Normally, I would not write regarding a line in a humor article; however, in Jon Kranz’s “Oy Vey!” article in the recent November 18 issue (titled “Quintessential Koreh”), he touches on a matter regarding which many people may have misimpressions in serious contexts as well, and so I feel a need to correct any potential misimpressions in this matter.
When speaking about the demanding job of a baal koreh (or, as some phrase it, baal keriyah), he says, “Mistakes in other professions can have more dire consequences.” While this is true of a few professions (such as the pilot that he mentions specifically), mistakes by baalei keriyah are far more serious than most people realize.
In particular, there is a dispute among the Rishonim whether a mistake by the baal keriyah (if the text is not repeated correctly) invalidates the leining, causing the entire congregation to fail to fulfill its obligation. The median view in this matter is that major mistakes (those that change a word or change the meaning of the verse) do cause the congregation to not fulfill its obligation, while minor mistakes do not. Indeed, the Rema (Orach Chaim 142, as explained by the Mishnah Berurah) rules that one should force a baal keriyah to go back as a result of a mistake (despite the importance of not embarrassing people in public) when a word or meaning is changed.
The Pri Chadash as quoted by the Ba’er Hetev (ibid) goes so far as to rule that, if neither the baal keriyah nor the congregation has the knowledge to prevent such a mistake (and, by extension, this would presumably include a congregation that has the knowledge but not the ability to force the baal keriyah to go back, if those gabbaim who do have the authority lack the knowledge or the willingness to force a correction of such mistakes), it is obvious that one should not recite brachos on such a leining, nor read the haftarah.
Even in those cases of mistakes in vowels or trope that do not change the meaning, in which the Rema rules that one does not publicly force the baal keriyah to go back, he is still to be castigated (“go’arin bo,” a term that implies far more harshness than a simple correction). It seems to me that this may be in deference to the minority view that any mistake invalidates the leining, or due to a concern that the next such mistake may be more serious. (It also seems to me that, given that such castigation is apparently intended to improve the situation next time and not rectify the current mistake, the statement that one castigates the baal keriyah is based on the assumption that preparing correctly was his responsibility, and thus in the case of a bar mitzvah boy it should not be directed at the bar mitzvah boy but rather at whoever took on the responsibility of teaching him to lein correctly and failed to do so.)
While there is much more material regarding this matter than presented in this letter, I hope that it encourages greater awareness of the seriousness of this matter, greater care on the part of baalei keriyah and those who train bar mitzvah boys, and greater appreciation for a baal keriyah who does successfully avoid error.Yitzhak Kornbluth