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Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach| 5767
Ask the Rabbi
Question: We have a mesh parochet (curtain) in front of our aron kodesh. Some congregants have been questioning whether it is valid since you can see through it. Are there halachot or firm minhagim on the opaqueness required? Please provide sources.
Answer: This is the type of public question which is the local rabbi’s clear domain. However, since the answer is that it is valid and you want sources to clarify the topic, we assume we are not getting involved improperly. Let us first understand the parochet’s function and status.
The gemara (Megilla 26b) reports that Rava used to think that a perisa (our parochet or close to it) is not imbued with kedusha (sanctity). This is because it is only a tashmish d’tashmish (something that serves an object (e.g., the aron kodesh)that serves a holy object (e.g., the sefer Torah)). Rava changed his mind when he noticed that people sometimes folded the perisa under the sefer Torah. That contact makes the perisa a tashmish kedusha (something that directly serves a holy object), giving it more restrictions. The Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 154) and Rama (ad loc.:6) point out that in our times, we never use the parochet in a way that it comes in direct contact with a sefer Torah. Therefore, they say that our parochet is a tashmish d’tashmish and has only the lower status of objects that are set aside for synagogue use.
What does the parochet serve and how? The Maharam Padova (#82) and others say that it serves the aron kodesh. It is appropriate to separate between the holy and the mundane. Just as we put a cloth on the bimah where the sefer Torah sits to separate between them, so too we put the parochet to separate between the aron kodesh and us.
The Terumat Hadeshen (I, 68) points out that a porechet is used primarily with the door of the aron kodesh closed. Thus, not only does it not touch the sefrei Torah but does not even directly separate between them and us. This is important in his context, the question whether one can hang a parochet before the aron kodesh on Shabbat. We rule (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 315:1) that it is forbidden to erect a vertical partition only when it serves a defined, halachic function (e.g., the wall of a sukka). The Terumat Hadeshen demonstrates that a parochet lacks a defined, halachic function but just serves l’tzeni’uta. Tzeni’uta usually means modesty, in such contexts as being properly dressed. In that context, clothes that are see-through are insufficient. However, in our context, there is no prohibition to see the aron’s door or the sifrei Torah (in shuls that keep the doors open). Rather, the separation demonstrates our reverence for that which is behind the curtain. Although at some point, transparency makes a parochet meaningless in this regard, we doubt that the one in question is that transparent.
Some say that the parochet honors the sifrei Torah, rather than the aron kodesh. Still, they are not a tashmish kedusha. Not only do they not touch the sefer Torah, but they hang before it, not as a layer on top of it (see Machatzit Hashekel to 154:8). Regarding honoring the sifrei Torah, the aesthetics are more of a factor than the opaqueness.
Another explanation of a parochet’s functionis that it is modeled after the parochet that separated between the area of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) that housed the aron and the rest of the Mishkan (Perisha, OC 154:5). When a division is necessary and its main purpose is to separate rather than prevent seeing, transparency is not a factor (Berachot 25b).
As we have seen, a mesh parochet can serve its various, possible functions, certainly when it significantly distorts the view. In general, we should adorn and thus honor our synagogues and their sacred objects. The parochet may also serve to cover and/or separate. If it is in proper taste and generally finds favor in the eyes of the congregation, it need not be the center of controversy.
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This edition of
Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R’ Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.
Hemdat Yamim is also dedicated by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois
in loving memory of Max and Mary Sutker and Louis and Lillian Klein,z”l.
May their memory be a blessing!