(JNi.media) According to a reasoned ruling by Rabbi Jonathan Raziel from Ma’ale Adumim, Israel, it is forbidden to correct mistakes made by the reader of the Torah during the reading, even if he mispronounces a word or a phrase, because “reading the Torah on Shabbat and during the week is a rabbinic law,” while the ban on shaming the reader is a Torah prohibition.
The mitzvot (commandments) are divided into those that are delineated directly from the Torah text, and those imposed by the rabbis over the generations. Both are considered part of the Oral Torah, and both are taught through the interpretation of the rabbis, however the mitzvot that are spelled out by the Torah have a higher value, and in cases of a conflict between a Torah-level mitzvah and a rabbinic one, the Torah-level mitzvah supersedes.
The process of reading from the Torah scroll in most synagogues is monitored strictly by the worshipers, because the mitzvah is, literally, to hear the Torah—reading the text silently doesn’t do the trick, and neither does reading it aloud from a printed book. When the reader makes a mistake in pronunciation, skips a word or adds one, it is customary to correct him immediately, and loudly, at which point the reader may go back to the beginning of the verse and read it aloud once more, in the correct way.
Rabbi Raziel, writing in the latest volume of the prestigious halachic journal Techumin, published by the modern-Orthodox Tzomet Institute, presented a view that offered to give up the tradition of correcting the reader.
“This article was born as a result of an unfortunate event that took place a few years ago,” Rabbi Raziel wrote in the introduction to his piece, “when a secular, fatherless boy who had come closer to the Torah and the mitzvot, went up to the Torah at age 15 and read from it. The corrections emanated from the crowd, some tried to silence them, and as a result of the turmoil and confusion, the boy’s feelings were hurt and he left halfway through the reading, with tears in his eyes. He wouldn’t come back to read and eventually left religious practice altogether.”
Rabbi Raziel noted that “in our generation there are often cases of children who do not observe the Torah and mitzvot, who come to the synagogue on their Bar Mitzvah to read from the Torah, even though they don’t always know how to read properly. Such a seminal and emotional event in the life of the child can be harmed by loud corrections from the audience, and therefore we should discuss the question of whether or not there is a need to correct the reader.”
Rabbi Raziel argues that “most authorities believe that the reading of the Torah, even on a Saturday morning, is a rabbinic commandment, and even those who believe it is a Torah-level commandment, concede that it refers to the minimal reading obligation and not the entire weekly portion. Also, all the authorities that the mitzvah or Torah reading on weekday mornings and Shabbat afternoon is rabbinic.”
In any event, even in a synagogue where the public insists on correcting Torah reading errors, Rabbi Raziel believes that “It is absolutely forbidden for individuals from the audience to howl at the reader, so as not to shame him, but they should instead appoint one official to do it.”
He also stressed that “extra care must be taken when the reader is a young person, who is more vulnerable than an adult, because of the possible consequences of a perceived insult.”
Rabbi Nahum Eliezer Rabinowitz, dean of Birkat Moshe Yeshiva in Ma’aleh Adumim, supported Rabbi Raziel’s opinion, saying, “the prohibition against shaming a person, which is Torah-level, supersedes the obligation to read the Torah aloud, which is rabbinic.”
Rabbi Rabinowitz conceded that, according to Maimonides, “the worshipers might not fulfill the commandment of hearing the Torah” if there is a mistake in the reading, but believes it is “better that the worshipers not fulfill their obligation of hearing the reading, than transgress the Prohibition against shaming an individual.”