Question: Is it preferable to fulfill Sh’nayim Mikra V’Echad Targum with actual Targum Onkelos or with Rashi?

Short Answer: Ideally you should do both, but if you only have time for one of them, it is a machlokes which one takes precedence.


I. Ataros & Divon

The Gemara (B’rachos 8a-8b) states that “l’olam” (“always”) a person should recite Sh’nayim Mikra V’Echad Targum (“SMVT”), even for the words “Ataros v’Divon,” which are the names of cities settled by Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe in Eiver HaYarden. The Rishonim all grapple with why the Gemara needs to tell us “even Ataros v’Divon.”

Rashi says the chidush of the Gemara is that you must do SMVT even though there is no Targum Onkelos on these words. Tosafos (B’rachos ibid) explains that Rashi means that the words “Ataros v’Divon” – and any other words that don’t have Onkelos – must be recited three times in order to fulfill SMVT. Tosafos disagrees with Rashi’s explanation, because according to Rashi, there is no reason why the Gemara lists “Ataros v’Divon” as an example of words without Onkelos when it could have listed other examples such as “Reuven v’Shimon.” Therefore, Tosafos suggests another explanation: that even “Ataros v’Divon” need to be recited with targum, even though the only targum for these words is the less common Targum Yerushalmi.

The Tur (285:1) notes a key ramification between these two explanations. According to Rashi, any word without Targum Onkelos, such as “Reuven v’Shimon,” must be recited three times. According to Tosafos, no word ever needs to be recited three times, even “Reuven v’Shimon.” But, if there is Targum Yerushalmi (such as for “Ataros v’Divon”), that targum must be recited. The Tur concludes that it is best to be machmir for Rashi’s opinion, i.e., recite Reuven v’Shimon, or any other Onkelos-less word three times.

While the Shulchan Aruch (285:1) simply codifies the requirement to recite SMVT, even the words “Ataros v’Divon,” he does not expound further. The Mishnah B’rurah (3), however, rules that you need to recite Reuven v’Shimon, or any other Onkelos-less word, three times (like Rashi), but also adds that one should be strict and recite Targum Yerushalmi for any word it exists for (such as “Ataros v’Divon”).

II. Rashi As Substitute

The Rosh (B’rachos 1:8), cited in the Tur (ibid), cites an opinion that holds that one may substitute Targum Onkelos for reading the parshah a third time in a language that you understand (i.e., English). The Rosh disagrees, as Onkelos often explains a pasuk much more than with a simple translation. The Rosh does rule, however, that one may substitute Targum Onkelos for an explanation (such as Rashi) on the parshah. The Beis Yosef cites many Rishonim who disagree, including the Ri and Rav Amram, as Onkelos is unique in that it was given over at Har Sinai (see Gemara Megillah 3a).

The Shulchan Aruch (285:2) agrees with the Rosh that Rashi may be substituted for Onkelos, but concludes that a “y’rei Shamayim” (one who fears Hashem) should do both Rashi and Onkelos. The Mishnah B’rurah (5) elaborates that if you are substituting Rashi for Onkelos, you must read the p’sukim that don’t have Rashi three times.

Importantly, the Taz (2), codified in the Mishnah B’rurah (5), explains that if a person does not understand Rashi, he may instead learn another commentary – even one written in the vernacular – that explains Rashi, such as the sefer Tzenah U’R’enah. Even though the Rosh ruled that one may not substitute Targum Onkelos with a translation in the vernacular, the Rosh was not discussing a person who does not understand Rashi.

III. Only Able to Do One

As noted above, the Shulchan Aruch rules that a “y’rei Shamayim” (one who fears Hashem) should do both Rashi and Onkelos. But what about if you only have time for one of them? Which one takes precedence: Rashi or Onkelos?

The Biur Halachah (ibid, s.v. Targum) notes that there are no poskim who hold that Rashi is worse than Onkelos, but rather, poskim only hold that a regular translation is worse than Onkelos. Nevertheless, the Biur Halachah concludes that it is best to do both, as Onkelos has the advantage that it is from Har Sinai, while Rashi is advantageous because it often elaborates on the p’sukim more than Onkelos. Nevertheless, if you can only recite one of them, stick with Onkelos, as that translates each word of the parshah.

However, the opinion of the Mishnah B’rurah is not that simple. The Ohel Yaakov (SMVT 3:6) cites the Avnei Yashfe (8:65:8) who cites this Biur Halachah but writes that the Mishnah B’rurah (4) implies the opposite, that Rashi explains the parshah better than Onkelos. Thus, the Avnei Yashfe concludes that the Mishnah B’rurah would agree, especially nowadays when many don’t fully understand Onkelos, that Rashi takes precedence. In the same vein, the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (1:261) told a baal t’shuvah that if he doesn’t understand Onkelos, it is preferable for him to read Rashi instead.

Additionally, the Yam Shel Shlomo (Kiddushin 2:14), despite extolling the virtues of Onkelos, concludes that if you only have time for Onkelos or Rashi, you should recite Rashi, as it “more beneficial (‘mo’il’) than Onkelos.” The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (285:2) agrees.

Contrary to the above opinion of many poskim that Rashi takes precedence over Onkelos, there are some poskim who hold that Onkelos is preferred, even if the reader does not understand what the words mean. For example, the Ohel Yaakov cites Rav Chaim Kanievsky, the Be’er Sarim, Rav E. Schlessinger and Rav Ovadiah Yosef, who ruled as such.

IV. Possible Explanation

It is possible that the above machlokes, whether Rashi or Onkelos takes precedence when you only have time for one of them, is based on the reason for SMVT, see Article #1. According to the poskim who hold that SMVT is a preparatory form of K’rias HaTorah, Onkelos should take precedence, as it was given on Har Sinai, and we used to have a m’turgeman (“translator”) at K’rias HaTorah. On the other hand, the poskim who hold that SMVT is a form of limud haTorah would hold that Rashi takes precedence, especially if you don’t fully understand Onkelos, as the key is to understand the parshah.

Next Week’s Topic: What is the best way to recite Sh’nayim Mikra V’Echad Targum?

Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq. is Associate Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and a practicing litigation attorney. Questions? Comments? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.