April 20, 2024
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Can We Make Up Our Missed Torah Readings?

Most of us have missed the weekly Torah readings since March 21 (Vayakhel-Pekudei), some even from March 7 (Tetzaveh). When the time comes to return safely to shul, do we have to make up for the missed readings?

I. Skip

This isn’t the first time in history such a question has arisen. Rav Yitzchak of Vienna (13th cen.; Or Zaru’a, Hilchos Shabbos 45) refers to an incident that apparently occurred in Cologne in the 12th century. Prayer and Torah reading were impossible on Shabbos Emor. Rav Eliezer Ben Shimshon ruled that the next Shabbos they should catch up by reading Emor for the missed week in addition to the regularly scheduled reading of Behar. Rav Alexander Zuslein (14th cen., Germany; Agudah, Megillah 30) summarizes as follows: “In Or Zaru’a: If they stopped the constant cycle and did not read the weekly reading, they read the reading next week two readings.”

Rav Moshe (Maharam) Mintz (15th cen., Germany; Responsa, no. 85) addresses a community that failed to finish reading the double-portion of Vayakhel-Pekudei. Should they read these two portions the next week, along with Vayikra? Maharam Mintz says that we have no precedent for reading three portions in one week, particularly from two different books. He notes the phrasing of Agudah’s summary of Or Zaru’a that they read “next week two readings,” emphasizing specifically two but not more. Reading three portions is too much of a tircha d’tzibura, a bother to the community. Therefore, in addition to other considerations for that specific incident, he concludes that they should start with Vayikra and not read Vayakhel-Pekudei.

Rav Avraham Gombiner (17th cen., Poland; Magen Avraham 135:4) and Rav Chaim Benbeniste (17th cen., Turkey; Knesses Ha-Gedolah, Hagahos Tur 282) quote Maharam Mintz approvingly. Independently, Rav Ya’akov Reischer (18th cen., France; Shevus Ya’akov 3:6) reaches the same conclusion.

However, Rav Eliyah Spira (18th cen. Austria; Eliyah Rabbah 135:2), who was Rav Gombiner’s student and Rav Reischer’s brother-in-law, disagrees. He quotes the anonymous glosses to Sefer Ha-Minhagim (Tyrnau) that disagrees with Maharam Mintz without explanation. Rav Spira explains that there was an ancient enactment to read the entire Torah. We have no indication that this applies only to the weekly portion, and if we cannot read it that week, then we may skip that portion.

II. Arguments to Catch Up

Rav Yosef David of Salonica (18th cen.; Beis David, Orach Chaim no. 106) argues with Maharam Mintz’s inference from the Agudah’s summary of the Or Zaru’a. The fact that you have to read a skipped portion the next week shows that it is an obligation. If it is an obligation, then even if you skipped two or three, you still have that obligation. Additionally, if we skip a single verse in the reading we have to read what was missed. Why should a large number of verses—an entire reading—be less of an obligation than a single verse?

In a recent responsum, Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Rav Yitzchak Yosef, rules likewise that when people reconvene to pray together on Shabbos morning after missing weeks due to the coronavirus quarantine, they must read all the missed weeks. Rav Yosef hints to something highlighted by Kollel Eretz Hemdah, in a recent responsum on this subject. Maharam Mintz ruled based on an inference in the Agudah summary of the Or Zaru’a. But if you read the original Or Zaru’a, its language leaves no room for the inference of “two weeks” only but not three weeks of Torah reading. Therefore, Kollel Eretz Hemdah similarly concludes that we must read the missed readings.

III. Arguments to Skip

However, Rav Ephraim Zalman Margoliyos (19th cen., Galicia; Sha’arei Ephraim 7:9) rules like Maharam Mintz that we do not read multiple missed Torah readings. This authoritative work is quoted in recent responsa by Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Asher Weiss. While they leave room for some people acting strictly and reading all the missed portions, they allow the option to omit the missed readings.

Given the compelling arguments that 1) Maharam Mintz was mistaken about the Or Zaru’a and 2) the original enactment requires reading the entire Torah (in a year or three years) and does not allocate specific portions to any given Shabbos, how could these authorities rule leniently on this? I think the answer is fairly straightforward and already given by Maharam Mintz.

First, regardless of whether Or Zaru’a implies we should not read more than two portions on a Shabbos, Agudah makes that implication and Maharam Mintz highlights it. Those are two Rishonim who rule leniently on this subject.

Additionally, and this is most important, the Gemara (Yoma 70a) says that the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur would read from a Torah scroll the relevant passage in Acharei Mos (Vayikra 16) and then recite by heart the relevant passage in Pinchas (Bamidbar 29). He would not roll the Torah scroll to the second passage because that would take too long, which is disrespectful to the congregation. Even though reciting a Torah passage by heart is forbidden, at least a rabbinic prohibition (Gittin 60b), the bother to the community (tircha d’tzibura) overrides the prohibition.

Similarly, these recent authorities believe—like Maharam Mintz—that the tircha d’tzibura of reading multiple missed portions overrides the enactment to read the Torah. We still continue, but in that year some (or most or even all) of the community do not read the entire Torah.

Rabbi Gil Student is editor of www.TorahMusings.com

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