Selected Halachos Related to Parshas Chayei Sara
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
A NON-KOSHER SEFER TORAH
The laws of honoring a Sefer Torah which were discussed in last week's
column apply - for the most part - only to a kosher Torah. A non-kosher
(pasul) Torah, even if it can be corrected, does not receive the respect
that a kosher one does(1). Thus it is permitted to leave it unattended,
there is no requirement to stand in its honor and one may turn his back to
it, etc.(2) Indeed, a non-kosher Torah should not be left as is but should
be corrected as quickly as possible(3), or at least before thirty days have
elapsed(4). Even a privately-owned Sefer Torah must be maintained so that it
does not become pasul. [Some individuals commission the writing of a Sefer
Torah in order to fulfill, according to all views(5), the mitzvah of writing
a Sefer Torah; but an individual whose Torah is pasul does not fulfill the
Is there, however, any purpose that a pasul Torah may serve? More
specifically, may it be used for Kerias ha-Torah when no other Torah is
available? The answer to this question is the subject of dispute among the
THE VIEWS OF THE RISHONIM
Most Rishonim(7) are of the opinion that a pasul Torah cannot be used for
Kerias ha-Torah. Since the reading must take place from a written text,
reading from a pasul Torah is akin to reciting by heart. According to this
opinion, even b'dieved the reading is invalid and the blessings recited over
it are considered l'vatalah. If the weekly parshah is read in shul and
subsequently a mistake is found in the Sefer Torah, the Torah reading must
There are, however, dissenting opinions. The Rambam(8) writes that one
may - even l'chatchilah - read from a pasul Torah. He explains that the
mitzvah of kerias ha-Torah does not require that it be read from a written
text. The essential component of the mitzvah is to read words of Torah in
public on Shabbos morning. Indeed, according to his view, if someone knows
the entire parshah by heart, he may recite it - with the blessings before
and after - without using a text at all(9). Surely, then, reading from a
pasul Torah, even if a word or a pasuk is missing here and there, is
A third view in the Rishonim, advanced by the Ran and quoted by Rama, is as
follows: Unlike the Rambam, he maintains that a pasul Torah may not be used,
and even b'dieved the reading is not valid. But unlike the other Rishonim,
he holds that as long as the chumash that is presently needed is error-free,
we need not be concerned with mistakes or missing words in the other four
chumashim. For example, if the Torah has a mistake somewhere in Sefer Shemos
but is error-free in Sefer Bereishis, it is permitted - under extenuating
circumstances - to use that Torah to read any parshah from Sefer Bereishis.
In practical halachah we take into account all of the views which are
PRACTICAL HALACHAH - L'CHATCHILAH
L'chatchilah, the latter poskim are unanimous that a pasul Torah may not be
used for Kerias ha-Torah under any circumstances, even if no other Torah is
available. While the parshah is still read for the congregation from the
pasul Torah, the blessings before and after the reading may not be recited.
Indeed, even the blessings over the haftarah are not recited, since the
haftarah is only recited when a valid Torah reading takes place(12).
The poskim are divided as to whether or not we may rely on the
aforementioned view of the Ran, who allows reading from a pasul Sefer Torah
if the mistake is found in a chumash other than the one which is presently
being read. Many poskim are lenient, and it is permitted to rely on this
view(13) under extenuating circumstances(14).
PRACTICAL HALACHAH - B'DIEVED:
But, b'dieved (lit., after the fact), if the reading - or part of it -
already took place and then the mistake was found, we rely on the view of
the Rambam and consider the completed reading of the Torah as valid and as
if one has fulfilled his obligation. The blessings already recited are not
considered l'vatalah. Thus if the mistake was found after the entire reading
was completed, the parshah is not re-read, even if a kosher Torah is
available. In this case, the haftarah is read with its blessings(15).
If the mistake was found in the middle of the reading and no other Torah is
available, the reading is continued in the pasul Torah until the end of the
parshah. While the minimum of seven olim are still called to the Torah, they
do not recite the blessings over their portions. Instead, the one who was
called up at the time the mistake was found remains on the bimah, and at the
end of the parshah he recites the final blessing(16). [There are conflicting
opinions as to whether or not the haftarah is recited with its blessings in
If the mistake was found during the reading and another Torah is available
to read from, we do not - as explained - repeat the part that was already
read. Instead, another Torah is removed from the aron, rolled to the right
place, and the reading resumes(17). But whether or not a final blessing is
recited depends on the following:
If the mistake was found after three pesukim were read and it is
halachically permitted to stop at this point(18), the final blessing is
recited before the second Torah is taken out. A "before" blessing is then
recited over the second Torah.
If the mistake was found before three pesukim were completed(19), or even if
after three pesukim were read but in a place where a stop may not be
made(20), then the final blessing is not recited. The second Torah is
immediately taken out, the reading continues [without a blessing before the
reading] until the next aliyah and the final blessing is recited(21).
A practical ramification of the discussion above regards bar-mitzvah boys.
Many bar mitzvah boys who practice their keriah extensively and often know
it almost by heart, inadvertently recite some words from memory without
actually reading them from the written text. While they are not permitted to
do so and should be trained to read every word from the text, it is clear
from the above discussion that b'dieved the congregation fulfills its
obligation, since after the fact, we rely upon the views that hold that
reading from a pasul Torah, or reading by heart, is valid.
1. Mishnah Berurah 153:8.
2. Aruch ha-Shulchan Y.D. 282:3.
3. If it cannot be corrected, then it should be hidden away.
4. Y.D. 279:1.
5. See Y.D. 270:2 and Pischei Teshuvah 10.
6. Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 545:1. See, however, Minchas Chinuch 613:10 who remains
in doubt whether or not this mitzvah is only a once-in-a-lifetime
obligation, which means that as long as the Torah was kosher at one time the
mitzvah has been fulfilled.
7. This is the view of Ra'avad, Ramban and Rashba, Ritva and most of the
Rishonim who followed them.
8. Teshuvos ha-Rambam, Pe'er ha-Dor, 9. The fact that the Rambam seems to
contradict himself in Hilchos Sefer Torah 10:1 is subject of much debate and
there are various ways of resolving the contradiction.
9. The Rambam here does not deal with the separate prohibition of reading
from a written text "by heart". Perhaps he held that this prohibition is
only mitzvah min ha-muvchar (Tosfos Yeshanim, Yuma 70a). See Rambam Hilchos
Tefilah 12:8 and Kesef Mishneh.
10. Many other Rishonim agree with this basic view, among them: Mordechai,
Kol Bo, Avudraham, Orchos Chaim, Agur, Ohr Zarua, Mizrachi and several
others. This was also the view of several Geonim and the common practice in
their day [as attested to by the Rambam] who relied on it in order to use
the Sifrei Torah which were written on klaf and had not undergone the
process of ibud.
11. We have followed the rulings of the Mishnah Berurah in O.C. 143. There
are other opinions and customs as well.
12. Beiur Halachah 284:1 (s.v. asur).
13. For Shabbos morning only; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 24:10.
14. Beiur Halachah 143:4 (s.v. yeish); Aruch ha-Shulchan 143:7.
15. Mishnah Berurah 284:3.
16. If the mistake was found during the reading but after the oleh had
recited the final blessing on his portion, the rest of the parshah is read
without any blessings at all.
17. When possible, the remaining part of the parshah should be divided among
seven olim (Mishnah Berurah 143:13,16) since, in many shuls, the custom is
too call additional olim on Shabbos (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 24:7).
18. There are some places where it is prohibited to stop even if three
pesukim have been read: 1) If fewer than three pesukim remain before a
parshah pesuchah or setumah; 2) During the final aliyah on all days when
there is kerias ha-Torah except for Shabbos morning; 3) During Aseres
ha-Dibros, Shiras ha-Yam, the Tochachah of Parshas Bechukosai and the last
eight pesukim of the Torah (Eliyahu Rabbah 143:6).
19. If the mistake was found in middle of the third pasuk, the pasuk should
be completed, the final blessing is recited and then the second Torah is
taken out; Harav M. Feinstein, oral ruling quoted in Imrei Shalom 1:12. See
also Chayei Adam 31:33.
21. If this occurred on Monday, Thursday or Shabbos afternoon and ten pesukim
were already read, a second Torah is not taken out.
Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and
Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne
Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily
Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.
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