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Reading Twice from the Torah

Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Kotner,

Rabbi of Beachwood, Ohio

I received your letter, and here is my brief reply – for want of time.

You asked if it is permitted for somebody who has already read from the Torah to read again from the Torah and thus fulfill the obligation on behalf of others. You noted that according to the opinions that reading from the Torah is a personal (and not a communal) obligation, it follows that he might not be able to do so, since he has already fulfilled his own obligation.

Chazal teach us a great principle by which a person can make a berachah on behalf of another even though he has already made the berachah for himself (Rosh Hashanah 29a). The Rishonim explain that although he has already fulfilled his obligation, other have not yelled fulfilled it, and because he has responsibility even for their obligation, he is able to recite the berachah again. See the Tosafos, the Rosh, and other Rishonim to Berachos 20 and 48.

The root of the matter, as I have explained elsewhere, is that somebody who wishes to fulfill his obligation in a mitzvah by hearing somebody else must hear the “mitzvah reading.” We would have thought that after having fulfilled his own obligation, a person can no longer make a “mitzvah berachah,” to which Chazal counter that he can, because of his responsibility for others’ fulfillment of the mitzvah: His berachah is still a “mitzvah berachah” and his reading a “mitzvah reading.”

Based on this principle there is room to investigate whether the idea applies even to the reading of the Torah – for if we assume that the public reading of the Torah is a communal mitzvah (and not a personal mitzvah), perhaps the concept of mutual responsibility will not apply, so that one person will not be able to perform the mitzvah for another.

On the other hand, there is room to argue that if we assume the mitzvah to be a communal (and not personal) obligation, perhaps there is no need for the person reading the Torah to be personally obligated, because he is not actually coming to fulfill the mitzvah for any specific person.

Yet, it seems simple that it makes no difference if the obligation is personal or communal. Either way there is a basic requirement both that the reader should be obligated and that the listener should hear a “mitzvah reading” – and either way the halachah is that even somebody who has already fulfilled the mitzvah can fulfill it on behalf of another, the principle of mutual responsibility (arvus) applying even here.

It seems to me rather that the crux of your question is whether it is permitted on a lechatchilla level for somebody who has already fulfilled his obligation to read again, or whether it is only bedieved, and lechatchillah a baal korei who has not yet read from the Torah should be selected.

In this question – whether somebody who has already fulfilled his obligation can perform the mitzvah for others on a lechatchillah or bedieved level alone – is the subject of a dispute among authorities (see Mishnah Berurah 585:5; 692:10).

Yet, it appears that even concerning this question it makes no difference if the obligation is classified or as a personal or communal obligation – those who are stringent will be stringent, and those who lean towards leniency (the majority, as the Mishnah Berurah writes) will be lenient.

Therefore, if there is somebody in shul who has not yet fulfilled his obligation and knows how to read properly, it is certainly better that he should read, in order to fulfill the stringent opinion of the Magen Avraham and others. However, if there is nobody to read but somebody who has already fulfilled his obligation, there is no need to make the special effort of finding somebody who has not yet heard the reading, and it is perfectly fine for him to read again for the community.

May he merit to disseminate and glorify the Torah,

Asher Weiss.

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