The Four Parshiyot – Halacha According to the Sephardic Practice

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Starting during the month of Adar, four additional Torah portions are read from a separate sefer Torah than the regular parashah of Shabbat. They are: Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, and HaChodesh.[1] Shekalim is read in remembrance of the machatzit hashekel that was given every year. Zachor is read in order to remember the deeds of Amalek. Parah is read since the first Parah Adumah was burned on the week before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, immediately after the Mishkan was completed. HaChodesh is read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

Parashat Shekalim

  1. On the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Adar, two sifrei Torah are taken out, and the parashat hashavua is read from the first sefer Torah, and parashat Shekalim is read from the second. Parashat Shekalim is read from Parashat Ki Tissa (Shemot 30:18). The Haftarah of Vayichrot Yehoyada (Melachim II 11:17) is read since it is connected to the parashah of Shekalim, which deals with donations that are given for the upkeep of the Bet Hamikdash. When Rosh Chodesh is on Shabbat, three sifrei Torah are taken out, and parashat Shekalim is read last; the first six Aliyot are read from the parashat hashavua, the seventh Aliyah is read from the second Torah from the parashah that is read on Rosh Chodesh (starting from U’bayom haShabbat – Bamidbar 29:8), followed by parashat Shekalim, which is read from the third Torah, and the haftarah for Shekalim is read.[2]
  2. When two sifrei Torah are taken out, Kaddish is recited after the reading of each of the Torahs.[3]
  3. When three sifrei Torah are taken out, Kaddish is recited after the reading of the second and third Torah scroll. If seven Aliyot were called up from the first Torah, then Kaddish is recited after reading from the first Torah as well.[4]
  4. Women are not obligated to hear parashat Shekalim.[5]
  5. A man under the age of twenty may receive an aliyah to the Torah for parashat Shekalim even though the machatzit hashekel was only given for those above the age of twenty.[6]

Parashat Zachor

  1. On the Shabbat that precedes Purim, two Torah scrolls are taken from the ark; one for the regular parashah and one for the Maftir. The parashah of “Remember what Amalek did to you” (Devarim 25) is read. Because of this reading, it is called, Shabbat Zachor (Remember). The haftarah also deals with Amalek.
  2. The reading of parashat Zachor is a Biblical obligation of the mitzvah to remember Amalek and his descendants and to orally recall their iniquity.[7] To properly fulfill this commandment, the Chachamim have prescribed the public reading of this passage from a Torah scroll, once every year, on the Shabbat which precedes Purim – so that the “wiping-out” of Amalek might be adjacent to the “wiping-out” of Haman, who was a descendant of Amalek. Although this passage is read yearly in the parashah of Ki Tetzeh (which we read towards the end of the summer), we still must read this passage separately in its prescribed time before Purim.[8]
  3. If Rosh Chodesh is on Shabbat, parashat Zachor is read on the following week. When Rosh Chodesh is not on Shabbat, parashat Zachor is read two weeks after parashat Shekalim.[9]
  4. Parashat Zachor should be read from the most mehudar sefer Torah one can find. This is because, according to most poskim, reading parashat Zachor is an obligation from the Torah, and must be done very carefully.[10]
  5. Before the Torah is read, the baal korei should specify that he is reading from the Torah with the congregation in mind, and that the people should likewise have in mind to fulfill their obligation with his recitation, along with fulfilling the mitzvah of remembering Amalek.[11] Additionally, they should have in mind to be yotzei with the one reciting the berachot on the Torah.[12]
  6. Some communities have a custom that the chazzan recites Leshem Yichud before the berachot of the Aliyah, but this is not obligatory.[13]
  7. Since there is a biblical obligation to hear parashat Zachor, a Sephardi should listen to parashat Zachor read with a Sephardi pronunciation and cantillation, and preferably with a Sephardi sefer Torah. If one did not, though, he has nevertheless fulfilled his obligation.[14]
  8. One who already read parashat Zachor for one minyan may read it again for another minyan.[15]
  9. During the reading of parashat Zachor, the congregation should not make noise when the name Amalek is recited, since others might not be able to hear the entire reading because of the noise.[16]
  10. When parashat Zachor is being read, one should not read along with the chazzan out loud; instead, one should follow along quietly without enunciating the words.[17]
  11. One does not have to understand the meaning of parashat Zachor to fulfill his obligation of hearing it. However, one should try to have some understanding of what is being read.[18] The following is a basic explanation of the meaning of parashat Zachor (Devarim 25:17–19):
(יז) זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם: Remember what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt.


(יח) אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱלֹהִים: That he encountered you on the way and cut off those lagging to your rear, when you were tired and exhausted; he did not fear G‑d.
(יט) וְהָיָה בְּהָנִיחַ יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְךָ מִכָּל אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ תִּמְחֶה אֶת זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם לֹא תִּשְׁכָּח: And it shall come to pass, when the L‑rd your G‑d has given you rest from all your enemies round about, in the land which the L‑rd your G‑d is giving you for an inheritance to possess it, that you shall obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget.
  1. In order to take out the Torah from the hechal, there must be ten people present, even if some of the people have already heard the reading. If there are not ten people present, then the Torah should not be taken out of the hechal, and it should be read within the hechal (if it is a sefer Torah with a casing, which is common for Sephardim).[19]
  2. Women, too, should listen to parashat Zachor read from a sefer Torah. However, if a woman is very busy taking care of her children and there is no other way for her to attend the Torah reading, she is exempt.[20]
  3. One who was unable to hear parashat Zachor read in the synagogue should read it himself from a Chumash if he can, and have in mind to fulfill his obligation on the Shabbat when parashat Ki Tetze is read.[21]
  4. It is customary to recite the piyyut of “Mi Kamocha” on Shabbat Zachor.[22]
  5. It is customary that the rabbi of the community delivers a sermon on Shabbat Zachor and discusses the miracles and laws of Purim.[23]

Parashat Parah

  1. When Rosh Chodesh Adar is on Shabbat, there is no additional sefer Torah read on the 15th of Adar, and parashat Parah is read on the 22nd of Adar instead.
  2. On the Shabbat after Purim, parashat Parah is read after the parashat hashavua. This reading begins from the beginning of parashat Chukat until Bamidbar 19:22. Since there are many poskim who rule that parashat Parah is also a biblical obligation, like parashat Zachor, one should treat its reading with the same stringencies as parashat Zachor.[24]
  3. It is proper for women to also come to the synagogue to hear parashat Parah if they can.[25]

Parashat HaChodesh

  1. On the Shabbat that precedes Rosh Chodesh Nissan, parashat HaChodesh is read after the parashat hashavua. This is read from Shemot 12:2-20. When Rosh Chodesh is on Shabbat, three sifrei Torah are taken out, and parashat HaChodesh is read last. The haftarah of BaRishon b’echad la’chodesh (Yechezkel 45:18) is read.[26]

Shenayim Mikra for the Four Parshiyot

  1. The four parshiyot do not have to be read as shenayim mikra v’echad targum.[27]

Forgetting to read one of the four parshiyot

  1. If a congregation forgot to take out an additional Torah for one of the four parshiyot, they should do as follows:[28]
    1. If they remembered after Maftir of the parashat hashavua, they should finish the parashah, recite half-kaddish, take out another sefer Torah and read another Aliyah from the parashah that is required to be read.
    2. If one remembers and has already recited the berachot of the haftarah, he should read a few pesukim from the haftarah that he intended to read, then take out another sefer Torah, call another person to recite the Aliyah, and read the required parashah with a berachah before and after reading, followed by kaddish, and read the proper haftarah without a berachah before, but the regular after berachah is recited.
    3. If they remembered only after reciting the berachot after the haftarah, they should take out another Torah, recite the parashah with a berachah before and after the reading, then recite the proper haftarah without a berachah before or after. This is also the case if they remember after praying Mussaf.
    4. If they realize at Minchah that they did not recite the extra parashah that day, they missed it and cannot make it up. However, for parashat Zachor, it is permitted to read it the entire day.[29]
  2. One who misses the reading of one of the four parshiyot cannot read it again in order to make up for what he missed.[30]
  3. If one finds a mistake in the Torah while reading one of the four parshiyot, another sefer Torah should be taken out to read with, and a berachah is recited after the reading. If the mistake was only found at the end of the parashah, another sefer Torah does not have to be taken out. It is nevertheless proper to take out a new Torah if the mistake was found during parashat Zachor or Parah, and the Aliyah should be read again without a berachah.[31]
  4. If a congregation accidentally read one of the four parashiyot during Adar Rishon, they have not fulfilled their obligation and it should be read again at its proper time.[32]
  5. If a congregation accidentally read parashat Shekalim or parashat Parah a week early (in a year when there is a break between parashiyot), they have fulfilled their obligation and do not have to read it again on the following week. However, if they accidentally read parashat Zachor or HaChodesh on the wrong week, they must read it again at the proper time.[33]

[1] Talmud Bavli, Megillah 29a.

[2]. Shulchan Aruch 685:1. Megillah 29b explains that this was meant to remind people in the time of the Bet HaMikdash to bring their machatzit hashekel. Even though there is no Bet HaMikdash today, the custom remains in place. The Talmud Yerushalmi, Megillah 1:5 & 3:4 explains that this is for Bnei Yisrael to bring the machatzit hashekel before Haman pays his shekalim to Achashverosh. See Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 40 for another eight reasons for reading parashat Shekalim.

[3] See Halachah Berurah, vol. 17, p. 408.

[4]. Yabia Omer 4:22; Yechaveh Daat 1:76; Chazon Ovadia, Pesach §1, p. 9; Yalkut Yosef, Pesach, vol. 1, p. 97; Ibid., Shabbat, vol. 1, book 4, p. 332. Kaddish is only recited after the first Torah, if seven Aliyot were called up from the first Torah. If only six Aliyot were called up for the first sefer Torah, then no Kaddish is recited between the first and second sifrei Torah.

The custom of Ashkenazim is that they only recite one kaddish before Maftir, and they do not recite kaddish after the reading from the second sefer Torah. Ashkenazim do as follows: After finishing reading from the first sefer Torah, they perform hagbah, and wrap it. Then, they read from the second sefer Torah, then they place the third sefer Torah on the bimah, recite a half-kaddish, and then they perform hagbah on the second sefer Torah, wrap it, and then read from the third sefer Torah. See Rama 282:4; Mishnah Berurah 282:28; 147:27; 685:13.

[5]. Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 51.

[6]. Ibid.

[7] As the Torah says: (Devarim 25:17) “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, upon your departure from Egypt”…  (ibid. 25:19) “You shall erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens, you shall not forget.” The Chachamim expounded: ‘Remember,’ orally – ‘You shall not forget,’ in your heart. See Minchat Chinuch 603 who explains that this mitzvah is really comprised of two mitzvot asseh and one mitzvah lo ta’aseh.

Kaf HaChayim 685:29 quotes Yafeh LaLev who says that no berachah is recited upon this mitzvah since it is a mitzvah that discusses destruction and Hashem is not happy even when He has to destroy wicked people. He also adds that a berachah is not recited upon a mitzvah that reminds us of our sins. For example, no berachah is recited upon the mitzvah of parah adumah since the purpose of the mitzvah is to atone for the sin of the golden calf. This is also the case with remembering Amalek, since Amalek only attacked the Jews as a result of their sins and not keeping the laws of the Torah. According to Teshuvot HaRashba 1:19 also states that a berachah is not recited on a mitzvah that does not have any action. See also Mishneh Halachot 11:546. Me’am Loez, Parashat Ki Tetzeh, halachah 46, says that no berachah is recited since the mitzvah is to destroy Amalek, and the purpose of reading this parashah is only to remind us that we are commanded to destroy Amalek. Mishneh Halachot 7:81 explains that since there is a constant mitzvah to always remember Amalek, no berachah is recited, similar to other constant mitzvot. See also Lehorot Nattan, vol. 5, 47:3 and Rivevot Ephraim, vol. 5, 444:2.

[8] See Rashi, Megillah 29a “U’mafsikin”; Sefer HaChinuch 603; Levush 685:2; Purim BeTzion, p. 57.

[9]. Shulchan Aruch 685:2; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 3.

[10]. Shulchan Aruch 685:7; ibid., O.C. 146:2. See Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 5 and Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 82.

[11]. Mishnah Berurah 685:14; Kaf HaChayim 685:33; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 4; Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 93.

[12]. See Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 98, which also adds that one should not answer baruch Hu u’baruch Shemo to the berachot. See also Ohr LeTzion, vol. 4, 51:3.

[13] The Kaf HaChayim 685:33 brings that this was the custom in Bet El, and is also brought by the Chida (Avodat Hakodesh, Kaf Achat 5:8). The original source of the prayer of Leshem Yichud is actually found much earlier, in the Zohar, Tazria, and Yitro, p. 93b, and the Arizal states in the introduction to Shaar HaMitzvot that the prayer of Leshem Yichud should be recited before performing any mitzvah. However, not everyone agrees that one should do so; the Nodeh BeYehudah, vol. 1, Y.D. 93 was outspokenly against reciting Leshem Yichud. He opines that merely reciting the berachah upon the mitzvah is considered sufficient preparation for the mitzvah. See also Teshuvot Chazon Ovadia 1:29 who concludes that even though it is praiseworthy to recite a Leshem Yichud prayer before performing each mitzvah, it is not obligatory to do so. I also heard from Chacham Yitzchak Yosef during his Motzaei Shabbat shiur that his father never recited Leshem Yichud during Shabbat Zachor, and it is possible because he was concerned that doing so would stall the minyan causing tircha d’tzibbura.

[14]. See Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 8; Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 792, which discusses this at length; and Ohr LeTzion, vol. 4, 51:3. This is also the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv as brought in Ashrei HaIsh, vol. 1, 11:2, that a Sephardi may fulfill his obligation through an Ashkenazic recitation, and vice versa. This is also the view of Teshuvot VeHanhagot 1:154 & 401; ibid. 2:44; Moadim U’Zemanim 2:107 & 6:96; Stam KeHilchatam, 8:6; and Halichot Shlomo, vol. 1, p. 69, footnote 68. See also Piskei Teshuvot, vol. 6, pages 513–514, footnote 41. See also Minchat Yitzchak 3:9.

Regarding using an Ashkenazic sefer Torah, see Shevet HaLevi 2:211 & 10:7; Igrot Moshe, O.C. 4:9; Tzitz Eliezer 11:65; Moadim U’Zemanim 2:166; and Torat HaMoadim, Purim, p. 48.

[15]. Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 5.

[16]. Ibid., in the name of Ben Yamin, p. 77 and Rabbi Avraham Palagi.

[17]. Yechaveh Daat 3:53; Maor Yisrael on Megillah 19b; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 4, in footnotes. See also Yabia Omer 2:6 & 4:3 regarding the rule of shome’a ke’oneh.

[18]. Moadim U’Zemanim 2:165 points out that one must understand what is being read in order to fulfill his obligation. However, Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 112 explains that since the main purpose of the reading is for the parashah to be read publicly, one does not necessarily have to understand what is being said, especially if one understands it conceptually. This is also the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in Ashrei HaIsh, vol. 3, p. 279, who writes that one only needs to understand the concepts of the reading, which is remembering Amalek. See also Ohr LeTzion, vol. 4, 51:5, and Nitei Gavriel, Purim, 19:5.

[19] Purim BeTzion, p. 69.

[20]. According to many poskim, women are obligated to hear parashat Zachor because it is not considered a time-bound mitzvah. This is because the obligation itself does not necessitate for it to be read at a certain time; the Chachamim established a time to fulfill this obligation. Therefore, Binyan Tzion, Chadashot §8; Maharil Diskin, Kuntres Acharon §102; Minchat Elazar 2:1; and others state that a woman is obligated to hear parashat Zachor. However, others, such as the Minchat Chinuch, mitzvah 603, state that women are not obligated since they are not obligated to go to war against Amalek. This being the case, Chacham Ovadia Yosef in Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 10, in the footnotes writes that if a woman cannot make it to the synagogue because she was taking care of her children, then she is exempt.

Many communities have a custom to read parashat Zachor again after Shacharit for the women who were unable to listen to the reading during Shacharit. See Yabia Omer, vol. 8, milu’im for siman 54; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 10, in the footnotes; Minchat Yitzchak 9:68; and Yalkut Yosef, Purim p. 151, which discuss whether such a custom is permissible. A woman should try to do her utmost to hear at least the second reading of parashat Zachor and not rely on the more lenient views. See also Yechaveh Daat 1:84; Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 135 and on; and Tzitz Eliezer 22:38. When using a Sephardic sefer Torah (that is in a case), one should read it while it is open in the hechal, and not take it out to the bimah to be read.

[21]. Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 7; Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 158.

[22] This was written by Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi, and this is brought in many siddurim and machzorim. See at the end of Chazon Ovadia, Purim, who explains each stanza of this piyyut, and in Purim BeTzion, p. 79.

Some communities recite this before Nishmat Kol Chai (see Yechaveh Daat, Chazzan, 3:2; Emet Yehoshua 3:18; Shemesh U’Magen, 1:41, 3:59, & 85:8), but it is better to recite it either after Shacharit or after keriat haTorah. See also Yechaveh Daat 2:7; Purim BeTzion, p. 80.

[23] Purim BeTzion, p. 83.

[24]. Many Rishonim, such as Tosafot Ri, Tosafot Rosh, Rashbah, the Rivah, and others hold that parashat Parah is a biblical obligation. This is also brought in the Shulchan Aruch 685:7, which rules stringently. However, the Vilna Gaon argues with this and writes that there is a mistake in these Rishonim, and they were only referring to parashat Zachor. Even though there is merit to this argument, Chacham Ovadia Yosef in Yabia Omer 4:17 and in Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 17 writes that one should be stringent and treat parashat Parah as a biblical obligation, just like parashat Zachor. See also Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 175, which cites others who treat parashat Parah as a biblical obligation.

[25] Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 180. See also Tzitz Eliezer 10:28 and Piskei Teshuvot 685:6, footnote 21.

[26]. Shulchan Aruch 685:4. See siman 429, which discusses these halachot.

[27]. Shulchan Aruch 285:7; Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 186.

[28] See Halichot Moed, Purim, p. 242.

[29] See Purim BeTzion, p. 54, who permits one to read the missing parashah at Minchah even for parashat Shekalim.

[30] Mishnah Berurah 685:2; Ohr LeTzion, vol. 4, 51:10 writes that for parashat Parah, one can read it the next week without a berachah. Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 24. Chazon Ovadia p. 21 also adds that if there is a week break between parashat Shekalim and parashat Zachor, if one misses parashat Shekalim, it can be read on the next week instead.

[31] See Shulchan Aruch 143:4; Halachah Berurah, vol. 7, p. 239.

[32] Mishnah Berurah 685:2; LeDavid Emet 9:14; Kaf HaChayim 685:6; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 21.

[33] Shulchan Aruch 685:1; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 26.