Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why is there a Torah reading on Mondays and Thursdays ?


According to the Gemara (rabbinic discussions) in Talmud Bava Kamma 82a, Ezra introduced some new regulations after he made his way from Babylon back to Israel. One of his stipulations was that there should be a Torah reading in the Synagogues every Monday and Thursday (besides Shabbat where the entire Parasha is read). We also learn that it was not really Ezra introducing, among others, the Monday and Thursday reading but with him it became officially. Even though the custom had been already in existence in earlier days.

In Exodus (Sefer Shemot) 15:22 it says that when the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds, they entered the wilderness of SHUR. Shur is part of the Sinai and the Israelites were wandering there for three days without finding any water.In this statement, the prophet generations after Moshe saw a hidden message. As soon as "Water" is mentioned in Jewish literature, the word also stands for "Torah". Water and Torah are the same element because we both need them for our existence. When it says in Shemot that the Israelites were traveling without finding any water it basically means that they were also without Torah. The Gemara (rabbinic discussions) in Talmud Kiddushin 30b calls the Torah a life elexier. In the same Gemara, G – d is being quoted having told the Israelites that it was Him creating the Yetzer HaRah (negative side inside of us). The counterpart to the negative would be His created Torah. "As long as you go with the Torah (study), the Yetzer does not have any influence on you. If not, the Yetzer will get you"., said G – d.

The Israelites were walking for three days and the commentators see a spiritual exhaustion as well as a physical exhaustion.

The question is why Ezra chose the Monday and the Thursday for the Torah reading during the week ? one of the most common opinions is that on those days during Temple times, people came to the market in Jerusalem and thus were able to listen to the Torah. However, the TOSAFOT, based on the Midrash Tanchuma, add an astonishing explanation:
It was on a Thursday that Moshe went up to Har Sinai in order to receive the second pair of Luchot (Tablets), as he had smashed the first pair when he saw the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf. And it was a Monday when Moshe returned into the camp of the Israelites. G – d had forgiven them. Therefore, the Midrash as well as the Tosafot regard those two weekdays as a sign of G – d when His unlimited mercy is very obvious. And this is the reason for reading the Torah on these two days. Furthermore Ezra stipulated that the Batei Din (rabbinic courts) should also hold their sessions / trials on Mondays and Thursdays.
The reason was the same: G – d's special mercy on these two days.

Who were the Tosafot ?

Today we also know them under the name "Rishonim". They basically started commentating on the Talmud some time after Rashi. "Tosafot" means "Additions" and are medieval commentaries on the Talmud. If you look at a Talmud page (Daf) then you see the actual Talmudic text in the middle surrounded by Rashi's commentary and the Tosafot. One of the very famous Tosafists was, for instance, Rabbi Me'ir of Rothenburg (Germany).

The Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehudah Loew ben Bezalel, 1520 - 1609, states in his "Chiddushei Aggadot" on Talmud Bava Kamma (see page 12 - 13) the same explanation as the Tosafot and the Midrash Tanchuma. Mondays and Thursdays are special days because the heavenly court is also having its meeting (symbolically speaking). Here, the Maharal quotes a Passuk from Talmud Shabbat 129b:
On Modays and Thursdays the heavenly and the earthly court gather at the same time. According to Talmud Rosh HaShana 16a, a person is being judged every single day for his actions. According to Ezra, the earthly courts also gather on Mondays and Thursdays and may be influenced by their counterpart in the upper spiritual worlds. This is why a person should avoid any dangerous action (e.g. bungy jumping) on these two days, as the heavenly court may decide against him. Meaning, we should not challenge the heavenly court with our dangerous actions on these two weekdays. Furthermore the Maharal states that Mondays and Thursdays are also positive days for fasting in order to do a private Tikun (soul rectification).

Conclusion: The Midrash Tanchuma states that Moshe went up to Har Sinai on a Thursday in order to receive the second Luchot. He came down on a Monday when G – d had forgiven the Israelites for the sin of the Golden Calf. Therefore G – d obviously shows more mercy to His creation on Mondays and Thursday.

All kinds of calculations on weekdays can be found in the Talmud as well !


  1. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Toireh leinen on mon & thu & shabbes...so that we never go more than 3 days w/o der heilige toireh