Parsha Halacha

Parshat Acharie Mot – Kedoshim

Reading the Book of Ruth

Sources and Customs

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The Torah portion of Kedoshim includes many important mitzvot,[1] which is why it was said by Moshe to all of the Jewish people.[2]

Several of the mitzvot are about leaving the gleanings of the field for the poor, as the verse says,[3] “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest…Leave it for the poor and the stranger.” This means (see Rashi) that the edges of the field and the produce which falls during the harvesting must be left for the poor.

According to the Megillah of Ruth, the workers who were harvesting the field of Boaz observed these mitzvot scrupulously,[4] as it says, “She (Ruth) came and gleaned in a field… and, she chanced upon the piece of land belonging to Boaz… Boaz gave orders to his workers, ‘You are to let her glean among the sheaves, without interference.’”

This is one of the reasons that many communities customarily read the book of Ruth on Shavuot, to remind them about these mitzvot during the harvest season.[5]

Individual Readings or Communal Readings

It is noteworthy that the Chabad custom is that individuals read this Megillah on the night of Shavuot as part of the Tikun Leil Shavuot rather than reading it publicly.[6]This was also the custom in the time of the Rama.[7] The Rama mentions that in earlier generations it was read aloud for everyone to hear so that those who didn’t know how to read could also hear it. (Reading it aloud is the common custom nowadays.)

Earliest Source

The earliest source that mentions the reading of this Megillah on Shavuot is in the Yalkut Shimoni where it says (number 596), “Why do we read Ruth on Atzeret (Shavuot), the time of the giving of the Torah? To teach you that the Torah is given through suffering and poverty (just as Ruth suffered when she accepted the Torah and became Jewish).[8]

Nighttime Reading

Some Sefardim have the custom to read half of the book of Ruth on one of the nights of Shavuot and half on the other night.[9] This custom has a basis in Tractate Sofrim.[10]

To Bless or Not to Bless?

There is an early source which says that one should make a blessing before reading the Megillah of Ruth. This is in Tractate Sofrim (14:3) where it says, “In the case of Ruth, Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs), Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), Eicha (Lamentations) and Esther, it is necessary to say the blessing, על מקרא מגילה ‘Concerning the reading of the Megillah’, although it is included in the Ketuvim (later holy writings).”

Based on this, the custom of the Vilna Gaon was to make a blessing before reading the Megillah of Shir HaShirim on Pesach, Ruth on Shavuot, and Kohelet on Sukkot all of which he would read from scrolls written in the manner of a Sefer Torah.[11] In addition, he would also make the blessing of Shehechiyanu at the time of those readings.

Despite this, the Rama writes[12] that it is not customary to make a blessing when reading these Megillot. He cites four reasons for this:

1)     Not Mentioned in the Sefer HaMinhagim

Rabbi Isaac of Tirna (a student of the Maharil) does not mention the need to say this blessing in his Sefer HaMinhagim (Book of Customs) which is followed by Ashkenazim.

2)     Question as to the Text of the Blessing

In some sources of Tractate Sofrim (cited above), it says that the blessing one should say is על מקרא מגילה – “On the reading of the Megillah” while in some versions of the same source it says that the blessing is על מקרא כתובים – “On the reading of the scriptures.” Due to the doubt as to which blessing to say, it is best to omit it altogether rather than say the wrong blessing.

3)     Not a Universal Custom

This custom is not mentioned in the Talmud or in the common Midrashim.[13] In addition, it is not mentioned in the early Halachic codifiers (Rishonim). The earliest source (besides Tractate Sofrim and Yalkut Shimoni) is in the Mordechai and the Maharil. In addition, it is not a universal custom as is the custom to say half Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and the last days of Pesach.

4)     Not Read from a Scroll

Even if it was customary to say a blessing when reading these Megillot in previous generations, that is because in those times they would read from a scroll which was written in the same way as a Sefer Torah. Since this is no longer customary, we should not say a blessing when reciting these Megillot, just as one should not say a blessing when reading the Torah from a printed chumash. (The Rama adds that from the fact that it is not customary to write these scrolls and recite them with a blessing, we can infer that it is not proper to say the blessing.)

Understanding Tractate Sofrim

What remains to be explained is why Tractate Sofrim states that one should make a blessing when reading these Megillot and why we do not follow that in practice. Rama offers two explanations for this matter:

A)    Not Read Publicly

It is possible that, at the time Tractate Sofrim was written, people would read these Megillot publicly (and with a scroll) as many people did not know how to read it themselves. Nowadays, when most people are able to read it themselves, it is read privately by each individual (as was the custom in the Rama’s locale, see above), and it is therefore inappropriate to recite a blessing.

B)    Blessing on Torah Study

The Rama writes that it is possible that the discussion in Tractate Sofrim is not about making a blessing before a public reading of these megillot but rather about what blessing to say before studying these texts in the morning if one has not yet made a blessing on Torah study. This follows the opinion that one only makes a blessing before studying the written Torah and not before studying Talmud.[14] As such, one should say the blessing that is appropriate for that particular part of the written Torah before beginning to study it. This discussion has no bearing as to whether one should or should not make a blessing when reciting these megillot in public.

Why Before the Torah Reading?

The common custom among those who read this Megillah publicly is to read it before the Torah reading on the second day of Shavuot.

Several reasons are suggested for reading the Megillah before the Torah reading:[15]

1)     If it were read after the Torah reading people might think it is a second Haftorah.

2)     The Talmud (Shabbat 115 a and b) says that one should not read Ketuvim (the later scriptures) on Shabbat afternoon so as not to detract from the study of halachot (laws). This megillah, which is part of the Ketuvim, is therefore read before the Torah reading so that it should still be considered Shabbat morning.


[1] According to Vayikra Rabbah 24:5, Kedoshim has 60 mitzvot or 70 mitzvot depending on whether or not one includes the section about forbidden marriages (Levit. 20:10-27). The Sefer HaChinuch, however, only lists 50 mitzvot in the entire portion.

[2] The commentaries on the Midrash explain that, although Moshe would teach every mitzvah to the entire community, it was optional to attend those lessons. For this section, however, everyone needed to attend. In addition, this Torah portion was attended by both men and women (with separate seating, of course!) while the other classes were only for men.

[3] Levit. 19:9 and 10

[4] Ruth 2:3 and 15

[5] See Rama O.C. 490:9 and Kaf HaChaim 80

[6] See HaMo’adim Bahalacha by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Shavuot chapter 4 that many Chassidim and Sefardim do not recite Rut on Shavuot at all.

[7] See Responsa of the Rama 35 who says, “One should not make a bracha (blessing) on the other [megilot i.e., besides Esther and Eicha] because the fact that individuals read these megilot (small scrolls) is only like one who reads (privately) from the Torah. It is only necessary to make a blessing before reading the Torah if one is reading it publicly, out of respect for the community.”

[8] See Brachot 5a

[9] This is the Moroccan and Tunisian custom (Ateret Avot by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Suissa, page 331).

[10] 14:18

[11] Maaseh Rav, 175 and Biur HaGra 14 on O.C. 490:9

[12] Responsa 35

[13] According to the Chida (Birkei Yosef, O.C. 582), Tractate Sofrim was written by the Geonim and not by the sages of the Talmud.

[14] Brachot 11b

[15] Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein and the Brisker Rov quoted in Nachalat Shimon on Rut, vol2, pages 291 – 292

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!

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