Parshios Behar & Bechukosai
Listening to the Torah Reading
There are two basic opinions among the early poskim concerning the nature
of the obligation of Kerias ha-Torah on Shabbos morning. One opinion(1)
holds that every adult male is obligated to listen to the weekly parashah
read every Shabbos morning from a kosher Sefer Torah. He must pay
attention to every word being read, or he will not fulfill his obligation.
The second opinion(2) maintains that the obligation of Kerias ha-Torah
devolves upon the congregation as a whole. In other words, if ten or more
men are together on Shabbos morning, they must read from the weekly
parashah. While each member of the congregation is included in this
congregational obligation, it is not a specific obligation upon each
individual, provided that there are ten men who are paying attention.
There are some basic questions concerning Kerias ha-Torah whose
answers will differ depending on which of these two opinions one follows:
* Is one actually required to follow each word recited by the Reader, the
koreh, without missing even one letter [and, according to some opinions,
even read along with him to make sure nothing is missed(3)], or is one
permitted - even l'chatchilah - to be lax about this requirement?
* Is it permitted to learn or to recite Shnayim mikra v'echad targum
during Kerias ha-Torah?
* If an individual missed a word or two of the Torah reading, must he hear
the Torah reading again?
* If ten or more men missed one word or more from the reading, should they
take out the Sefer Torah after davening and read the portion they missed?
* If one came late to shul but arrived in time for Kerias ha-Torah, should
he listen to the Torah reading first and then daven?
* If a situation arises where tefillah b'tzibur and Kerias ha-Torah
conflict, which takes precedence?
* If a situation arises where, by listening to Kerias ha-Torah, one would
not be able to daven altogether, which takes precedence?
* Should one interrupt his private Shemoneh Esrei to listen to Kerias ha-
The answer to these and other such questions depends, for the most
part, on which of the two views one is following. Clearly, according to
the first opinion, one must give undivided attention to each and every
word being read. Davening, learning or reciting Shnayim mikra v'echad
targum during Kerias ha-Torah would be prohibited, and even b'diavad one
would have to make up any missed words. But according to the second
opinion, the answers to all these questions would be more lenient, for as
long as the congregation fulfilled its obligation to read the Torah
correctly, and as long as ten men paid attention to the reading, the
individual's obligation is no longer a matter of concern.
Shulchan Aruch does not give a clear, definitive ruling concerning
this dispute. Indeed, while discussing the laws regarding the
permissibility of learning during Kerias ha-Torah, he quotes both opinions
without rendering a decision. Instead, he concludes that "it is proper for
a meticulous person to focus on and pay attention to the words of the
reader." This indicates that Shulchan Aruch and many other prominent poskim
(4) hold that while it is commendable to be stringent, it is not
absolutely essential. Mishnah Berurah,(5) though, quotes several poskim
who maintain that the halachah requires that each individual listen to
every word of Kerias ha-Torah(.6) Harav M. Feinstein rules that even
b'diavad one does not fulfill his obligation if he misses a word, and he
must find a way to make up what he missed.(7) There are, however, a host
of poskim who maintain that Kerias ha-Torah is a congregational and not an
Several contemporary poskim suggest what looks like a compromise.
Clearly, l'chatchilah we follow the view of the poskim that each
individual is obligated to listen to Kerias ha-Torah, and it is standard
practice for each individual to pay undivided attention to each word that
is recited. Indeed, in the situation described above where Kerias ha-Torah
conflicts with tefillah b'tzibur, the obligation to hear Kerias ha-Torah
takes precedence, in deference to the poskim who consider it an individual
But, b'diavad, if it were to happen that a word or two was missed,
one is not obligated to go to another shul to listen to the part of the
reading that was missed. Rather, we rely on the second opinion which
maintains that so long as the congregation has fulfilled its obligation,
the individual is covered.(10) Accordingly, if listening to Kerias ha-
Torah will result in missing davening altogether, davening takes priority,
since we rely on the poskim who maintain that Kerias ha-Torah is a
congregational obligation.(11) Similarly, one should not interrupt his
private Shemoneh Esrei to listen to Kerias ha-Torah.(12)
But regardless of the above dispute and compromise, the poskim are
in agreement about the following rules:
* There must be at least ten men listening to the entire Kerias ha-Torah.
If there are fewer than ten, then the entire congregation has not
fulfilled its obligation according to all views.(13)
* Conversing during Kerias ha-Torah is strictly prohibited even when there
are ten men paying attention. According to most poskim, it is prohibited
to converse even between aliyos (bein gavra l'gavra).(14) One who
converses during Kerias ha-Torah is called "a sinner whose sin is too
great to be forgiven."(15)
* Even those who permit learning during Kerias ha-Torah stipulate that it
may only be done quietly, so that it does not interfere with the Torah
* "Talking in learning" bein gavra l'gavra is permitted by some poskim and
prohibited by others. An individual, however, may learn by himself or
answer a halachic question bein gavra l'gavra.(17)
SITTING or STANDING?
Although the koreh and the person receiving the aliyah must stand
while reading from the Torah, the congregation is not required to stand.
Indeed, there are three views in the poskim as to what is preferred:
1. Some hold that it is preferable to stand while the Torah is being read,
since Kerias ha-Torah is compared to the giving of the Torah at Mount
Sinai where everyone stood.(18)
2. Others maintain that there is no preference and one is free to sit or
stand as he wishes.(19)
3. A third view holds that it is preferable to sit while the Torah is
The basic halachah follows the middle view that there is no
preference whether to sit or stand during Kerias ha-Torah and one can
choose. There are, however, some people who are stringent and insist on
standing while the Torah is being read.
Most poskim agree with the following:
* A weak person who will find it difficult to concentrate should sit.
* Between aliyos there is no reason to stand.
* For Barechu and its response, everyone should stand,(21) but during the
recital of Birchos ha-Torah themselves there is no obligation to stand.
* The practice in most congregations is that everyone stands while the
Aseres ha-Dibros and Shiras ha-Yam are read.(22) As with all customs, one
should not deviate from the custom of the shul where he is davening.
1 Shibbolei ha-Leket 39, quoted in Beis Yosef, O.C. 146. This also seems
to be the view of the Magen Avraham 146:5, quoting Shelah and Mateh Moshe.
See also Ma'asei Rav 131. See, however, Peulas Sachir on Ma'asei Rav 175.
2 Among the Rishonim see Ramban and Ran, Megillah 5a. Among the poskim see
Ginas Veradim 2:21; Imrei Yosher 2:171; Binyan Shelomo 35; Levushei
Mordechai 2:99 and others. See also Yabia Omer 4:31-3 and 7:9.
3 Mishnah Berurah 146:15.
4 Sha'arei Efrayim 4:12 and Siddur Derech ha-Chayim (4-5) clearly rule in
accordance with this view. This may also be the ruling of Chayei Adam 31:2
and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 23:8.
5 146:15. Aruch ha-Shulchan 146:6 and Kaf ha-Chayim 146:10,14 concur with
6 There are conflicting indications as to what, exactly, is the view of
the Mishnah Berurah on this issue; see Beiur Halachah 135:14 (s.v. ein)
and 146:2 (s.v. v'hanachon).
7 Igros Moshe O.C. 4:23; 4:40-4-5. If ten or more men missed a section of
the Torah reading, then they should take out the sefer after davening and
read that section over; ibid.
8 See also Emek Berachah (Kerias ha-Torah 3).
9 Minchas Yitzchak 7:6; Harav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (oral
ruling, quoted in Avnei Yashfei on Tefillah, pg. 140).
10 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Siach Halachah 6:8 and Halichos Shelomo
12:1; see also Minchas Shelomo 2:4-15); Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (oral ruling
quoted in Avnei Yashfei on Tefillah, pg. 140).
11 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (oral ruling, quoted in Avnei Yashfei on Tefillah,
12 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Halichos Shelomo 12:4). Also, a Diaspora Jew who
may have missed an entire parashah when traveling to Eretz Yisrael after a
Yom Tov (when Yom Tov Sheini was on Shabbos), does not need to make up
what he missed (ibid. 6). See Ishei Yisrael 38:29 for a dissenting opinion.
13 Aruch ha-Shulchan 146:5.
14 Bach, as understood by Mishnah Berurah 146:6 and many poskim. There are
poskim, however, who maintain that the Bach permits even idle talk bein
gavra l'gavra; see Machatzis ha-Shekel, Aruch ha-Shulchan, and Shulchan ha-
Tahor. See also Peri Chadash, who allows conversing bein gavra l'gavra.
Obviously, they refer to the type of talk which is permitted in shul and
15 Beiur Halachah 146:2 (s.v. v'hanachon), who uses strong language in
condemning these people.
16 Mishnah Berurah 146:11.
17 Mishnah Berurah 146:6.
18 Rama O.C. 146:4, as explained by Bach and Mishnah Berurah 19.
19 O.C. 146:6.
20 This is the view of the Ari z"l as understood by many of the later
authorities; see Chesed l'Alafim 135:14; Sdei Chemed (Beis, 29); Kaf ha-
Chayim 146:20; Da'as Torah 146:4; Shulchan ha-Tahor 146:4. Note that this
view has an early source; see Sefer ha-Machkim, pg. 15, and Teshuvos Rama
21 See, however, Kaf ha-Chayim 146:20-21 and Halichos Shelomo 12, note 30,
that the accepted practice is to remain seated even during Barechu.
22 Igros Moshe O.C. 4:22; Halichos Shelomo 12, note 30. See Yechaveh Da'as
6:8 for a dissenting opinion.
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