Tzarich Iyun: Errors in Laining

Misconception: If a baal korei (person publicly reading the Torah) makes an error that alters the meaning of the text and he has already read God’s name in that verse, he must first finish the verse and then reread the entire verse.

Fact: There is no need to first complete the verse, nor to restart it. The baal korei may stop immediately, return to the start of the phrase in which the error occurred, and reread from that point.

Background: How to handle an error by the baal korei during laining is the source of much discussion. Two extreme positions are cited by the Tur (OC 142): Either there is no need to correct any error and doing so will embarrass the baal korei, or, as the Shulchan Aruch (OC 142:1) and Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 12:6) rule, even minor grammatical errors must be corrected. In this vein, the Sha’arei Efraim (3:16) advises chastising the baal korei even for minor errors. The Ramah (OC 142:1 and see commentaries) states a compromise position that requires correcting only mistakes that alter the meaning of the word.

There are two aspects to the halachah of how these corrections are executed — 1) whether or not there is a requirement to finish the verse before correcting the error, and 2) how much text must be repeated. The second issue, how much of the verse to repeat after an error, is a three-way debate that applies in all cases of a Torah-reading error, and not only in those involving verses containing God’s name. Some opinions require that the entire verse be re-read, while others require re-reading only from the corrected word. The commonly accepted practice follows a third opinion, that of the Baal Hatanya, which requires the baal korei to re-read from the beginning of the phrase in which the error occurred.[1] This ruling applies even if the phrase contains God’s name.

As far as first completing the verse there are few sources. The Sha’arei Rachamim (3:18)[2] commentary on the Sha’arei Efraim, cites the Chesed L’alafim (215:10) who derives from the Chayei Adam (5:2) that it is unnecessary.[3] In support of this position are the many sources which discuss the laws of when a baal korei needs to repeat a section, and in which there is a resounding silence on the distinction between verses with and without God’s name.[4] This is a strong indication that the major halachic decisors saw no distinction, and hence no need to first conclude a verse that contains God’s name. Tzitz Eliezar notes that the custom has developed as per this misconception and the verse is usually first finished. He points out, however, that the strict law of not completing the verse must be followed if the unread, second half of the verse also contains God’s name. In that case, the verse must not be completed. Rather the baal korei must stop where he is, re-read the required section properly, and then continue to complete the verse.

The Complete Torah Reading Handbook (Dr. Ely Simon, Judaica Press, NY, 1996) raises (page 71, point 3) the important point that if a baal korei read God’s name and then in the same verse subsequently made an error, he should not go back to the beginning of the verse, thereby unnecessarily repeating God’s Name, but rather he should just repeat the phrase that contained the error. However, even this otherwise excellent work continues (page 71, point 4): “If the korei continued past the mistake and read God’s Name, he must finish the verse and then reread it correctly.” While this is (often) not wrong, it is unnecessary.

The Beit Yosef (OC 142) cites an interesting Sephardic custom of reciting “v’hu rachum y’chaper avon… (He the merciful one is forgiving of iniquity…)” after the Shabbat Torah reading as an atonement for any inadvertent errors made during the reading. However, he concludes that this custom is no longer practiced. The Kaf Hachaim (OC 142:4) suggests saying it silently, and further recommends that it is better to precede the Torah reading with the recitation of “va’yehi no’am” because it is preferable to request that God prevent an error than have to request forgiveness after committing an error.

1. See Rabbi Hershel Schachter, “Lesser-Known Laws of Torah Reading,” Journal of Jewish Music 7:1-11, paragraph 46 where he also cites the Tosafot Anshei Shem to Mishnayot Brachot 2:3.
2. See R. Schachter, op cit. paragraph 48, and Tzitz Eliezer 12:40:3 who cite this with approval.
3. Interestingly, it is unclear whether this accurately represents the view of the Chayei Adam. See Tzitz Eliezer’s (12:40:3) own explanation of the Chayei Adam.
4. The exception to this silence is the end of MB 142:4. There it is stated that contrary to a popular misconception, if a mistake is made in the trop and it causes a change in meaning, the section is re-read irrespective if the section includes God’s Name.

Reprinted from JEWISH ACTION Magazine, Summer 5761/2001 issue