As we begin reading the Torah from Beraishit let us attempt to understand the structure of Torah readings as we practice them. In general, we can say that the different Kriot Ha’Torah (readings of the Torah) can be divided into three groups. The first group of readings are the kriot of Shabbat, Yom Tov, Chol Ha’Moed and Rosh Chodesh mornings. We can also include the readings of Tisha Be’Av and Taaniyot Tzibur (days of public fasting) in this group. A second group would be the kriot on Monday and Thursday mornings and the last group would be the reading of Torah on Shabbat afternoon.

The Yerushalmi (Talmud), paraphrasing what is stated in a Brayta of Masechet Sofrim (Ch 10), states that Moshe Rabeinu instituted that the Torah should be read on Shabbat, Yom Tov, Rosh Chodesh and Chol Ha’Moed. This decree is associated with the pasuk “Vayedaber Moshe et moadei Hashem el Bnei Yisarel”, Moshe spoke the Moadim of Hashem to the Jewish people. The principle of this decree is that on Shabbat and festive days we should study the Torah. An expression of this idea can be found in another decree mentioned in the Brayta of Masechet Megilah (4a, 32a) “Moshe decreed that on the holidays the Jewish people should ask questions pertaining to the laws of the day and the Rabbis should teach the laws of the holiday”. Accordingly, we read on Yom Tov, Chol Ha’Moed and Rosh Chodesh sections of the Torah that apply to the particular day.

On Shabbat we read a section of the Torah, advancing from week to week so as to complete the reading of the entire Torah in one year. It should be noted that Moshe’s decree did not give any framework to what should be read only the basic requirement that Torah be read on Shabbat. Yet, it can be found in Megila 31b that Chazal instituted certain guide lines such as reading the Tochecha of Vayikra before Shavuot and those of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah.

The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 135/2) writes that the reading of the Torah on Tisha Be’Av and other Taaniyot is simply a logical extension of Moshe’s decree to read the Torah from the relevant section on special days.

The above mentioned Brayta from Masechet Sofrim continues by stating that Ezra instituted reading the Torah on Mondays and Thursdays as well as on Shabbat afternoon at Mincha. Both these decrees are included in the aforementioned Yerushalmi and in the Bavli Baba Kama (82a) as part of a broader list of ten things that Ezra instituted. In the Bavli we find that reading the Torah on Shabat at Mincha was instituted “for the people who are Yoshvei Kranot”. In understanding this statement we find different views amongst the commentators. One understanding is that the kria was instituted to prevent people from just hanging out on Shabbat (See Meiri BK 82a). Others suggest it is meant to prevent people from drinking and becoming drunk due to a lack of direction during free time (see Shita Mekubetzet). Both views see the decree as a way of filling peoples time in a positive manner rather then allow for emptiness to misguide them.

A somewhat different understanding is found in Rashi.(Baba Kama 82a). In his view “Yoshvei Kranot are store keepers who do not make it to tefilah during the weekdays and do not hear the reading of Torah on Monday and Thursday. According to this opinion the additional reading of the Torah was to give those people another opportunity to hear some Torah.

Though, the Brayta in Masechet Sofrim associates the takana (decree) of reading on Mondays and Thursdays with Ezra, the Gemara in Baba Kama (82a) quotes a different Brayta associating the reading on Monday and Thursday to Moshe Rabeinu. The Brayta in Baba Kama explains that this is done in order to prevent a period of three days with no Torah study. To resolve this apparent contradiction the Gemara proposes that though Moshe instituted the reading of Torah on Mondays and Thursdays, it was Ezra who gave it the form of three men and ten psukim.

When making this distinction the Gemara attributes two distinct points to Ezra’s edict. The first is that we require three readers and do not suffice with only one person who reads from the Torah. The other point being that the definition of the term reading is the reading of ten psukim at the very least. Tosafot points out that the one exception to this rule is where an entire Parshiya in the Torah is made up of less then ten Psukim. This exception applies to the reading of the encounter with Amalek found in Parshat Beshalach, which is read on Purim. (See Tosafot Megilah 21b ein pochatim; Shulchan Aruch OC 137/1). The ten psukim should be divided so that each reader reads at least three psukim while any one of the three readers may read the additional pasuk.

In the Gemara (Megilah 31b) we find a Brayta with differing views as to what should be read on Shabbat at Mincha, Mondays and Thursdays. Rabi Meir is of the opinion that each time we read we should continue from the point where we stopped in the previous reading. Rabi Yehuda on the other hand is of the opinion that the reading Shabbat Mincha, Monday and Thursday should be a section from the point the reading concluded on Shabbat morning. The same section should be read on all three occasions and again on the following Shabbat morning. The Gemara teaches that the opinion of Rabi Yehuda was accepted as practiced Halacha and it is the ruling found in Shulcan Aruch (OC 135/2).

For further study see the Rashba to Baba Kama 82a “Kedei shelo Yalinu” on the question of why Monday and Thursday were chosen and not some other combination such as Tuesday and Thursday or Monday and Wednesday? On that issue see also the Yerushalmi Megila, end of chapter 1 halachah 1 (page3b).