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Shabbat Parashat Shelah| 5767
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Question: Is it permitted to learn Torah with your sefarim on the bimah, given that it is a place meant for a sefer Torah?
Answer: In general, your concern is correct. A sefer Torah has a higher level of kedusha than simple sefarim from which we learn. The halacha is that one cannot use something set aside to serve an article with a certain level of kedusha (tashmish kedusha)for something with a lower level (Megilla 26b). To be more accurate it is not the bima (podium) itself but the table that the Torah sits on and especially the table’s covering, which comes in direct contact with it, which are tashmishei kedusha. (The Mishna Berura (154:10) says that the table is a tashmish kedusha because at times the covering is (partially) removed and the sefer sits directly on the table.)
Yet, that is only when the kedusha is allowed to take full effect. There is a concept of making a condition to limit kedusha and allow use for other purposes. A source for this concept is the Yerushalmi (4th perek of Megilla, cited by the Rosh, Megilla 4:11). The Yerushalmi talks about various items that service sifrei Torah on/in which mundane things were placed. It explains that there was a condition made from the outset to allow such joint use. Other sources take the matter a step further and indicate that no explicit condition is needed to limit the scope of kedusha in cases where circumstances indicate an implicit condition. For example, there is no violation of me’ila (misappropriating) for the holy garments of the kohanim because the “Torah was not given to angels,” who could be careful to use them only for their service and not at all beyond it (Kiddushin 54a).
The Terumat Hadeshen (I, 273) used these ideas to explain the common practice that people use objects that serve a sefer Torah for personal use. In regard to holy articles that are under the auspices of the community, he says that we can apply the concept of lev beit din matneh aleihem (literally, the heart of the court makes a condition about them). In other words, when dealing with matters that affect the masses and it is difficult to avoid use of the tashmish kedusha for other purposes, the normal “rules of engagement” that enable mundane use can be assumed without stipulation. In contrast, we must be concerned that an individual who owns a holy article may want full kedusha, which he may be capable of adhering to (Mishna Berura 154:35). Only when the individual has in mind to promptly transfer it to the community do we say that he intends to incorporate their needs (Biur Halacha on 154:9).
One should be aware of a few limitations on the application of the rule of lev beit din matneh. Firstly, it must be a case where the practice of using the holy article for lesser kedusha is clear (Mishna Berura 154:36). Even in such a case, the Terumat Hadeshen was not enthusiastic about relying on the leniency. Therefore, it is preferable to state explicitly when donating the object or starting to use it that its kedusha will be limited (Magen Avraham 154:15). One should in any case not use the holy article in a disgraceful manner (ibid. 151:14). Lev beit din matneh can work to allow even mundane use of the object and the leniency can be quite broad. However, there are strong indications that a given object may be permitted for certain uses, which are customary in its regard, but not in other uses, which are conspicuously different (see Yabia Omer VII, OC 26).
Going back to your question, the Terumat Hadeshen (ibid.) already addressed the matter of putting sefarim on the “bima” and even leaning on it. He said that the widespread practice was permitted because of lev beit din matneh. Since that time, it does not appear that the practice has become less prevalent. Therefore, one may still learn at the bima.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to
Noam Mannon the occasion of his bar mitzvah.
May he continue to bring joy and nachas to all who know him.
Hemdat Yamim is also dedicated in memory of R' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.and 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!