For the week ending 16 February 2013 / 5 Adar I 5773

Reading for Everyone

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Question: It recently came to may attention that in the old days every Jew called up to the Torah for an aliya read his portion by himself. I expressed an interest in doing so the next time I would receive an aliya but I was told that it is almost a universal practice in post-Talmudic times for a baal koreh (an official Reader) to read the Torah even if the one who received the aliya is capable of doing it himself. What is the right thing to do?

Answer: Two reasons are given by our Talmudic commentaries for establishing the institution of a baal koreh who reads for everyone.

One approach is based on what happened in regard to the mitzvah of making a declaration when bringing bikkurim (first crops and fruits) to the Beit Hamikdash. Since some people were not sufficiently literate to make this declaration, they fulfilled their obligation by listening to a kohen making it on their behalf. This could lead to embarrassment for the unlearned Jew and sometimes discouraged him from bringing the bikkurim in order to avoid this shame. It was therefore instituted that a kohen would make that declaration on behalf of everyone, even those capable of doing so themselves.

The same situation of potential embarrassment existed in regard to the public reading of the Torah on special days. A Jew who was not capable of doing the reading by himself and would suffer the embarrassment of someone reading for him, while other Jews did the reading themselves, might easily be tempted to absent himself for the Torah reading altogether. For this reason it was instituted that a baal koreh would read the Torah even for those who could do so themselves.

Another approach to understanding the reason for the institution of a baal koreh is that it was based on the fear that someone called up to the Torah might mistakenly consider himself capable of properly reading the Torah and would do an improper job. This fear was eliminated by having a baal koreh who had proven himself capable read for everyone.

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