemara is accepted by the halacha. Are there, in fact, any times we actually make use of this qualification of our mishna and skip around during Torah readings? (Maftir doesn't count, as it is a separate reading.)

We generally do not skip around during Torah readings, but there is one common instance in which we do - public fast days. On the five annual public fasts (other than Yom Kippur), we read, both at shacharit and mincha, the section of vayechal, from this week's parsha - ki tisa (on Tisha B'Av this is read only at mincha; at shacharit we have a different reading). The first aliya is from the middle of chapter 32, but the second and third aliyot are from the beginning of chapter 34. We are allowed to skip based on our gemara - because the sections that we read are thematically related. Both sections discuss Hashem's forgiveness to the Jewish people after the sin of the golden calf - a precedent that we hope will be repeated as we spend a day engaged in fasting and repentance. 

Our gemara concludes with one additional point about skipping during haftarot:


Another b'raita: We do not skip from prophet to prophet, and in the prophets of "twelve," we skip - as long as he does not skip from the end of the book to the beginning.

תניא אידך: אין מדלגין מנביא לנביא, ובנביא של שנים עשר - מדלג, ובלבד שלא ידלג מסוף הספר לתחילתו.  

The "prophets of twelve" refer to T'rei Asar, the final book of the Prophets, which is itself composed of twelve separate short books. Because each book by itself is so short, they are considered one unit in regard to many halachot. Therefore, although one may generally not skip at all from one book to another, it is permissible to do so within T'rei Asar. Nonetheless, the skipping may only be done from an earlier section to a later section. There is a dispute about whether this last detail refers only to when one skips between different books of Trei Asar, or if it is a general rule and applies even to one who skips within one book.

This last section of gemara is also reflected in our common practice. The haftara for Shabbat Shuva is a section from Hoshe'a, followed by a section from Yo'el. Sephardim even add a section from Micha (though Yemenite communities read only from Hoshea). It is permitted to skip from book to book in this fashion because all three are part of Trei Asar, and Hoshe'a precedes Yo'el, which in turn precedes Micha

 That concludes the gemara's discussion of our mishna. Next week, we move on to a new mishna. Have a wonderful rest of the week!


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