Do I Need to Stay in for Torah Reading?

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by R. Moshe Kurtz

Lomdus on the Parsha: Beshalach

Based on the Acclaimed Sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon

Q: Is one required to hear all of Torah reading?

Then Moshe caused Israel to set out from the Sea of Reeds. They went on into the wilderness of Shur; they traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water. (Exodus 15:22)

The Talmud (Bava Kamma 82a) cites a Tanniatic reading of this verse which serves as the basis for the regular Torah reading schedule observed in all synagogues: 

Those who interpret verses [metaphorically] said that water [here is referring to] nothing other than Torah, as it is stated: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come for water” (Isaiah 55:1). Since [the Jews] traveled for three days without [hearing any] Torah they became weary, [and therefore the] prophets among them arose and instituted for them that they should read each Shabbos, and pause on Sunday, and read [again] on Monday, and pause on Tuesday and Wednesday, and read [again] on Thursday, and pause on Shabbos eve, so they would not tarry three days without Torah. (Cf. Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 4:1 and Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer 12:1.)

R. Boruch Ber Leibowitz (Birchas Shmuel, Yevamos, no. 21) presents a dichotomy in how to conceptualize the mitzvah of public Torah reading. (A) Do we understand that each man is personally obligated in the mitzvah of Torah reading (and there just happens to be a pe-requisite for a minyan of ten men) (B) or is the mitzvah of Torah reading only incumbent upon the entire congregation as a single collective unit? How one answers this question leads to several halachic ramifications:

(1) The Beiur Halachah (143:1) rules that the formal obligation of Torah reading can be fulfilled even if only the minority of the minyan had already heard it. As those who previously fulfilled their individual obligations could combine with the majority who had not yet heard Torah reading for that day. However, the Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 69:14) espouses the position that Torah reading is not incumbent upon the individual, but the communal entity, and thus maintains that only when an entire minyan has not yet heard Torah reading would they still be obligated in the mitzvah. However, if only less than ten men have not yet heard Torah reading there simply would not exist any further obligation for public Torah reading in this scenario.

(2) The Jerusalem Talmud (Yoma 7:1) mandates that, as a general rule, one is supposed to bring themself to the Torah rather than transport the Torah for their own convenience. Based on this principle, the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 135:14), rules that one may not relocate a Torah even to the residence of one who has fallen ill. However, the Eliyah Rabbah (ad loc.) qualifies this by suggesting that this stricture is limited to when we are accommodating an individual. However, if a minyan has not yet heard Torah reading then it would be permissible to transport the Torah in order to fulfill the communal obligation.

(3) On the holiday of Simchas Torah, many synagogues have the custom to read from the final Torah portion multiple times in order to ensure that every man is called up to the Torah prior to its completion. Such a practice might be more justifiable if one accepts that communal Torah reading is in fact a form of facilitating every man’s personal obligation. However, if we understand that the mitzvah of Torah reading is communal in nature then instructing every individual to recite a blessing on the Torah would be erroneous, since the communal obligation had already been satisfied after the Torah reader chanted it the first time around (see Ginas Veradim O.C. 2:22). 

(4) R. Chaim Pelagi (Sefer Semichah L’Chaim O.C. no. 2) provides us with one of the most applicable, and perhaps radical, ramifications of accepting that Torah reading is a communal obligation: There is no necessity for an individual to listen to all of – or perhaps any –  of Torah reading. So long as there are ten men who are present and listening, the community’s obligation has been fulfilled. This would also account for why one is welcome to leave in between aliyos (sub-sessions within Torah reading) while the Torah is closed (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 146). (This may also account for the concern of people entering Torah reading late and leaving early which necessitated blessings to be recited before and after each reader so no person would be left with the mistaken impression that blessings are not recited on the Torah – see Ritva, Megillah 21b.) In a similar vein, one may be permitted to read during Torah reading, provided there are ten other men who are reading/listening, and it’s done so in a manner that does not interrupt others.

While the majority of authorities ostensibly espouse the belief that Torah reading is considered a communal responsibility, even they would concede that the mandatory recitation of the Book of Esther, or the Megillah, is incumbent upon every individual. The Vilna Gaon (Ma’aseh Rav, no. 175) used this distinction to resolve the following question: The Talmud (Megillah 4b) bans the reading of the Book of Esther on Shabbos out of concern that one might carry it through a public domain in order to learn how to chant it correctly. Many are confounded – should not the same logic also prohibit the reading of Torah on Shabbos as well? While, perhaps, some synagogue attendees would have preferred we accepted this claim, the Vilna Gaon explains that the reading of the Book of Esther is at its core an individual obligation, whereas public Torah reading is a communal obligation – thus, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. In other words, the necessity of ensuring that the Torah be read publicly at least once every three days, including Shabbos, was so great, that it superseded even a concern for the violation of carrying on Shabbos.

While the aforementioned discussion pertained to public Torah reading, it is evident that there exists a personal imperative to review the upcoming Torah portion (shenayim mikra v’echad targum) as well as ensuring that we study a baseline amount of Torah each day (see Berachos 8a, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer 13:25, and Shulchan Aruch O.C. 285:1.) When we find ourselves in the wilderness without water, may the Torah serve as a wellspring to quench our thirst for the knowledge of God.

A time is coming—declares my Lord God — when I will send a famine upon the land: not a hunger for bread or a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11).

Note: This series is not intended to dispense practical halachic conclusions. The Torah presented here is but a small extraction from the breadth of the sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon and is not affiliated with the author in any official capacity. Translations are adapted from Sefaria,, Mechon Mamre, and my own. Contact: [email protected] 

About Moshe Kurtz

Rabbi Moshe Kurtz is Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Agudath Sholom of Stamford, CT. He welcomes questions, feedback and speaking requests at: [email protected].

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