Thursday, July 08, 2010

Is This Sefer Really Necessary?

It is brought down in many Jewish sources that it is praiseworthy (perhaps obligatory) for a person to read "Shnayim Mikra V'Echad Targum" (SMVT) each week.  In short, it means reading (over the course of the week) the weekly Torah portion twice and the Aramaic translation/commentary by Onkelos once.  While my own record in this regard is so-so at best (as a Ba'al Kriah I never miss shnayim mikra.  It's the echad targum that I'm not always so good about), it is, IMHO a good practice.

That doesn't mean, of course, that it can't become the source of nonsense.

Most chumashim that are sold in Judaica stores have the Onkelos translation/commentary already contained within the volume.  Thus, a person can go to almost any Orthodox shul and easily be able to read SMVT.  Just about every Orthodox home has a chumash with the Onkelos in it.  If travelling, a person could easily carry a chumash with the Onkelos translation in it -- there are hundreds of different types available on the market to choose from.

And yet, someone felt the need to publish a special volume for SMVT.  I actually saw one in a shul in my neighborhood recently.  You might ask what is a SMVT volume?  Very simply, it writes each verse out twice followed by the Aramaic translation.  See the sample below.

Can someone please explain to me why this is necessary at all and why a regular chumash with Onkelos just won't suffice?  About the only benefit I see is that you don't have to keep your place in the Onkelos as you would with a standard chumash -- but come on!   And even if that's the main draw, is there anyone so lazy that upon finishing reading a verse, they can't just go back and read it again without having it printed in front of them again?!   

The Wolf


Shilton HaSechel said...

I have to wonder how many people who are buying this sefer are fluent in Ancient Aramaic ;)

The best edition is the one with a small commentary of Onkelus on the bottom

The Hedyot said...

> Can someone please explain to me why this is necessary at all...

I recall seeing this sort of thing a number of years ago.

Whether it's necessary is doubtful, but it's existence indicates one more example of the mindless and superstitious ritualization of ultra-orthodoxy.

Like you said, this minhag is an old one, and understanding it's rationale doesn't take a lot of investigation: it's clearly meant to promote the study of chumash with a commentary on the pesukim. That's all it is, a method of studying that some old authorities felt was useful for everyone to get in the habit of.

But then along comes our modern day frum thinking, and instead of understanding the minhag for what it is - simply a way to promote learning of the parsha - it instead sees it as some magical ritual, something that everyone should be doing, whether or not they understand what they are doing or saying, just like how people daven or put on tzitzis, or blindly do countless other mitzvos, just something that needs to be done for its own sake because there is some magical spiritual benefit that is accrued.

So naturally, if the goal is just to say the words - mikra twice, targum once - then it makes perfect sense that they should make a nice version of the chumash formatted especially for this purpose! Just like a siddur, they can now effortlessly daven it, and be yotzei their chiyuv!

That's what it's all about. One more example of modern day frumkeit creating a more easy to achieve version of a spiritual activity which satisfactory sticks to the letter of the law while totally eviscerating the primary spiritual goal of it all.

frumheretic said...

Yes, many believe that Onkelos is sacrosanct, written with ruach hakodesh. But equating Onkelos with targum is anachronistic, originating at a time when Aramaic was the Lingua franca (!) Indeed, Tur and others say that reading Rashi can satisfy the chiyuv. I see no reason why reading an English translation (for English speakers) should not also be equivalent (of course, it must be the heiliga Artscroll version!)

micha berger said...

I agree with Shilton haSechel, and have a Chumash with JPS and Rashi on my iPod (thanks kids for the Father's Day present!) for that purpose.

(See for a lot of texts for a variety of PDAs.)

That said, I see the point of this chumash for those more traditional than I. There is time lost switching locations back and forth. If all you believe the chiyuv is is to "daven up" the original and Aramaic, then this could shave significant time off the ritual.

Along these lines... In Eretz Yisrael, where they stopped the minhag of leining with Aramaic, the Torah was divided into parshios that ran from Shavuos to the Shavuos three years later. 1/3 as much per Shabbos as the Bavli custom we now follow. Leining with switching from Seifer Torah to Targum and back wasn't just marginally longer than twice as much time -- it was closer to three times as long.


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

I have to agree with Hedyot. I've seen these books around for over 10 years and it's all about mindlessly reciting the parsha a certain way to fulfill the obligation rather than actually read it and understand it. but if the main point of reading Onkelos was to get an authorized translation in what was then the vernacular, a good English peirush would do the same job today. And if the point of doing this is to have a good understanding of the parsha, then that would be more relevant in terms of fulfilling the mitzvah.

But I have to disagree with SHilton. Anyone who does this does become fluent in ancient Aramaic.

Anonymous said...

Mindless indeed. Although it is a very popular seller. I know many people who went off to Israel for the year and bought this, men and women alike. I don't blame the guy who put it together, it is a money maker and it's clearly paying off. There are many such mindless books out there, I have some knowledge in seforim and can tell you that this is the tip of the iceberg. OTOH if people are using it to learn, regardless of how mindless it is, is that really a bad thing?

Shilton HaSechel said...

>Anyone who does this does become fluent in ancient Aramaic.

True but that basically defeats the point

The Targum is supposed to help you understand the Chumash not vice versa.

Master said...

Wolf, why are you all bent out of shape over this? Did anyone put a gun to your head and demand you buy this Sefer? It's there for anyone who desires it!

Do you rant against the latest updates to Microsoft Word, which just adds features almost no one needs in order to sell it to another million suckers?

micha berger said...

What's the big deal with mindlessness?

Mitokh shelo lishmah, bah lishmah -- if it really is a chiyuv, better mindless recitation than skipping the chiyuv.

Or do you only put on tefillin on days where you have time to think about the yichud Hashem, about committing one's senses (bein einekha) and one's actions, or perhaps one's mind and one's heart, to serve Him, etc, etc, etc...

Yahadus is very much a religion that values doing something by rote hundreds of times for the sake of the one time it "clicks" and means something to you. We do not restrict mitzvah performance to when you're in the mood to do it.

The problem is that deep down you're not considering the possibility that this really is a chiyuv.

Personally, I don't think it ever was accepted as a chiyuv. But then, that's why I'm not in the market for a book to make rush-jobs possible on those days I'm in a rush.


JRS said...

Hedyot nailed it, about this being a perfect example of the contemporary frum bent toward mindless ritualism (he reminded me of me; I'm always saying that about all the practices that are so... mindlessly ritualistic).

But Micha also makes a good point, that for those who do SMv'ET that way, this is helpful---and it's more than just a time-saver---it's extremely tedious, reading a posuk, looking back to the beginning of the posuk again, then to targum and then back again (for those whose minhag is posuk-by-posuk).

micha berger said...

JRS: I was thinking of qitniyos, which I not only avoid because of blanket ritual, I avoid only because of blanket ritual. It makes no sense, and the minhag's only meaning to me is the importance of not tampering with the mechanics of mesorah.

However here, it's quite likely that maavir sedra is a derabbanan, not "just" minhag.

(Shilton haSechel: Is your avatar actually Marvin, as per the movie version?)


jewinjerusalem said...

What's your problem? First of all, the sefer has been around for years. Also, there are competing editions. Finally, it exists because of reason only: economics. I think it's a waste of money. There are many people who like it. Manufacturers have taken advantage. The mighty dollar has spoken.

Frodo said...

I think the Targum requirement is fairly loose- the way I understand it, an english translation (which would be vastly superior in terms of aiding comprehension) or rashi (which I try to do, and while more time consuming, it is much more interesting and probably a higher level of limmud ha'torah) are both acceptable.

Chaim B. said...

Many Rishonim hold that shenayim mikra can be fulfilled only by reading Onkelus. The Shulchan Aruch rules that this is the preferred method of fulfilling the din. Of course, there is no reason that this cannot be done using a regular chumash.

If you do shenayim mikra regularly you I think you will become accustomed to 1) understanding the Aramaic better, and 2) appreciating where targum deviates from straight translation of the text and adds nuance and interpretation.

When I was in R"M Twersky's shiur in YU he gave weekly tests on parshas hashavua which included questions on the targum just to be sure we gave it proper attention. If some people do the mitzvah improperly by treating shenayim mikra as a ritual instead of study, why should those who are capable not make an effort to do it correctly?

efrex said...

People have their own preferences. I personally can't stand the Artscroll interlinear translation, but my father swears by it.

IIRC, my chok l'yisrael chumash has this layout now. I'll be honest: the double pasuk thing is a bit much, but I do enjoy the interwoven targum.

Gil Student said...

I bought it for my son when he was about 10 to encourage him to do Shnayim Mikra and to help him gain fluency in Aramaic. I can't say it worked exactly as I had hoped but it did make him proud to have his own Chumash that fit his specific needs.

JRS said...

Micha said: "What's the big deal with mindlessness?.....Mitokh shelo lishmah, bah lishmah......Yahadus is very much a religion that values doing something by rote hundreds of times for the sake of the one time it "clicks" and means something to you >>>

Are you being facetious, very subtly sarcastic?
That has become the go-to rationalization for everything frum Jews do with---if we're honest w/ourselves---no effort at pretending to consider trying to maybe think about doing it in a feeling, thinking manner. Mitoch shelo lishma has it's applications, sure... but you can only go so far with little or no actual effort to convert it into lishma, and still consider yourself to be "trying". People spend a lifetime in that "trying" posture, going to minyanim and mindlessly chanting---it's not like they start off daily with kavana and then their mind wanders---mindless chanting is de facto the l'chatchila way of davening.
Shaitels may evoke Botticelli by way of Charo & Lady Gaga--but at least they're covering their hair! The guy may be wearing an ancient, dusty, misshapen hat that doesn't suit him, and look sweaty, idiotic, bizarre---but at least he's covering his head, & at least the hat's black---'cuz that's how we show respect for Hashem!
Mindlessness indeed.

micha berger said...


No, I was being serious. Yahadus values mindless practice because it's only through pushing yourself to go through the paces every day that you get that once in a while inspiring and passionate instance where it all clicks.

This is actually the Rambam's explanation of "G-d wanted to give merit to Israel, therefore He made many Torah and mitzvos for them."

The problem O today has is that we don't even try to find meaning beyond superficial pablum answers, so that that once in a hundred event rarely happens.

I actually founded an organization, The AishDas Society which provides programming to help someone pull himself out of this rut.

"The AishDas Society empowers Jews to utilize their observance in a process for building thoughtful and passionate relationships with their Creator, other people and themselves."

But to question rote observance would be Reform, only performing those rituals in which you already find meaning. We instead perform rituals in hope that someday the act itself teaches us that meaning -- perhaps on a conscious level, perhaps by shaping our thoughts in ways we don't notice.

If you're not in the mood to daven, you daven anyway. If maavir sedra is no less a rabbinic enactment than davening, then the same applies.


Chaim B. said...

>>>Shaitels may evoke Botticelli by way of Charo & Lady Gaga--but at least they're covering their hair! The guy may be wearing an ancient, dusty, misshapen hat that doesn't suit him, and look sweaty, idiotic, bizarre---but at least he's covering his head,

These are not examples of lo lishma -- these are examples of poor mitzvah performance. Lo lishma would be adhereing to tzniyus properly, just for the wrong reasons; covering one's head with a hat, albeit for a wrong reason. What you are describing amounts to obeying the letter of the law but disregarding its spirit, which is a completely different idea.

Just to illustrate the difference a little better: mindless rote davening without intention is not lo lishma -- it's just poor davening (if it can be called davening at all). Davening like you really mean it because you think G-d will reward you with a new car if you say your prayers is she'lo lishma.

Lion of Zion said...


these types of books have been around for a little and are not new

as a baal kore, if you are intersted in doing shnayim mikra ve-echad targum, get yourself an early chumash edition (i mean really early), when targum was printed with trop.


"Anyone who does this does become fluent in ancient Aramaic."


a person can't use one foreign language with which he isn't really familiar to learn a second foreign language.

and even if one's command of hebrew is really that good as a foundation language, it still would take much work to learn aramaic through the method you recommend. but the fact is that many people who do shnayim mikra ve-echad targum zip through it as a rote ritual and absorb little if anything (either in terms of understanding the chumash better or leaning aramaic). the guys i see zipping through the whole parsha with targum at the last minute every week during seudat shelishit (but iirc you have till the middle of the following week to catch up?) just so they can be yotze are an extrme example of this, but in general i think even many people who do it daily don't really absorb anything.

Lion of Zion said...


"The best edition is the one with a small commentary of Onkelus on the bottom"

the best edition is the one with another translation into a person's primary language.

but seriously, if one wants to learn targum i recommend יין הטוב על התרגומים (available for chumash and a few volumes of nach)


"it's clearly meant to promote the study of chumash with a commentary on the pesukim."

targum is translation, not commentary. (yes, i'm aware that translation inherently is commentary, and the targum in specific does include exegetical material not in the original text, but in the main it is still a translation). many jews in israel and bavel no longer understood hebrew, so they needed an aramaic artscroll. (in egypt they had a greek version.) later when jews spoke other languages (arabic, ladino, persian, arabic, etc. they made a "targum" for those languages as well.

also, i'm curious if the original enactment of shnayim mikra ve-echad targum meant that people had to go over the parsha during the week with targum. in antiquity (and still in yemenite shuls) the targum was read together with the leining in shul, so people would have been yotze for echad targum just by hearing the leining?

BrooklynWolf said...


Off-topic, can you please drop me an email? I have something I need to ask you.


The Wolf

Lion of Zion said...

check your junk box. i don't appreciate the intimation that all that i write is junk, but often my emails end up there.

Bob Miller said...

For native English speakers, this type of book should include good English translations of both the text and Targum Onkelos. That would promote the understanding this practice was meant to encourage.

ajs said...

I have used the Drazin/Wagner Onkelos translation and found it excellent in many ways. Some of the commentary is quite rationalist/extreme LWMO, but I still consider it a valuable resource to be used with discretion.

Ariel Segal

Mike Koplow said...

We were visiting my son's summer camp, and I needed to daven Maariv, so I grabbed a siddur off a table. I was a little surprised when it said in tiny print "yesh omrim morid hatal." Nothing about "mashiv haruach umorid hageshem (or gashem)." When I put the siddur down at the end, I noticed on the cover that it said "siddur liymei kayitz." Vey'z mir, talk about unnecessary sefarim. Of course this one does fulfill the publisher's need to sell twice as many siddurim.

micha berger said...

Even today we can't engage in dan lekaf zechus?

A summer edition of the siddur is aimed for sale to camps and bungalow colonies. The siddur is thinner, since they don't need the sections for most of the Yamim Tovim. Saves a little storage, saves the publisher money -- it's a win-win.


Mike Koplow said...

"Even today we can't engage in dan lekaf zechus?"

Micha, you're absolutely right. I apologize to all.

micha berger said...

And I apologize for implicitly committing the irony of pointing my finger at you, another Jew, for a lack of ahavas Yisrael.