The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
WHEN IS A SEFER TORAH PASUL?
An earlier column dealt with certain laws pertaining to a pasul Sefer Torah:
It may not be used for kerias ha-Torah, and if a mistake is found in the
middle of the keriah, it must be put away and another Sefer is taken out. It
is important to understand, though, that there are different types of
mistakes, and not every mistake requires that another Torah be taken out as
There are three types of mistakes and they vary in their degree of
PASUL - such a sefer cannot be used at all for kerias ha-Torah, even
when another one is not available. When a mistake is found during kerias
ha-Torah, the reading is not continued in that Sefer(1). The Torah must be
fixed as soon as possible.
If the Torah could not or is not going to be fixed at all, then it should
be permanently "retired." The most dignified manner to accomplish this is to
locate an honorable place in shul where the pasul Torah can lay
undisturbed(2). If this is not possible, then one may designate a secluded
but honorable place in one's home where the pasul Torah can remain(3). If
neither of these options is practical, then the Torah may be buried in the
ground by placing it in an earthenware utensil(4) and burying it along with
a talmid chacham who passed away(5).
PASUL L'CHATCHILAH - the mistake must be fixed and the sefer is not used
until it is. If, however, the mistake was found during kerias ha-Torah,
another Torah is not taken out in its place even when there is another one
SAFEK PASUL - Certain mistakes are of a debatable status. Their status
is determined by showing them to an average child - as will be explained
later - whose spontaneous reading of the word will determine how flawed the
letter in question is.
We will now list, in no particular order, some common flaws that a Sefer
Torah may have and classify them according to their degree of
LEVEL 1 - PASUL
If the stitches connecting two yerios unravel and there are fewer than five
or six stitches remaining intact(7).
If there is an extra word or letter, or if a word or a letter is missing or
If two letters are attached so closely that they appear as one letter.
If the parchment tears and the tear extends into at least three lines of
writing, even if no words or letters are affected(9).
LEVEL 2 - PASUL L'CHATCHILAH
If an additional vov or yud (chaser or maleh) which do not alter the meaning
or pronunciation of the word are found(10). For instance, where the word
avoseinu is supposed to have a vov and does not, or if it was not supposed
to be written with a vov and it is. But if the pronunciation is altered even
if the meaning is not, such as the word keves instead of the word kesev, or
if the meaning is altered even though the pronunciation is not, such as the
word v'nimtzah written with an hay instead of an alef, the Torah is pasul.
A letter which should be written in large print (e.g., the ayin in the word
Shema) is not, and vice versa.
Dots which belong over certain words (.e.g. the dots over the word ayei
Sarah ishtecha) are omitted.
If there is a complete break in a letter, even the width of a hair's breadth
which is hardly recognizable(11). If, however, the break shows up only under
the glare of the sun or artificial light(12) or under a magnifying
glass(13), it is kosher.
If two letters become attached to each other slightly, in a manner which
does not change their form(14).
If the form of the letter remains intact, even if some of the ink inside the
outline is missing(15).
If wax [or dirt] is stuck to a letter. On Shabbos the wax may not be
removed, even if it could be removed effortlessly(16).
As a general rule, whenever there is an unresolved dispute among the poskim,
even though we tend to rule stringently and consider the Torah pasul, we
still do not stop the reading to take out another Torah, for we rely on the
Rishonim who maintain that it is permitted to read from a non-Kosher Torah.
LEVEL 3 - SAFEK PASUL
Sometimes we may call upon a child to determine whether or not a Sefer
Torah is kosher. The child must "neither too bright nor too stupid", which
means that he must have a basic knowledge of the Hebrew letters, their
shapes and forms, but he is not advanced enough to figure out on his own
what the defective letter ought to be.
When a letter is shown to a child to see if he can recognize it, the
preceding words are covered up so that the child does not quote a familiar
pasuk from memory. The actual word containing the questionable letter and
the words which follow need not be covered(17).
Bear in mind, though, that a child's determination is limited to certain
cases only. If a part of the actual letter is missing or severely broken,
then the Torah is pasul even if a child could make out what the letter is.
For example, if the top of the alef (the part that looks like a yud) is
completely detached from the body of the alef, even if a child could make
out that it is a alef, it does not make the letter kosher. This is true with
The following list covers some of the cases where a child's determination
may be relied upon:
If two words are written so closely together that it is difficult to tell if
they are one word or two. A child is called upon to see how he would read
If one word is so spread out that it may be read as two separate words. We
ask a child to see how he would read that word.
A correctly written letter whose ink has faded or turned brown and is hard
to make out. We ask a child to see if he can identify the letter. If a child
can make out the letter, even if all of the black ink is faded(18), it is
kosher even l'chatchilah.
If the leg of a vov [or a zayin or a final nun or chaf] is not long enough
so that the letter may look like a yud, or if the leg of a yud is so long so
that the yud may look like a vov, a child is asked what it looks like to
If there is a break in the leg of a vov or a final nun and we are unsure if
the unbroken section connected to the roof of the letter is long enough to
be considered a letter(19).
If the roof of a daled looks like it is too short and the letter may be seen
as a vov or a zayin, we ask a child for his opinion(20).
1. If another sefer is not available, then the keriah is continued but the
blessings are not recited, as explained earlier.
2. Igros Moshe O.C. 4:38. It is customary to leave a pasul Torah in the aron,
as long that it is clearly marked pasul by placing the gartel (belt) over
the mantle instead of beneath it.
3. Aruch ha-Shulchan 154:8.
4. Or any other type of material which is durable and will not disintegrate
in a short time.
5. O.C. 154:5.
6. Based, generally, on the rulings of the Mishnah Berurah 143:25.
7. If the torn yerios are in a chumash other than the one that is presently
being read, it is reduced to a Level 2 mistake.
8. This is true concerning most letters of the Torah. See Level 2 for some
9. Other poskim hold that even if the tear extends into one line the sefer is
pasul; see Gidulei Hekdesh Y.D. 280:1.
10. Rama O.C. 143:4 (as understood by Noda b'Yeudah Y.D. 2:178), who explains
that our Sifrei Torah are not written such exactitude, so that the
likelihood of a similar error appearing in the substitute Torah is great.
[See Minchas Chinuch 613 who seems to hold that these types of mistakes do
not make the Torah pasul at all.]
11. Chazon Ish O.C. 8:8.
12. Beiur Halachah 32:25 (s.v. ois).
13. See Igros Moshe Y.D. 2:146.
14. Mishnah Berurah 143:25. In certain cases, when the letters are attached
at the top or middle, some poskim are more stringent. If another Torah is
available, it should be used.
15. Mishnah Berurah 32:41.
16. Mishnah Berurah 340:10.
17. Mishnah Berurah 32:51.
18. But if all of the ink is faded and only a "rust" impression remains, it
is pasul. This is sometimes difficult to determine.
19. In this case, the broken part of the letter is covered up so that the
child does not mentally connect the two broken parts.