Yoma 70

Scroll switching.

The Jewish month of Tevet always begins during Hanukkah. But when the first of that month also happens to be Shabbat, it’s a busy day in synagogue. 

As Rabbi Titzhak Nappaha says on today’s daf:

When the new moon of Tevet occurs on Shabbat, we take out three Torahs: From one, we read the topic of the day (the weekly Torah portion), from one we read the portion of the new moon (Numbers 28:9-15) , and from one a portion for Hanukkah (from Numbers 7).

Why do we need a separate Torah for each reading? Because the different sections come from different parts of the Torah and we don’t want to impose upon the congregation to wait while the scroll is rolled. Instead, we read from multiple scrolls, each rolled to the correct spot in advance.

But there’s an exception to this rule, related at the end of yesterday’s daf:

One may skip sections when reading in the Torah when both sections read pertain to the same topic … but only when the section skipped is of such short length that when furling is completed the translator will still not have concluded his translation.

Today, congregants typically follow the Torah reading in books that include translations into the vernacular. But in ancient times, to ensure that the congregation understood what was being read, the reader would recite a single verse from the Torah and then pause while a translator relayed the verse in the vernacular.

So the exception related in the Gemara is that if the time it took to roll the Torah was less than the time the translator needed to render the last verse, it is permissible to roll to the next passage as long as the new passage shares the same topic as the first. 

We still follow this rule today. When we read Torah on minor fast days for which the first aliyah describes Moses securing God’s forgiveness after the sin of the golden calf, and the next two describe Moses fashioning a second set of tablets to replace the ones he smashed, we read from a single scroll. All three passages are near to one another in Exodus and are on the same topic. 

Why are these rules about Torah reading in the tractate that deals with Yom Kippur?  

During Temple times, the high priest read three passages from the Torah as part of the Yom Kippur proceedings. The first begins with Leviticus 16:1, the second with Leviticus 23:26, and the third with Numbers 29:7. All three passages pertain to the Yom Kippur rituals and sacrifices.

Following the rules described above, the first two passages, which are close together and related by topic, can be read from the same scroll. But the third, while also about Yom Kippur, is too distant in the scroll to allow for rolling without a delay in the action.  

But according to the mishnah, after completing the second passage, the high priest rolls up the Torah, holds it close to his heart and declares, “More than what I have read before you is written here.” Then he recites the final passage by heart.

Why not bring out a second Torah for the final passage? The Gemara suggests two possibilities: 

1) If the high priest were to switch scrolls in the middle of the reading, people may erroneously conclude that there was a flaw in the first scroll which necessitated the switch. 

2) If the high priest were to read from only one scroll, he would recite only one set of blessings. But the addition of a second scroll obligates the high priest to recite a second set of blessings. The rabbis are concerned that the new blessings are extra and would be considered a bracha l’vatala, an unnecessary blessing, which is to be avoided. Therefore, they prefer the use of only one scroll.

Neither of these concerns pertains today. It’s unlikely that a switch in scrolls would lead anyone to assume that the change is due to a flaw in the scroll. And since a different person is called up for each section and recites their own blessing, no one is reciting unnecessary blessings. Which is why today we do in fact read from two scrolls on Yom Kippur morning. 

Read all of Yoma 70 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on June 20th, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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