1. The Source of the Obligation 2. The Method of Reading 3. The Ideal Time to Read 4. Reading Time According to Rambam 5. Reading Time According to Rabbi Yosef Karo 6. Reading Method - Mishnah Berurah and the Vilna Gaon 7. Not to Interrupt One's Reading 8. The Position of the Kaf HaChaim
9. The Opinion of the Ben Ish Chai
10. Rashi's Commentary 11. Not at Night The Source of the Obligation
The practice of reading the weekly Torah portion twice in the original Hebrew and once in the Aramaic Targum is not mere good advice (directed, for example, at laymen, so that they too merit studying Torah), and it is certainly more than just a remedy for good fortune (though its beneficial powers are indeed great, as we shall discuss). Rather, it is an obligation that applies to every single Jew - even the Torah scholar who dedicates himself selflessly to the study of Torah - as specified by Jewish law (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 285).
This obligation has its source in the Talmud (Berachot 8a, b), which informs us that even the Talmudic sages were careful about fulfilling it as scrupulously as possible (contrary to the claim that this obligation frees one from regular Torah study; see Kaf HaChaim 285:12, who writes: "One should not worry about the time [he must spend fulfilling this obligation] at the expense of serving God [i.e., his regular Torah study], for this is why he was created").
Here is the Talmudic source: "Rabbi Huna ben Yehudah says in the name of Rabbi Ammi: A man should always complete his Torah portions together with the congregation, reading the Hebrew text twice and the [Aramaic] Targum once, and even [such verses as] Ataroth and Dibon, for if one completes his Torah portions together with the congregation, his days and years are prolonged. Rabbi Bibi ben Abaye wanted to finish all the Torah portions of the entire year on the eve of the Day of Atonement. But Hiyya ben Rab of Difti recited to him [the following Baraitha]: It is written: You shall afflict your souls in the ninth day of the month at evening. Now, do we fast on the ninth? Why no, we fast on the tenth! Rather, this teaches you that if one eats and drinks on the ninth, Scripture accounts it to him as if he fasted on the ninth and tenth. Thereupon he wanted to finish them in advance. But a certain Elder recited to him a Baraitha teaching: However, he should read them neither earlier nor later [than the congregation]. In keeping with this, Rabbi Yehshua ben Levi said to his children: Complete your Torah portions together with the congregation, twice the Hebrew text and once Targum. The Method of Reading
Rashi, in his commentary to the above text, teaches us two laws: first, the Torah must be read on a weekly basis, portion by portion, according to the order of the public Torah reading; second, the obligation to read the Aramaic translation, the Targum, applies even when the Aramaic is no different than the Hebrew. Tosafot (ad loc., s.v. "shnayim mikra ve-echad targum") cites an opinion that a person who does not understand Targum Onkolos may read a translation he understands. Tosafot, however, rejects this opinion and maintains that the obligation is to read the text of the Targum itself. The Ideal Time to Read
From the above Talmudic source we learn that the Targum must be read "with the community," neither before nor after the community. The question is: When is a person considered to be reading "with the community," and not "before the community"?
Tosefot (ad loc., s.v. "yashlim") explains that it is possible to read the Torah portion of the coming week from the Sabbath Mincha service (afternoon prayer) onward: "It would appear that the entire week, from the time they begin to read the portion, is considered "with the community." (Mishnah Berurah 285:1 rules in accordance with the Tosefot, and we shall clarify this position below.)
Tosefot adds: "According to the Midrash, Rabbenu HaKodesh (Rabbi Yehudah the Prince) commanded his sons regarding three things before he died, [and one was] that they not eat bread on Sabbath before finishing the weekly Torah portion. And though one should complete the portion before eating, it is also possible to complete it after eating. At any rate, it is laudable to complete it before eating." From here we learn that, ideally, one may begin reading the portion of the coming week after the Sabbath Mincha service and continue until the meal of the coming Sabbath. Reading Time According to Rambam
Rambam rules (Hilkhot Tefillah 13:25): "Even though a person hears the entire Torah every Sabbath [a variant version reads 'every year,' i.e., during the course of the entire year] with the congregation, he is himself obligated every week to read the portion of that week, twice [in the original] Scripture and once Targum. And if a verse has no translation, one reads it three times, completing the portion with the community." The Kesef Mishneh interprets this to mean that it is possible to begin reading the portion at any time during the course of the entire week: "From our master's wording it appears that the entire week is called 'with the community.' "
Nonetheless, the late Rabbi Yosef Kapach, in his commentary to Rambam's Mishneh Torah, mentions the Yemenite custom of reading half of the weekly portion after Wednesday morning prayers and the other half on Thursday (apparently because of the Talmudic text in tractate Pesachim that states that from Wednesday onward is defined as before the Sabbath). Reading Time According to Rabbi Yosef Karo
Maran (Rabbi Yosef Karo) brings three possible times for reading the portion (Shulchan Arukh ibid. 4): "The most laudable practice is to finish it before eating on the Sabbath, and if a person does not finish before eating, he should finish after eating, before Mincha; some hold that it may be read until Wednesday; and some hold until Shemini Atzeret [i.e., Simchat Torah, when the entire community completes the reading of the Torah]" (see also Kaf HaChaim 25, where he points out that the Vilna Gaon would make every effort to finish reading the Torah portion on Friday). Reading Method - Mishnah Berurah and the Vilna Gaon
Authorities are divided over the proper method for reading the Torah portion and over whether or not it is possible to discharge one's obligation of one of the readings by hearing the Torah read in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The Mishnah Berurah writes (285:2):
"One should not read the Hebrew portion once and the Targum once with the intention of hearing the Torah read a second time by the Torah reader [in the synagogue on the Sabbath]; rather, one must read [the text of the weekly portion] twice, in addition to what one hears from the Torah reader, unless one reads along quietly with the public reader.
"And though Magen Avraham (footnote no. 5) writes, in the name of Lechem Chamudot, that a person is credited post factum with one reading by virtue of what he hears from the public reader, there are later authorities who rule stringently on this matter even post factum.
"And with regard to the reading, later authorities are divided. Some hold that a person should read each verse twice in the Hebrew original and once in the Aramaic Targum, and others hold that one should read each subsection ('parashah,' paragraph-like passage) twice in the Hebrew and once in the Aramaic. Magen Avraham and Shaarei Teshuvah side with the former opinion.
"The work 'Maaseh Rav' relates that the Vilna Gaon was accustomed to reading the Targum after every 'open' or 'closed' parasha, or after what appeared to be the end of a particular subject. And each individual should follow his own tradition. If a person knows the cantillation signs and vowels by heart, he should adopt the laudable practice of reading from the Torah scroll itself."
To summarize, the Mishnah Berurah brings three approaches to reading: a) to read each verse twice in the Hebrew original and once Targum [or once in Hebrew, once in the Targum, and once more together with the public reading on the Sabbath], b) to read once in Hebrew and once in the Targum and to discharge one's obligation by hearing the public reading on the Sabbath, c) to read each subsection (parashah petuchah o setumah) twice, followed by the Targum (in keeping with the custom of the Vilna Gaon). Not to Interrupt One's Reading
A person should do his best not to interrupt his reading with discussion of mundane matters. If one wishes to eat or drink, he may recite the attendant blessing, but, ideally, one should not interrupt his reading for any reason at all. The Position of the Kaf HaChaim
The Kaf HaChaim (footnote no. 3) brings the opinion of the Holy Shelah and the Rashal who hold that it is possible to read the entire Torah portion twice and then read the entire Targum once. After this he brings the opinion of the Holy Ari who holds that one should read one verse at a time, twice in the original and once in the Targum, and rejects the above positions:
"It is written in Shaar HaKavanot (12a) that the Holy Ari's custom was to go to the synagogue or to his study hall immediately upon concluding the Friday morning prayers. There was a kosher Torah scroll there, and he would take it out and read the weekly portion from it, twice in the Hebrew original and once in the Targum. He would read the Scriptures from the Torah scroll, and then a student of his would read him the Targum from a book and he would repeat after him. This is how he read every verse until he finished the portion.
"He would not do as those who conceitedly read the entire portion twice through in Hebrew and then read the entire Targum at once. Rather, he read every verse individually, twice in the Scripture and once in the Targum, and he would say that this is the secret of ‘And on the sixth day they must prepare that which they bring.’ If he experienced some greatly prohibiting circumstances he would read the portion after the Sabbath morning prayers, before the morning meal, in keeping with Rabbenu HaKadosh's will to his sons, not like those who read it during the Sabbath morning prayers."
In truth, this appears to be the literal meaning of the words of the sages in the above Talmudic passage, "twice Scripture, once Targum," and ideally one should adopt this practice (see also Kaf HaChaim, footnote no. 30, where it is written that one should not rely upon the reading of the public reader even post factum.) The Opinion of the Ben Ish Chai
Our glorious and brilliant mentor, the late Ben Ish Chai, writes (Lekh Lekha 11, year 2) that ideally one should read the portion on Friday, and if time does not permit, one should read it on the Sabbath before eating: "There is also a need for additional verbal preparation on Friday itself, to read the entire Torah portion, twice Scripture and once Targum, and after completing it one should repeat the final verse, but not the Targum. And we do not read the Targum with cantillation, as written in Shaar Taamei Mitzvot.
If, due to prohibiting circumstances, one is unable to read the portion on Friday, one should read it on Sabbath day, after prayers, before Kiddush. On Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, or Shekalim, Zakhor, Parah, and HaChodesh, one must read the usual Haftarah of the week, whether one reads the weekly portion on Friday or on the Sabbath itself. However, according to the Mishnah Berurah, one reads the Haftarah of the special occasion (end of 285). Rashi's Commentary
Originally, the Targum served to clarify the verses, but today not everybody understands the Targum. Therefore, ideally, in addition to understanding the Targum (as we shall discuss below), one should understand the Hebrew text of the Torah portion. In this vein, Kaf HaChaim (footnote no. 4) cites the words of the Maggid, who told Rabbi Yosef Karo that "the portion must be read at a relaxed pace, so that it be possible to sense difficulties in the text and to resolve them, and if something cannot be resolved, one should look in the commentators."
Rabbi Yosef Kafo (Shulchan Arukh 285:2) notes that if a person reads the portion with Rashi's commentary, he fulfills his obligation (even without reading the Targum), but, ideally, one should not rely upon this. He writes, "Reading the portion with Rashi's commentary is considered like [reading it with] the Targum, and a God-fearing person should read both the Targum and Rashi's commentary" (Kaf HaChaim, footnote no. 20, explains that Rabbi Yosef Karo singles out Rashi's commentary because other languages cannot convey what is explained in the Targum and in Rashi.)
Shulchan Arukh cites the Maharashal (Rabbi Sholomo Luria) who says that one who does not understand the Targum should read Rashi, but the Chida (Rabbi Chaim David Azulai) rejects this position explaining that the Targum has a higher status than all others, for it was given at Mount Sinai. Not at Night
The Kaf HaChaim (ad loc. 14) cites the Gurei HaAri who writes that a person should not read the weekly portion at night [that is, while Scripture is never read during the period between nightfall and midnight, it is forbidden to read the Targum even after midnight, at any time of the night]: "It is forbidden to read the Torah portion before dawn, because Gurei Ari writes that the Targum may not be read at night." At any rate, if one has no other opportunity to read it, even this is permitted.