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Reviewing the Weekly Torah Portion

The first four words of our sedra, “V’eileh shemos Bnei Yisroel,” allude to a very special mitzvah. According to the Ba’al HaTurim, the sixteen letters in this phrase are an abbreviation for: “v’adam asher lomeid haseder shenayim mikra v’echad targum b’kol na’im yashir, yichyeh shanim rabos arukim l’olam” – “The person who learns the weekly portion – the Scriptures twice and the Targum once – and chants it in a pleasant voice, will live for many long years.” Let us now review the background and some of the relevant halachos of this mitzvah.


Before proceeding, we must define two words that will be used extensively throughout this article: 1) parsha and 2) sedrah. Both words can refer to the weekly Torah portion, while “parsha” is Hebrew, “sedrah” is Aramaic. Although the two words are used interchangeably in both halachic literature and in colloquial speech, for clarity’s sake, we will assign each a specific definition. For the purposes of this article, the word “sedra” will refer to the entire weekly Torah portion. For example, this week, we will lein the sedra of Shemos in shul. And when we mention the word “parsha,” we are referring to a subsection or a paragraph in the sedra.

In a printed Chumash, these paragraphs are indicated by either the letter “samech” or the letter “pei” interspersed in the text. For example, in this week’s sedra – Shemos, the letter “pei” appears after the seventh possuk, thus indicating the conclusion of one parsha and the beginning of another. (Incidentally, the samech and thepeiare shorthand for the words, “stumah” and “pesucha,” “closed” and “open.” These refer to two different styles of paragraphs as they appear in a Sefer Torah.)


The Ba’al HaTurim’s allusion is based on a Gemara in Brachos (8a-b), which states: “A person should always complete his portions along with the community (by reading) the Scriptures twice and the Targum once.” The Gemara concludes with the promise that anyone who does so will have long life.

Many reasons have been suggested for this halacha:

1) In the introduction to Sefer HaChinuch, the author writes that the main mitzvah upon which all the other mitzvos rest is that of Talmud Torah. This is because through Torah learning a person will know how to fulfill all of the other mitzvos. For this reason, Chazal instituted a public reading of a portion of the Torah every week, and they obligated everyone to study privately the same portion that will be read publicly. From this we see that the reason to review the sedra is for the sake of learning Torah (see also Orchos Chaim LaRosh, Day II, #37; Levush 285:1 and 7).

2) Some Rishonim maintain that the point of reviewing the sedra is to be able to understand what is being read in shul (Rabbeinu Simcha, quoted in Shu”t Terumas Hadeshen #23). This differs from the first reason in that while according to the first reason even if one would not have the opportunity to hear leining in shul, there is still a mitzvah to learn the Torah solely for the sake of learning Torah. On the other hand, according to the second reason that one must be able to understand what is being read, where he would not hear the public reading, reviewing the sedra would be unnecessary.

3) Other Rishonim contend that the mitzvah of reviewing the sedra is in order to be proficient in what is being read publicly in shul (Rabbeinu Chananel, quoted in Shu”t Terumas HaDeshen #23). What this means is, that in earlier generations, there was no ba’al kri’ah who read the entire sedra from beginning to end. Rather, each person who received an aliyah would read his aliyah himself on behalf of the congregants. This made it necessary for everyone to know how to read the entire sedra correctly. Eventually, when most people could not be relied upon to read correctly, the institution of the ba’al kri’ah was required.

4) Others maintain that reading the possuk twice and the targum once represents the three times the Torah was transmitted: 1) At Har Sinai, 2) by Moshe in the Ohel Mo’aid and 3) when the Bnei Yisroel were commanded to write the Torah “ba’eir heiteiv” – in seventy languages (Devorim 27:8). Reading the possuk twice represents the first two times, while reading the targum represents the translation of the Torah (Mateh Moshe #464; Pri Megadim 285, Mishbetzos Zahav #2).


According to the Gemara quoted above, and this is also the halacha cited in Shulchan Aruch (285:1), one must read the sedra twice and the targum once. There is a disagreement among the Acharonim whether it is sufficient to read the sedra once with the targum and to fulfill the obligation of the second reading by hearing it from the ba’al kri’ah. Some even contend that it is sufficient to hear both readings of the sedra and the targum from someone else (Sh’arei Teshuvah 285:3, quoting the Radvaz).

The rationale behind this is based on the concept of “shomei’a k’oneh:” hearing is equivalent to responding. Generally, this concept can be applied whenever one is obligated to recite a certain text or bracha. According to this idea, one need not recite the text himself; rather it is sufficient to hear it being recited by someone else. As long as the listener has in mind to fulfill his obligation through listening, and the one reciting similarly wishes to assist his fellow in discharging his responsibilities, it is as if the listener has read it himself.

There are many examples of this: On Shabbos and Yom Tov, everyone is obligated to recite Kiddush at night and during the day. However, it is not necessary for everyone at the table to recite his or her own Kiddush. In most households the prevalent custom is that the head of the house recites Kiddush on behalf of everyone present. By doing so, it is as if everyone present recited Kiddush. The same applies to the bracha of hamotzi at the Shabbos meals and havdalah on Motzai Shabbos.

In another example closer to our topic, everyone has an obligation to read Megillas Esther on Purim. In order to fulfill that requirement, the ba’al kri’ah reads it on behalf of all those present, and as long as they hear every word and have mind to discharge their obligation through the reading of the ba’al kri’ah, it is as if they read it themselves.

With regards to the personal obligation of reading the sedra, some maintain that by listening to the ba’al kri’ah, it is considered as if he read the sedra himself once, and he only needs to read it once more. This is not advisable because it is difficult to concentrate for long periods of time and there is concern that during the leining, his mind will wander. Nevertheless, according to this opinion, if he pays attention to the entire leining, it is as if he read it himself once (Divrei Chamudos, Brachos chap. I, #39).

Others contend that this is insufficient. They base this on the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Tefilah 13:25) who writes that “even though a person hears the entire Torah every Shabbos (read) in public, he is obligated to read it himself… the Scripture twice and the targum once.” It is evident from the Rambam that one must read the pesukim twice even though he hears it from the ba’al kri’ah (Prisha 285:1).

This disagreement is only regarding a situation where one merely listens to the ba’al kri’ah. However, if he also reads along with him during the leining, this counts as one of the two readings according to all opinions (Magen Avrohom 285:8; Mishna Berurah 285:2).


As we mentioned, in addition to reading the sedra twice, one must also read the targum. The targum referred to here is the Aramaic translation and explanation of the Chumash known as Targum Unkelus. Unkelus, the great nephew of Titus (the Roman general responsible for Churban Bayis Sheni, and eventually Emperor), became a geir tzedek and studied under the great Tannaim, Rebbi Eliezer and Rebbi Yehoshua. He transcribed the explanations and Aramaic translations which he heard from them, thereby authoring the work that bears his name.

In truth, this translation was transmitted to Moshe at Har Sinai and was passed down through the generations. Over the course of time it was largely forgotten, and was only retained by select individuals. It was only after Unkelus wrote down what he heard, thereby making it available to the masses, did it become firmly reestablished as a part and parcel of the Oral Tradition (see Gitin 56b; Megilah 3a, Rabbeinu Chananel and Maharsha ad loc.).


The Shulchan Aruch writes (285:2) that if one reads the sedra together with the commentary of Rashi, it is as if he has read the targum. The reason for this is because Rashi explains the meaning of the pesukim even to a greater degree than Unkelus. Therefore, one can fulfill his obligation of reviewing the sedra by reading the pesukim twice and Rashi once. Those pesukim which are not commented upon by Rashi, should be read three times (Mishna Berurah 285:4-5).

The Shulchan Aruch does point out however, that one who “fears Heaven,” should read both the targum and Rashi. The Mishna Berurah (6) explains that each has an advantage over the other. Targum Unkelus, as we have mentioned, is an explanation that was received on Har Sinai. Additionally, the targum translates each word. Rashi, on the other hand, explains the pesukim based on the words of Chazal, but does not provide a word-by-word translation. The Mishna Berurah continues that it is considered proper conduct for everyone to learn Rashi in addition to the targum because there are sections of the Torah such as portions of Sefer Vayikra that are impossible to understand with the targum alone.


One does not fulfill the obligation of reading the targum by reading other translations of the sedra. This is because the targum as more than a literal translation of the Chumash into Aramaic. Rather, Unkelus also incorporated explanations of the text along with the translation, something that would be lacking in straightforward translation other than the targum (Mishna Berurah 285:4).


There is a disagreement among the Acharonim regarding the correct method for reviewing the weekly sedra. Some maintain that one should read each parsha twice and then the associated targum (Sefer HaShelah, Shabbos, Ner Mitzvah, s.v., v’od).

One of the rationales suggested for this approach is that when Hashem taught Moshe the Torah, He taught him one parsha at a time and gave him time at the conclusion of each parsha to reflect on that lesson. Therefore it is appropriate when reviewing the sedra to do so parsha by parsha, in order to better understand its meaning (Aruch HaShulchan 285:4, based on Toras Kohanim at the beginning of Vayikra).

The Vilna Gaon modified this approach slightly. In addition to stopping at the end of every parsha, he would also stop at a point in the middle of a parsha at the conclusion of a topic (Mishna Berurah 285:2).

Other Acharonim contend that it is preferable to read the text of each possuk twice, immediately followed by the targum. This is based on the procedure of kri’as HaTorah during the time of Chazal. At that time, there were three people involved in the leining: 1) the koreh, who read the sedra out loud; 2) the shliach tzibbur, who stood next to the koreh, and assisted him by reading in an undertone; and 3) the meturgeman, or translator, who would translate the possuk into Aramaic for the benefit of those who did not understand Lashon Hakodesh.

According to this opinion, each possuk is read twice in order to represent the reading of the koreh and the reading of the shliach tzibbur. Immediately after this, the targum is read, representing the translation of the meturgaman. This is because, according to the Gemara (see Megilah 23b-24a and Rashi ad loc.), the koreh was not allowed to read more than one possuk at a time for the meturgeman to translate, as this would cause confusion among the listeners since they would lose track of what possuk he was translating (Divrei Chamudos #41 and Ma’adanei Yom Tov #4, Brachos, chap. I).

The Mishna Berurah cites all of the above opinions and does not reach any conclusion as to which is the preferred method. Rather, he maintains that one can follow any approach (Mishna Berurah 285:2).

In addition to the above, several other minhagim are mentioned in the Acharonim:

1) Some will read a possuk, then its targum and then the possuk a second time (Da’as Torah 285:1; Aruch Hashulchan 285:3).

2) Another minhag is to read the entire sedra and then its targum before Shabbos, and then fulfill the requirement of the second reading by reading together with the ba’al kri’ah during leining (Levush 285:5; Aruch Hashulchan 285:3).

3) Others opt to read the entire sedra twice and then the targum (Aruch Hashulchan 285:7).

After citing various methods for reviewing the sedra, the Aruch Hashulchan (ibid.) concludes that it makes no difference how one does it, as each approach has a basis in halacha. He adds that it might even be permissible to vary one’s method from time to time, for if it were true that one must use the same method each time, the Rishonim would have pointed this out.


The Gemara (Brachos 8) states: “A person should always complete his portions along with the community.” Since the Gemara emphasizes, “with the community,” the halacha is that optimally, one should review the sedra during the week that it will be read in shul, as that is the time that the “community” is reading it.

According to the Shulchan Aruch (285:3), the time for reviewing the sedra begins on Sunday of the week that it will be read in shul. However, the Mishna Berurah (7) points out that since we start leining the coming week’s sedra during the previous Shabbos afternoon, the time for reviewing the sedra actually begins at mincha time of Shabbos.

On Simchas Torah, the tzibbur begins reading Parshas Bereishis immediately after concluding VeZos Habracha. Therefore, in that case, one can already begin reviewing Bereishis immediately after leining. This is true even when Simchas Torah occurs on Shabbos (which only occurs in Eretz Yisroel) and one does not have to wait until the afternoon (Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa, vol. II, chap. 42 footnote #218).

Many Acharonim write that it is considered a “mitzvah min hamuvchar,” the best way to perform the mitzvah, to review the sedra twice with the targum on Friday. There are various opinions whether this refers to Friday morning or after chatzos (halachic midday). However, it is worthwhile to point out that the Vilna Gaon would review a portion of the sedra every day after Shacharis, starting from Sunday and concluding on Friday (Kaf Hachaim 285:24; Ma’aseh Rav #59; Mishna Berurah 285:8).


As we have seen, the Gemara states that the mitzvah is to review the sedra “with the community.” There are various views in the Rishonim and Acharonim how to interpret the phrase, “with the community,” and therefore there is a wide range of opinions regarding the final time for concluding the review of the sedra. We will now discuss the opinions cited in the Shulchan Aruch (285:4) and other Acharonim.

1) As we mentioned, many Acharonim, including the Arizal and the Vilna Gaon, would complete the review on Friday.

2) If this were not done, then lechatchilah, one should arise early Shabbos morning and finish it before davening (Mishna Berurah 285:9). The idea behind this is until kri’as HaTorah, the “community” is still involved with that particular sedra and one who completes his review then has done so with the community.

3) Once leining has been concluded, there is a “mitzvah min hamuvchar” to complete the review before eating the Shabbos meal. This is based on a medrash that one of the three things which Rebbi Yehuda HaNasi commanded his sons before his death was not to eat bread on Shabbos before completing their review of the sedra (Tosafos, Brachos 8b, s.v., yashlim). However, it is permissible to recite Kiddush and have some refreshments before concluding the review (Ketzos Hashulchan #72, Badei Hashulchan #6).

Although the mitzvah is to complete the sedra before eating, the Mishna Berurah (285:9) points out that one should not delay his meal until after midday in order to fulfill this. This is because it is forbidden to delay eating on Shabbos until after chatzos, since this is considered a form of fasting, while completing the sedra before eating is not an absolute obligation, rather a mitzvah.

4) If one did not succeed in completing the review before the meal, he should see to do so before mincha. Since the time for reviewing the new sedra does not start until then, if he completes the old sedra by then, it is still considered “with the community.” Although Rebbi Yehuda HaNasi instructed his sons to do so before eating, this was only a safeguard that they should not forget to do so (Mishna Berurah 10; Biur Halacha, s.v., yashlim).

5) According to some opinions, one may complete the review of the sedra during the first three days of the following week. The reason for this is based on the halacha that if one neglected to recite havdalah on Motzai Shabbos, he may still do so on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. This is because the first three days of the week “belong” to the previous Shabbos, while the latter three days “belong” to the coming Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch 299:6 and Mishna Berurah ad loc.). This also applies to reviewing the sedra. Since the first three days have a connection to the previous Shabbos, he may still make up the review (Mishna Berurah 285:11).

6) Some maintain that the last opportunity to complete reviewing the sedra when it was not done earlier is Simchas Torah. Since that is the day when the community completes the yearly cycle of the Torah reading, as long as he concludes the review by then, it is as if he completes it with the community. Of course, this is only b’di’eved, as the mitzvah is to complete the review on that particular Shabbos (Mishna Berurah 12).


There is a disagreement among the Acharonim about what one should do if he did not review the sedra during a particular week and wishes to start the sedra of the current week. Some maintain that the weekly sidros are to be reviewed in order. Therefore, he should first finish the previous week’s sedra and only then begin the current week’s.

However, this is only true if he is making up the missed sedra during the following week. But, if several weeks have already passed since the missed sedra, and in the interim, he has been reviewing each week’s sedra, he should first review the current week’s sedra and then the missed week’s. Since he can no longer review the sidros in their correct order, his first responsibility is to the current week’s sedra, which is the immediate obligation (Shu”t Maharsham, vol. I, #213).

Others maintain that in all situations the current week’s sedra takes precedence over a missed sedra, since that one is the current obligation. Additionally, there is concern that if one first reviews the previous week’s sedra, something may come up and he will not be able to review the current week’s sedra in its proper time (Shu”t B’tzeil Hachochmah, vol. I, #9).


As we mentioned, one of the reasons for reviewing the sedra is that one will be proficient in reading from the Sefer Torah if called upon for an aliyah. This is based on the original custom that there was no official ba’al kri’ah and whoever was called to the Torah would read it aloud on behalf of the congregants. Based on this, some have the practice of reading the haftara after completing the sedra, in order to gain proficiency in case he is called for maftir (Mishna Berurah 285:19).

If one did not finish reviewing the sedra before kri’as HaTorah, there is no need to read the haftara, as they have already read it in shul. Similarly, if the custom in one’s shul is that the regular ba’al kri’ah leins the haftara no matter who receives maftir, there is no reason to read the haftara beforehand (Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah, vol. II, chap. 42, footnote #233).


Before clarifying whether women are obligated to review the sedra, we must first discuss whether they must hear kri’as HaTorah. There is an opinion in the Acharonim that a woman is obligated to hear leining on Shabbos just as men are. Although the concept of kri’as HaTorah is based on the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, from which women are exempt, nevertheless, according to this opinion, women are indeed obligated to hear leining (Magen Avrohom 282:6).

However, many Acharonim maintain that women are not obligated to go to shul to hear kri’as HaTorah. Aside from the fact that women are exempt from Talmud Torah, the mitzvah of kri’as HaTorah is “mitzvas asei she’hazman grama” – a positive, time-related mitzvah – from which women are exempted. In fact, in certain communities the minhag was for women to leave shul during leining (Mishna Berurah 282:12; Aruch Hashulchan 282:11; Kaf Hachaim 282:25).

Now let us return to our subject. At the beginning of this article we discussed various reasons for the obligation of reviewing the sedra. Those reasons are related either to the mitzvah of Talmud Torah or to the mitzvah of hearing kri’as HaTorah on Shabbos morning. Since women are exempted from the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, and the prevalent opinion is that they are not obligated to hear kri’as HaTorah, the mitzvah of reviewing is equally not applicable to them (Shu”t Mishna Halachos, vol. VI, #1).


Rav Moshe Aharon Stern, zt”l, the Mashgiach of Yeshivas Kaminetz in Yerushalayim, related that he knew a noted talmid chacham who, due to his great desire to delve into the depths of Gemara study, did not review the weekly sedra. Rav Moshe Aharon took it upon himself to rebuke him for not fulfilling an explicit halacha in Shulchan Aruch, and said to him as follows:

“When you go before Kisay Hakavod after one hundred and twenty years, the Ribono shel olam will say to you, ‘You learned the Rambam, the Ketzos, Rebbi Akiva Eiger. They were all very famous and important authors. But tell me, did you know that I also authored a Sefer? Why did you not spend time learning My Sefer?’”

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