With Purim nearly upon us, it’s time once again for the reading of the four special parshiyot. We’re actually in the middle, having already covered sheqalim last week, but this week we get the spectacular fun of zachor (Devarim 25:17-19). Invariably, this reading generates much discussion as to how this passage should be read (including the practice of repeaing the last verse – a discussion for another time), and the extreme importance of being in shul to hear zachor being read.
Most of these discussions are based on the preception that the reading of parashat zachor is biblically mandated. This assumption has bothered me for some time, as well as the cavalier attitude with which it is presented. Despite the lack of textual evidence or logical consistency, few people question the nature of keriat parashat zachor. As luck would have it, my new upgraded Bar Ilan CD just came in and it’s all all revved up for a test spin.
The source for reading parashat zachor is M. Megillah 3:4 which lists all of the four special parshiyot as well as when they’re read. Despite the fact that formalized Torah reading was instituted by Ezra HaSofer1 (B. Berachot 22b, B. Megillah 31b, B. Ketubot 3a, B. Bava Qamma 82a), most authorities consider the reading of parashat zachor to be a biblical requirement.
The confusion is the result of an imprecise application of the bibilical obligation to remember Amalek. The passage of zachor commands us to “remember what Amalek did” in attacking the Jewish people immediately after the Exodus from Egypt (see Shemot 17:8-16). According to Rabbinic law,2 the act of remembering is done through speech (B. Megillah 18a).3 For example, we fulfill the commandment to “Remember the Shabbat” (Shemot 20:7) through the recitation of kiddush (B. Pesachim 106a) as opposed to a formalized Torah service.
In the act of reading zachor, we are necessarilly saying the passage, thus fulfilling the obiligation to remember.4 However, it does not logically follow that a formal reading is the only way to observe the commandment of remembering Amalek. According to Rabbinic law, one ought to be able to fulfill the mitzvah of zechirat amalek simply by reading the passages out loud from a humash or a siddur.
When did reading zachor first get its status as a biblical obligation? Some attribute the source to Tosafot found in Berachot 13a and Megillah 17b which say that the reading of zachor is biblical. While in our context this is generally taken to mean that we have a biblical obligation to read zachor, I do not belive this is a correct reading of the Tosafot. In addition to zachor, Tosafot consider other passages to be of biblical nature including eglah arufa (Devarim 21:7), halitza (Devarim 25:9), and bikkurim (Devarim 26:5). None of these instances constitutes a traditional “reading” in the sense of taking out a Torah scroll, but rather during certain events and actions, the Torah mandates that a script be recited. This “reading” is biblical in the sense that there is a specific text which must be spoken – simliar to keriat shema – as opposed to reading a regular Torah portion.
The earliest source I have found advocating a bibilical requirement for reading zachor with a minyan is the Rosh (1250-1327) (Berachot 7:20). Unfortunately, Rosh does not provide any source for this assumption. Rabbi Israel ben Petachyah Isserlein, better known as the Terumat Hadeshen (d. 1460) is most emphatic in accepting this position of the Rosh, and adds a few other who subscribe to this opinion, but he offers no further rationale (TD 108).
In addition to the lack of textual support for claiming the reading of zachor is biblical, there is also a problem of inconsistency. If zechira must be done through the process of reading, then logically it ought to apply to the other required rememberances including Shabbat, Miriam (Devarim 24:9), and the Golden Calf (Devarim 9:7).5 Even if the Rabbis mandated a special reading of zachor – by which we fulfill a biblical obligation – this does not mean that the reading itself becomes a biblical obligation as well.
1. With the obvious exception of hakhel – Devarim 31:12
2. For a bibilical equating of remembrance and speech, see Yirmiyahu 31:19.
3. And as my father pointed out in an old Beitz Yitzchak article, the word “zakkarum” in akkadian means to “mention.”
4. The Encyclopedia Talmudit 12:219 n. 90 seems to imply that R. Amram Gaon believed that the reading of zachor is a commandment seprate to reciting it. However, a quick check of R. Amram himself showes that he actually says that reading fulfills the obligation to mention.
5. It’s funny how no one takes the call to “remember the days of the world” (Devarim 32:7) as a serious exhortation, but that’s another discussion.
Wouldn’t it be fair to say that there are biblical commandments whose fulfillment is dictated by the Rabbis? For instance,Kiddush is considered a biblical obligation by most (ie Rambam) even though the Torah does not talk about wine, or even verbalization. The Torah mandates us to Recall shabbat and the Rabbis tell us to fulfill our biblical obligation by reciting a blessing over a significant food (wine or bread). Similarly, here the Rabbis mandated that a public reading form a Torah is the proper way to fulfill the biblically mandated COMMUNAL recollection of Amalek’s attack.
2 Points regarding Zachor –
1. If you look in the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot, he lists at the end of the mitzvot Aseh, the 60 mitzvot hechrechiyot that he says still apply today – and #189 (Zechirat amalek) is not listed as one of those 60. The Rambam’s opinion is that if you can’t do mechiyat amalek you can’t do zechirat amalek either.
An even more interesting question is when did the custom start of requiring women to come and hear Zachor, since as a time dependent mitzvah women should be exempt. The earlier source I have heard for women is the Aruch L’ner.
2. Regarding the Zaycher/Zecher issue – See my posting in MailJewish V47n20 for a discussion of this topic. http://www.ottmall.com/mj_ht_arch/v47/mj_v47i20.html
isn’t Parshat Zachot next Shabbat?
1) Though you can understand the Tosafot in Brachot as you do, I think you misunderstood the Tosafot Megillah 17b. He clearly says that most Torah readings are d’rabanan, but the Torah reading of zachor is d’oraita. He then mentions all of the scripts that must be read, and when the gemara says that sh’hatorah ne’emra b’chol lashon, it means that these scripts can be read in any language, and not torah reading in general (since it’s d’rabanan), as rashi seems to understand the gemara.
2) Many acharonim claim that Terumat haDeshen misunderstood the Rosh (see for example Sha’arei Tzion 685:5), and the Rosh did not require a minyan for the reading.
3) The Ramba”n, who was before the Rosh, held that the reading in all generations of parashat zachor is d’oraita (Devarim 24:9). However, you are correct in that he /could/ hold that any sort of verbal rememberance is acceptable.
4) Psikta Rabbati (also before the Rosh) 13:13 records a conversation between Bnai Yisrael and HKBH. B”Y claim it will be impossible for them to fulfill the act of zechira; HKBH says that the way to fulfill the mitzvah of z’chirat amalek is through reading the parasha once a year. It seems to imply that had HKBH not given us the hetter of reading it every year from a Torah scroll, the constant remembrance would be impossible.
The difference between the reading of Parashat Amalek and other zechirot, I would claim, is the negative commandment of “Al Tishkach”, which requires constant remembrance (and we are given the hetter described above).
A good tip is to hear halacha from students that focus primarily on the teachings of aspecific rabbi- It could be jsut the link to unite between the various torah opinions while at the same time enriching while expanding your personal collection in torah knowledge.
A second point:
You say, “If zechira must be done through the process of reading, then logically it ought to apply to the other required rememberances including Shabbat, Miriam (Devarim 24:9), and the Golden Calf (Devarim 9:7).”.
Your question is: if reading from a klaf is the way to fulfill the biblical obligation of zechirat amalek, it should also be the way to fulfill other biblical zechirot.
However, I think the Tosafot/Rosh’s/TD/etc’s source for the requirement of a klaf is from something else (which I cannot claim to know).
On the amud before the Tosafot you quoted in Megillah (17a), the gemara explains that in the megillah itself, its reading is called zechira. Now, if it’s a rabbinic zechira, and rabbinic obligations are made to mirror biblical obligations (k’ein d’oraita tikken), why does the gemara need to use a gezerat shava on 19a to explain why the megillah needs to be written on a klaf?
Happy Shushan Purim!