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Shabbat Parashat Noach | 5770

Ask the Rabbi: Moving a Sefer Torah



Question: I daven with a minyan on a train car in Israel that has become set aside for that purpose. Someone brings a sefer Torah (=sT) to read from on Mondays and Thursdays. I have heard that one may not move a sT from its set place to read from. Is what we are doing permitted?

Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 135:14) rules (based on a Yerushalmi in Yoma; the Zohar is apparently very strict on the subject) that people should not take a sT to a prison to read for the inmates who cannot make it to shul. The Mishna Berura (135:47) explains that it is a zilzul (degradation) of the Torah to be taken to people who need it, as people are supposed to congregate around it in its place. Some (see Biur Halacha, ad loc.) say that the zilzul applies only when the people in need can make it to the sT (as opposed to inmates). However, not only is the Shulchan Aruch accepted, but in your case, it is unlikely that people have a need to lain specifically on the train car in a compellingly pressing manner. Thus, we have to look for room for leniency.

The Yerushalmi says that it was permitted to bring a sT to the kohen gadol because of his stature, which the Rama (OC 135:14) extends to other “important people.” The Nishmat Avraham (I, pg. 76) cites Rav S.Z. Orbach as saying that a “community” of ten probably has the stature of an important person. The Biur Halacha also says that if there are ten inmates, then their obligation to hear Torah reading makes it proper to bring the sT. However, both are talking about cases where without bringing the sT, the ten have no way of hearing kri’at hatorah, which is not likely the case here.

Some discuss the idea of bringing an aron kodesh, so that the Torah is respected and has some permanence in its temporary location. This idea is rooted in a teshuva of the Maharam Padova (58) but this seems to apply only along with the other factor mentioned there, that the sT will stay in that location for at least a day or two (Rama, ibid., with the Mishna Berura ad loc.:49). (The Kaf Hachayim, OC135:83 says that the presence of the aron is enough according to the lenient opinion). We understand that the sT in question comes in and out with a passenger on his daily commute (see also Aruch Hashulchan, OC 135:32).

A more promising leniency for this case takes into consideration the context of a sT’s usage. The issue of zilzul pertains more fully if a sT that is based in a shul to be used there for public reading is moved to help an individual. However, there is no problem with writing a sT specifically for the owner to take along with him to learn from in various locations. (This is the way the 613th mitzva of the Torah was apparently intended, as the king is described as doing). The gemara (Yoma 70a) tells that after the service in the Beit Hamikdash on Yom Kippur, many individuals would bring their own sifrei Torah to show how nice they were. Some poskim (see Torah Lishma 58; Har Tzvi OC 71 suggests it;) deduce from here that a personal sT does not have the discussed restriction. Logically (and the matter has backing in the language of some sources), the issue is less the ownership per se, and more a matter of what the sT is slated for. A privately owned sT that has been used for reading in one place might be problematic, whereas one that was made in order to be used in a roving manner (Kaf Hachayim ibid. 78) and perhaps even a public one that has not been used in a long time, might be permitted to be designated for reading in different places.

It is likely that some of the classical poskim who do not discuss this relatively new distinction do not agree with it. However, leniency on this rabbinic matter is certainly legitimate, and we have seen the teshuva of Rav David Spector of Beit Shemesh (perhaps the sT owner’s rav) who has permitted it. Therefore, one should have no qualms on these grounds about joining this group. (Regarding the advantages and disadvantages of davening in this unique setting a separate discussion is required.)


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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
George Weinstein,


ben Yehudah Mayer

a lover of the Jewish Nation Torah and Land



R' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld

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