Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Special Holiday Shiur
Torah Reading at Mincha on Fast Days
By Rav Moshe Taragin
[Note: The following shiur is loosely based on ideas expressed by Rav
Soloveitchik in a shiur on keriat ha-Torah.]
Although keriat ha-Torah (the reading of the Torah) occupies a prominent
position within the liturgy, there are only three occasions on which we
read from the Torah during Mincha - Shabbat, Yom Kippur, and general fasts.
Quite probably, the afternoon reading during Yom Kippur stems either from
its nature as a fast or from its identity as a form of Shabbat (Yom Kippur
is referred to as Shabbat Shabbaton). Hence, we can reduce our discussion
to two different forms of Torah reading during Mincha – Shabbat and ta'anit
(fast days). The source for Torah reading during Mincha on Shabbat
can be located in the gemara Bava Kama (82a): After witnessing the deleterious
effects of spending three days without Torah study, Moshe instituted public
reading of the Torah every Monday, Thursday and Shabbat afternoon.
What, however, is the source and essence of the mitzva to read from the
Torah during Mincha of a ta'anit tzibbur?
To help locate a source, we will begin by assessing the nature of keriat
ha-Torah on fasts in GENERAL. We will then question the unique character
of fasts in that the Torah is read during Mincha as well.
Possibly the most appropriate starting point is a gemara in Megilla
(22a) which questions the number of people who are called to read from
the Torah during a ta'anit (both Shacharit and Mincha). The gemara
weighs two positions. Instinctively, we would say that we should
not call more than three, since a ta'anit does not obligate an extra korban
Mussaf. In the Mikdash an extra korban Mussaf was sacrificed on Yom
Tov, Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. This extra sacrifice, and the unique
sanctity of the day which it reflects, should understandably mandate an
extra "aliya." A ta'anit, which does not enjoy this extra korban,
is ostensibly not more holy than a regular day and thus does not warrant
an extra aliya.
However, the gemara also considers a possibility that a ta'anit deserves
an extra aliya since it has a "Mussaf tefilla" – an extra prayer.
There exists some debate regarding the identity of this extra tefilla.
According to Rashi, it refers to the addition of "Aneinu" in Shemoneh Esrei
(an extra passage added during the berakha of "Shema Koleinu" petitioning
God to accept our prayers). The Ramban (Ta'anit 15) disagrees, claiming
that the gemara refers to the tefilla of Ne'ila - an extra prayer service
which was added on a ta'anit tzibbur in the afternoon. In the days
of the Mikdash, authentic ta'aniyot tzibbur were far more common than they
are in our day. A true ta'anit tzibbur might include prohibitions
which extend beyond merely eating and drinking, and requires an extra tefilla
during the afternoon. The only contemporary incidence of tefillat
Ne'ila occurs on Yom Kippur.
Whether we accept Rashi's view or the Ramban's, the same question emerges:
Why should the additional tefilla obligate an extra aliya? An extra
korban logically obligates an extra aliya (or several extra aliyot on Yom
Tov) since it mirrors a higher level of kedusha on those days. This
kedusha is expressed partially through the extra korban and partially through
the prohibition of working. Hence, it makes sense to augment the
number of aliyot. However, ta'anit tzibbur seemingly has no extra
halakhic level of kedusha, does not obligate an extra korban, nor does
any prohibition from work apply. Why should the presence of an extra
tefilla (or, according to Rashi, an addition to the tefilla) possibly obligate
an extra aliya?
The answer to this question quite possibly lies in understanding a gemara
in Megilla (22b). The gemara says that any day which is "more" than
its counterpart receives an additional aliya. For example, the kedusha
of Yom Kippur is qualitatively different from that of Yom Tov and hence
the number of aliyot on Yom Kippur is increased from five to six.
Does this formula apply only to days which enjoy increased kedusha?
Does the formula merely suggest that the number of aliyot reflects the
hierarchy of days in terms of kedusha? If this were true, then ta'anit
tzibbur would be left out in the cold, since it has no increased kedusha
and is excluded from the hierarchy. Alternatively, is the gemara
suggesting that any day which contains ANY special, extended status deserves
an extra aliya to reflect that unique experience? Generally, the
special status takes the form of higher kedusha. On fasts, however,
no kedusha exists, but certainly the day has a unique status which might
be reflected by an extra aliya. If this latter interpretation is
accepted, we have grounds to add an aliya on a ta'anit. All that
remains is to identify that unique character or facet of ta'anit.
Day of Teshuva
The Rambam (Hilkhot Ta'anit 1:1-2) highlights a fast day as one of teshuva.
The constraint upon eating is intended to focus attention upon our behavior
and the resulting crisis. (Keep in mind that, ideally, a ta'anit
is called in response to an actual crisis – famine, war, plague etc; our
ta'aniyot based upon past tragedies are extensions of those original fast
days.) Rav Soloveitchik claimed that not only is the day dedicated
to teshuva but the READING FROM THE TORAH PARTICIPATES in that experience.
Nechemia (9:1-3) describes a public fast day called immediately upon the
return from Bavel addressing the wide-scale intermarriage which had occurred.
After confessing their sins, the public gathered for a general recital
from the Torah. Evidently, the reading from the Torah forms an integrated
part of the ta'anit/teshuva experience.
That keriat ha-Torah on fasts participates in teshuva can be witnessed
in the choice of what is read. Though the mishna in Megilla (30b)
lists the blessings and curses (the tokhacha in parashat Bechukotai), the
beraita (31a) substitutes "Va-yechal Moshe" (from parashat Ki Tisa) as
the selected reading. Though the tokhacha graphically describes our
penchant for errant behavior and the tragedies which will ensue, parashat
Ki Tisa actually describes the first teshuva process. It might be
more suitable to promote the process of teshuva.
The role of keriat ha-Torah within teshuva can also be deduced from
a fascinating dispute between the Tana'im about the number of aliyot.
The gemara cited earlier considers ADDING an aliya due to the extra tefilla.
There exists a dispute among the Tana'im (22b) even about the minimum number
of three aliyot. According to Rav Yosi, the minimum three are called
on every ta'anit. According to the Tana Kama, however, three are
called only if a ta'anit occurs on Monday or Thursday – since they would
be called even if it were not a ta'anit. If, however, a ta'anit occurs
on another weekday, only one person is called to read from the Torah.
How might we define keriat ha-Torah on fasts in a manner which would justify
calling LESS than three people?
Quite possibly, this position reflects the unique nature of reading
from the Torah on a ta'anit. Standard keriat ha-Torah is an exercise
in learning Torah in public. Reading from the Torah on a ta'anit,
however, is meant to catalyze the process of teshuva. As such, the
reading of the haftara may be seen as more effective in this aim and hence
more central to the day. Unlike the portion from the Torah which
describes our historical sins, and records the first public teshuva, the
chapters from Nevi'im actually exhort us to perform teshuva. In fact,
one of the basic features of Nevi'im is the constant chastising which we
receive from the prophets as they admonish us and urge us to repent.
If teshuva is the order of the day and the purpose of reading from Scripture,
we might accent the reading of the haftara in place of reading from the
Torah. This might be the position of the Tana Kama. Essentially,
the reading from the Torah is merely the prelude to the more crucial reading
from Nevi'im. Halakha still demands that every reading from Nevi'im
be preceded by a reading from the Torah (see the gemara, 23a). Since
the Torah reading is only a preamble, one aliya suffices.
Even Rav Yosi, who required the standard three aliyot, might have viewed
teshuva as the ultimate goal of our public reading. In addition,
he might also have highlighted the reading of the Nevi'im over reading
from the Torah. However, the basic structure of Torah reading must
be retained even if that reading merely introduces the reading of Nevi'im
and therefore three aliyot must be called.
We have suggested that Torah reading on fasts contributes to the environment
of teshuva which constitutes the true purpose of the day. This might
be reflected by the section which is read, as well as by the number of
aliyot. Ironically, the same concept - that the reading should promote
teshuva - might mandate an extra aliya (given the added role which teshuva
plays) or might tolerate a reduction in the number of aliyot (the position
of the Tana Kama).
This concept might also be reflected in a famous question raised
by R. Akiva Eiger. Can someone who is not fasting (even for legitimate
reasons) be called to an aliya on a ta'anit? Why should such a restraint
be placed? Someone who flaunts the community by rejecting the ta'anit
certainly does not deserve an aliya; but what about someone who has a valid
heter (permission not to fast – for example a health issue)?
If we view the reading as part of the teshuva process, we might better
understand this halakha. The teshuva of a ta'anit is performed through
fasting, and the Torah reading is integrated into that experience.
Though we might not blame someone who is excused from the fast, he might
not be best suited to broker the teshuva by representing the tzibbur in
reading from the Torah. Had keriat ha-Torah on fasts been merely
incidental to the day, we would not adopt such a limitation.
Recognizing a ta'anit as a day dedicated to teshuva and the keriat ha-Torah
as an integral part of that repentance, we might better understand the
extra aliya. If extra aliyot are not merely the product of EXTRA
KEDUSHA but also of EXTRA OR EXTENDED EXPERIENCES, fasts (as well as Yom
Tov) might enjoy an extra aliya. In general, keriat ha-Torah is merely
an opportunity to study Torah in a public setting. For this experience,
three aliyot suffice. However, on fasts the reading from the Torah
plays an additional role - it prompts the teshuva process. The gemara
itself, when questioning the number of aliyot on a ta'anit, might have
been questioning the criteria for adding aliyot. Does only Yom Tov
receive extra aliyot due to its ascending levels of kedusha indicated by
korban Mussaf? Or does any day with unique experiences and SUPPLEMENTARY
or EXTENDED roles for keriat ha-Torah receive extra aliyot to reflect the
transformed experience? If the latter were true, then fasts would
easily qualify for extra aliyot. [The fact that today we do not add
an aliya on a ta'anit does not disprove our understanding of an extended
function of keriat ha-Torah on ta'anit; it merely implies that this extended
role is possibly not enough to require extra aliyot.]
Having determined the unique element of keriat ha-Torah on ta'anit,
we can return to our original question: Why does ta'anit warrant reading
from the Torah during Mincha? In general, we recognize Mincha-time
as the critical moments of teshuva during a ta'anit. The verse in
Ezra (9:5) declares this when Ezra writes, "During the Mincha time I arose
from my ta'anit, tore my clothing, bowed on my knees, spread my hands upward
to Hashem my God." After all, the extra tefilla of Ne'ila can only
be recited in the afternoon, further confirming the afternoon as the crucial
period for tefilla and teshuva. If keriat ha-Torah were truly part
of the teshuva process, it should certainly be performed in the afternoon
In fact, according to some positions, keriat ha-Torah of ta'anit
is performed ONLY during Mincha. The gemara in Megilla (30b) describes
the schedule for ta'anit: "Half the day was designated for public moral
inventory, the next quarter for reading from the Torah and Nevi'im, and
the final quarter for pleading for mercy." The impression from the
gemara is that keriat ha-Torah was performed only in the afternoon and
not in the morning during Shacharit. Of course, Halakha does not
accept this ruling [see, for example, the Lechem Mishneh in his comments
to the Rambam, Hilkhot Ta'anit 1:17]. However, some vestige of this
gemara remains in that we recite a haftara only during Mincha and not during
Shacharit. If indeed the haftara from Nevi'im plays a more crucial
role in promoting teshuva, it might be better recited in the afternoon
- the period of the day designated for teshuva.
In conclusion, although we do not accept the opinion of adding
an aliya on a ta'anit, the principle which motivated that position still
holds true: The day is one devoted to teshuva. Keriat ha-Torah on
ta'anit gives expression to this theme of promoting teshuva. It is
thus logical that we read not only the Torah, but the haftara too, at Mincha,
which is the height of the teshuva aspect of the day.
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