Megillah 22

Splitting verses.

Today’s daf continues with a discussion of a topic raised in yesterday’s mishnah: how to divide up the verses for Torah readings.

As regular synagogue goers will know, a long portion of the Torah is read on Shabbat mornings and is divided between seven aliyot. But on Monday and Thursday mornings and Shabbat afternoons, a shorter section of the Torah is divided among three aliyot. As a general rule, each aliyah must be at least three verses long. On today’s daf, the rabbis consider what to do if there aren’t enough verses in the reading to ensure that each aliya is long enough. Predictably, the rabbis disagree.

Rav said: The second reader repeats the last verse that the first reader had recited, so that each of them reads three verses. And Shmuel said: The first reader divides the third verse and reads half of it, and the second reader begins with the second half of that verse, as though each half were its own verse.

Today, the common practice is for the person called to the Torah to recite two blessings and for a Torah reader to do the chanting from the scroll. But in talmudic times, those called to the Torah did the chanting themselves, which is why the Gemara here refers to them as “readers.” According to Rav’s opinion, if there aren’t enough verses to go around, the second reader repeats the last verse read by the first reader. Shmuel says the two readers split the verse between them.

What is the basis of this dispute? The Gemara tell us: 

He [Rav] holds that any verse that Moses did not divide, we may not divide. 

Although the written Torah does not indicate when individual verses begin and end, we have a tradition from Moses that indicates these starting and stopping points. Rav says we may not deviate from this tradition.

There is one exception, though: when we are teaching schoolchildren:

Didn’t Rabbi Hananya Kara say: I had great distress with Rabbi Hanina the Great; (there were many times I had to ask his permission to divide a verse), and he permitted me to divide it only for the benefit of schoolchildren, since they need to be taught in this manner.

If this passage sounds familiar, it’s because we encountered it verbatim just a few weeks ago, on Taanit 27. Throughout our study of Daf Yomi, we will find similar repetitions when a passage making a point in one place is used to make a similar point in another. Both in Taanit and here, the discussion centers around splitting up Torah verses. A specific exception to the prohibition against doing so is granted when teaching children. Rashi affirms that the reason for allowing students to divide verses is to assist them in their learning. 

Jewish tradition is rife with examples of creating learning environments that allow children to succeed in their studies. Here, we allow for division of otherwise indivisible verses. In Tractate Pesachim, we learn how to create a child-friendly seder. In Pirkei Avot, we learn about ideal teacher-student relationships. And it’s no wonder — Jewish learning is the key to perpetuating Jewish tradition. 

The models of Jewish teaching and learning showcased throughout the Talmud bring examples of ideal pedagogy employed to ensure student success. Breaking up content into shorter segments so that schoolchildren can learn without becoming overwhelmed with frustration is just one element of what teachers today would call best practices — and one that is still employed in our time.  

So, if you’re ever frustrated with mastering a long Torah reading, just do what the Talmud suggests: Split the verses up into smaller portions while you’re learning them.

Read all of Megillah 22 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 3rd, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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