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Weekly Halacha

Parshas Vayera

A Non-Kosher Sefer Torah

The laws of honoring a Sefer Torah 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 same 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, or at least before thirty days have elapsed.(3)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,(4)the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah; but an individual whose Torah is pasul does not fulfill the mitzvah.(5)]

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 Rishonim.

THE VIEWS OF THE RISHONIM

Most Rishonim(6)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'diavad the reading is invalid and the blessings recited over it are considered made in vain. If the weekly parashah is read in shul and subsequently a mistake is found in the Sefer Torah, the Torah reading must be repeated.

There are, however, dissenting opinions. The Rambam(7)writes that one may - even l'chatchilah - read from a pasul Torah. He is of the opinion 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 parashah by heart, he may recite it - with the blessings before and after - without using a text at all.(8) Surely, then, reading from a pasul Torah, even if a word or a verse is missing here and there, is valid.(9)

A third view in the Rishonim, advanced by the Ran and quoted by Rama, is as follows: Unlike the Rambam, the Ran maintains that a pasul Torah may not be used, and even b'diavad the reading is not valid. But unlike the other Rishonim, he holds that as long as the chumash from which this particular parashah is being read 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 anywhere in Sefer Bereishis.

The practical halachah which follows takes into account all of the views mentioned above.(10)

PRACTICAL HALACHAH - L'CHATCHILAH

The poskim are unanimous that l'chatchilah, a pasul Torah may not be used for Kerias ha-Torah under any circumstances, even if no other Torah is available. While the weekly parashah may still be 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.(11)

The poskim are divided as to whether or not we can 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(12 )under extenuating circumstances.(13)

PRACTICAL HALACHAH - B'DIAVAD

If the reading - or part of it - already took place and then the mistake was found, b'diavad 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 made in vain. Thus, if the mistake was found after the entire reading was completed, the parashah is not re-read, even if a kosher Sefer Torah is available.(14)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 weekly parashah. 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 weekly parashah he recites the final blessing.(16)[There are conflicting opinions as to whether or not the haftarah is recited with its blessings in this case.]

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 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 verses were read since the beginning of the current aliyah 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 verses were completed from the beginning of the current aliyah,(19)or even if after three verses 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 and the reading continues [without a blessing before the reading] until the end of the next aliyah. The final blessing is then recited.(21)

WHEN IS A SEFER TORAH PASUL?

We previously explained that a pasul Sefer Torah may not be used l'chatchilah for Kerias ha-Torah, and if a mistake is found in the middle of the reading, the Torah must be put away and another one taken out. It is important to understand, however, that there are many different types of mistakes and they vary in their degree of seriousness. Not every mistake renders a Sefer Torah as pasul. For the sake of our discussion, we will list some(22 )of those mistakes and divide them into three levels. (23 )We will refer to them as pasul, pasul l'chatchilah, and safek pasul.

LEVEL 1:

Pasul - This Sefer Torah cannot be used to discharge one's obligation of 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 Torah.(24)

  • If there is an extra word or letter, or if a word or a letter is missing or completely erased.(25)

  • If two letters are attached so closely that they appear as one letter. [Even if under a magnifying glass they no longer appear attached, it is still pasul(.26)]

  • If the stitches connecting two yerios (sections) unravel and there are fewer than five or six stitches remaining intact.(27

  • If the parchment tears and the tear extends into at least three lines of writing, even if no words or letters are affected.(28)

    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.(29)If this is not possible, then one may designate a secluded but honorable place in one's home where the pasul Torah can remain.(30)If neither of these options is practical, then the Torah may be buried in the ground by placing it in an earthenware vessel(31)and burying it along with a talmid chacham who passed away.(32)It is, however, not customary to do so.(33)

    LEVEL 2:

    Pasul l'chatchilah - These mistakes must be fixed and the sefer is not used until they are. 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 available.

  • If an additional vav or yud (chaser or maleh) which do not alter the meaning or pronunciation of the word are found.(34)For example, where the word avoseinu is supposed to have a vav and does not, or if it was not supposed to be written with a vav and it is. However, 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 hei instead of an aleph, the Torah is pasul.

  • If a letter which should be written in large print (e.g., the ayin in the word Shema) is not, and vice versa.

  • If the dots which belong over certain words (e.g., the dots over the word va-yishakeiu in Bereishis 33:4) are omitted.

  • If there is a complete break in a letter "even a hairsbreadth" which is hardly recognizable.(35)If, however, the break shows up only under the glare of the sun or artificial light(36)or under a magnifying glass,(37 ) it is kosher.

  • If two letters become attached to each other slightly, in a manner which does not change their form.(38)Other poskim maintain that when the letters are attached on top or in the middle then the Torah is pasul even if the form of the letters did not change.(39)

  • If the form of the letter remains intact, even if some of the ink inside the outline is missing.(40)

  • If wax [or dirt] is stuck to a letter. On Shabbos the wax may not be removed, even if it could be removed effortlessly.(41)

  • As a general rule, whenever a questionable situation arises and there remains an unresolved dispute among the poskim concerning a specific issue, even when 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

    Certain mistakes are of a debatable status, and we call upon a child (42 )to determine whether or not the Sefer Torah is kosher. The child must be "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 verse from memory. The actual word containing the questionable letter and the words which follow need not be covered.(43)

    Bear in mind, however, 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 aleph (the part that looks like a yud) is completely detached from the body of the aleph, even if a child could make out that it is an aleph, it does not make the letter, and therefore the Torah, kosher. This is true with many letters.

    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 those words.

  • 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.

  • If a letter's 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 has faded,(44 )it is kosher even l'chatchilah.

  • If the leg of a vav [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 vav, or if the leg of a final nun is too short and it may look like a vav. We ask a child what it looks like to him.

  • If there is a break in the leg of a vav 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.(45)

  • If the roof of a dalet looks like it is too short and the letter may be seen as a vav or a zayin, we ask a child for his opinion.(46)

    FOOTNOTES:

    1 Mishnah Berurah 153:8.

    2 Aruch ha-Shulchan Y.D. 282:4. See, however, Halichos Shelomo 12, note 55, that one should stand in honor of a pasul Torah.

    3 Y.D. 279:1.

    4 See Y.D. 270:2 and Pischei Teshuvah 10.

    5 Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 545:1. See, however, Minchas Chinuch 613:10, who is doubtful as to 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.

    6 This is the view of Ra'avad, Ramban, Rashba and Ritva, and most of the Rishonim who followed them.

    7 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.

    8 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 (Tosafos Yeshanim, Yuma 70a). See Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 12:8 and Kesef Mishneh.

    9 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. The Geonim relied on this view in order to use certain Sifrei Torah which were halachically pasul.

    10 We have followed the rulings of the Mishnah Berurah in O.C. 143. There are other opinions and customs as well.

    11 Beiur Halachah 284:1 (s.v. asur).

    12 For Shabbos morning only; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 24:10.

    13 Beiur Halachah 143:4 (s.v. yeish); Aruch ha-Shulchan 143:7.

    14 An application of this discussion concerns certain bar mitzvah boys who practice their keriah extensively and know it almost by heart, and may therefore 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, b'diavad the congregation fulfills its obligation, since after the fact, we rely upon the views that maintain that reading by heart is valid.

    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 weekly parashah is read without any blessings at all.

    17 If possible, the remaining part of the weekly parashah should be divided among seven olim (Mishnah Berurah 143:13,16) since, in many shuls, the custom is to 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 parashah 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 Parashas Bechukosai, and the last eight pesukim of the Torah (Eliyahu Rabbah 143:6).

    19 If the mistake was found in the middle of the third pasuk, the pasuk should be completed, the final blessing recited, and then the second Torah taken out; Harav M. Feinstein, oral ruling quoted in Imrei Shalom 1:12. See also Chayei Adam 31:33.

    20See note 103.

    21 If this occurred on Monday, Thursday, or Shabbos afternoon and ten pesukim were already read, a second Torah is not taken out.

    22This list does not nearly cover all the possible mistakes that a Sefer Torah

    may have.

    23 Based, generally, on the rulings of the Mishnah Berurah 143:25.

    24 If another sefer is not available, then the reading is continued but the blessings are not recited, as explained on page 225.

    25 This is true concerning most letters of the Torah. See Level 2 for some exceptions.

    26 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Halichos Shelomo 12:40).

    27If the torn yerios are in a chumash other than the one that is presently being read, it is reduced to a Level 2 mistake.

    28 Other poskim hold that even if the tear extends into one line, the Torah is pasul; see Gidulei Hekdesh Y.D. 280:1.

    29 Igros Moshe O.C. 4:38. [In some places, it is customary to leave a pasul Torah in the aron, as long as it is clearly marked pasul by placing the gartel (belt) over the mantle instead of under it; Binyan Tzion 97 and Minchas Elazar 3:52. Harav S.Z. Auerbach, however, disapproved of permanently leaving a pasul Torah in the aron; Halichos Shelomo 12, note 55.]

    30 Aruch ha-Shulchan 154:8. See also Teshuvah Me'ahavah 2:154.

    31 Or any other type of material which is durable and will not disintegrate in a short time; see ruling by Harav S.Y. Elyashiv in Koveitz Teshuvos Y.D. 114.

    32 O.C. 154:5.

    33 Tzitz Eliezer 15:8 quoting several poskim. See also Minchas Elazar 3:52 who advises against this.

    34 Rama O.C. 143:4 (as understood by Noda b'Yehudah Y.D. 2:178), who explains that our Sifrei Torah are not written with 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.]

    35 Chazon Ish O.C. 8:8; Yabia Omer 7:2.

    36 Beiur Halachah 32:25 (s.v. ohss).

    37 See Igros Moshe Y.D. 2:146.

    38 Mishnah Berurah 143:25. This should only be relied upon when no other Torah is available.

    39 Chazon Ish O.C. 8:9; Halichos Shelomo 12:41.

    40 Mishnah Berurah 32:41.

    41 Mishnah Berurah 340:10 and Beiur Halachah (s.v. she'al).

    42 If a child is unavailable, then the rabbi should decide to the best of his ability; Chazon Ish O.C. 8:7.

    43 Mishnah Berurah 32:51.

    44 But if all of the ink is faded and only a "rust" impression remains, it is pasul. This is sometimes difficult to determine. See Halichos Shelomo 12:44.

    45 In this case, the broken part of the letter is covered up so that the child does not mentally connect the two broken parts.

    46 Beiur Halachah 32:16 (s.v. hapeshutos).


    Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright 2004 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross jgross@torah.org.

    Rabbi Neustadt is Rav of Young Israel in Cleveland Heights. He may be reached at 216-321-4635 or at jsgross@core.com.


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