TOKAḤAH ("admonition," "malediction"):
The term used to connote the prediction by Moses of due punishment in case of disobedience of the divine law on the part of the children of Israel. It was first pronounced in Lev. xxvi., and repeated in Deut. xxviii., the blessings for obedience to the Law being cited first in both passages. According to the Midrash (Deut. R. i. 4), R. Aḥa b. Ḥanina declared that the tokaḥah should, strictly speaking, have been pronounced by Balaam and the blessings by Moses, but this order had been reversed that the Gentiles might learn the blessings through their prophet Balaam, and that the children of Israel might not question the motive of the tokaḥah when given by their friend Moses. The Mishnah terms the tokaḥah "ḳelalot" (= "curses"), in contradistinction to "berakot" (= "blessings"), both being read together on public fast-days, and the whole chapter being assigned to one person (Meg. iii. 6). R. Ḥiyya b. Gammada quoted the verse "Despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction" (Prov. iii. 11) as a reason for insisting that the reading be continuous and not in sections, while R. Jose b. Abin interpreted it as implying that the portions read in public must be so arranged that each passage should begin and end with a cheerful verse (Yer. ib.).
Later custom, however, forbade any subdivision of either version of the tokaḥah (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 428, 6). The order of reading the sidra "Beḥuḳḳotai" for the third person called up to the Law is Lev. xxvi. 10-46, and that of "Ki Tabo," for the sixth, is Deut. xxviii. 7-69, both these sections beginning and ending with "good" verses, with the tokaḥah between them. The Ashkenazim do not call up by name the person to whom the tokaḥah is assigned at the public reading in the synagogue; the Sephardim do, although they permit him to read the tokaḥah by himself instead of through the "ba'al ḳore," or public reader. In some congregations the passage was assigned to an "'am ha-areẓ," who did not understand the meaning of the text; hence the reading of the tokaḥah became a sort of reproach, so that many declined to read it when called up to do so. To remedy this disrespect for a portion of the Torah, the ḥakam or rabbi then volunteered to read the passage. In Yiddish parlance, "to lay the tokaḥah on him" means to curse one with all the contents of the tokaḥah.