Shnayim Mikra V'echad Targum by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


The Gemara (Berachot 8a) teaches, "One should always finish the Parashiyot with the community [by studying] Shenayim Mikra VeEchad Targum (the Parashah twice and Targum Onkelos once)." The Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 285:2) clarifies that this is a rabbinical obligation. It seems that women are not obligated to study ShMV”T (the acronym for Shenayim Mikra VeEchad Targum), since it is a time bound positive obligation. In this issue, we will examine the parameters of this obligation.

Reason for the Obligation

In the introduction to the Sefer HaChinuch, the author explains a reason for this obligation in a simple yet beautiful way:

Our sages established that we should read a portion of the Torah every week in the synagogue to inspire us to observe the Torah … The sages also obligated us to study in our home every week the Torah portion that is read in the synagogue to further enhance our understanding of the Torah.

The aforementioned Gemara notes that all those who engage in ShMV"T "have their days and years lengthened." One may interpret the Gemara as saying that this practice greatly enhances the quality of one's life. Surely, the joy on Simchat Torah of one who has fulfilled his ShMV"T obligation is exponentially greater than one who has not done so. Moreover, the Shabbat of those who observe this Halachah is immensely enhanced. Indeed, the Tur and Shulchan Aruch present this Halacha in the context of Hilchot Shabbat. Rav Soloveitchik told this author that the primary time for ShMV"T is Shabbat. This author also heard from Rav Soloveitchik (in a public lecture delivered at Yeshiva University) that every Shabbat is characterized by the Parashah of the week. For instance, the Shabbat on which we read Parashat Ki Teitzei is not simply Shabbat; it is Shabbat Parashat Ki Teitzei. One may argue that while the public reading of Ki Teitzei characterizes Shabbat as Shabbat Parashat Ki Teitzei on the communal level, individual ShMV"T study characterizes the Shabbat as Shabbat Parashat Ki Teitzei for the individual.

Of course, the primary way that ShMV"T enhances one's life is by promoting fluency in our most basic and holy text, the Torah. Accordingly, even women, who are not technically obligated to study ShMV"T, receive abundant reward for doing so.

A Defense for Those Who Do Not Study ShMV"T

Many individuals do not engage in ShMV"T for a variety of reasons. There is a "Limud Zechut" (limited Halachic basis) for such people. The Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 285 s.v. Aval Misham) cites the opinion of the Ra’avan that ShMV"T is an obligation only for an individual who has not heard Ker’iat HaTorah in the Beit Kenesset. According to the Ra’avan, ShMV"T is merely a substitute for Keri’at HaTorah.

However, the Beit Yosef points out that almost all Rishonim reject the view of the Ra’avan. For example, he cites the Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 13:25) who writes, "Although one hears the communal reading of the Torah, he must study the Parashah every week Shenayim Mikra VeEchad Targum." In fact, the Vilna Gaon (Bi’ur HaGra O.C. 285:1) specifically notes that the Shulchan Aruch rejects the opinion of the Ra’avan.

Therefore, those who do not study ShMV"T are not "sinners," but it is proper to study ShMV"T in addition to hearing Keri’at HaTorah in shul. All authorities concur, though, that one must study ShMV"T if he did not hear the communal Torah reading.

When Must We Complete ShMV"T Study?

The Gemara does not specifically state that one must complete ShMV"T by a specific time. Tosafot (Berachot 8a s.v. Yashlim), however, state that it is preferable to complete ShMV"T before eating on Shabbat. In fact, the Magen Avraham (O.C. 285:2) cites the Shelah HaKadosh who writes that it is preferable to complete ShMV"T on Friday after Chatzot (midday). This preference stems from Kabbalistic concerns.[1] Tosafot note, though, that it is acceptable to complete ShMV"T study even after the meal. However, Tosafot believe that ShMV"T must be completed before Shabbat ends. Indeed, the primary opinion presented by the Shulchan Aruch states that one must complete ShMV"T before Shabbat ends.

Nevertheless, the Shulchan Aruch cites two lenient opinions that appear in the Rishonim. One lenient view allows one to study ShMV"T until the Wednesday after Shabbat on which we read the particular Parashah. This view is based on the Gemara (Pesachim 106a) that permits one to recite Havdalah until Wednesday if he forgot to do so on Motza’ei Shabbat. A second, even more lenient view allows one until Simchat Torah to finish ShMV"T. The Aruch HaShulchan (285:10) writes that this is a viable opinion. The Mishnah Berurah (285:12) cautions that all authorities concur that it is preferable to complete ShMV"T before Shabbat ends.

When May We Begin Study of ShMV"T?

Tosafot write that the earliest time to begin ShMV"T study of a particular Parashah is after the Mincha on Shabbat afternoon when we begin to read from that Parashah. This opinion is codified by the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 285:3, and see Mishnah Berurah 285:7).

One may suggest that this opinion of Tosafot reflects their view that ShMV"T is a weekly obligation (i.e. that we must study ShMV"T of a particular Parashah within the week in which we publicly read that particular Parashah). However, the lenient opinion that believes that one may complete ShMV"T until Simchat Torah regards ShMV"T as a yearly obligation (i.e. that every year, one must complete ShMV"T). It would appear that just as the lenient view permits completing ShMV"T late, it also permits starting ShMV"T as early as Parashat BeReishit. Thus, if one finds difficulty in completing ShMV"T during the course of the year but is able to do so during a vacation period, he should take the opportunity and complete ShMV"T for the entire year during the vacation period. Rav Mordechai Willig told this author that he agrees with this analysis.

Rashi or Targum Onkelos?

The Rosh (Berachot 1:8) and the Tur (O.C. 285) assert that Rashi's commentary to Chumash constitutes a viable alternative to Targum Onkelos for the study of ShMV"T. The Beit Yosef (O.C. 285 s.v. VeIm Lamad), however, cites the Ri (Rashi's great-grandson) as disputing this assertion. He thus rules that a "God-fearing individual" should study both Targum Onkelos and Rashi. Similarly, in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 285:3), Rav Karo rules that Rashi’s commentary serves as a viable alternative to Onkelos, but a "God-fearing person" should study both Rashi and Onkelos.

It seems from the Shulchan Aruch that if one has enough time to study either Onkelos or Rashi (but not enough time to study both) that one can choose either and that there is no preference between the two. The Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch HaShulchan also do not seem to indicate a preference between Onkelos and Rashi. It thus appears that one with limited time is permitted to study either Onkelos or Rashi, according to his own preference.[2]

Alternative Translations

Tosafot (s.v. Shenayim) cite an opinion that asserts that any translation of the Chumash into the local vernacular constitutes a viable alternative to Onkelos. Tosafot reject this opinion, stating that Onkelos is special because Onkelos not only translates the Chumash but also explains many obscure words and passages. Both the Mishnah Berurah (285:5) and the Aruch Hashulchan (285:12) cite Tosafot's view as normative. However, the Mishnah Berurah writes that if one cannot comprehend Rashi, he may use a Yiddish (or any other language) translation based on Rashi and traditional sources that are rooted in the Talmudic tradition.

Conclusion: Shenayim Mikra Is Within Everyone’s Grasp

The study of ShMV"T is within the grasp of all. Ideally, one should plan and habituate oneself to making ShMV"T a priority Shabbat activity. If it is not feasible for one to do this and fulfill this obligation at the optimal level, one should nevertheless make every effort to fulfill this Mitzvah as best as he can. It is highly worthwhile to either carry a small Chumash in one's attache case and car or to download an app with Shenayim Mikra so that one can seize available moments to study ShMV"T.  In my experience, if one diligently seizes the available moments in transit, waiting in line, or waiting for appointments, he will find the estimated 40-50 hours annually that are necessary to complete Shenayim Mikra at least on a basic level.[3] The investment is relatively small but the return is priceless—to master Chumash with Rashi, our most basic texts.

        The Aseret Yemei Teshuvah and Yom Kippur are the perfect times to resolve to make the effort to find time to complete Shenayim Mikra VeEchad Targum in the coming year and the years in the come, may they be long, healthy and happy ones.  


[1] Kabbalists attach profound significance to ShMV"T study—see Ba’eir Heiteiv and Sha’arei Teshuvah 285:1.

[2]  See, however, the Sha’arei Teshuvah (285:2) who presents a dispute among the Acharonim whether Onkelos or Rashi is preferable for one with limited time.

[3] I am preaching that which I personally practice. Ironically, busy congregational rabbis find it challenging to find time for ShMV"T. However, two round-trip flights to Israel from New York is sufficient time to complete a basic level of Shenayim Mikra VeEchad Targum.

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