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Torah in any Language? – Gefet 20

We are beginning the second perek of Masechet Megillah, perek “הקורא את המגילה”. The mishna opens with a fascinating and important law about reading the megillah:

משנה:  הקורא את המגילה למפרע – לא יצא.

The gemara explains the basis of this law in an interesting way: 

תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף יז עמוד א

גמרא. מנא הני מילי? אמר רבא: דאמר קרא ככתבם וכזמנם מה זמנם למפרע לא – אף כתבם למפרע לא. – מידי קריאה כתיבה הכא? עשייה כתיבה, דכתיב להיות עשים את שני הימים! אלא מהכא: דכתיב והימים האלה נזכרים ונעשים – איתקש זכירה לעשייה, מה עשייה למפרע לא – אף זכירה למפרע לא.

This means that reading the megillah needs to be like doing an action. Just like we are not able to change the order of our actions, so too with regards to reading the megillah. This small passage sheds fascinating light on what reading the megillah means to us – it is not a regular reading – in actuality, it is not really reading at all, but rather an action. When we read the megillah, we enter reality. The halacha here symbolizes a much deeper event. Someone who internalizes the reading of the megillah “lives” the story. It seems that this law is specific to Megillat Esther, however, the gemara surprises us by quoting a Tosefta, where it seems as though the law prohibiting reading out of order applies to other things as well. 

הקורא את המגלה למפרע לא יצא וכן בהלל וכן בתפלה וכן בקרית שמע

Here, we need to check if every time that this law appears, it describes the transition to the world of actions, or if the requirement to read in order comes from somewhere else. Here we will test this only with regards to kriat shema. 

We will examine the gemara which clarifies the source of the law “הקורא למפרע לא יצא” with regards to kriat shema. 

תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף יז ע”א – ע”ב

קריאת שמע – דתניא:

קריאת שמע ככתבה דברי רבי, וחכמים אומרים: בכל לשון.

מאי טעמא דרבי? אמר והיו – בהויתן יהו.

ורבנן מאי טעמייהו? אמר קרא שמע – בכל לשון שאתה שומע.

– ורבי נמי, הא כתיב שמע! – ההוא מיבעי ליה: השמע לאזניך מה שאתה מוציא מפיך.

ורבנן סברי כמאן דאמר: הקורא את שמע ולא השמיע לאזנו – יצא. –

ורבנן נמי, הכתיב והיו! – ההוא מיבעי ליה שלא יקרא למפרע.

– ורבי, שלא יקרא למפרע מנא ליה? – מדברים הדברים. – ורבנן – דברים הדברים לא משמע להו.

The gemara brings a dispute between Rebbi and the rabbis regarding the question of whether it is possible to read shema in any language. By way of this dispute, we learn that Rebbi and the rabbis agree that kriat shema cannot be said out of order, however, each one of them learns this law from a different passuk. We will summarize the different readings of the pesukim of Rebbi and the rabbis:

The Word Rebbi Rabbis
שמע To make heard to the world To understand, each according to his language
והיו In Hebrew – like they are written before you here in the passuk It is forbidden to read it out of order, rather it must be read as it is 
הדברים The letter “ה” is extraneous and it teaches that it must be read in order, and if it is read out of order, one does not fulfil his obligation The rabbis don’t learn anything from the letter “ה”

The dispute between Rebbi and the rabbis is fascinating. I heard an analysis of this dispute quoted in the name of Rav Moshe Lichtenstein, and I will briefly bring his idea. Through this dispute regarding the meaning of the word שמע, we discover two completely different worldviews regarding what happens during kriat shema: according to Rebbi, the purpose of kriat shema is to announce this event to the world. According to the rabbis, the purpose of kriat shema is to internalize its content. 

The gemara continues to learn from this dispute a surprising discussion regarding Hashem’s revelation at Har Sinai and the writing of the Torah. We will study the words of the gemara:

לימא קסבר רבי כל התורה כולה בכל לשון נאמרה, דאי סלקא דעתך בלשון הקודש נאמרה – למה לי למכתב והיו? – אצטריך, סלקא דעתך שמע כרבנן – כתב רחמנא והיו.

לימא קסברי רבנן כל התורה בלשון הקודש נאמרה, דאי סלקא דעתך בכל לשון נאמרה – למה לי למכתב שמע? – איצטריך, סלקא דעתך אמינא והיו כרבי – כתב רחמנא שמע.

The gemara here brings up two possibilities – either the Torah was said in every language or it was said in Hebrew. The gemara doesn’t determine what actually happened, but points out that it is possible to understand the dispute between Rebbi and the rabbis regardless of whether one thinks that the Torah was said in any language or in Hebrew. 

This gemara is surprising – is it possible to raise the possibility that the Torah wasn’t said and written in Hebrew? 

Rashi immediately shows that we did not read the gemara correctly:

רש”י מסכת מגילה דף יז עמוד ב

בכל לשון נאמרה – לקרותה בכל לשון, ולכן איצטריך בקריאת שמע והיו.

במבט ראשון לא כל כך ברור מה רש”י אומר – נעיין בתוספות ונראה שבתחילת דבריו הוא מצטט את רש”י ומפרש אותו

תוספות מסכת מגילה דף יז עמוד ב

כל התורה בכל לשון נאמרה – פירש הקונטרס שנתנה לקרות בכל לשון שרוצה לקרות בספר תורה 

This means that Rashi understands that the sugiya deals with the question of whether Rebbi and the rabbis think that it is possible to read the Torah in any language or if it is clear to them that it can be read only in Hebrew. 

In other words, according to Rashi it is clear that these suggestions have nothing to do with Matan Torah, but rather are about the fulfillment of the mitzvah of reading the Torah in public. 

Tosfot, who bring Rashi’s explanation, raise a difficulty against him:

וקשה שהרי קריאת התורה אינה מן התורה אלא מדרבנן לבד מפרשת זכור דהוי דאורייתא

Tosfot ask – the mitzvah to read the Torah in public is only rabbinic, except for the reading of Parashat Zachor, which is from the Torah. Yet, from the sugiya, it seems as though Rebbi and the rabbis are discussing Torah laws and not rabbinic laws, and it seems that they are talking about a reading of the Torah which happens all the time and is not once a year. Tosfot give a simple solution to this difficulty: 

ונראה דהכי פירושא כל קריאה שבתורה כגון מצות חליצה ופרשת עגלה ערופה וידוי מעשר ובכורים וכל אלו השנויין פרק אלו נאמרין בסוטה (דף לב. ושם).

In other words, Tosfot strengthen Rashi’s words and point out that it is not only Parashat Zachor that needs to be read by Torah law, rather there are additional events where we are required to read pesukim, although these are not yearly events, and not events which are relevant to every Jew, as they are dependent on certain specific situations and on the building of the Beit Hamikdash: during chalitzah, the pesukim of בית חלוץ הנעל are recited, during the egla arufa ceremony, the beit din says “ידינו לא שפכו את הדם הזה ועינינו לא ראו”, in vidui ma’aser, the vidui that is written in the Torah is said, and when the bikkurim are brought, פרשת ארמי עובד אבי is recited. This is how Tosfot continue with what Rashi started. However, if we look at the parallel Tosfot in Masechet Brachot, we will discover an interesting statement: 

תוספות מסכת ברכות דף יג עמוד

בלשון הקדש נאמרה – פירש רש”י פרק שני דמגילה (ד’ יז: ושם) לקרות בתורה. ולא נהירא דהא עזרא תיקן קריאת התורה ומקמי דאתא עזרא והיו למה לי. וי”ל דמיירי בפרשיות המחוייבין לקרות דאורייתא כמו פרשת זכור אי נמי מקרא בכורים וודוי מעשר ופרשת חליצה שמצוה בתורה לקרותן

 אעפ”כ בכל לשון נאמרה בסיני שכל דבור ודבור שהיה יוצא מפי הקדוש ברוך הוא היה מתחלק לשבעים לשון.

The Tosfot in Brachot repeat the same progression they have in our sugiya – a thought process which turns the entire discussion in the gemara into one which does not have anything to do with Matan Torah. However, at the end of the discussion, Tosfot say that in any case, the Torah was said in seventy languages! This means that Tosfot learn something from our sugiya about Har Sinai – specifically at Har Sinai, all of the languages were present, not only Hebrew. The Maharsha, of the acharonim of Ashkenaz, who frequently comments on Rashi and Tosfot, writes that we have additional sources in Shas from which it is clear that the Torah was said in seventy languages, and refers us to Masechet Shabbat:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף פח עמוד ב

תני דבי רבי ישמעאל: וכפטיש יפצץ סלע מה פטיש זה נחלק לכמה ניצוצות – אף כל דיבור ודיבור שיצא מפי הקדוש ברוך הוא נחלק לשבעים לשונות.

This means that according to Tosfot, there is no dispute regarding this point, and the entire dispute is regarding the obligation to read certain passages. At this point, we will ask two questions about Tosfot:

  1. Is it really universally accepted that the Torah was given in seventy languages?
  2. What is the reason for Hashem revealing Himself in this way? 

In order to answer these questions, we will look at the Rashba and Shitta Mekubetzet on Brachot, who bring other opinions in this dispute:

חידושי הרשב”א מסכת ברכות דף יג עמוד א

לימא קסבר ר’ כל התורה בכל לשון נאמרה, כתב רבינו האי גאון ז”ל לכולן ברור שלא כתב משה את התורה אלא בלשון הקדש כסדר הזה שהוא בידינו בלא שינוי אלא כך הן אומרין הנאמרו לו עוד תרפיה בלשון אחר אם לאו ע”כ.

The Rashba quotes Rav Hai Gaon, who claims that there is a different point of agreement, thereby disagreeing with the Tosfot: Rav Hai claims that it is universally accepted that the Torah was written in Hebrew, rather the dispute is whether it was said to Moshe in other languages as well. Rav Hai doesn’t speak about Har Sinai, but rather about the second revelation in the cleft of the rock, the revelation where Moshe wrote down the Torah. What is obvious to the Tosfot according to the opinion of Rav Hai, is the question of the gemara – in this revelation did Hashem teach Moshe Torah in other languages as well? According to Rav Hai, this question was never resolved. Rav Hai points out to us that it seems that at least with regards to the first question – does everyone agree with the Tosfot – it is not so simple. It is true that Rav Hai spoke about the second revelation, in the cleft of the rock, however, it is not clear why he would think differently about the first revelation – according to Rav Hai, the gemara wasn’t sure whether Hashem taught Torah in other languages or only in Hebrew. In Rav Hai’s explanation, he does not explain why Hashem would need to speak in other languages – the answer to this question is found in the words of the Ra’avad, brought by the Shitta Mekubetzet:

שיטה מקובצת מסכת ברכות דף יג עמוד א

אבל הראב”ד ז”ל כתב וזה לשונו: הא דדייקינן מרבנן על התורה אם נאמרה בכל לשון אם לא לא על הכתיבה שכתב משה נאמרה שהכל יודעים שלא נכתבה בספר אלא בלשון הקדש ולא נכתבו שאר לשונות אלא על האבנים שבגלגל כדכתיב באר היטב. אלא על התלמוד שלמדו הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה ומשה למד אותה לישראל לפי שהיו בהם גרים משאר לשונות [נסתפק לנו] אם היה מלמדה לכל אחד ואחד בלשונו וכן כל אחד ואחד יוצא ידי שינון בלשונו או שמא לכולם שונה בלשון הקדש ואין אדם יוצא ידי והגית בו אלא בלשון הקדש:

The Ra’avad explains the passuk practically. Since not everyone in Am Yisrael understood Hebrew, could it be that Hashem really taught each person in his language? The Ra’avad, as opposed to Rav Hai, speaks explicitly about the first revelation on Har Sinai, the revelation where they were doresh that Hashem spoke to each person. Here, the Ra’avad, claims is where the question of the sugiya is found – did Hashem turn to each person according to his understanding, since the purpose of the revelation was to teach each person individually, or did Hashem teach everyone in Hebrew. The Ra’avad says that this question can be expanded to whether one must learn Torah specifically in Hebrew or perhaps maybe one even needs to learn it in his own language? 

After this study, we will return to the words of Tosfot and will ask – why, according to Tosfot’s understanding, is there no dispute regarding the fact that the Torah was said in all the languages? Tosfot didn’t speak about the presence of converts, as the Ra’avad mentioned, Tosfot spoke about the revelation at Har Sinai, and not about the revelation in the cleft of the rock, like Rav Hai. Do Tosfot think like the Ra’avad that the reason for the many languages was the presence of converts in Am Yisrael? In my opinion, it seems that this is not Tosfot’s opinion, as the Tosfot emphasize that the Torah was said in specifically seventy languages, and it is difficult to say that among Am Yisrael, there were converts from all of the nations of the world, causing Hashem to need to speak in all of these languages. 

It is possible to suggest that Tosfot understood that the revelation of Hashem at Har Sinai was a revelation that was meant for the entire world. Similarly, it was a revelation with an atmosphere of learning and understanding, and not a ceremonious one. We will suggest that it is possible that according to Tosfot’s opinion, the Torah, originally, belonged to the entire world. Am Yisrael became the bearers of the Torah when they accepted the written Torah. The written Torah is the kernel which preserves the quality of the Torah, but the Torah, originally was oral, in every language, and was understood by everyone. We will suggest that according to the Tosfot, the process of learning the Torah sheb’al peh, and the translation of the Torah into all of the languages of the world aspires to reconstruct and return to the original Ma’amad Har Sinai, a revelation which was oral, where Hashem spoke in all of the languages of the world.


We have seen that Tosfot claims that everyone agrees that the Torah was given in seventy languages. We saw, on the other hand, that Rav Hai Gaon, and the Ra’avad both write that everyone agrees that the written Torah was written in Hebrew. 

Rav Hai and the Ra’avad argue with Tosfot and understand that the question of whether Hashem spoke in every language or only in Hebrew is the question of the sugiya. The Ra’avad clarifies that this question comes from the question of whether or not Hashem related to the converts in Am Yisrael and fit His language to theirs. 

Tosfot disagree with them, as it is clear to them that the Torah was originally given in seventy languages. Therefore, Tosfot explain the sugiya the same way Rashi does. According to Rashi, the sugiya deals with the question of whether, when we are obligated to read a passage in the Torah on a Torah level (and not rabbinically), it can be read in other languages as well. From here we can see that the way Tosfot see Ma’amad Har Sinai is fundamentally different from Rav Hai Gaon and the Ra’avad – according to the Tosfot, Ma’amad Har Sinai was meant for the entire world, and the Torah itself contains the faces of all of the languages.

(Translated by Daphna Ansel-Nizan)





Rabbanit Yael Shimoni

Rabbanit Yael Shimoni is the Ramit and Deputy Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Drisha in Kfar Etzion. Rabbanit Shimoni has learned at Migdal Oz, Matan, and the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership at Midreshet Lindenbaum. She holds a BFA from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and a BEd in Torah Shebe’al Peh and Jewish Thought from Herzog College. She is currently studying towards an MA in Jewish Thought Education at Herzog College. Rabbanit Shimoni taught gemara and halakha at Pelech High School and served as a ramit for shana bet at Migdal Oz. She directs Meshivat Nefesh, the online responsa program of the rabbaniyot of Beit Hillel. She is also a plastic artist and member of “A Studio of Her Own.
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