This year, the year 5779, gives us an opportunity to reflect on a phenomenon which occurs occasionally, whereby the Torah readings of Israel and the Diaspora are not synchronized with one another.
As was the case this year, the most common cause for this discrepancy is the eighth day of Pesach falling on Shabbos. (The other possibility is the second day of Shavuos falling on Shabbos.)
Outside of Israel, where this day is a Yom Tov, the Torah reading is the special reading for the eighth day of Pesach (Aser Ta’aser). By contrast, in Israel, where this day is a regular Shabbos, the reading is Parshas Shmini in a non-leap year and Acharei Mos in a leap year. The result is that the Torah readings for Israel and the Diaspora remain unsynchronized for several weeks, the Diaspora reading being a week behind on account of the eighth day of Pesach falling on Shabbos.
For a non-leap year, this situation lasts for only several weeks, until the parshios of Behar and Bechukosai permit the Diaspora to catch up. These parshios are read separately in Israel and merged together outside of Israel – on the Shabbos when Israel reads Bechukosai, the Diaspora reads both portions – thereby bringing everyone back into synch. In a leap year, however, the discrepancy lasts for close to three full months, and only ends with Matos and Masei, which are read separately in Israel and combined outside of Israel.
Several important halachic questions emerge from this discrepancy. Which parasha is read by people traveling on a boat? What happens when a parasha is missed by somebody traveling from Israel to chutz la’aretz? Can a missing parasha be made up, and what should be done concerning the reading of shnayim mikra ve’echad targum? Furthermore, why is it that we wait so long before re-synchronizing Israel and the rest of the world?
These questions, among others, are discussed below.
An Imperative to Catch Up?
The first question that needs to be addressed is why we allow the discrepancy to last for such a long period of time.
In non-leap years, there seem to be ample opportunities for the Diaspora to catch up with the Israeli reading schedule. This can be done for instance by separating Tazria and Metzora in Israel and reading them together outside of Israel, and similarly by separating Acharei Mos and Kedoshim. This is not done, and we wait until Behar and Bechukosai to separate parshios and allow the Diaspora to catch up.
Similarly, for a leap year Acharei Mos and Kedoshim (which are read separately in Israel) can simply be combined in the Diaspora, which would lead to parasha alignment right after Pesach. Why do we wait so long to reunite the communities?
One solution to this could be that there is no imperative to synchronize the Torah readings of Israel and the Diaspora. In earlier times, while all communities kept to the basic halachic requirements of keriyas ha-Torah, each community might do so in its own way.
The regulations for which parasha to read on which week draw from three basic requirements: to finish the Torah cycle each year at Simchas Torah (which became the universal custom many centuries ago); to read Bechukosai before Shavuos; and to read Ki Savo (and Nitzavim) before Rosh Hashanah. The last two are required to meet enactments of Ezra (see Megillah 31b, and commentary of Tosafos). Based on these requirements, several instructions are codified by the Abudraham, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 428:4). Yet, there remains some space for deciding which parshios to double, and which to read one by one.
Thus, some communities never combined the parshios of Chukas and Balak, preferring to combine Korach with Chukas where there was a need to do so, leaving Balak to be read alone. Others, as the general custom today, read Korach alone. The result was a regular discrepancy between communities. A person traveling between varying communities would thus miss or double a parasha, just as somebody traveling today between Israel and the Diaspora will do. This was apparently not considered a halachic challenge that required resolution.
Over time, due to the closer interaction between communities that modern travel and communication allows, all communities adopted a common practice. The only remaining discrepancies are those between Israel and the Diaspora, which are inevitable due to the second day of Diaspora Yom Tov falling occasionally on Shabbos.
As in previous generations, however, the misalignment is apparently not considered something that needs urgent redressing. All continue reading as their normal practice (which is to double Behar and Bechukosai, rather than Acharei Mos and Kedoshim), without consideration for the discrepancy, until it reaches its natural resolution as all synchronize to meet the universal kriyas ha-Torah requirements.
Primary vs. Secondary
A different solution is suggested by Sefer Tikkun Yissachar (of the 16th Century), who writes that it would be improper for residents of Israel, who are “primary,” to change their custom to synchronize with residents of the Diaspora (who are “secondary”).
He explains that if residents of Israel were to split these earlier parshios to harmonize with residents of the Diaspora it would drag the primary ones (those living in Israel) to follow the halachic practice of the benei ha–minhag (non-Israeli residents who observe Yom Tov Sheni). It is incorrect to relegate the primary ones to secondary status and, if we were to separate those earlier parshios, it would elevate those outside of Israel by making the residents of Israel follow them (Sefer Ibbur Shanah, p. 32b).
Tikkun Yisaschar therefore concludes that the proper practice is to wait until just before Shavuos, when we split Behar and Behukosai and close the gap.
This solution applies to a non-leap year. For a leap year, Shut Maharit (Vol. 2, Orach Chaim 4) suggests a different solution, explaining that the gap between Bechukosai, which must precede Shavuos, and the festival of Shavuos itself, should be no more than one week in length. On a leap year in Israel, we have no choice but to extend this gap to two weeks, while in the Diaspora we can refrain from doing so.
He thus writes: “Just as we do not delay the reading (of Bamidbar until after Shavuos), so too we do not advance it and read it two Shabbosos before Shavuos, because then it would not be clear that we are completing the reading of the curses in advance of the New Year for Fruit. That is only clear when we read the curses close to the end of the year (and have just one portion in between)… In Israel during a leap year when they read Aharei Mos on the seventh day of the Omer, there is no choice but to have two weeks of interposition (Bamidbar and Naso) between the curses and Shavuos. But outside of Israel, it is appropriate to maintain the usual practice of ‘manu ve-atzru’”—meaning that Shavuos should follow immediately after Bamidbar.
While residents of Israel are forced to compromise on the ideal schedule during a leap year when Pesach coincides with Shabbos, those who live outside of Israel can continue to maintain the ideal, and therefore delay synchronization of the weekly Torah portions until after Shavuos.
Which Parasha to Read
Shut Betzel Hachochma (Rav Betzalel Stern; Vol. 1, nos. 2-8) discusses people who are traveling by boat and need to decide which parasha to read when Shabbos arrives. Assuming there are travelers from both Israel and from the Diaspora, which parasha should be preferred?
If there are only enough travelers to make up a single minyan, his conclusion is that the reading of the Torah follows the majority: if the majority of participants are from outside Israel, the reading of the Diaspora prevails; if the majority are from Israel, then the reading in Israel should be read.
If, however, the respective groups of Israelis and non-Israelis are large enough, he writes that each group should separately read its own Torah portion. Although all are now outside of Israel, a minyan of Israelis will read the Torah portion as read in Israel, and not the Diaspora Torah portion.
In a proper synagogue setting, shuls in Israel and in chutz la’aretz read the local Torah portion, irrespective of the congregants. Since the reading fulfills a universal mitzvah of reading from the Torah, all can be called up for the local reading, whether this is their individual correct portion or not.
A slightly more delicate case is on the second day of Yom Tov (in chutz la’aretz) which falls on Shabbos, for which Israelis would read the regular Shabbos reading, while locals read the special festival reading. The conclusion of Shut Betzel Hachochma is that even in these circumstances, all can be called up to the Torah.
Missing the Parsha
If an entire community or congregation missed a week’s Torah reading at any time of the year—this could happen due to flooding, heavy snowfalls, warfare, or some other calamity—the community must make up the reading that was missed by reading two parshios the following week (Rema, Orach Chayim 135:2, quoting the Or Zarua).
Authorities dispute what should be done if the missed reading was a double parasha, so that three parshios would need to be read in the following week. Some maintain that all three parshios are read (Eliya Rabba 135), while others rule that we never read more than two parshios (Magen Avraham, citing Shut Maharam Mintz no. 85). According to the latter opinion, since we don’t complete all the missing parshios, it follows that we don’t complete one of them either, since in any case this will be incomplete.
The Mishnah Berurah (135:7) mentions both opinions without rendering a decision.
He adds that when completing a parasha from the previous week, the custom is that the first aliya (the Kohen) includes the entire previous parasha and continues into the first aliya of the new parasha (the reason for this is because we wish to have seven aliyos for the regular reading of the day; see Kaf Hachayim 135:5). This raises a potential issue when the missed parasha was the last of one of the five books of the Torah, since it is problematic for a single aliya to pass from one Sefer to another.
Again, the Mishnah Berurah does not render a decision.
In the unlikely event that an entire congregation or community would travel outside Israel (say, for a community simcha) and therefore miss a parasha, the same ruling will apply: upon returning to Israel, two parashios will be read the next week.
Individuals Who Miss the Parasha
The Ramban writes (Milchamos, Megillah 3a in pages of Rif): “The obligations listed in our Mishnah [including reading from the Torah] fall upon the community, and apply to those who are obligated alone; this is different from the case of reading the Megillah, in which just as the community is obligated, so each individual is obligated to read the Megillah, and an individual who has not heard the Megillah requires ten people to publicize the miracle.”
Following the Ramban and other sources, many authorities maintain that the obligation of reading from the Torah is incumbent only on communities, rather than on individuals. This will mean that an individual who is traveling abroad does not need to make up a missed Torah reading. Although the misalignment of Torah portions causes him to miss a reading, there is no duty to make this up (see Yom Tov Sheini Kehilchasah, p. 239, with notes 40 and 41, citing Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l and others).
Although there is no requirement to make up the missing parasha, it is preferable to do so. One option for achieving this is by reading the entire coming parasha on Mincha of the Shabbos before leaving (see Yom Tov Sheini Kehilchasah, p. 241). Another option is to read a double portion the next week, as noted above. However, these options should only be considered when an entire group is traveling, so that this will not cause an unnecessary tircha for others who are not traveling (who will have to sit through the reading of an entire additional parasha).
Shnayim Mikra Ve’echad Targum
There is a weekly obligation to study the Torah portion of a given week, reading the Mikra (the verses of the Torah) twice and the Targum (the translation of Onkelos, or according to many the commentary of Rashi) once. How should this be fulfilled by somebody traveling outside his regular locale, which leads him to change the parasha for the week?
Somebody traveling from Israel to the Diaspora will be hearing the same parasha for two consecutive weeks, and it stands to reason that he is not obligated to study the same portion two weeks in a row (see Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa, Vol. 2, Chap. 42, note 224).
Therefore, if he remains in Chutz La’aretz he will have a week’s vacation. If he will return to Israel the next week, he should probably study his home (Israel) parasha alone. Although the obligation to do so might not apply (the obligation is to study the parasha “together with the community,” and outside of Israel the “community” is not reading the appropriate parasha), reading the Israeli version of shnayim mikra will save him from having to catch up after returning to Israel and it also can be argued that Israel is his community.
For somebody traveling from chutz la’aretz to Israel, it seems that it is best to study both portions—the one he’ll be missing back home, and the portion that will be read the coming Shabbos in Israel.