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D17. Public Reading of the Torah during Sukkot in the Sabbatical Year    [Make a Comment]

We are to assemble to read and to hear the Torah read during the Festival of Sukkot in the Sabbatical Year.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):

Deuteronomy 31:10-13 (Maimonides RP16, Chinuch C612)
Moshe gave them these orders: "At the end of every seven years, during the festival of Sukkot in the year of sh'mittah, when all Isra'el have come to appear in the presence of ADONAI at the place he will choose, you are to read this Torah before all Isra'el, so that they can hear it. Assemble the people - the men, the women, the little ones and the foreigners you have in your towns - so that they can hear, learn, fear ADONAI your God and take care to obey all the words of this Torah; and so that their children, who have not known, can hear and learn to fear ADONAI your God, for as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Yarden to possess."

We assume that Moses gave this order in compliance with God's directive, so it should be considered Torah. The commandment involves assembling, reading aloud (teaching), hearing, and learning. All of these are good and necessary to do at times other than Sukkot in the Sabbatical Year, but the commandment specifies this particular time, so it should be complied with as nearly as possible. Since the designated place of assembly was where the Ark of God was, it is especially important to conduct the reading in Yerushalayim, at the place where the Temple last stood. Jews everywhere should be encouraged to journey there to hear, read, and otherwise participate but, for those who cannot, similar assemblies and readings can be conducted in synagogues elsewhere and at distant parts of the world.

Complying with this mitzvah today is perhaps more symbolic and ceremonial than actually needed to learn the commandments of God, because, unlike in the time of Moses, synagogues the world over read through the entire Torah once a year every year, and printed Bibles are generally available to all. That notwithstanding, it is a general principle that blessing follows from literally obeying Torah with a heart to please God and wherever possible. Because this mitzvah is so closely related to Jewish identity and calling, I consider it to be optional and unnecessary for non-k'rov Yisrael Gentiles.

Commentators:
Meir does not include this mitzvah in his compilation, but it is treated by Maimonides and HaChinuch as a requirement for all Jews - including women, even though the commandment appears to be time-dependant1. HaChinuch states that the reason this assembly is so important is that possessing the Torah is what distinguishes Israel from the other nations.


1. According to the Mishnah (m. Kidd. 1:7), women are not required to perform positive time-dependant commandments.


NCLA: JMm JFm KMm KFm GMo GFo

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