05 – Torah Study and Prayer on Shabbat

01. Studying Torah on Shabbat

It is a mitzva to study a great deal of Torah on Shabbat. The Sages stated: “Shabbat and Yom Tov were given solely to study Torah on them” (y. Shabbat 15c). The Sages also stated:

The Torah said to God: “Master of the Universe, when the Jews enter the land, this one will run to his vineyard and that one to his field; what will become of me?” God responded “I have a partner with whom I will pair you. Its name is Shabbat, on which they do not work, and thus can engross themselves in you.” (Tur §290)

The Sages also stated:

God said to Israel: “My children, did I not write to you in My Torah ‘Let not this book of the Torah cease from your mouths, but recite it day and night’ (Yehoshua 1:8)? Even though you labor for six days, you shall dedicate Shabbat to Torah alone.” Based on this, the Sages advise people to always rise early and study on Shabbat, go to the synagogue and to the beit midrash, read the Torah and haftara, and then go home to eat and drink, thus fulfilling the verse: “Go, eat your bread in gladness, and drink your wine in joy” (Kohelet 9:7). (Tanna De-vei Eliyahu Rabba 1)

The Sages tell us that we must divide our time on Shabbat. Half of it should be spent studying Torah in the beit midrash, and half should be spent enjoying Shabbat through food, drink, and sleep (Pesaĥim 68b). Some maintain that it is only on Yom Tov that the division is meant to be even, but that on Shabbat, which is designated for Torah study, one must dedicate more than half of one’s time to Torah study (Baĥ, based on Rambam). However, most poskim maintain that on Shabbat too one should divide the time evenly, with half one’s time spent on Torah and half on physical pleasures. It would seem then that the obligation is to dedicate about 12.5 hours to Torah study, since Shabbat with its tosefet lasts approximately 25 hours. However, in practice, it would seem that we can be lenient and leave out of the calculation the seven hours one needs to sleep each night. There are then 18 hours remaining. Of these, one should dedicate nine hours to Torah and nine hours to enjoying Shabbat with food, drink, and the pleasure of extra sleep. Although Torah study is the primary spiritual component of Shabbat, according to a number of poskim one may be lenient and include in these nine hours of Torah the time spent in prayer, on condition that the prayer service is not too drawn out. We see then that in practice one must dedicate at least six hours to Torah study every Shabbat. Adding this to three hours of prayer, we reach a total of nine hours.

While an even split between spiritual and physical pleasures is the general rule, the specifics of one’s situation can alter the balance somewhat. Torah scholars, who tend toward the ascetic during the week while they diligently study should add a bit more physical pleasure, whereas working men who are not able to study properly during the week should add a bit more Torah study (y. Shabbat 15c; Pesikta Rabbati, end of ch. 23; Beit Yosef 288:1). Similarly, Rema writes:

Working men who do not study Torah all week should study more Torah on Shabbat than scholars, who study Torah all week. Torah scholars should indulge themselves a bit with the pleasure of eating and drinking, since they take pleasure in their learning all week. (290:2)

The logic behind this is that Shabbat is meant to help people reach absolute perfection both spiritually and physically. People who work all week need to perfect themselves through more Torah study, while Torah scholars who weaken their bodies all week while they diligently study Torah need to perfect themselves in the physical realm. In any case, both groups must seriously endeavor to enjoy Shabbat spiritually and physically, as the combination of the two makes each more productive. Thus man reaches perfection, and merits a deep and true oneg Shabbat.[1]


[1]. “It was taught: R. Eliezer says: ‘On a holiday one has only two options. He can either eat and drink, or sit and study.’ R. Yehoshua says: ‘Split it up, half for eating and drinking, and half for the beit midrash…. Split it up, half for God and half for you.’ Rabba says: ‘All agree that on Shabbat there must be a “for you” component. Why? Because the verse states that one should call Shabbat a delight’” (Pesaĥim 68b). We see they disagree about Yom Tov, with R. Eliezer maintaining that it may be dedicated entirely to God. However, when it comes to Shabbat, R. Eliezer concedes to R. Yehoshua that one must also eat and drink. Most poskim maintain that one should split up Shabbat, half for God and half for oneself (Or Zaru’a; Smag; Rabbeinu Yeruĥam; Ha-itim; Ha-manhig; Yam Shel Shlomo). However, it would seem that Rambam maintains that on Shabbat one should dedicate more than half one’s time to Torah and prayer (MT 30:10). This is also the opinion of Baĥ 242:1, which states that the Gemara’s statement, “We also require ‘for you,’” implies that the “for you” requirement is almost an afterthought, with the primary requirement being “for God.”

The Yerushalmi quotes one opinion that Shabbat was given for eating and drinking and another opinion that it was given for studying Torah. The final analysis: “How is this possible? Set aside part of the time for studying Torah and part for eating and drinking” (y. Shabbat 15:3). According to Pesikta, however, there was never a disagreement. Rather, “the ones who maintain that Shabbat was given for physical pleasure refer to Torah scholars who study Torah intensively all week long, and who indulge themselves on Shabbat. The ones who maintain that Shabbat was given for Torah study refer to the workers who work all week and are able to learn on Shabbat.” This Pesikta is cited as law by Shibolei Ha-leket, Tanya Rabbati, Me’iri, and Beit Yosef 288:1. The poskim imply that this does not mean that on Shabbat, Torah scholars should only eat and drink, nor that working men should only study Torah. Rather, when one is splitting his time, a scholar should tend a little more heavily toward material pleasures, while working men should tend a little more heavily toward Torah study. Thus state Rema 290:2, Maharikash, Shlah, SAH 290:5, and many others. This approach allows us to resolve the seeming contradiction between those quoting the Pesikta and those quoting the Bavli and Yerushalmi, which seem to maintain that the division should be half and half.

The poskim disagree regarding the status of prayer. Olat Shabbat 242:1 states that time spent in prayer is considered “for you” time, while R. Yaakov Weil, as quoted in Darkhei Moshe 529:2; Yam Shel Shlomo, Beitza 2:4; and MA 527:22 classify it as “for God” time. It would also seem that Torah scholars who do not exhaust and deprive themselves in study all week must make sure that at least half their time is “for God.”

02. What to Study on Shabbat

Torah study on Shabbat should be a joy and a pleasure. Therefore, some poskim advise against studying difficult and complicated subjects, because when one does not understand what he is studying he becomes tense and aggravated. Therefore, it is proper to review on Shabbat material that one already knows well or study clear and comprehensible material, everyone at their own level. Even Torah scholars should study easy material that does not require exertion on Shabbat (Or Zaru’a; Ya’avetz). Others maintain that, on the contrary, it is particularly appropriate for erudite individuals to delve into difficult passages (Maĥzik Berakha 290:6). It seems that there is no disagreement. Rather, it depends on the individual: one who enjoys raising difficulties and resolving them should study difficult passages, while one who likes understanding things clearly and straightforwardly should study material that is easier to grasp.

One should mainly study material that instructs one how to live life properly, as the Torah states: “Study them and observe them faithfully” (Devarim 5:1). Similarly, the poskim write that one who has limited time to spend studying Torah should devote it to learning halakha. He should also study matters of faith and morals so as to elevate his thoughts and improve his ways (MB 290:6; Derisha, Shakh, and Taz on YD §246; SAH, Talmud Torah 2:9). If this is the case even during the week, then on Shabbat one should certainly study Torah that will provide direction in life. For Shabbat is the inner essence of the week and is meant to illuminate and guide us during the six workdays. Each person needs to discern for himself what type of study, in addition to halakha, he finds most enlightening, be it theology, Tanakh, moralistic tracts, or Ĥasidut. Torah scholars who spend all week studying different areas of the Torah do not need these directives. They should learn whatever they want to learn.

It is good to come up with novel Torah ideas (ĥidushim) on Shabbat. Zohar (III 173:1) states that on Saturday night, after the neshama yeteira returns to heaven, God asks what ĥidushim each Jew innovated that Shabbat with the help of his neshama yeteira (Shlah, Masekhet Shabbat, Ner Mitzva §53). This does not refer to ĥidushim that require toil and pain, but those that make people happy and contain novel understandings of life. One who cannot create novel insights should learn something new (Maĥzik Berakha 290:5; Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 5).

One who has children should study Torah with them on Shabbat. This gives him a double mitzva. It is a mitzva for a father to teach his son Torah, as it says: “Teach them to your children” (Devarim 11:19). And the Sages state: “If one teaches his son Torah it is as if he has taught his son and his son’s son through all the generations, as it is written: ‘Make them known to your children and your children’s children’ (Devarim 4:9)” (Kiddushin 30:1). By teaching his son, he ensures that the Torah will continue to be transmitted from generation to generation until the end of time. The Sages further say that a grandfather who is privileged to teach his grandson Torah is akin to one who accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, as the Torah states: “Make them known to your children and your children’s children,” which is immediately followed by “the day you stood before the Lord your God at Ĥorev” (Devarim 4:9-10). Since the Torah was given on Shabbat, it is a particularly appropriate time to transmit the Torah.

03. Sleeping on Shabbat

Included in the mitzva of oneg Shabbat is sleeping soundly, as the popular proverb has it: “Sleeping on Shabbat is a pleasure.” But it is not proper for one to sleep on Shabbat in order to work Saturday night. Doing this subordinates Shabbat to the weekday. One should not even sleep on Shabbat in order to study Torah Saturday night, because by doing so he loses precious, holy time on Shabbat, during which Torah study is weightier than learning done during the week (Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 2, Introduction to Shemot, states, based on kabbalistic interpretations, that Torah study on Shabbat is a thousand times more powerful than Torah study during the week. See below, 22:15).

Similarly, it is not proper for one to work extra hours on Thursday and Friday and plan to make up for his lost sleep on Shabbat. On the contrary, it is a mitzva to spend the weekdays preparing for Shabbat. One should prepare food for Shabbat, clean the house, do the laundry, and bathe. Certainly included in Shabbat preparation is making the effort to begin Shabbat in a well-rested state rather than an exhausted one. This allows one to focus on study and prayer and to properly enjoy the Shabbat meals. Only if one worked extra hours on Thursday and Friday due to factors out of his control that left him no other choice may he catch up on sleep over Shabbat, but one may not plan things that way. The saying: “Sleep on Shabbat is a pleasure” means that if one generally sleeps seven hours a night, he should sleep for eight hours on Shabbat, so he will be better rested and refreshed. But it does not mean that Shabbat should, God forbid, become the weekdays’ servant, by serving as a time when people can make up for sleep missed during the week.

In terms of afternoon naps for men, there are various customs. Rambam (MT 30:10) records that pious people would wake up early on Shabbat morning, pray Shaĥarit and Musaf, return home for the second meal, study in the beit midrash until late afternoon, pray Minĥa, and eat se’uda shlishit (the third meal, “shaleshudis”) until the end of Shabbat. However, some poskim write that one who is accustomed to sleep in the afternoon does not have to skip his nap, because sleep is included in oneg Shabbat (Tur §290). Of course, one must be careful that he not sleep so much that he is unable to dedicate time to study. For we have already learned (section1) that on Shabbat at least six hours must be dedicated to Torah study. So, if one sleeps longer on Shabbat afternoon, he must learn more Torah on Friday night after the Shabbat meal or earlier on Shabbat morning.

One must be careful not to eat too much at the meals, because overeating makes people very sleepy and is not truly pleasurable. Though one enjoys the taste of the food while eating, afterward one feels heavy, exhausted, and often also depressed, because all the body’s resources must be mobilized to digest the excessive quantity of food. After eating like this one has no energy to focus on studying or on having deep, beautiful conversation with family members. Therefore one must be very careful not to overeat, so the meal and its delicacies add energy and liveliness to one’s Torah study. One who nevertheless becomes tired after eating should sleep for a bit and then arise energetically to study Torah.

04. The Shabbat Sermon

It has long been customary for rabbis to deliver important derashot (sermons or homilies) on Shabbat, in which they deal with halakhic and theological matters. These would be attended by the entire community. This important practice has its foundation in God’s instruction to Moshe:

God said to Moshe: “Gather together large groups and publicly teach them the laws of Shabbat. Thus, future leaders will learn from you to convene groups every Shabbat and assemble in the batei midrash to teach and instruct Israel about what the Torah permits and forbids. Thus My great name will be glorified among My children.” Based on this, the Sages averred: Moshe instituted that Israel discuss matters pertaining to the day – the laws of Pesaĥ on Pesaĥ, the laws of Shavu’ot on Shavu’ot, the laws of Sukkot on Sukkot. Moshe said to Israel: “If you follow this system God will consider it as if you enthroned Him in His world, as it is stated: ‘You are My witnesses, declares the Lord’ (Yeshayahu 43:10).” (Yalkut Shimoni, Vayak’hel §408)

One may not schedule a meal during the drasha (SA 290:2). According to the Sages, doing so is one of the reasons that wealthy people become impoverished. We are told that there was a family in Jerusalem who regularly scheduled meals during the drasha, and on account of this sin they were wiped out (Gittin 38b).

Zeira recounts that originally he thought that people who ran to hear the drasha were desecrating Shabbat by not walking there unhurriedly. But, after he heard R. Yehoshua b. Levi say, “One should always run to hear words of Torah, even on Shabbat,” he too would run to the drasha (Berakhot 6b). Because the drasha was meant to address the entire community, it was difficult to calibrate it to meet everyone’s needs. There were some who already knew everything that the rabbi was about to teach, while others could not understand a thing he was saying. This is why the Sages stated: “The reward for the drasha is for running to attend it” (ibid.). For the fact that people are running and gathering to hear the drasha already honors the Torah. The Shekhina rests upon them, which allows them to strengthen their faith and their connection to Torah and mitzvot. In any case, one who does not attend the drasha should study Torah during the time it is delivered. Under no circumstances should he schedule his meal then or plan to take a walk (MB 290:7).

The primary goal of the drasha is to teach the community practical halakha and to guide the audience in the ways of God, as the Sages state: “to teach and instruct Israel about what the Torah permits and forbids” (Yalkut Shimoni loc. cit.). Once, R. Abahu and R. Ĥiya happened to be in the same place on Shabbat. R. Abahu held forth on matters of aggada while R. Ĥiya taught of halakha. Most of the listeners left R. Ĥiya’s drasha and went to listen to R. Abahu. R. Ĥiya was upset about this because R. Abahu had deviated from the primary purpose of the drasha, which was to offer halakhic instruction. Although R. Abahu tried to appease R. Ĥiya, he refused to be placated (Sota 40a). We can assume that R. Abahu felt that the community was at a low point and needed to be encouraged in their faith through aggada, while R. Ĥiya felt the community had the strength to hear a halakhic discourse.

The bottom line is that everything depends on the community and what areas it must improve. Generally, a mixture of halakha and the reasons behind it, together with some theology and moral instruction, is called for. Indeed, this was the custom of many leading Torah scholars (see Tur §290; Baĥ; MA; SAH 290:3; MB ad loc. 6).

It is incumbent upon the community leaders to strengthen communal Torah study on Shabbat and to schedule many varied classes for men and women, old and young, on halakhic and aggadic topics, in Tanakh and in Talmud, so that everybody can participate. Included in this is the need to encourage and schedule a central drasha for the entire community, to give honor to Torah and reinforce its status.

05. Women and Torah Study on Shabbat

There is a fundamental difference between men’s and women’s obligation to study Torah. Men, even after they have learned all of halakha and the fundamentals of faith, are still obligated to set aside time to study Torah and to review and deepen what they have learned. The directive, “Let not this Book of the Torah cease from your lips; study it day and night” (Yehoshua 1:8) is directed at them. Although all week when they are busy at work they fulfill their obligation to study Torah with one chapter of any Torah text studied during the day and another at night (Menaĥot 99b), on Shabbat men must fulfill the verse according to its straightforward meaning, as the Sages said: “You should dedicate Shabbat to Torah alone” (Tanna De-vei Eliyahu §1; above section 1).

Women are not obligated to set aside time for Torah study, but they are obligated to know what the Torah says about how to live life, so that Torah will illuminate and guide their paths in the realms of halakha as well as theology and morals. A woman who can accomplish this with a minimal amount of study need do no more, while one who needs to study a great deal in order to achieve this must do so. This depends on the woman’s disposition and also varies by era. There were times when a small amount of learning was sufficient for most women; but nowadays, when life is more complicated and general wisdom has proliferated, women must study more halakha, theology, and works of moral instruction (Peninei Halakha: Collected Essays I 1:16).

Since women are not obligated to set aside time to study Torah every day and every night, they are also not obligated to dedicate half of Shabbat to learning. However, since Torah makes both men and women happy, there is a mitzva for women to study Torah on Shabbat because it is included in spiritual oneg Shabbat. Additionally, women are obligated to study halakha and theology. As Shabbat is both a holy day and the day on which the Torah was given, it is a fitting time for Torah study and an appropriate time for women to set aside to study halakha and theology. Nevertheless, since according to the letter of the law they are not obligated to set aside time to study Torah, in the years when they are busy with childcare they do not have to set aside time to learn on Shabbat. However, women who are not busy taking care of children should study a great deal on Shabbat, in a joyful and relaxed manner. Even women who are busy around the house should try to set aside some time to study Torah on Shabbat. Participating in Torah classes is recommended, since women also need the Torah’s guidance. At the time of the Sages, there were women who attended the Shabbat drasha; sometimes the derashot were long and the women came home late.[2]

It is wonderful if a couple enjoys studying Torah together. Through their joint learning they merit the presence of the divine, and invite Torah to serve as their guide for life. But a couple who have trouble learning together should not feel bad about it, because sometimes the great love that they share may make it difficult for them to concentrate on learning together.


[2]. We derive this from the fact that women too are prohibited from studying Torah on Tisha Be-Av (SA 554:1), for women also feel happy when they learn. Consequently, it is considered oneg Shabbat. See Sha’agat Aryeh §69. We also know that women are obligated to study halakha and theology and therefore they recite Birkhot Ha-Torah (SA 47:14; Rema YD 246:6). Shabbat derashot are meant to be for women as well, as stated in Tanya Rabbati §18: “It is a mitzva to congregate in synagogues to deliver derashot to women about timely topics.” For we learned in a midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Vayak’hel §408) that the Shabbat discourse is modeled on the mitzva of Hak’hel, which is obligatory upon women as well. See section 15 below, where we derive the mitzva to visit one’s rabbi on Shabbat from the actions of the Shunamite woman. The story told in y. Sota 1:4 also makes clear that women attended Shabbat discourses. We read there that R. Meir was accustomed to preach on Friday nights at the synagogue of Ĥamat. Once he spoke at great length, and one of the women who always attended his discourses returned home late. By the time she arrived home, the Shabbat candles had already gone out, and her husband was angry. He locked her out and swore that she could not re-enter the house until she spat in the face of R. Meir who had spoken for too long. R. Meir became aware of the situation. He decided to act as though he had a disease in his eye. He claimed that the cure for his eye was to have an expert healer spit in it. The woman’s neighbors reported this to her, and advised her that this was her chance to spit at R. Meir and return home. She came before R. Meir. R. Meir asked her: “Do you know how to heal through spitting?” Taken aback, she admitted that she did not know how. R. Meir told her: “If you are not an expert, you must spit in my eye seven times to effect a cure.” After she did so, R. Meir said to her: “Go tell your husband, ‘You told me to spit once, and I spit seven times.’” Later, his students remonstrated: “Why didn’t you tell us what happened? We would have brought the husband here and beat him until he agreed to take back what he said, and to make peace with his wife.” R. Meir responded: “If God allowed His holy name to be erased in order to bring peace between a man and his wife, then certainly Meir can forgo his dignity.”

06. Reading the Torah on Shabbat

An ordinance tracing back to Moshe mandates that Jews read from holy Torah scrolls written in ink on parchment every Shabbat, Monday, and Thursday (BK 82a). Due to the holiness and exaltedness of Shabbat, the Sages instituted that seven people should be called up to read from it, corresponding to the seven days of the week (Megilla 21a). In talmudic times, it took communities in Eretz Yisrael three years to cycle through the entire Torah, while in Babylonia it was completed annually. The current custom throughout the Jewish world is to complete the Torah each year on Simĥat Torah. This is done by reading the weekly parsha each Shabbat. Each of the seven people called up to the Torah reads part of the parsha (referred to as an aliya); together they complete the entire parsha. If one Shabbat a congregation is unable to read the parsha, the next week it must read two parshiyot and make up for the one missed (Rema 135:2).[3]

If a congregation wishes to call up more than seven people to read, they may do so as long as each person reads a minimum of three verses. Some maintain that nowadays one should not add to the seven because that involves reciting additional berakhot – more than were instituted by the Sages. It used to be that the first person called up would recite a berakha before reading and the last person called up would recite a berakha after reading, but all the people called up in the middle would not recite berakhot. Later on it was instituted that everyone called up should recite a berakha before and after their aliya. This was due to concern that people who arrived or left in the middle of the Torah reading would not realize that a berakha was recited at the beginning and end of the parsha. Accordingly, nowadays each person who is called up recites two berakhot. Thus it is improper to add additional aliyot, which would involve the recitation of even more berakhot, beyond those instituted by the Sages. Furthermore, it is also important not to burden the congregation by extending the prayer service. Therefore, ideally a congregation should not add to the seven aliyot. However, in a time of need and to avoid offending someone deeply, one may do so (SA 282:1-2; MB ad loc. 4-5).

Technically, an aliya may be given to a minor who is old enough to know to Whom berakhot are addressed. This is on condition that the majority of the seven people called up are adults. There are Sephardim who follow this position (SA 282:2; Yeĥaveh Da’at 4:23). The Ashkenazic custom, and that of some Sephardim as well, is not to call up a minor to the Torah. There are some Sephardim who follow the position of Arizal and call up a minor for the seventh aliya but for no others (see MB 282:12; Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 22). The Yemenite custom is to call up a minor for the sixth aliya.


[3]. Each person who reads from the Torah scroll recites two berakhot, one before the reading and one afterward. See Peninei Halakha: Prayer ch. 22 and Collected Essays I ch. 4. Each person who is called up introduces the first berakha with “Barkhu.” The Ge’onim explain that if for reasons beyond one’s control he missed the “Barkhu” normally recited before the berakhot introducing the Shema, he can compensate by hearing “Barkhu” seven times from the seven people called up on Shabbat to read from the Torah (Shibolei Ha-leket §77).

07. The Haftara

The Sages instituted that in addition to the Torah reading, there should also be a public reading from the Prophets on a topic related either to the Torah reading or to the time of year. One berakha is made before this reading, and four afterward. This reading is called the haftara, meaning “conclusion,” for with it the Torah reading concludes.

The haftara was instituted following an imperial decree that Jews may not read from the Torah, on penalty of death. However, since the decree did not apply to reading from the Prophets, the Sages of that time instituted that congregations read from the Prophets instead of the Torah. They further instituted that the reading from the Prophets be modeled on the Torah reading, with berakhot before and after, and with seven aliyot. After the decree was rescinded and Torah reading resumed, the Sages ordained that congregations continue reading from the Prophets each week, but now special berakhot were established for it. Since while the decree was in place they had had seven people reading from the Prophets, each reading a minimum of three verses, they instituted that the maftir (the person who reads the haftara) should read a minimum of 21 verses. However, if the selected passage from the Prophets is shorter than 21 verses, we conclude the reading when the subject is finished, even if it is fewer than 21 verses (SA 284:1; MB ad loc. 2).

In order to demonstrate that the haftara is not as important as the Torah reading, it was ordained that the maftir should read a few verses from the Torah scroll first, and only then read from the Prophets. Strictly speaking, the seventh oleh may read the haftara, but the custom is to follow the opinion that the maftir should not be one of the seven olim. Therefore, after the seven olim finish reading the parsha, Half-Kaddish is recited, thus concluding the Torah reading. Then the maftir is called up to read a few verses from the Torah scroll, and he then goes on to read the haftara from the Prophets.

Some maintain that just as the Torah is read from a parchment scroll, so too the haftara must be read from a parchment scroll (Levush). However, many Aĥaronim maintain that the haftara may be read from a printed volume. It is better to read it from a volume that has the entire text of the biblical book from which the haftara is excerpted, but if this is not available one may read from a book that has only the verses of the haftara, as is the case with many of our printed ĥumashim (MA; Eliya Rabba; MB 284:1).

Some have a custom that the entire congregation reads the haftara together; however, it is more correct that the person who is called up for maftir or the ĥazan reads it alone, while the congregation listens to his reading. One who wishes to read along in an undertone may do so as long as he does not disturb the person sitting next to him (MB 284:11; BHL ad loc.).

08. Torah Reading at Minĥa on Shabbat

In addition to ordaining the reading of the parsha on Shabbat morning, Ezra the Scribe also instituted that the Torah be read at Minĥa. Three people are called up at Minĥa and the beginning of the next parsha is read. This section is read on Monday and Thursday mornings as well, in preparation for and introduction to the next week’s reading.

The Sages state that this ordinance was on account of “yoshvei keranot” (idlers; lit. “those who sit on corners”) (BK 82a). Some explain this term to refer to merchants and artisans who sat in their stores and did not attend Shaĥarit services during the week. Since they did not hear the Torah reading of Monday and Thursday mornings, they would have been unprepared for the upcoming parsha. To ensure that they would hear the introductory reading at least once, Ezra instituted that it be read at Minĥa on Shabbat, when everyone is able to attend (Rashi; Rosh).

Others explain that Ezra was worried that people would get drunk at Shabbat lunch, and then they would be in no state to learn Torah. Ezra therefore instituted that there be a Torah reading at Minĥa so that out of respect for the reading everyone would congregate in the synagogue. Thus they would neither get drunk nor waste time. Along the same lines, King David said to God: “Master of the Universe, this nation is not like other nations. When other nations have a festive meal they drink and get drunk and act silly. We are not like this, however. Although we eat and drink, we come to pray, as is stated: ‘As for me, may my prayer come to You, O Lord, at a favorable moment; O God, in Your abundant faithfulness, answer me with Your sure deliverance’” (Tehilim 69:14). This is why we recite this verse before reading the Torah at Minĥa (Shibolei Ha-leket).[4]


[4]. Baĥ explains that Ezra mandated Torah reading at Minĥa on Shabbat but not on Yom Tov because Shabbat is a propitious time (et ratzon) as well as the day on which the Torah was given. Therefore, another Shabbat reading was added. This reading helps facilitate God’s acceptance of the Minĥa prayer, as is stated: “As for me, may my prayer come to You, O Lord, at a favorable moment (et ratzon)” (Tehilim 69:14). Furthermore, following the first explanation above, the goal of this Torah reading is to prepare people for the next week’s reading. On Yom Tov this is not necessary. According to the second explanation, since there are over fifty Shabbatot in a year, we are worried that a norm will develop in which people get drunk. Ezra’s ordinance comes to prevent this. In contrast, there are far fewer holidays; since Shabbat sets the tone for holy days, we are not so worried about people getting drunk and acting out on Yom Tov. Additionally, there is more of a mitzva to drink wine and to be happy on Yom Tov than on Shabbat. Therefore, the Sages did not wish to infringe upon this mitzva, even though obviously it is inappropriate to get drunk.

09. Shnayim Mikra Ve-eĥad Targum

In addition to the communal Torah reading in shul, the Sages also mandated that each week every man should read shnayim mikra ve-eĥad targum (lit. “twice Scripture, once translation”), that is, the parsha twice and the Aramaic translation once. He who does so is granted a longer life (Berakhot 8a). When this reading was instituted, most Jews spoke Aramaic; if they read the Aramaic translation of Onkelos the proselyte, they understood the parsha.

In the course of time the Jews were exiled to various places where other languages were spoken and the Jewish masses no longer knew Aramaic. The question arose: may one read the parsha with a translation into one’s native language or with Rashi’s commentary, instead of the Aramaic translation?

Most poskim maintain that other translations are not as good as Onkelos, which was composed in the tannaitic period and has its roots at Sinai. Thus one does not fulfill his obligation by reading the other ones. In contrast, there is general agreement that one may study Rashi’s commentary in lieu of Onkelos’s translation because Rashi explains the difficult passages in the Torah as the targum does, often in even greater detail. However, there are verses that Rashi does not comment upon. Those verses must be read three times (MB 285:5).

There are some who enhance the mitzva and read the parsha twice, and then read both targum and Rashi. Rashi has the advantages of being more expansive and of quoting from the Sages, while targum has the advantage of being rooted in Sinai. Therefore, the kabbalists write that even for those who do not understand Aramaic there is value in reading Onkelos (SA 285:2).

The time frame for these readings begins with Minĥa of the prior Shabbat, when the beginning of the upcoming parsha is read. It continues throughout the week until Shabbat lunch. We are told that R. Yehuda Ha-nasi instructed his children not to eat lunch on Shabbat before they had completed shnayim mikra ve-eĥad targum. One who already ate lunch should complete his reading by Minĥa, when the beginning of the next parsha is read. If one was unable to finish even by then, he should finish by the end of Tuesday, since the first three days of the week are connected to the previous Shabbat. If one did not finish by then, he must make sure to finish before Simĥat Torah, when we celebrate finishing the Torah reading for the year (SA 285:4).

10. Different Customs Relating to Shnayim Mikra Ve-eĥad Targum

Some customarily read shnayim mikra ve-eĥad targum on Friday and try to do the entire reading without stopping (Arizal; Shlah; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 285:3; Tur). Others follow the custom of reading one aliya each day of the week, so that on Shabbat they complete the entire parsha (Vilna Gaon; MB 285:8). In any case, anyone who completes shnayim mikra ve-eĥad targum at any point during the week has fulfilled the obligation.

Ideally one reads the Torah text twice, followed by targum. There are two customs as to how to do this. According to Arizal’s custom, one reads each verse twice and then its translation once. Following the custom of Shlah and the Vilna Gaon, one reads each parshiya (a section that in the Torah scroll is offset by spaces) twice and then its Aramaic translation. Both customs are acceptable (MB 285:2; Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 3).

Be-di’avad, the order is not critical. If one reads the verse, then targum, and then repeats the verse – he fulfills his obligation (Levush; AHS 285:3). Similarly if he reads the parsha out of order from end to beginning, he fulfills his obligation. The main objective is to read all the verses twice and the translation once. One teaching parsha to children need not read the verses twice and then the targum, because it is clear that while teaching he reads each verse twice and explains it (SA 285:6).

If one did not manage to complete shnayim mikra ve-eĥad targum before the Shabbat morning Torah reading, in principle he may do so during the Torah reading (SA 285:5). However, some say this is not proper. Therefore it is preferable that he read it quietly together with the Torah reader who is reading it aloud, and that he count this as one reading for the purpose of shnayim mikra (MB 285:14). If he heard the Torah reading but did not quietly read along with it, the Aĥaronim disagree whether this counts as one reading (ibid. 2).

One who learns the parsha with Rashi may, if it is easier for him, read an entire parshiya and then go back through it verse by verse with Rashi. However, he must read verses with no comments by Rashi an additional time, so that he reads them a total of three times. If he wishes, he can read the text twice with Rashi’s commentary, and then during the Torah reading he may read the parsha quietly together with the Torah reader, which will complete the third time for those verses upon which there are no comments by Rashi.

Women are exempt from the obligations of Torah reading and shnayim mikra ve-eĥad targum. Nevertheless, if they wish to participate in the Torah reading and study parsha, they are doing a mitzva (Peninei Halakha: Women’s Prayer 2:10).

11. Shabbat Prayers

The Amida on Shabbat is made up of seven berakhot. The formulation of the first and last three berakhot is identical to their weekday versions, but in place of the thirteen berakhot in the middle we recite one special berakha relating to the sanctity of Shabbat. In it we beseech God to find our rest pleasing and to sanctify us with His commandments. We conclude this berakha with “Blessed are You, O Lord, Who sanctifies Shabbat” (“mekadesh ha-Shabbat”). The introduction to this Shabbat berakha was formulated differently by the Sages for each of the prayer services of Shabbat. At Ma’ariv it is “Ata Kidashta” (“You have sanctified”), “Yismaĥ Moshe” (“Moshe rejoiced”) at Shaĥarit, and Ata Eĥad (“You are one”) at Minĥa. One who got confused and recited the wrong berakha – for example, he used the Minĥa formulation during Ma’ariv – has fulfilled his obligation, since the central berakhot of all three prayers share common themes and formulations (SA 268:6; MB ad loc. 14).

Technically, on Shabbat one could say all of the berakhot one usually says during the weekday, and simply add a special berakha for Shabbat. Nevertheless, the Sages wished to honor Shabbat and to avoid burdening the people with lengthy prayers (Berakhot 21a). Furthermore, it is not appropriate to make requests on Shabbat, since they might cause one sorrow (Tanĥuma; Rashi; Rambam). Therefore the Sages reduced Shabbat’s middle berakhot from thirteen to one. However, if one mistakenly started to say the berakhot from the weekday Amida, and then remembered in the middle of one of the berakhot, he should finish the berakha and then shift to the Shabbat formulation. Since the weekday berakha is still relevant, and he has already begun it, it is proper that he finish it (SA 268:2). If he made a mistake and did not say the berakha about Shabbat, as long as he has not finished the Amida he can go back to the Shabbat berakha and continue from there until the end of the Amida. However, if he already finished the Amida, even if he has not yet stepped backward, he must repeat the Amida from the beginning (ibid. 5).

The Sages also established an additional prayer service on Shabbat – Musaf – corresponding to the extra sacrifices that were offered on Shabbat during Temple times. In this Amida too, the first three and last three berakhot are the same as those of every Amida, but in the middle there is a special berakha about the Musaf sacrifice and the sanctity of Shabbat.[5]


[5]. If during Musaf one mistakenly began to recite the weekday berakhot, and then remembered that he must pray Musaf, even though some maintain that he should finish the berakha, he should not do so. Rather, he should stop immediately, because those berakhot are not relevant to Musaf (SA 265:2; MB ad loc. 5).

If while praying the Amida he began to say the word “ata” with the intention of continuing with the berakha of “Ata Ĥonen” but then remembered that it was Shabbat, what should he do? If he was praying the Amida of Ma’ariv or Minĥa on Shabbat day, whose Shabbat berakhot also begin with the word “ata,” he should continue with the correct Shabbat formulation. But if he was praying Shaĥarit, since he intended to begin a weekday berakha and indeed did so, he should finish the berakha of Ata Ĥonen. Nevertheless, even in Shaĥarit if he recited “ata” absentmindedly, he should correct himself and continue with the correct berakha, Yismaĥ Moshe, since in theory if he were to continue during Shaĥarit with Ata Kidashta of Ma’ariv or Ata Eĥad of Minĥa he would fulfill his obligation (SA 265:3; MB ad loc. 6; Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 2, Toldot 10).

12. Va-yekhulu

In the Amida of Ma’ariv on Friday night we recite the “Va-yekhulu” passage, the three verses that recount the first Shabbat of creation:

The heaven and the earth were finished (va-yekhulu), and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done. (Bereishit 2:1-3)

The Sages tell us that one who recites Va-yekhulu on Friday night becomes like God’s partner in the world’s creation (Shabbat 119b). The purpose of creation is for God to be revealed to the world, and bless it as a result. This is the primary idea of Shabbat. When a Jew attests to the creation of the world and the sanctity of Shabbat by reciting Va-yekhulu, he realizes the purpose of creation and increases blessing in the world.

The Sages add (ibid.) that one who recites Va-yekhulu on Friday night is escorted home by two ministering angels, who rest their hands upon his head and say: “Your guilt shall depart and your sin be purged” (Yeshayahu 6:7). Shabbat is also connected to teshuva – repentance or return. This is expressed in the phonetic similarity of “Shabbat” and “teshuva.” Indeed, on Shabbat we remember the Creator of the world, and we return to all the positive strivings of our souls. One who recites Va-yekhulu on Friday night gives expression to the deep significance of Shabbat. By doing so he merits true repentance and the forgiveness of his sins.

In addition to reciting Va-yekhulu silently in the Amida of Ma’ariv, after the conclusion of the Amida the congregation repeats Va-yekhulu out loud while standing (SA 268:7). The reason for this is that when Yom Tov coincides with Shabbat, the Ma’ariv service follows the Yom Tov formulation. The sanctity of Shabbat is then mentioned only briefly, and Va-yekhulu is not recited in the Amida. In order to avoid skipping Va-yekhulu on those Shabbatot, the Sages instituted the recitation of Va-yekhulu after the Amida each week. Some suggest an additional reason for its recitation – it is a public testimonial to the creation of the world.[6]

Va-yekhulu is recited yet again in kiddush. We often find that something important is repeated three times.


[6]. Some maintain that following this reasoning, if one’s recitation of the Amida lagged behind the congregation’s so that he did not reach Va-yekhulu with them, he should not recite Va-yekhulu on his own, since Jewish courts do not accept testimony from a single individual. Rather, he should seek a friend to recite it together with him. If he does recite it alone, he should read it as one would read from a Torah scroll, with the cantillation marks (Taz 268:5). There is even an opinion that one should try to speed up his prayer in order to complete the Amida with the congregation so that he will be able to recite Va-yekhulu with a minyan. This is preferable, because in its recitation there is an element of Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name), and the command to sanctify God’s name applies in the presence of a minyan (Pri Megadim; BHL). If one finishing the silent Amida has already said the Yehi Ratzon prayer that precedes the paragraph of Elokai Netzor, he may recite Va-yekhulu with the congregation and then complete the silent Amida. All these customs are an enhancement of the mitzva; fundamentally, one who has not completed his Amida is not obligated to say Va-yekhulu at all. This is because it was established to ensure that Va-yekhulu would be included in the prayer service even on Yom Tov, and in order to give people who were not familiar with the prayer the opportunity to say it (SA 268:7). In any event, even if one is uncomfortable bothering his friend to recite Va-yekhulu together with him, he should still recite it on his own. This way, together with his later recitation of kiddush, he will have recited Va-yekhulu a total of three times (see MB 268:19; Ĥazon Ish 38:10).

13. Magen Avot – A Concise Recap of the Amida

The Sages ordained that the ĥazan recite the berakha known as “Me’ein Sheva” on Friday night. This berakha is like a ĥazan’s repetition, as it is a synopsis of the seven berakhot of the Shabbat Amida. The reason for this is that synagogues were (sometimes) built in the fields, and it was dangerous to return home from them at night. The Sages were worried that if one was late or slow and finished his recitation of the Amida after the rest of the congregation, he would have to walk home alone, thus endangering himself. Therefore, they instituted that the ĥazan say this berakha in order to extend the service. This would allow those who fell behind to finish their Amida and return home with the rest of the congregation.

Even though for over a thousand years now synagogues have not been built in the fields, the ordinance stands, and in every synagogue the ĥazan recites this berakha after the Amida. However, if a minyan is convened in a private home, such as for a bridegroom or a mourner, it is not recited, since the ordinance was made only for a synagogue (SA 268:10).

Some say, however, that the talmudic Sages had an additional, esoteric rationale: on Shabbat, it is necessary to include something akin to a ĥazan’s repetition even at Ma’ariv. Consequently, the ordinance is not limited to a synagogue, but is relevant anywhere there is a minyan (Ben Ish Ĥai; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 268:50). This is the custom of those who regularly follow kabbalistic practices. But the rest of the poskim follow the first approach and maintain that Me’ein Sheva is not recited in a place that does not have a regular minyan. Only in the holy city of Jerusalem do they say Me’ein Sheva even at an impromptu minyan, because the entire city is considered a synagogue.[7]

This berakha is the provenance of the ĥazan. Therefore, in a place where the congregation recites the stanza beginning with the words “Magen avot” aloud, the ĥazan must repeat it by himself (MB 268:22).

The Aĥaronim disagree whether the ĥazan must bow at the beginning of Me’ein Sheva. Some say that since this berakha is in lieu of the ĥazan’s repetition, it follows the same rules, and he must bow at its beginning just as he bows at the beginning of the Amida. Others maintain that it is not the same as the ĥazan’s repetition, and thus it is unnecessary for him to bow at the beginning. Everyone should follow his custom.[8]


[7]. If a minyan meets regularly at a specific location for several days, then according to Eliya Rabba and MB 268:24, as long as a Torah scroll is present at the minyan, Me’ein Sheva is recited. However, if there is no Torah scroll present, this berakha is not recited. In contrast, according to Igrot Moshe OĤ 4:69 (3), the key variable is not the presence of a Torah scroll but the regularity of the minyan. If it meets in the same place every Friday night, it is considered a regular minyan and Me’ein Sheva is recited. This is also implied in other Aĥaronim, including SAH 268:15, which nowhere mentions the presence of a Torah scroll as a prerequisite for determining the status of a minyan. It would seem that in any case of doubt, either because there is a disagreement about the law or because one is in doubt about the status of the minyan, one may take into account the opinion of the kabbalists and recite the berakha. Therefore, in summer camps where a Torah scroll is present, even if there is no permanent synagogue there, it is recited. In a hotel, if there is either a dedicated synagogue or a Torah scroll, it is recited. If there are neither, it is not recited. When it comes to Jerusalem, Har Tzvi (OĤ 1:152) states that anywhere there is a minyan, Me’ein Sheva is recited. Yalkut Yosef states this as well (267:20).

[8]. The Ge’onim dispute whether one who has not prayed the Amida can fulfill his obligation by hearing the ĥazan recite Me’ein Sheva. According to R. Natronai Gaon he can, even though one who knows how to pray the Amida cannot fulfill his obligation with the ĥazan’s repetition. Since Ma’ariv was not originally obligatory, the Sages were more lenient about it. However, according to R. Moshe Gaon, only one who made a mistake and prayed a weekday Amida can fulfill his obligation by listening to Me’ein Sheva. According to R. Amram Gaon, one can never fulfill one’s Amida obligation by hearing Me’ein Sheva. At the root of their disagreement is the question of whether Me’ein Sheva can be considered the ĥazan’s repetition of the Amida. SA rules that if one heard the berakha from the ĥazan and intended to fulfill his obligation thereby, he has done so (268:13). MB states that if one made a mistake and prayed the wrong Amida, and has not yet heard Me’ein Sheva, it is better that he pray the Amida himself since there is an opinion that his obligation cannot be fulfilled through hearing Me’ein Sheva (268:28; see Yalkut Yosef 267:18).

14. Kabbalat Shabbat and Other Additions to the Prayers

More than 400 years ago, kabbalists in Tzefat began to usher in Shabbat with the recitation of psalms and liturgical poems. Since Jews desire to give expression to their neshama yeteira, this custom was accepted throughout the Jewish world; this is the origin of the Kabbalat Shabbat service. At that time R. Shlomo Alkabetz was alive, and he composed the wonderful poem Lekha Dodi, which is used today to welcome Shabbat in all synagogues.

Arizal would go out to the fields to greet Shabbat, facing the west where the sun was setting. The Sages tell us (BB 25a) that the primary revelation of the Shekhina (Divine Presence) is in the west. This custom of turning westward when reciting the last stanza of Lekha Dodi and saying “bo’i kalla” (“welcome, bride”) became accepted in synagogues. Following this logic, even if the entrance to the synagogue faces a different direction, those praying within still face west. However, some are accustomed to turn to the entrance to the synagogue even if it does not face west, thereby expressing that Shabbat is like a guest coming through the doorway.[9]

There is an early custom, dating to the period of the Rishonim, to recite the second chapter of Mishna Shabbat (beginning with the words, and thus entitled, “Ba-meh Madlikin”) (SA 270:1). This is because near the end of the chapter there is a statement of the Sages that one must say three things in his home Friday as night falls: “Did you tithe? Did you make an eruv? Light candles!” The custom to read this chapter, though, is not universal. Some have a custom to read the section from the Zohar called “Ke-gavna.”

There is a custom dating to the period of the Rishonim to add psalms to the Pesukei De-zimra section that introduces Shaĥarit. They chose psalms that mention the creation of the world and the giving of the Torah, since Shabbat is a remembrance of the creation of the world, and the Torah was given on Shabbat. Before Yishtabaĥ, the berakha that concludes Pesukei De-zimra, we add the prayer of Nishmat Kol Ĥai. It mentions the Exodus from Egypt, one of the things of which Shabbat reminds us (Tur §281; Levush).[10]

Women are exempt from praying in a minyan and from reciting the rabbinic additions to the prayers, but must recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar (the morning berakhot) and the Amida of Shaĥarit and Minĥa. If they pray only one Amida in a day, they have fulfilled their obligation. When circumstances are not ideal, women can fulfill their obligation with the recitation of just Birkhot Ha-shaĥar (Peninei Halakha: Women’s Prayer 2:5). If a woman is able, it is preferable for her to attend the synagogue on Shabbat (ibid. 20:2).


[9]. Some Sephardim customarily face west when reciting Mizmor Le-David and Lekha Dodi. Yemenites do not turn in any direction during prayer. All Ashkenazim and some Sephardim turn only at the end of Lekha Dodi, when they reach the stanza “Bo’i ve-shalom.” It is improper that in the same synagogue some face west beginning with Mizmor Le-David while others turn only upon reaching“Bo’i ve-shalom,” because it violates lo titgodedu (the prohibition on factional disunity). However, it is permissible for some people to sit and some to stand then, because there are always those who are standing and those who are sitting.

[10]. At first glance this custom is puzzling. For we know that on account of the honor due to Shabbat, the Sages did not want to burden people with saying the thirteen middle berakhot found in the weekday Amida (Berakhot 21a). How then could they make the prayer service longer by adding additional psalms? We are forced to say that their primary concern was not to burden people with requests about weekday issues, since they might cause sorrow (as explained in Tanĥuma Va-yera §1; Maĥzor Vitri §140; Rambam, Pe’er Ha-dor §130, as quoted in Harĥavot 5:11:1). But it is desirable and good to praise God profusely. Another possibility is that they wished to shorten the Amida in order to leave people with plenty of time to study Torah and enjoy Shabbat. For this is the purpose of Shabbat – for people to engage with Torah in a pleasurable way. However, when Torah study diminished, they added those psalms that incorporate an element of Torah study. (Rashi makes a similar point in Sefer Ha-pardes §174 about the liturgical poems added on holidays. He suggests that even though these additions could be halakhically problematic, they are justified by the principle “There is a time to do for God, and to go against the Torah,” since the poems take the place of the drasha.)

15. The Custom of Wishing One’s Rabbi “Shabbat Shalom

“R. Yitzĥak stated: One must visit his rabbi on the three pilgrimage festivals” (RH 16b). This is in order to strengthen his connection to the rabbi, as a result of which he will strengthen his commitment to Torah and mitzvot. It is very fitting on the holy days to strengthen one’s connection with those who are bearers of Torah. Indeed, it is an age-old custom to do so, as we see from the words of the Shunamite woman’s husband. When he saw his wife setting off to see Elisha the Prophet on a weekday, he asked: “Why are you going to him today? It is neither New Moon nor Shabbat” (2 Melakhim 4:23). This implies that on Rosh Ĥodesh and Shabbat she did go to see the prophet (the current equivalent of whom would be the rabbi).

The Rishonim explain that the precise parameters of this mitzva depend upon geography. If one lives far away from his rabbi, he must visit him at a minimum on the three festivals, as R. Yitzĥak stated. One who lives nearer by should visit him at least once a month. One who lives very close must visit him every Shabbat (based on Rabbeinu Ĥananel and Ritva; see BHL 301:4 s.v. “lehakbil”). Based on this, the custom nowadays is to go over to the local rabbi at the end of prayers and wish him “Shabbat Shalom.” It would seem that those who go to hear the rabbi’s drasha are also counted among those who go to visit him.

Zvi Yehuda Kook explained that even though women are not obligated to study all of the details and minutiae of Torah, their general attitude toward Torah and those who study it is better than that of men. It is a fact that before the Torah was given at Sinai, God commanded Moshe to address the women first and only afterward the men, as it is written, “Thus shall you say to the house of Yaakov and declare to the children of Israel” (Shemot 19:3). “The house of Jacob” refers to the women, while “the house of Israel” refers to the men (Mekhilta).

It is not by chance then that the mitzva of visiting one’s rabbi on Shabbat and holidays is derived from the actions of the Shunamite woman. For, it would seem that the general attitude of women toward Torah is deeper than that of the men. The men occupy themselves more with the details of the laws and commandments of the Torah, while women connect more with the overall spirit of the Torah (Peninei Halakha: Women’s Prayer ch. 3 and 7:2).

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