Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 21 January 2012 / 25 Tevet 5772

Understanding Shnayim Mikra V'Echad Targum

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

There is a well known Gemara in Brachos[1] that states “A person should always complete his [study of the parsha] with the congregation - [by studying] shnayim mikra v’echad targum. Anyone who does this will have long days and years.” Learning the text of the weekly parsha twice with the targum (keep reading for explanation) is a segula for long life.

What many do not know is that this statement of Chazal is actually codified in halacha[2]!

The Ba’al HaTurim[3] famously comments that this halacha can be gleaned from the first verse in Parshas Shemos: The parsha begins “V’aileh shemos Bnei Yisrael” - “And these are the names of Bnei Yisrael”. The Ba’al HaTurim remarks that this passage stands for (roshei teivos) -‘V’adam asher lomed haseder shnayim mikra v’echad targum b’kol naim yashir, yichyeh shanim rabos aruchim l’olam’ or “And the person who learns (or sings) the weekly parsha shnayim mikra v’echad targum in a sweet straight voice, will live many long years (have an extremely long life).

What Is Targum?

Now that we have seen that that such a great reward[4] awaits those who strictly this, there is only one thing left to ascertain: What precisely is the mitzvah? Obviously, it means to recite the weekly Torah portion twice, plus targum, but what exactly does targum refer to, and what is the purpose of it?

This is actually a dispute among the Rishonim. Several are of the opinion that the purpose of targum is that it is not just a simple translation, but also adds layers of explanation to every word[5]. Consequently, according to this opinion, the purpose of reading the parsha with targum is to learn the Torah in a way that allows us to understand it better. Practically, this means that targum here would mean learning the parsha with Rashi’s commentary, as it is the best commentary to unlock the pshat of the Chumash[6].

Others maintain that the halacha is referring to the targum as we know it: Targum Onkelus, as the Gemara in Megillah[7] states that this translation of the Torah was actually given to us by Moshe Rabbeinu[8]. The Rema[9] held that therefore reading Targum Onkelus is like reading from the Torah itself! Accordingly, by reading the parsha with its original targum, we are re-presenting the Torah weekly in the same manner as it was given at Har Sinai.

Some opine that this is Rashi’s own shitta when it comes to shnayim mikra v’echad targum. The result of this machlokes is that Rashi would maintain that Targum Onkelus is preferable while the Rosh was of the opinion that Rashi is preferable. That means according to Rashi, ironically, it’s possible that one might not even fulfill his obligation of targum if he learns Rashi’s own commentary[10]!

The Shulchan Aruch[11] cites both opinions and rules that one can fulfill his obligation with either one, Targum Onkelus or Rashi. However he concludes that it is preferable to do both, as that way one can satisfy both interpretations[12].

The Taz[13] explains that if someone does not understand either, he can read the original Tzennah U’Renna in German (presumably Yiddish), to enable his understanding, and with this he fulfills his targum obligation. The Mishna Berurah rules this way as well. In this vein, several contemporary authorities, including Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Moshe Sternbuch ruled that nowadays one may perform his targum obligation by reading an English translation of Rashi’s commentary, if that is the way one best understands it.

What time is Mincha?

The Shulchan Aruch[14] rules that the proper time to fulfill this mitzvah is from the Sunday[15] of the week when a given parsha is read, over the course of the whole week and preferably finishing before the Shabbos day meal[16]. If one has not yet done so, then he has “until Mincha” to finish. [Actually, b’dieved one has until Simchas Torah to catch up for the whole year.]

The Shulchan Aruch’s enigmatic choice of words led to an interesting dispute among several authorities: What did the Shulchan Aruch mean by “until Mincha”? Some posit that he was referring to a personal Mincha, meaning that a person can finish this mitzvah up until he himself actually davens Mincha[17]. Others feel that his intent was until the time of Mincha, meaning Mincha Gedolah[18]. A third approach is that it refers to the time when Mincha is davened in the local shul[19]. There does not seem to be any clear cut consensus on this issue[20].

One Small Step For Man…

Another issue that raises much debate among the halachic decisors is what the proper order and way to do shnayim mikra v’echad targum is, and at which points one may stop; whether posuk by posuk, section by section or parsha by parsha. There also does not seem to be a clear consensus on this either.[21] Although for many, to clear a time block to do shnayim mikra at once may be difficult, it might be a good idea to follow the Mishna Berura’s[22] advice and employ the Vilna Gaon’s method of immediately after one’s dailyShachris, doing a small part every day (i.e. on Sunday do up to Sheini; on Monday up to Shlishi, etc.). By following this technique one will have finished this mitzvah by Shabbos, every week.

Many contemporary authorities are at a loss to explain the perceived lackadaisicalness that many have concerning this mitzvah. These poskim, including Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, Rav Moshe Sternbuch, and Rav Ovadia Yosef, stress its significance[23], and decry the fact that it seems to have fallen into disuse, with several saying that there is even a mitzvah of chinuch for a parent to teach shnayim mikra’s importance to his children[24]! So, although there is halachic discussion as to what the proper order and way to fulfill this mitzvah is, one shouldn’t lose sight of the forest for the trees; the most essential point is that one should actually make the effort to do it. Who would willingly want to turn down a promise by the Gemara for an extremely long life?!



[1]Brachos 8a - 8b, in the statement by Rav Huna ben Rabbi Yehuda in the name of Rabbi Ami.

[2]Rambam (Hilchos Tefilla Ch.13, 25), Tur & Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 285, 1). The Aruch Hashulchan (ad loc, 2) posits that this is a takkana from Moshe Rabbeinu! See Shu”t Maharsham (vol.1, 213 s.v. ulam) who states that although it is not technically a “chiyuv gamur” like reading the Torah, it has since been equated to the status of “chiyuv”.

[3]Ba'al HaTurim in his commentary to Shemos Ch. 1, 1. The Levush (O.C. 285, 1) and Pri Megadim (ibid, M.Z. 1) write similarly (with slight variations) that this passage alludes to this mitzvah,V’chayev Adam likros (or lehashleem)haparsha shnayim mikra v’echad targum”, and conclude “vzeh chayavim kol Bnei Yisrael”. See also Chomas Anoch from the Chida (beginning of Parshas Shemos, brought in Toras HaChida to Parshas Shmos, 8) who credits this allusion to Rabbeinu Efraim, and gives a Kabbalistic explanation to its meaning, and its relevance to Parshas Shmos. [Thanks are due to R' Yitzchak Botton for showing me this source.] It is also cited by Rav Chaim Fala’ji (in his Kaf Hachaim 27). See also Rabbi Elchanan Shoff’s recent Birchasa V’Shirasa (on Maseches Brachos pg. 73, s.v. shnayim) who cites a variation of this statement found in Midrash Rebbi David HaNaggid (grandson of the Rambam).

[4]See Kaf Hachaim (ad loc, 32) who cites many other rewards for those who do shnayim mikra v’echad targum faithfully.

[5]See commentary of Tosafos and the Rosh on this Gemara, as well as the Beis Yosef (O.C. 285, 2).

[6]Tur, Beis Yosef, Shuchan Aruch, Taz (O.C. 285, 2), Shlah (Maseches Shabbos, Ner Mitzva 15); see also the Chafetz Chaim’s Likut Maamrim Ch. 5). The Chasam Sofer (Shu”t vol. 6, 61) used to stress the importance of additionally learning the parsha with the Ramban’s commentary

[7]Gemara Megillah 3a. See there further on the importance of Targum Onkelus and Targum Yonason.

[8]Beis Yosef (ibid), quoting the Smag in the name of Rav Notranoi. See also Biur HaGr”a (ad loc. 2), Pri Megadim (ibid M.Z. 1 s.v. hataam, who explains this based on the words Ba’er Heitiv), and Biur Halacha (ad loc. s.v. targum).

[9]Shu”t Rema (127 - 130), based on Tosafos in Bava Kamma (83a s.v. lashon). This is a famous dispute the Rema had with Rav Shmuel Yehuda Katzenellenbogen, as to Tosafos’s intent with his statement that ‘The Torah spoke in Aramaic’.

[10]See Rabbi Yosef M. Radner’s sefer Nachlas Mayim (vol. 3, Al Sugyos HaShas B’Inyanei HaMoadim, Ch.34) at length.

[11]Shulchan Aruch (ibid, 2; as does the Tur. Explained at length in Biur Halacha (ad loc. s.v. targum).

[12]Regarding whether one can fulfill his Targum obligation with Targum Yonason, Rav Asher Weiss (Shu”t Minchas Asher vol. 1, 13, 4) maintains that indeed one does (even though it is probable that Targum Yonason al haTorah is not really the one referred to in the Gemara - see the Chida’s Sheim Gedolim, Maareches HaSeforim 96), as it would be considered similar to reading Rashi’s pshat, as it explains the pesukim as well as adds chiddushim. Nevertheless, he concludes that is still preferable to stick to Targum Onkelus, as Chazal intended.

[13]Taz (ibid, 2), Mishna Berurah (ad loc, 5). Rav Moshe Feinstein’s opinion is cited in sefer Yagel Yaakov (pg. 208, quoting his son Rav Dovid Feinstein); Rav Moshe Sternbuch’s is found in Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 1, 261, s.v. vhiskamti).

[14]O.C. 285, 3 & 4, based on Tosafos and the Rosh (ibid).

[15]Although the Rema in Darchei Moshe (ibid, based on the Kol Bo 37) mentions that this truly means Sunday [see also Pri Megadim ad loc E.A. 5], however, the Mishna Berura (ad loc 7, Shaar Hatzion 12) citing many Rishonim, rules that this really means the preceding Shabbos after Mincha, when the next week’s parsha already is read.

[16]Most authorities understand this to mean the Shabbos Lunch meal (Chayei Adam, Shabbos Ch.7, 9; Shulchan Aruch HaRav O.C. 285, 5; Aruch Hashulchan ad loc 8; Mishna Berura, 9 & Biur Halacha s.v. yashlim), however the Chazon Ish (cited in Orchos Rabbeinu vol. 3 pg. 234) held that this was referring to Seudas Shlishis. There are those who hold that it is preferable to finish by Friday - See Magen Avraham (ad loc 5 & 6, quoting the Shlah), Shaarei Teshuva (ad loc. 1, quoting the Arizal and Rav Chaim Vital), and Mishna Berura (ibid 8 & 9).

[17]Including Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Tefilla Ch. 12, 35) and Rav Chaim Kanievsky (cited in Halichos Chaim vol. 1, pg. 95, 278).

[18]Including the Shmiras Shabbos K’hilchasa (vol. 2, 42, footnote 218) and possibly Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (see sefer Shgiyos Mi Yavin vol. 2, 40, footnote 9). This is also the mashmaos of the Mishna Berurah (above, 10).

[19]This is the opinion of Rav Chaim Na’eh (Ketzos Hashulchan 72, Badei Hashulchan 7).

[20]See Mv”R Rav Yosef Yitzchak Lerner’s award-winning sefer Shgiyos Mi Yavin (vol. 2, 40, 2& 3).

[21]See the major commentaries to the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 285), including Kaf Hachaim and Mishna Berurah, as well as Emes L’Yaakov (on Shulchan Aruch to this siman, and his introduction to Emes L'Yaakov al HaTorah).

[22]Mishna Berura (ad loc 8), quoting Maaseh Rav (59). See Derech Sicha (from Rav Chaim Kanievsky) page 2.

[23]Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe O.C. 5, 17), Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi vol. 8, 46), Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 1, 661); Rav Ovadia Yosef, aside for what he wrote in Shu”t Yechaveh Daas (vol. 2, 37), recently dedicated his broadcasted weekly shiur to exhort the masses to do this weekly mitzvah.

[24]Including Rav Wosner (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi ibid, s.v. pshita), Rav Sternbuch (Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos ibid, ulinyan), and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Tefilla Ch.12, 36). This would not include a daughter, as a woman is technically exempt from the mitzvah of Torah study, and therefore from this mitzvah also (Shu”t Mishneh Halachos vol. 6, 60; Yalkut Yosef, Otzar Dinim L’Isha U’lvas Ch. 5, 3; On the topic of women being exempt from targum in general, see Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 282, 11).


Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.


L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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