Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar| 5764
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Question: I am in charge of a teenage group at a religious camp. Every year that group goes on a five-day camping trip far from camp. Past experience tells us that this is an important experience for them beyond the good times, and the atmosphere enables us to make real educational gains. We are unable to bring along a sefer Torah and will not be near any shuls. (There will be regular minyanim.) May we go on the trip, knowing that we will miss kriat hatorah (Torah reading)?
Answer: We will deal with both halachic and educational issues, starting with the former.
The institution to read the Torah, both on Shabbat and during the week, is an ancient and beloved one initiated by Moshe (Bava Kama 82a). Yet, there are ample sources in halacha that one can travel in such a situation that he will be unable to hear kriat hatorah. There is discussion as to the circumstances under which one is allowed to go on a boat or in a caravan through the desert in such a way that will compromise one’s ability to properly keep Shabbat (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 248:1,4). It discusses cases where the trip is halachically deemed as optional, not a mitzva. Yet, the poskim do not raise the issue that he will be missing kriat hatorah (it is implausible that they assumed that a sefer Torah was being brought along). See the discussion about travelling for non-mitzva purposes in a way that makes one miss a minyan (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:16-17 and Mishna Berura, ad loc.).
There is one way in which missing kriat hatorah maybe more lenient than other mitzvot. The mishna (Megilla 23b) lists kriat hatora among the things which require a minyan, but omits megilla reading.The Ramban (Milchamot to Megilla 3a of the Rif) explains by making the following distinction. All of the things mentioned in that mishna areobligations of only the tzibbur (community), as opposed to the reading of the megilla, which is an obligation of the individual, as well. If this is the case (which is certainly not unanimous- see Yabia Omer IV, YD 31), then it is not critical for an individual who was forced to miss kriat hatorah to find a later minyan to make it up (see examples in Yalkut Yosef II, pg.23, 27).
The question is, though, how to define a tzibbur. If your minyan of campers is a tzibbur, then the full weight of the obligation is on the group. (It might still be permitted if the need is great enough, as cited above, but the question is still pertinent.) Yabia Omer (ibid.) cites stories of talmidei chachamim who had minyanim in their homes without a sefer Torah, and understands that it was sufficient that the tzibbur in the set shuls in town had kriat hatorah. In your case, this requirement could be met by the rest of the camp, which remains behind. However, it appears logical that when the group begins to daven, they become a tzibbur, but one which lacks the means to carry out the obligation. It does not seem that this situation should be able to prevent them from leaving camp before the day’s obligation to read the Torah begins.
One should, though, explore a variety of options (including time consuming ones that cost money) in order to make kriat hatorah a possibility, for educational reasons, even beyond halachic requirements. If you can get to a place with a sefer Torah only at Minchatime, this is a halachic possibility (Mishna Berura 135:1), especially for Ashkenazim (see Yabia Omer IV, OC 17). Besides technical concerns, it is problematic to have a sefer Torah travel with the group (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 135:14). The educational message of making the extra effort not to miss kriat hatorah can have a positive impact on your campers. Even if you are unable to arrange it, it is educational to let them know how hard you tried and perhaps discuss the issue with them. For teenagers, most of whom are not from backgrounds where they make it to shul every morning, a conversation in which you express how hard it was for you to miss kriat hatorah even once is likely to be more effective than docking them from night activity for oversleeping.
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