Question: If a person was ill on Shabbos and unable to go to shul to hear Keri’at haTorah, must he have someone read it to him in shul upon his recovery?
Answer: I received an email from a reader who took exception with our citation of the Mechaber (Q&A, part V, 12-16-16) to the effect that tefillah is a rabbinic, not a biblical, obligation and therefore doesn’t supersede Keriat haTorah. He argued that there is no such statement in the Mechaber’s writings.
Indeed, he is correct; this citation was based on my misreading of the Minchas Yitzchak. The Talmud (Ketubot 19b) teaches that one is not allowed to possess a sefer with mistakes (that is uncorrected), as Job 11:14 states: “ve’al tashken b’ohalecha avlah – let not evil dwell in your tent.” So, it is imperative that I correct my error. The authority who states that tefillah (and Keri’at haTorah) is a rabbinic obligation is Rabbi Meir Arik (Responsa Imrei Yosher, vol II:171-173, published in Krakow in 1925).
The reader noted as well that this statement flies in the face of the Rambam who in the very beginning of Hilchot Tefillah (1:1) states: “It is a biblical command to pray every day.” The reader, though, is over-simplifying matters. Just a few lines later, the Rambam states that the obligation to pray is based on Exodus 23:25: “Va’avad’tem et Hashem Elokeichem – You shall serve Hashem your G-d,” which according to tradition refers to tefillah – as does Deuteronomy 11:13: “u’l’ovdo b’chol l’vavechem – and to serve Him with all your heart.” Our sages (Ta’anit 2a) explained: “What is a service with all one’s heart? Tefillah.” The Rambam writes that the number of tefillot in the course of the day is not of biblical origin, nor is the text of the prayers. Biblically, there isn’t even a set time for prayer. All these are of rabbinic origin. From a biblical standpoint, a person fulfills his tefillah obligation if he says a very short prayer (tefillah kol d’hu) of his own composition which recognizes the Creator. Such a prayer would not require a minyan, much less attendance at shul.
So neither contemporary tefillah nor Keri’at haTorah is a biblical obligation and, as such, neither obviously supersedes the other. Tefillah is more common (tadir) but Keri’at haTorah is more mekudash. It’s not clear which is more important; the Gemara (Zevachim 90b-91a) leaves this question open.
Rabbi Weiss (in his Minchas Yitzchok) was asked whether an ill person allowed to leave his sickbed for a very short period of time should daven with a minyan or hear Keri’at haTorah. In his answer, he quotes the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 90:9): “One should make every effort to pray in shul with the congregation; however, if he is anus (subject to matters beyond his control) and unable to go to shul, he should fix his prayer [and concentration] to the time the congregation prays…”
The Mechaber is actually quoting (and obviously agreeing with) the Tur whose own words in this matter are as follows: “A person should exert himself utilizing all his physical strength (b’chol kocho).” Thus, it seems that the Mechaber is telling us that insofar as tefillah is concerned, even though one is required to go to great lengths to daven with the tzibbur, it is clear that doing so is not an imperative. It thus seems clear-cut that, given the choices, Keri’at haTorah should take precedence.
(To be continued)
Rabbi Yaakov Klass