By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
In some yeshivos and shuls there is a custom that certain kibbudim on Simchas Torah are sold not for money, but rather for commitments to learn Torah. In one yeshiva, a bachur won the bidding by committing to learn 1,000 blatt Gemara. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein discusses the following question: Is the bachur obligated to learn 1,000 unique pages of Gemara, or can he review 200 pages five times each?
Rav Zilberstein suggested that perhaps an answer can be gleaned from a daf in Megillah (23a–b). The Gemara says that the haftarah that is read every week must contain a minimum of 21 pesukim. Rava challenged this ruling by noting that the haftarah for Parashas Tzav contains less than 21 pesukim, whereupon the Gemara qualified the original ruling: One can read less than 21 pesukim if he reads through an entire topic. The congregation is not obligated to start a new topic in Navi to meet the 21-verse requirement.
Rav Shmuel Bar Abba further challenged the 21-verse ruling. He said that many times he read the haftarah in front of the eminent Amora Rebbe Yochanan. On those occasions, Rebbe Yochanan instructed him to stop reading the haftarah after he had read 10 verses, even though he was still in the middle of a topic. It would seem that Rebbe Yochanan does not agree with the 21-verse haftarah requirement. The Gemara concludes that even Rebbe Yochanan agrees that in some instances 21 verses are required. However, where there is a translator, 10 verses suffice.
It is evident from many places in Shas that there was a custom that during Torah and haftarah leining, an individual would translate the pesukim into Aramaic, a language that everyone understood then. Rebbe Yochanan ruled that only where there is no translator does the congregation have to read 21 verses from the haftarah. When there is a translator, however, the congregation need only read 10 verses.
The Ran explains that the translation itself counts as one verse. Ten pesukim with their translation equal 20 verses. The ba’al koreh would then repeat the last verse again, for a total of 21 verses.
Rav Zilberstein said that it is evident that though there is a requirement of 21 verses, they do not need to be 21 unique verses. When there is a translator, 10 verses out of the 21 are mere translations. The last verse is a verbatim repeat. Perhaps the bachur likewise can argue that the 1,000 blatt he agreed to learn do not need to be unique blatt, but he can repeat.
However, this proof can be refuted by the understanding of other Rishonim of this passage of Gemara. Tosfos was bothered by the fact that in his time, a translator was no longer employed during leining. If it was a universal custom, how and why was it abolished? The Gemara says that the requirement for 21 haftarah verses is only where there is no translator. Tosfos points out that apparently even during the times of the Gemara, the custom to have a translator wasn’t universally accepted, as there were places even then that had no translator. Therefore, nowadays people likewise don’t have to employ a translator.
The Rosh takes this one step further. Back then, people spoke Aramaic; using Onkelos as a translation was beneficial because people understood it. The Rosh says there is no point in having the verses translated into Aramaic nowadays, because people wouldn’t understand it anyway. To substitute a French translation for Onkelos is improper as well, because Onkelos was written with ruach hakodesh. No other translation can match its authenticity. While one can translate the pesukim into French or English as he is learning, it is improper to employ it during krias haTorah. To do so would be implying that this translation is as authentic as the Torah, while in reality some meaning would surely be lost in translation. Therefore, since we have a right to abolish the convention of the Aramaic translator, as it wasn’t a universally accepted custom, we have chosen to do so because it wouldn’t really be beneficial.
Where did Tosfos see that the translation of Torah wasn’t universally accepted? The Gemara is only referring to the haftarah! The context was that where there is no haftarah translation, 21 verses must be read. You can only prove that the haftarah translation wasn’t mandatory. Perhaps it is mandatory to translate the Torah into Aramaic whether we understand it or not.
The Magen Giborim suggests that Tosfos understood that the translator referred to in the Gemara was in fact a Torah translator. The Gemara is saying that in a shul where they have a translator, Torah leining surely takes an awfully long time. Translating every verse doubles the leining time. We therefore give them a break, and let them get away with a short, 10-verse haftarah. In a shul where Torah leining is quicker, because of the absence of a translator, we insist on a 21-verse haftarah.
The reason a 10-verse haftarah is allowed is not that 10 verses translated equal 21 (10 plus the repeat of last verse). Rather, the institution is similar to Torah leining. The Gemara says that the minimum number of pesukim in any Torah leining is 10. (Purim leining is an exception, with only 9.) So, too, when we lein haftarah, we insist on a minimum of 10 pesukim. Those 10 pesukim must be unique.
So the bachur may have to learn 1,000 unique pages of Gemara. However, this is not clear, and the bachur should ask his rebbe. It is best that the gabbai clearly specify during the auction how many blatt must be unique and how many may be a review of a previous blatt. ϖ
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.