Today’s section opens with mishnah teaching various rules about reading the Torah in public.
Section one: An aliyah may not consist of less than three verses.
Section two: In mishnaic times the spoken language was Aramaic. Many people, perhaps most people, would have had trouble understanding the Torah in its original Hebrew. Therefore, as part of the public reading of the Torah, there was a translator who would translate verse by verse. The reader was to read one verse and then the translator would translate this verse. However, when it came to reading the haftarah from one of the prophets, they allowed the reader to read three verses at a time. They were less exacting on the precision of the haftarah translation than they were for the translation of the Torah. However, if each verse is its own section, then the reader must read each one on its own. This refers to Isaiah 52:3-5 where there are three verses, each considered to be its own section.
Section three: When reading the haftarah, he may skip from place to place so long as he doesn’t have to roll the scroll so far that they translator has completed his translation before he gets to the new verse. Today there are many haftarot where we skip from one place in the book to another, or if reading from one of the twelve minor prophets, from one prophet to another. However, when it comes to the Torah it is forbidden to skip around.
The number three is considered representative of the three parts of the Bible—Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim.
Sometimes one verse can constitute a single paragraph. In such a case the reader must read each verse to the translator one at a time. The Talmud cites an example of this from Isaiah.
The Mishnah states that one may not skip in reading from place to place when reading the Torah. However, a baraita describes the reading of the High Priest in the Temple on Yom Kippur. He begins with Leviticus 16 and then skips to Leviticus 23. How can he skip?
Abaye answers that if the skip is short enough to get to the next place before the translator has completed his translation, it is okay to skip. These two passages in Leviticus are close enough that it is allowed to skip.
Abaye now refines his previous resolution. One is not allowed under any circumstances to skip from one topic to the other when reading the Torah. The two passages in Leviticus are both about Yom Kippur and since they are in close proximity one can skip from reading one to the other.
Thus there are two conditions needed to allow skipping around in the Torah: one subject and close proximity. The congregation should not be confused by skipping from subject to subject nor should they be inconvenienced by having to wait for the Torah to be rolled to some far off place.
It is forbidden to skip from one book of the Prophets to another. The Twelve Minor Prophets were all written in one scroll, and therefore one can skip from one prophet to another within the scroll. But skipping from the beginning to the end is overdoing it, for it would take too long.
Today’s section is a mishnah dealing with who is qualified to receive certain honors in the synagogue.
I have explained this mishnah according to Albeck’s explanation. There are some parts that are explained differently by others.
Section one: The person honored by reading the haftarah is worthy of also being the leader of the other crucial elements of the service. He can lead the responsive reading of the Shema (explained in yesterday’s mishnah), he can pass before the ark (meaning recite the Amidah and thereby aid other’s in fulfilling their obligation) and if he is a priest, he can lift up his hands to bless the people with the priestly blessing. In the following sections we will see that not everyone is worthy of these honors.
Section two: A child is allowed to read the haftarah, but he may not pass before the ark. The person who recites the amidah (passes before the ark) helps others to fulfill their obligation to recite the amidah. In order to help others fulfill their obligation, the person himself must also be obligated. A child who is not obligated cannot fulfill the congregation’s obligation. Therefore, if a child read the haftarah either his father or teacher takes his place in passing before the ark.
Section three: A child may read from the Torah and he may also serve as the translator of the Torah reading. However, he may not pass before the ark, since he is not obligated in prayer (see above). He also may not lift up his hands to recite the priestly blessing if he is a priest because it was considered disgraceful for the community to have to be blessed by a minor.
Section four: A person in rags, meaning one who is dressed shabbily and whose flesh can be seen through his clothes, may still lead the responsive reading of the Shema because this was done from one’s seat. One didn’t have to get up in front of the community. Since he would not be seen by the entire congregation, he was allowed to fulfill this role. He was also allowed to serve as the translator, since this was not considered all that important of a function. However, he was not allowed to read from the Torah because it would be disgraceful to read the Torah while dressed in rags. He was not allowed to pass before the ark or lift up his hands (if he was a priest) for the same reason—everyone would see him and his improper clothing.
Section five: One of the blessings before the Shema is “who creates light.” According to the first opinion in the mishnah, a blind man can recite this blessing even though he can’t see the light. He may also translate the Torah because translating does not require one to read.
Rabbi Judah holds that a person blind from birth cannot recite the Shema because he can’t thank God for having ever seen the light.
Today’s section asks why the one who reads the Haftorah also receives so many other functions including the public recitation of the Shema, and being the shaliah tzibbur, the prayer leader.
The mishnah we learned in yesterday’s section listed all sorts of synagogue roles that the one who reads the Haftorah also fulfills (see yesterday’s mishnah). R. Papa says that this is to compensate him for receiving the lesser honor of reading the haftorah. Reading the haftorah is not as great of an honor as reading the Torah. Therefore, to compensate the one who agrees to do so, we give him other honors.
Rabbah bar Shimi says that there would be arguments between the haftorah reader and others—why should I read Haftorah while you get to be the shaliah tzibbur (prayer leader)? It seems that in Talmudic times this may have also been a paid position, making it all the more understandable why he would argue. Therefore, they designated the one who reads the Haftorah to be the shaliah tzibbur as well.
The Talmud, as it often does, asks what the practical difference is between the two explanations of the mishnah. The practical difference is where the shaliah tzibbur is not paid. In such a case, the one who receives the haftorah would not argue over receiving the honor. Therefore, according to Rabbah bar Shimi’s reasoning, the honor could be given to another person. But R. Papa would say that he should still give it to the same person, to compensate him for the lesser honor of reading the Haftorah.
The mishnah said that if the child read the Haftorah his father or teacher acts as shaliah tzibbur in his place. The Talmud now evaluates the above dispute in light of this line of the Mishnah. If we were concerned about quarrels, are kids really going to quarrel over not receiving these honors?
But if we say the reason is to show him respect, do we really need to show a child respect? He should be happy with whatever he gets.
If you say that he should give his father or teacher the honors in order to show respect to them, we could say the same thing about his father or teacher quarrelling with another shaliah tzibbur. Thus in the end both reasons work with this line in the Mishnah. If the child receives the haftorah, we give the other honors to his father or teacher either to honor them, or so that they don’t fight with someone else who received the honor.