• Rav Michael Siev


Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Megilla: 14: 23a-b


A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at:
http://www.e-daf.com/dafprint.asp?ID=1457 (for 23a) and http://www.e-daf.com/dafprint.asp?ID=14578 (for 23b).

Key words and phrases in Hebrew and Aramaic are marked in blue, and their translation/explanation can be seen by placing the cursor over them. 

From time to time, the shiur will include instructions to stop reading and do some task on your own. This will be marked by a


red pause box

It is highly recommended that you follow those instructions.

Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also written in red

Last week, we continued our discussion regarding the number of aliyot that we have on different days. This week, we pick up with a discussion of who can get an aliya, and with the unique aliya of maftir.

We begin with the second word on the 8th to last line on 23a.


The rabbis taught: all are included the the count of seven (aliyot), even a minor and even a woman. But the sages said: a woman should not read from the Torah, because of the honor of the congregation. תנו רבנן: הכל עולין למנין שבעה, ואפילו קטן ואפילו אשה. אבל אמרו חכמים: אשה לא תקרא בתורה, מפני כבוד צבור.

Some commentators explain that the reason it would impinge upon the honor of the congregation to call a woman to the Torah is that it would indicate that the men present, who really are obligated in k'riyat haTorah, do not know enough (or care enough) to be read from the Torah.

The practice nowadays is to give aliyot only to men, except for the aliya of maftir, which may be given even to boys under the age of bar mitzva. The gemara now turns its attention to this exceptional aliya:


It was asked of them: maftir, what is it (it's status) that it should be included in the count of seven (aliyot)?

Rav Huna and R' Yirmiya the son of Abba: one said it is included, one said it is not included.

The one that said it is included - for he reads (from the Torah).

And the one that said it is not included - is like Ula, for Ula said: why does he who finishes ("maftir") with the prophets read from the Torah first - because of the honor of the Torah. And since it is because of the honor of the Torah (and not because of the regular obligation of Torah reading) - it does not go toward the count.

A question was asked (from a b'raita): the one who finishes with the prophets should not decrease from 21 verses, parallel to the 7 who read from the Torah (a minimum of 3 verses each). And if it is (that the maftir is not included in the required number of aliyot but must be a separate aliya), they (the minimum number of verses that must be read from the Torah) are 24!

Since it (the maftir) is for the honor of the Torah, we do not need to read (verses from the prophets) parallel to it.

איבעיא להו: מפטיר מהו שיעלה למנין שבעה?

רב הונא ורבי ירמיה בר אבא, חד אמר: עולה, וחד אמר: אינו עולה.

מאן דאמר עולה - דהא קרי.

ומאן דאמר אינו עולה - כדעולא, דאמר עולא: מפני מה המפטיר בנביא צריך שיקרא בתורה תחלה - מפני כבוד תורה, וכיון דמשום כבוד תורה הוא - למנינא לא סליק.

מיתיבי: המפטיר בנביא לא יפחות מעשרים ואחד פסוקין כנגד שבעה שקראו בתורה. ואם איתא, עשרים וארבעה הויין!

כיון דמשום כבוד תורה הוא, כנגדו נמי לא בעי.

The gemara has presented a disagreement as to whether the maftir counts as one of the obligatory aliyot, and although it has attempted to prove that the maftir need not be a separate aliya, it has not come to a clear conclusion.


What is our practice today? With which opinion does it conform?

The astute shul-goer will note that our practice seems to be contradictory. On Shabbat and Yom Tov we read the required number of aliyot and only then the maftir, but at mincha on fast days we read only the required number of aliyot, with the final oleh also reading the haftara.

Tosafot on our sugya (s.v. Chad amar) explain this seemingly inconsistent policy based on a different sugya that we have studied together in previous shiurim. In reality, we rule that the maftir does count toward the required number of aliyot. However, we would ideally like to "play it safe" and have our practice conform to the dissenting opinion as well. On Shabbat and Yom Tov, when it is permitted to add aliyot, we read the required number of aliyot and only then the maftir. At other times, when it is forbidden to add aliyot, we are forced to pick a side; we therefore include the maftir in the required number of aliyot.

In an additional, fascinating piece, Tosafot (s.v. Keivan) describe the evolution of a different aspect of our practice regarding Torah readings. They begin with a question; why does the gemara think that we ought to read no fewer than 24 verses for the haftara if maftir must be an additional aliya and not one of the obligatory seven aliyot? Since the maftir merely repeats a few verses that the seventh oleh already read, that aliya does not add any verses to the Torah reading!

Based on this question, Tosafot conclude that in Talmudic times, the maftir actually read additional verses that had not been yet been read. Later on, rabbinic authorities instituted the saying of the kaddish after the seventh aliya and before maftir, in order to separate between the seven obligatory aliyot and the additional aliya. Since they didn't want to interrupt the unified, weekly Torah portion with the kaddish, they decreed that we finish the entire portion during the obligatory seventh aliya, with the maftir merely repeating a few verses from the end of the final aliya.

Tosafot note that this reasoning led to differing practices in different communities on weeks such as this coming Shabbat, on which we have an extra Torah reading from an additional Torah scroll. This week we read parashat shekalim, which describes the mitzvah incumbent upon each Jew to make a yearly half-shekel donation to the bet hamikdash. These donations would fund the communal sacrifices in the bet hamikdash. Since they would begin to use the newly donated funds in the month of Nissan, they would remind people of their obligation in the month of Adar. Therefore, we read of this mitzvah on the Shabbat before the beginning of the month of Adar. We have similar readings at other times, including all holidays, when we read about the special sacrifices that were brought in the bet hamikdash on those days.

Because these extra readings are obligatory, there were those who felt that they should be included in the initial Torah reading, before the kaddish. Thus, they would read the entire parshat hashavua in six aliyot, the extra portion during the seventh aliya, and the maftir would repeat some verses that had already been read, as per usual. Tosafot note that at their time, this was the practice in all of France.

Our practice, however, is different. We assume that the reason that we do not say the kaddish before we finish the regular parsha is not because we do not want to separate between the different parts of the obligatory Torah reading, but because we do not want to divide one unified parsha. The addition of parshat shekalim, while obligatory, is a separate unit. Therefore, we complete the regular parsha with the usual, seven aliyot, then say kaddish, and then add an extra aliya for the maftir.

While on the topic, Tosafot note that there are other instances as well of post-Talmudic emendations to the prayer service. The gemara notes that ma'ariv is optional, as opposed to shacharit and mincha, which are obligatory. Later on, ma'ariv became universally adopted and therefore lost its optional status. In order to mark the fact that ma'ariv is in reality a lower level of obligation, later authorities instituted the additional blessing of baruch Hashem l'olam, which is still recited in nusach Ashkenaz Diaspora communities. Rosh (Rabbenu Asher, a 13-14th century German commentator) claims that we say kaddish before shemoneh esrei of ma'ariv for the same reason; just as we say kaddish at the end of the prayer service, we say it before shemoneh esrei of ma'ariv in order to show that one could (at least in earlier times) have ended the service there and not continued with shemoneh esrei.

Back to the gemara

The gemara has parenthetically introduced the issue of how many verses must be read as part of the haftara. The gemara now picks up on that issue:


Rava asked: but "add your burnt offerings" (a reference to the haftara for parshat tzav), which is not 21, and we read!

There it is different, because the topic has finished.

And when the topic has not finished no? But Rav Shemuel bar Abba said: many times I stood before R' Yochanan, and when we read 10 verses, he said to us: "stop!"

A place where there is a translator is different, for Rav Tachalifa bar Shmuel taught: They didn't say it except for a place where there is no translator, but a place where there is a translator - he can stop (at fewer than 21 verses).

מתקיף לה רבא: והרי "עלותיכם ספו," דלא הויין עשרין וחד, וקרינן! 

שאני התם דסליק עניינא.

והיכא דלא סליק עניינא לא? והאמר רב שמואל בר אבא: זמנין סגיאין הוה קאימנא קמיה דרבי יוחנן, וכי הוה קרינן עשרה פסוקי אמר לן: אפסיקו!

מקום שיש תורגמן שאני, דתני רב תחליפא בר שמואל: לא שנו אלא במקום שאין תורגמן, אבל מקום שיש תורגמן - פוסק.

The gemara here refers to a practice that was common in Talmudic times, but is generally not practiced today. In former times, there would be a translator who would translate the Torah reading and haftara as it was being read (the way that was done will be explained by the mishnah and gemara later on our page). The gemara explains that when there is a translator, the minimum length of a haftara is 10 pesukim rather than 21.


Why should it matter if there is a translator or not?

Commentators differ on this issue. Rashi (s.v. makom, 2nd line of Rashi on 23b) explains:

  • A place where there is a translator is different - for there is difficulty ("torach") for the congregation. 

Rashi refers to the concept of tircha d'tzibbura, which enjoins us not to overburden a congregation. This seems to indicate that while we would ideally like to have 21 pesukim in the haftara, parallel to the minimum number of pesukim in the Torah reading, it simply be too time consuming to read that many pesukim with their translations, and this practical concern carries the day.

Ran (Rabbenu Nissim, a 14th century Spanish commentator) claims that this issue is not a conflict between a practical concern and a desire to maintain the symbolic number of 21 pesukim in the haftara, but rather a different way to fulfill the minimum of 21 pesukim. In counting the verses, we include not only the pesukim themselves but also their translations. Ten pesukim are thus counted as twenty. We then repeat the final pasuk after its translation, making a total of 21 verses.

There are certain Yemenite communities that still have a translator for Torah readings nowadays, but that is not currently the practice in the vast majority of congregations. Tosafot (s.v. lo shanu) justify the cessation of this practice based on our gemara. The gemara itself differentiates between places that have a translator and places that do not, thus indicating that even in Talmudic times this practice was not uniformly implemented. Since it was never a universal practice, it is not binding in all times and places. (Nevertheless, it is clear from Tosafot that even in their times, they did have a translator for certain special occasions.)

Rosh asks why in fact we do not have a translator nowadays - many people in our communities too do not understand the Torah reading as it is being read! He explains that the custom was to use the Aramaic translation of Onkelos, known simply as targum (lit. "translation"). This translation was redacted with Divine inspiration. Since people who would benefit nowadays from a translation of the Torah or haftara would not benefit if that translation were in Aramaic, and we have no other translation of such exalted stature, it is not possible for us to translate the readings at all in such a formal way.

On another practical note, the parallelism between the Torah reading and haftara expresses itself in two additional ways:

1) Because the requirement of 21 pesukim for the haftara stems from the minimum number of pesukim that can be read from the Torah (7 aliyot with a minimum of 3 pesukim each), the Rama rules that on Yom Tov, when we have only 5 aliyot, the minimum number of pesukim required for the haftara is 15 rather than 21.

2) As a parallel to the 7 aliyot, the person who gets maftir makes 7 berachot; two for his aliya, one before reading the haftara and four upon completion of the haftara.

Next week we will start the new mishnah - until then Shabbat shalom!