June 19, 2020

Shabbat 24


In today’s daf (Shabbat 24a) reference is made to an ancient and discontinued custom of reciting a Haftarah following the Torah reading on Shabbat Mincha. As Rashi notes, “I found in the Responsa of the Geonim that it was a regular practice to read ten verses from the prophets during the Shabbat Mincha service. However, during the rule of the Persians a decree was ordered that this not be done, and having stopped, this practice has not been resumed.”

For the past thousand years little reference was made to this custom. However, it was in response to a challenging situation that arose in Germany in the late 19th century which led R’ Ezriel Hildesheimer, and specifically his student R’ David Zvi Hoffman, to refer back to this Gemara and Rashi.

At the time, school took place six days a week and many of the Jewish youth attended public school (or what was known as ‘Gymnasium’) on Shabbat. In fact, R’ Hoffman himself wrote a responsum on that topic (Melamed Le-Hoil OC:58). However, though R’ Hoffman urged those who went to the Gymnasium on Shabbat to attend an early Shabbat morning prayer service, it seems that this was not done by the majority of youth. Consequently, the question presented to R’ Hildesheimer concerned the permissibility of organising a special weekly Shabbat afternoon service for those youth where the Sedra would be read with the regular seven aliyot, followed by the Haftorah and its respective brachot, which would be then followed with the Musaf and the Mincha prayers including the Torah reading with three aliyot of the upcoming Sedra.

As R’ Hoffman writes in his responsum (Melamed Le-Hoil OC:51) all this was permitted by his teacher R’ Hildesheimer. However, R’ Hoffman was far less comfortable with having this as a fixed arrangement, and on the basis of our daf (Shabbat 24a) and the above-mentioned Rashi he ruled that in a situation where the Haftarah is read on a Shabbat afternoon, and especially where more than ten verses are read, the brachot for the Haftarah should not be recited.

Still, his teacher had ruled differently. Thus he ends his responsum by saying: “to ensure that that the young people who are required to go to the Gymnasium and other schools on the holy Shabbat do not come to forget the tradition of the reading of the Torah, we have enacted, with reluctance, to have this arrangement every Shabbat…Undoubtedly were one to delve into the depths of the law it would be clear that this enactment has little justification. Still, ‘it is a time to act for God, make void His Torah’ (Tehillim 119:126)”.

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