Zakhor

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by R. David Brofsky

The second of the “four parashot,” Parashat Zakhor, is read on the Shabbat before Purim. Through this reading, which recounts Amalek’s attack against Benei Yisrael in the wilderness, we fulfill the command of “zekhirat Amalek” – remembering Amalek’s hostility:

Remember [Zakhor] what Amalek did to you along the way as you left Egypt; how he confronted you along the way and smote the hindmost among you, all that were enfeebled, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore, it shall be that when the Lord your God gives you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens; you shall not forget. (Deut. 25:17–19)

The Torah here issues three commandments relevant to Amalek: to remember, not to forget, and to erase the memory of Amalek.

What is the relationship between the mitzva to remember Amalek and the mitzva to eradicate Amalek? On the one hand, one might view the mitzva to remember and the commandment not to forget Amalek as part of the larger objective of waging war against this nation. Rambam writes:

We are commanded to remember that which Amalek did to us…and that we should repeat this from time to time and our souls should be aroused through its recitation to fight against them, and we should encourage the nation to hate them. [1]Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandment 189; see also Hilkhot Melakhim 5:5.

On the other hand, one might view the commandment to remember Amalek as conveying and expressing independent, broader religious messages, not necessarily directly related to war. Indeed, the Torah introduces this mitzva immediately following the admonition to refrain from using or even owning false weights:

You shall not have in you bag diverse weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house diverse measures, a large and a small. You shall have a perfect and just weight; you shall have a perfect and just measure, so that your days upon the land which the Lord your God gives you shall be prolonged. For all that do such things, even all that act dishonestly, are an abomination unto the Lord your God. (Deut. 25:13–16)

The juxtaposition of these two parashot may imply a more universal message, beyond the specific commandment to destroy the nation of Amalek. We are commanded to remember Amalek not because they attacked the Jewish people, but rather because their behavior typifies immoral conduct, an “abomination” before God.

Rabbi Soloveitchik suggested that the issue of whether the mitzva to remember Amalek is related to, or dependent upon, the mitzva to eradicate it, may affect a number of halakhic questions, including whether women are obligated in the obligation of zekhirat Amalek and which parasha one may read to fulfill the mitzva, as we shall discuss below. [2]Cited in Harerei Kedem 1:185.

How and When to Fulfill the Mitzva of Remembering Amalek

Interestingly, the Gemara does not discuss when and how we are to fulfill the mitzva of zekhirat Amalek. Regarding the proper time to fulfill this mitzva, the Sefer Hainukh writes,

Regarding this zekhira in one’s heart and mouth, we do not know of a set time in the year, or a day.… It is sufficient to remember this once a year, or once every two or three years. [3]Sefer Hainukh, 603.

Rabbi Yosef Ben Moshe Babad (1801–1874), in his Minat inukh commentary to the Sefer Hainukh, infers from the inukh’s comments that a person may fulfill the biblical obligation by remembering Amalek once during his lifetime. [4]Ibid.

Ḥatam Sofer suggests that one should fulfill this mitzva once each year. [5]Hatam Sofer, Even HaEzer 1:119. He notes that in the discussion concerning the berakha of Meayei Hameitim, which one recites upon seeing someone whom he has not seen in twelve months, the Gemara asserts that certain memories are forgotten after twelve months have passed (Berakhot 58b). Ḥatam Sofer thus concludes that perpetuating the memory of Amalek requires recalling the event at least once every year. He then questions whether during a leap year one should read Parashat Zakhor in the first month of Adar, so that twelve full months should not pass without remembering Amalek. He concludes that the Gemara refers not to twelve months specifically, but rather to the experiences of a full yearly cycle, which cause one to forget. During a leap year, this occurs only after thirteen months.

Others, [6]See Sefer areidim, Positive Commandment 84:21. noting that earlier posekim make no mention of a specific time for this mitzva, [7]Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandment 189. classify zekhirat Amalek as a mitzva temidit – a mitzva that must be fulfilled each day. Indeed, Shela HaKadosh recommends reading Parashat Zakhor every day. [8]Shela, Parashat Ki Tetzei. See also Magen Avraham 60. In any event, it appears that the Rabbis established the observance of this mitzva annually on Shabbat Zakhor via the reading of Parashat Zakhor.

In addition to the question of when we are to observe this mitzva of remembering, we must also address the question of how we observe this mitzva. The Talmud teaches:

It says, “Zakhor.” Might this be fulfilled in one’s heart? When it says, “you shall not forget,” “forgetting” refers to the heart! So what do I learn from [the commandment] to remember? With one’s mouth. (Megilla 18a)

Clearly, the obligation to remember does not refer simply to mental recollection, but rather a verbal recitation.

The Gemara does not specify whether one must read Parashat Zakhor from a proper sefer Torah or merely recite the words. Neither Rambam [9]Hilkhot Melakhim 5:5. nor the inukh [10]Sefer Hainukh, 603. mention a requirement to read the text specifically from a Torah. Ramban (Deut. 25:17) also implies that one does not need to read the parasha from a text, but rather to “relate the story to our children.” However, some Rishonim rule that even on the level of Torah obligation, one must read Parashat Zakhor from a proper Torah scroll. [11]Tosafot, Megilla 17b, s.v. kol and Berakhot 13a, s.v belashon.

The view requiring a Torah scroll for this mitzva does not necessarily require that the reading be conducted in the presence of a minyan. Rosh (Berakhot 7:20), however, describes Parashat Zakhor as a rare case in which a minyan is required on the level of Torah obligation. Rabbi Yisrael ben Petaḥya Isserlein (1390–1460) rules in his Terumat HaDeshen (based upon Rosh) that people in towns without a minyan should travel to communities with a minyan for Shabbat Zakhor. He adds that the presence of a minyan is likely more central to the reading of Parashat Zakhor than to the reading of the Megilla! [12]Terumat HaDeshen 108.

Magen Avraham attempts to justify the practice of those who do not hear Parashat Zakhor in a minyan. He explains that even if one must hear the reading from a sefer Torah and in the presence of a minyan, one need not fulfill this mitzva specifically on the Shabbat before Purim. Therefore, it is preferable for one to travel to a place with a minyan for Purim and to hear the reading of the Megilla and the Purim morning Torah reading, which tells the story of Amalek (Ex. 17:8–16). This way, one fulfills both the mitzva of Megilla reading and the obligation to remember Amalek’s hostility. [13]Magen Avraham 685.

The Mishna Berura, however, disagrees with the Magen Avraham, claiming that one cannot fulfill the obligation of zekhirat Amalek through the reading of the story in Sefer Exodus, as the commandment to destroy Amalek does not appear in that parasha. [14]Mishna Berura 685:16.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that this debate may depend upon whether the relationship between the commandment to remember Amalek relates to the mitzva to destroy them. If we acknowledge a link between these two obligations, then we would likely require reading the section in Deuteronomy that speaks of destroying Amalek. If, however, we view these two obligations as separate requirements, then even the section in the Book of Exodus would likely suffice for fulfilling this mitzva. [15]Harerei Kedem 1:185.

Similarly, Rabbi Yitzḥak of Karlin (1784–1852) explains in his commentary on the Talmud, Keren Ora, that those who require the presence of a minyan view the mitzva to destroy Amalek as an obligation incumbent upon the community, rather than individuals. He also contends that a mitzva that must be fulfilled publicly, such as zekhirat Amalek, cannot be required on a daily basis. Hence, the Rabbis instituted that this section be read annually, rather than every day. [16]Berakhot 3a, s.v. veidi. The Shulan Arukh summarizes as follows:

Some say that Parashat Zakhor and Parashat Para are biblical obligations, and therefore those who live in small villages who do not have a minyan should travel to a place with a minyan for these Shabbatot in order to hear these parashot, which constitute a Torah obligation. [17]Shulan Arukh 685:7.

Rema adds:

One who is unable [to travel to a town with a minyan] should nevertheless read the parasha with its proper tune and notes. [18]Rema, ibid.

The Aaronim note that both the reader and listener must have the proper intention to fulfill the mitzva. Taz claims that this applies even to the berakhot recited before the reading, and that one who does not hear the berakhot does not fulfill the obligation. [19]Taz 685:3. This raises the interesting question of the extent to which the Rabbis defined the mitzva of zekhirat Amalek as the reading (or listening to) the portion from the Torah with its blessings. Taz apparently maintains that the mitzva must be fulfilled within the formal context of keriat haTorah, which of course includes the blessings preceding and concluding the portion.

The Aaronim also discuss whether we may apply the principle of shomeia keoneh to zekhirat Amalek. This concept allows the listener to be considered as though he personally recited the given text. If we do apply shomeia keoneh in this context, then one should listen silently to the baal koreh’s reading without reading along. The Munkatcher Rebbe (Rabbi Chayim Elazar Shapira, 1871–1937) suggests in his Minat Elazar that one might need to actually enunciate the words of Parashat Zakhor in order to fulfill the obligation, [20]Minat Elazar 2:1. while other Aaronim, including Peri Ḥadash [21]Peri adash 67:1. and Netziv, [22]Meishiv Davar, Ora ayim 47. maintain that one should simply listen to the baal koreh. [23]See Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s discussion in Yeave Daat 3:53.

Another issue raised by the Aaronim involves the proper pronunciation of the central word of the Zakhor reading: “zekher” (“the memory” of Amalek). Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi, 1160–1235) records in his Sefer HaShorashim that he saw two versions of this word: in one version, it was punctuated with a segol, yielding “zekher,” whereas in the other, it was punctuated with a tzeirei, and thus pronounced “zeikher.” In later editions of the Sefer HaShorashim, the phrase, “and the [halakha is not] like him” appears regarding the “zeikher” reading, thus implying that “zekher” is the correct reading. Based upon this text, Siddurim and umashim from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries were amended to read “zekher.”

There is an interesting historical debate regarding which of these two pronunciations was accepted by the Vilna Gaon. The work Maase Rav (a collection of customs and practices of the Gaon published in 1832 by Rabbi Yissachar Ber) records that the Gaon would say “zekher” while reading Parashat Zakhor. However, Rabbi Chayim of Volozhin (1749–1821), a student of the Vilna Gaon, writes in his approbation to the Maase Rav that he heard the Gaon say “zeikher.”

This confusion led to the custom to read both versions of the word, as the Mishna Berura rules. [24]Mishna Berura 685:18. Indeed, in many communities today, the baal koreh first reads the phrase one way and then immediately repeats it with the second pronunciation. Others prefer to finish the verse and then repeat the entire verse with the second version. [25]Two scholarly studies have recently been published regarding this question. Both Rabbi Mordechai Breuer (“Mikra’ot Sheyesh Lahem Hekhrea,” Megadim 10) and Y. Pankover (Minhag UMesora: Zekher … Continue reading

This debate demonstrates the precision the posekim demand for the reading of Parashat Zakhor. Some authorities go so far as to insist that one should hear the parasha read in one’s own pronunciation. In other words, one who reads Hebrew with an Ashkenazic pronunciation (affecting the pronunciation of the “kamatz/komotz” vowel and the letter “tav/sav”) should hear the parasha read in that fashion. Some even insist that one hear the portion read from a sefer Torah written according to one’s tradition. [26]See Rabbi Tzvi Pesaḥ Frank, Mikraei Kodesh, Purim 7; Minat Yitzak 3:9 and 4:47:3; Yabia Omer 6:11; Halikhot Shlomo 18:1.

Women and Parashat Zakhor

Finally, the posekim debate the question of whether women are obligated to hear Parashat Zakhor. Some suggest that zekhirat Amalek constitutes a mitzvat asei shehazeman gerama (a time-bound obligation), from which women are generally exempt, [27]Marḥeshet 22:3; Avnei Neizer, Oraḥ Ḥayim 509. but most other Aḥaronim reject this argument.

The Sefer Hainukh argues that since women generally do not participate in battle, they are exempt from the commandments relating to Amalek. [28]Sefer Hainukh, 603. The Minat inukh, however, raises two objections to this contention. [29]Minat inukh, ibid. First, he argues that the Talmud states that women do, in fact, participate in obligatory wars (milamot mitzva) (Sota 44b). Second, the mitzva to remember Amalek is not necessarily linked to the mitzva to wage war against Amalek. Indeed, as discussed earlier, Rabbi Soloveitchik suggested that this is one of the issues that would depend upon the relationship between the commandment to remember Amalek and the mitzva to destroy Amalek.

Rabbi Yitzḥak Yaakov Weiss (1902–1989), former head of the rabbinical court of the Eida Ḥaredit in Jerusalem and author of the multivolume Minat Yitzak, follows the view of Rabbi Natan Adler (the teacher of Rabbi Moshe Sofer), who held that women are, indeed, obligated and that their mitzva should be fulfilled through the public Torah reading. It is customary for women to hear the reading of Parashat Zakhor, and many communities arrange readings later in the day to accommodate those who cannot attend synagogue services on the morning of Shabbat Zakhor. [30]Minat Yitzak 9:68.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman Fradkin of Lublin (1830–1902), a student of the Tzemaḥ Tzedek and a well-known Habad posek, presents a third view on this issue. In his work Torat Ḥesed, [31]Torat Ḥesed, Oraḥ Ḥayim 37. he writes that women are, indeed, obligated to fulfill the Torah obligation of zekhirat Amalek, which is not a time-bound mitzva, but they are exempt from the rabbinic obligation to hear Parashat Zakhor. They may therefore fulfill the obligation of zekhirat Amalek by reading the parasha to themselves, without hearing the formal Torah reading. On this basis, Rabbi Shneur Zalman explains why it was unheard of in his community for women to attend the Zakhor reading. Rabbi Aaron Felder, in his Mo’adei Yeshurun, [32]Mo’adei Yeshurun, Hilkhot Purim 1:3, n. 9. records that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein likewise held that women may fulfill their obligation by reading the parasha from a printed Ḥumash.

This essay is excerpted from R. David Brofsky’s Hilkhot Mo’adim: Understanding the Laws of the Festivals, republished with permission.

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Endnotes

Endnotes
1Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandment 189; see also Hilkhot Melakhim 5:5.
2Cited in Harerei Kedem 1:185.
3, 10, 28Sefer Hainukh, 603.
4Ibid.
5Hatam Sofer, Even HaEzer 1:119.
6See Sefer areidim, Positive Commandment 84:21.
7Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandment 189.
8Shela, Parashat Ki Tetzei. See also Magen Avraham 60.
9Hilkhot Melakhim 5:5.
11Tosafot, Megilla 17b, s.v. kol and Berakhot 13a, s.v belashon.
12Terumat HaDeshen 108.
13Magen Avraham 685.
14Mishna Berura 685:16.
15Harerei Kedem 1:185.
16Berakhot 3a, s.v. veidi.
17Shulan Arukh 685:7.
18Rema, ibid.
19Taz 685:3.
20Minat Elazar 2:1.
21Peri adash 67:1.
22Meishiv Davar, Ora ayim 47.
23See Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s discussion in Yeave Daat 3:53.
24Mishna Berura 685:18.
25Two scholarly studies have recently been published regarding this question. Both Rabbi Mordechai Breuer (“Mikraot Sheyesh Lahem Hekhrea,” Megadim 10) and Y. Pankover (Minhag UMesora: Zekher Amalek Beamesh O Shesh Nekudot,” in Bar Ilan University’s Iyunei Mikra Uparshanut 4) conclude that the proper reading is “zeikher” and that early texts support this conclusion.
26See Rabbi Tzvi Pesaḥ Frank, Mikraei Kodesh, Purim 7; Minat Yitzak 3:9 and 4:47:3; Yabia Omer 6:11; Halikhot Shlomo 18:1.
27Marḥeshet 22:3; Avnei Neizer, Oraḥ Ḥayim 509.
29Minat inukh, ibid.
30Minat Yitzak 9:68.
31Torat Ḥesed, Oraḥ Ḥayim 37.
32Mo’adei Yeshurun, Hilkhot Purim 1:3, n. 9.

About David Brofsky

Rabbi David Brofsky is a senior faculty member at Midreshet Lindenbaum and writes a weekly halakha shiur for the Virtual Beit Midrash (VBM). He is the author of Hilchot Tefilla: A Comprehensive Guide to the Laws of Daily Prayer, and the recently published Hilkhot Moadim: Understanding the Jewish Festivals.

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