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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi | 5770

Ask the Rabbi: Leaning on the Shulchan

Question: I saw in a recent Ask the Rabbi column of yours a discussion of the issue of leaning while receiving an aliya. I think you overlooked a very important problem, as there is a definite prohibition to receive benefit from the shulchan (the table the sefer Torah sits on), which is a tashmish kedusha (an object used to serve something holy).
Answer: You raise a good point (at least in regard to a serious type of leaning), albeit one we did not overlook but chose not to address. If the matter was as clear cut as you perceive, it would present problems in most shuls not just for a person getting an aliya. Gabbaim often lean on the shulchan, and other objects, including tzedaka boxes and other things are often placed on it. Let us see if all of these practices are really forbidden.
It is not clear that the shulchan has a status of tashmish kedusha. The gemara (Megilla 26b) cites Rava as saying that he did not think that a shulchan has a status of tashmish kedusha. Since it is covered with a mitpachat (cloth or decorative covering), which is what comes in contact with the sefer Torah, the shulchan is only a tashmish d’tashmish, i.e., it supports the mitpachat upon which the sefer Torah sits. Such an object has only the kedusha on the level of the shul as a whole. Rava concludes that since the mitpachat is sometimes removed and the Torahthen sits directly on the shulchan it is a tashmish kedusha. The status thus depends on whether or not the shulchan is consistently covered. However, this does not really answer your question, as it should still be forbidden to lean or place other things on the mitpachat.
The Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 154) cites the Mordechai who says that it is worthwhile to make a condition that the mitpachat not receive the type of kedusha that would make it forbidden to lean on. He proves that if this is not done, it would even be forbidden to put sefarim on top of it since they have a lower level of kedusha than the sefer Torah.The ability to do so is confirmed clearly by the Yerushalmi, cited by the Rosh (Megilla 4:11). The Rama (OC 154:8, based on the Terumat Hadeshen 273) goes a step further, saying that (at least in shul- see Mishna Berura 154:8) it is not necessary to make a condition. Because the situation is so clear that people will have trouble from refraining from leaning or putting things on the shulchan and/or its mitpachat, there is an assumed public condition (lev beit din matneh) to save people from possible sin. Lev beit din matneh is found in the gemara (includingShevuot 11b) regarding things that were given for the Beit Hamikdash and has been applied to many cases of holy objects (see for example Yabia Omer, VII, OC 26, regarding the minhag to use the parochet of the aron kodesh for a wedding canopy). This condition does not allow people to use these objects in an unseemly manner (Mishna Berura 154:34), but that does not seem to be a common occurrence.
Admittedly, the Bi’ur Halacha (ad loc.) raises the possibility that only regarding those things that are hard to avoid do we say that lev beit din matneh applies. However, given people’s habits, it is hard to imagine that you could expect everyone in shul, whether having an aliya or not, to make sure not to lean on the shulchan when standing near it during a variety of different activities. However, if one can easily avoid the issues, it is proper for him to do so. It is apparently for this reason, that several Acharonim (see Sha’arei Ephrayim 3:11; Mishna Berura 141:4) suggest that if one is so fat or weak that he needs to lean seriously on the shulchan, he should pull back the mitpachat and lean on the wood of the shulchan. Since it is rare for someone to actively decide to lean on the shulchan and it is often not feasible to pull back the mitpachat, we purposely left out this added information, which is apparently not fully required (as above) and is rarely practiced in our experience.                     
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