Twenty Questions Part 1: Women, Mourners, Bar Mitzvah Boys and More

1. Does Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum apply to women?

From the Bais Yaakov movement spearheaded by Sarah Schenirer a century ago through current initiatives like the OU’s Torat Imecha Imecha Nach Yomi and Torat Imecha Parsha, women’s Torah study represents an exciting and growing field that we now take for granted. It may therefore surprise some to recall that women are actually exempt from the obligation of Torah study (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:1), though women who choose to pursue Torah study voluntarily are rewarded for doing so (ibid., 1:13).

Since the obligation to review the weekly Torah portion Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum is part of the mitzvah of Torah study, women are likewise exempt from this obligation.

Aruch HaShulchan (OC 282:11) cites the “minor tractate” of Sofrim (18:4) that women are obligated to hear the public reading of the Torah, including the Targum (which was read publicly in Talmudic times) and the haftarah. He concludes that this doesn’t refer to a literal obligation, given (1) women’s general exemption from Torah study and (2) the fact that women are also exempt from positive, time-bound obligations, the public reading of the Torah being about as “time-bound” as a mitzvah can get. (Mishnah Brurah 282:12 also cites this “obligation” and likewise concludes that our practice is not to be stringent about it.)

2. Must a bar mitzvah boy start at the beginning?

Let’s say that a boy under the age of bar mitzvah reviewed however many parshas Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum when his bar mitzvah arrived. Now that he is an adult and obligated in mitzvos, must he start at the beginning of the Torah to fulfill his annual obligation? Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky ztz”l ruled this unnecessary on the basis that a minor has an obligation in Torah study. Accordingly, the sedras that the boy reviewed Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum while still a minor count towards his annual total.

3. Should one review Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum while sitting shiva?

One who is sitting shiva is not permitted to study Torah because “The statutes of the Lord are right, causing the heart to rejoice” (Psalms 19:9) and a mourner is forbidden to have joy. This prohibition includes the Books of Torah, Neviim (Prophets) and Kesuvim (Writings), Mishna, Talmud, halacha and aggadah (the non-legal portions of the Talmud). A mourner is permitted to read from the Book of Job, kinnos (dirges) and the sections detailing evil in Jeremiah. In the Talmud, he may study the chapter “these may have their hair cut” in Moed Katan, which deals with the laws of excommunication and mourning, as well as the minor tractate of Semachos (which likewise deals with mourning). He is also permitted to study the laws of mourning. Even in subjects that he is allowed to learn, he may not delve into questions and answers (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 210:1).

While it is prohibited for a mourner to study Torah during shiva, he is permitted to recite portions of Torah that are part of the regular routine. The Rosh on Moed Katan (3:28) writes that Torah study is a “private matter” (i.e., a form of mourning that one observes on Shabbos) but one has an obligation to review the weekly Torah portion and to complete it together with the community. This makes it no different from reciting Shema, which a mourner also does during the week of shiva.

4. Is a sick person obligated in Shnayim Mikra v’Echad Targum?

Kaf HaChaim 285:9 writes that one who is ill or suffering from eye pain is exempt from Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum and not obligated to hear it from someone else. Nevertheless, the sick person should complete the missed Torah portion after he recovers so that his year’s worth of Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum not go uncompleted.

5. Is a blind person obligated in Shnayim Mikra v’Echad Targum?

The Kaf HaChaim continues (285:10) that a blind person is exempt from Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum because of his obvious inability to review written material. He is likewise not obligated to hear it from another person because we never see that where a person is personally exempt from a matter because it’s inapplicable to him that he must fulfill it through another. Nevertheless, it is considered meritorious for a blind person to hear Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum from another person and doing so would be the proper course of action.

6. Must one review Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum out loud?

Generally speaking, one should review all of his Torah studies out loud; this is a general principle in hilchos Talmud Torah (the laws of Torah study) and is not specific to Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum. The Gemara in Eiruvin (53b-54a) relates a story in which Bruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meir, chastised a student who was whispering his studies rather than reciting them out loud. Her criticism was based on II Samuel 23:5, “Ordered in all things and secure,” from which she derived that if one dedicates his entire body towards his studies, they will remain secure, but not otherwise. Incidental to this, the Gemara relates the tales of a student of Rabbi Eliezer who studied quietly and didn’t retain his studies. So one should strive to review his Torah studies out loud at all times, including during Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum.

7. Should one review Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum using trup?

If one knows how to lein, it is best to read the Torah portion of Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum using trup (the traditional cantillation), but one should not do so with the Targum. If one doesn’t sing the Mikra with trup, he nevertheless fulfills his obligation.

8. Should one review Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum from a sefer Torah?

If one owns a Sefer Torah and knows how to read from it, it is preferable to do so. If one doesn’t know how to read from  the Torah, he should review Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum from a Chumash that has vowels.

9. May one fulfill his obligation in Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum by hearing it read by another?

One may certainly fulfill one Mikra by hearing it read in shul but, optimally, one should read the second Mikra himself. Magen Avrahom 285:8 cites an opinion that, b’dieved (after the fact), one fulfills his obligation through hearing alone. The Shaarei Teshuvah (285:6) cites an opinion that one can fulfill his obligation in Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum if he had the intention to hear it word for word.

10. May one interrupt while reviewing Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum?

Mishnah Brurah 285:6 writes, “If it’s possible for one not to interrupt Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum for any matter, that would be good. I have seen meticulous people behave this way, and it would be appropriate for a religiously committed person to do so.”

Kaf HaChaim 285:15 cites a kabbalistic opinion that one should complete the entire Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum at one time – standing. Nevertheless, if one is very thirsty, he permits interrupting even in the middle of a parsha (by which we mean a section) in order to drink, including the recitation of the before- and after-brachos. (It should be noted that Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum need not be recited standing - Pri Megadim MZ 690:1.)