Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra, part II

A few weeks ago, we began reading about Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra. This is a continuation of that article.

Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra, part II

Question #1: The Right Bensch

“What is the correct text of our bensching?”

Question #2: Contract Law

“I signed a five-year employment contract, and now, three years later, I have an offer that is much better for me. Am I halachically required to turn down the new offer?”

Question #3: Pidyon Haben

“When should I schedule the pidyon haben of my son?”

Question #4: Touching Kuf

“If a sefer Torah was written in which the two parts of the letter kuf touch, is the sefer Torah invalid?”

Question #5: What is going on?

What do the previous questions have to do with one another, and with the title of this article?

Introduction:

Rav Avraham ibn Ezra, one of the early rishonim, is known as a commentator on Tanach, for his massive knowledge of Hebrew grammar (dikduk), philosophy, mathematics and astronomy, and for his skills as a paytan, a poet. In the first installment of this article, we discussed what we know of his personal history and his scholarship. At this point, we will discuss other aspects of ibn Ezra’s many contributions to Torah knowledge and observance.

Ibn Ezra and Kalir

One of ibn Ezra’s controversial positions was his strong opposition to the piyutim of Rav Elazar Kalir, the preeminent, prolific and perhaps earliest of the paytanim. In an essay incorporated in his commentary to Koheles (5:1), ibn Ezra levels harsh criticism against the piyutim authored by Rav Kalir. He divides his arguments into four categories.

Simplicity of language

Ibn Ezra notes that prayers should be recited in simple language. After all, a person should understand the prayers he utters. Since piyutim are usually intended as a form of prayer, one should not recite piyutim whose intent is not clear. Because of this, ibn Ezra advises reciting the piyutim written by Rav Saadyah Gaon, which can be understood literally.

Mixed language

Ibn Ezra’s second criticism of Kalir is that he mixed the Hebrew of his piyutim with vocabulary whose basis is in the Gemara, treating Talmudic language as if it were on the same level as the Hebrew of Tanach. As ibn Ezra notes, the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 58b) says “loshon Torah le’atzmah, loshon chachamim le’atzmo” which he understands to mean that the Hebrew used by the Gemara should be treated as a different language from that of Tanach. Therefore, one should not mix these two “languages” when reciting prayers.

Grammatical creativity

The third criticism of ibn Ezra is that he is unhappy with Kalir’s creative approach to Hebrew grammar and structure, allowing poetic style to influence the Hebrew that he used. Ibn Ezra also criticized Kalir’s creation of new words by changing masculine words to feminine, and vice versa, for poetic effect or to accomplish his allusions.

Use of midrashim

Ibn Ezra’s fourth criticism of Kalir is that his piyutim are filled with midrashim, which ibn Ezra contends should not be included in prayers.

Ibn Ezra notes that when Rav Saadyah wrote piyutim, he steered clear of these four problems. In fact, Sefardim do not recite piyutim of Rav Kalir, whereas among Ashkenazim he is the most commonly used paytan.

Ibn Ezra notes that there were those who took issue with him for criticizing Kalir, since the latter had passed on many years before and was unable to respond.

Response to ibn Ezra

We should note that Shibbolei Haleket quoted very selectively from this essay of ibn Ezra, omitting any mention of ibn Ezra’s criticism of Rav Kalir’s writings.

Furthermore, none of ibn Ezra’s criticisms should be taken as casting aspersion on Rav Elazar Hakalir’s greatness. Shibbolei Haleket records that when Rabbi Elazar Hakalir wrote his poem Vechayos Asher Heinah Meruba’os (recited in the kedusha of musaf of Rosh Hashanah), the angels surrounded him with fire (quoted by the Magen Avraham at the beginning of Siman 68). Similarly, Rav Chaim Vital writes that his teacher, the Arizal, recited only the piyutim written by the early paytanim, such as Rav Elazar Hakalir, since they are based on Kabbalah.

Mules, Megillas Esther and ibn Ezra

The Book of Esther uses a few words that appear to be transliterated terms of Persian origin. In some instances, the commentaries grapple with understanding the meaning of these words. For example, the Megillah describes how the “achashteranim benei haramachim” were sent to deliver an urgent message. But what do these words mean? The Gemara (Megillah 18a) mentions that the amora’im were unaware of the exact translation of these words. One of the halachic rishonim, the Rivash, concludes that the word achashteranim is a composite word meaning “mules whose mothers are mares,” citing ibn Ezra as his source (Shu”t HaRivash #390).

Ibn Ezra and halachah

Although ibn Ezra is noted primarily for his abilities in language, commentary, mathematics and astronomy, there are many places where he is cited by later authorities as a halachic source. For example, he is quoted authoritatively by the Avudraham, the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 188) and later authorities regarding a controversy surrounding the correct text of our bensching. He is also quoted by authorities in regard to the correct pronunciation of the name of Hashem (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 124).

Here are some other areas of halachah in which the ibn Ezra is quoted:

Contract law

“I signed a five-year employment contract, and now, three years later, I have an offer that is much better for me. Am I halachically required to turn down the new offer?”

There is discussion among halachic authorities about this topic, including several rishonim, the Rema (Choshen Mishpat 333:3) and the Shach (ad locum 333:17). In this context, ibn Ezra’s comments on Chumash are quoted as halachic authority. He understands that an eved Ivri, a Jewish slave, who is purchased for a maximum of six years, has worked mishneh s’char sachir, twice the amount of time usually allowed for a worker to commit himself. This means that the Torah does not recognize an employment contract that is longer than three years. His exact words are: “We find written ‘three years as the duration of a hired hand’ (Yeshayahu 16:14), and this is proof that a person does not have authority to hire himself out for more than three years. Furthermore, the one paying the wages cannot hire him [for more than three years]. And this is the reason [in the pasuk regarding the eved Ivri] for the word ‘mishneh – double’” (commentary to Devorim 15:18), since a Hebrew slave can be purchased for up to six years, or twice as long as an employment contract normally allows.

Inheritance of positions

In an interesting discussion germane to the laws of inheriting positions, ibn Ezra is quoted as supporting the right of a son-in-law to his late father-in-law’s rabbinic position, where no direct descendants are appropriate for the post (Shu’t Doveiv Meisharim Vol. 4). This is based on ibn Ezra’s comment that, at times, a son-in-law is referred to as a son (Bereishis 19:12).

When to redeem?

There is a discussion among halachic authorities as to whether the proper time to perform the mitzvah of pidyon haben is on the 31st day after birth, or after a lunar month equivalent (29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3.3 seconds) has passed since birth. In this context, some authorities quote ibn Ezra in support of the second approach (Shu’t Shevus Yaakov 2:87).

When is nightfall?

Ibn Ezra is perhaps the earliest authority to determine when nightfall occurs on the basis of astronomical calculation. He notes that the length of time between sunset and nightfall varies from place to place and is dependent on how long it takes the sun to reach a certain point beyond the horizon – what is called today the solar depression angle.

Matzoh and Hagadah

Ibn Ezra is quoted among the list of authorities who contend that eating matzoh on Pesach after the first night fulfills some level of mitzvah. Another halachah quoted in his name is the mitzvah of reciting the Hagadah the entire night of Pesach. Ibn Ezra cites an approach that the words leil shimurim, describing the Seder night, mean that we are supposed to be shimurim, not that we are the ones being protected. He explains this to mean that one should be alert and “on guard” throughout the night, using the night exclusively to thank Hashem and to retell the wondrous deeds He performed leading to and including our exodus from Egypt. This interpretation is also quoted in his name by poskim (Shu’t Seridei Eish 1:47).

Ibn Ezra and the physician

Another interesting halachic insight is quoted in his name. The Avnei Neizer, one of the greatest poskim of the late nineteenth century, was asked the following: A person is seriously ill, and the physicians have recommended that he take a medication that is non-kosher. Granted that this is pikuach nefesh, a life-threatening emergency, and therefore supersedes the requirement to keep kosher, is the patient permitted to be stringent and not take the medicine, or does this violate the Torah’s laws?

Ibn Ezra contends that the Torah’s instructions to heed medical opinion apply only to external injuries, but not to an internal medical condition. He states that in the era of prophecy, a prophet’s opinion about what was happening inside the body was more accurate than a physician’s. A result of this idea is that one is not required – and perhaps, according to ibn Ezra, not permitted – to violate a mitzvah for an internal remedy advised by a physician.

Together with other halachic reasons and bases, the Avnei Neizer rules that the individual does have the right to rely on these opinions and not consume non-kosher (Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Choshen Mishpat #193).

It should be noted that the late Klausenberger Rebbe ruled that today, since we now have various methods for checking what is going on inside our bodies, what would have been considered an internal matter in earlier days is now under the heading of something that doctors should treat, even according to ibn Ezra – and that, therefore, a person should definitely follow doctor’s orders (Shu’t Divrei Yetziv, Likutim #114).

Aliyah la’regel

In an interesting responsum of Rav Moshe Feinstein to the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Moshe rules that the mitzvah of being oleh regel, to visit the Beis Hamikdash grounds on the Yomim Tovim and offer korbanos, does not require that one walk to the har habayis, but that one may travel there in a different way (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Kodoshim #21. This responsum is located at the end of the first volume of Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim I). Rav Moshe brings support for this approach from the commentary of ibn Ezra.

Ibn Ezra and the kuf

One of the rishonim quotes ibn Ezra as the halachic authority to resolve the following question: If a sefer Torah was written in which the two parts of the letter kuf touch, is the sefer Torah invalid? The Tashbeitz, who was asked this question (Shu”t Tashbeitz 1:51), brings evidence from ibn Ezra that he held that it is perfectly fine, and even preferable, to write a sefer Torah this way. Although we do not follow this ruling, the Tashbeitz, based on ibn Ezra, did.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we see that ibn Ezra made many contributions to the halachic knowledge of Klal Yisroel. The main lesson to be learned from his life is that one should strive to grow in prayer and in studying and teaching Torah to the extent of one’s ability, notwithstanding the adversity of personal circumstances.

 

What Do I Do with My Sheimos?

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I know that the name of the parsha is Shemos, and not Sheimos, but…

What do I do with my Sheimos?

Question #1:

vintage-pagesOne of the shul’s baalei batim calls the rav with the following concern:

“The shul’s sheimos collection is a fire hazard – a catastrophe waiting to happen. Can we just burn everything before a dangerous fire breaks out?”

Question #2:

I receive the following question from Cheryl:

“Rabbi, this has got to be the most interesting e-mail question you receive today. I am on a cruise in the Mediterranean, courtesy of, and with, my not-yet-observant parents, and today I spent the day looking at Jewish sites and other tourist attractions at our port-of-call. At one of the places, an elderly gentile lady gave me a large bag of old, tattered siddurim – no value. I have no idea what to do with them, and they are with me now in my cabin on the ship. May I bury them at sea?”

Response:

Answering the above questions provides an excellent opportunity to understand the topic called either genizah or sheimos. The particular emphasis in this article will be: what is the proper way to dispose of worn-out seforim?

Should it be called sheimos or genizah?

Which is the “correct” term? The word used in Modern Hebrew for a religious item whose discarding must be handled in a special way is genizah, which literally means that they must be hidden. Indeed, this is the term used by the Gemara for the process of disposing of these items, and it is easy to understand how the term came to refer to items that require genizah, although technically genizah refers to the place where the item is placed.

The Yiddish word for these items is sheimos, whose source is the term sheimos she’einam nimchakim, meaning the names of G-d that the Torah prohibits erasing. In Parshas Re’eih, the Torah commands: Destroy all the places where the gentiles that you are driving out worshipped their gods, whether they are on high mountains, on hills, or beneath foliate trees. Raze their altars, smash their pillars, burn their worshipped trees, and demolish the images of their gods. Obliterate the names (of their deities) from that place (Devarim 12:2-4).

The Torah then closes this passage: Do not do this to Hashem your G-d!

When the Torah states: Obliterate the names from that place. Do not do this to Hashem your G-d, it is prohibiting obliterating Hashem’s Name (Shabbos 120b; Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:1). The Gemara (Shavuos 35a) calls the names of Hashem that we may not erase sheimos she’einam nimchakim, which later became the origin of the term sheimos as a generic term to describe religious items whose discarding must be handled in a special way. Thus, either word, genizah or sheimos, may be used.

That which we call Hashem

Although there are many expressions, such as the All-merciful One and the Creator, which refer to Hashem, halachah recognizes a major distinction between erasing the actual holy names of Hashem, and between erasing terms that describe Hashem, but are not actual names. Erasing the actual “names” of Hashem, the sheimos she’einam nimchakim, violates a lo saaseh of the Torah, one of the 613 mitzvos, and qualifies as a prohibition as serious as desecrating Yom Tov or eating non-kosher (see Makkos 22a). The names of Hashem, of which there are about ten, include, among others, Elokim, Elokeinu, Keil, Shakai, Tzevakos, Eloak, and, of course, the names I will call havayah and adnus. (Following the usual practice, I have substituted the “k” sound somewhere in the above names, so that readers do not err and recite these holy names in vain.) Erasing any of these names is prohibited min haTorah.

Erasing attributes

On the other hand, expressions that describe attributes of Hashem — such as Rachum, All-merciful one; Chanun, He Who bestows kindness — may be erased, even when they refer to Hashem (Shavuos 35a; Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 6:5). The Torah’s prohibition, do not do this to Hashem your G-d, applies only to a name of Hashem, not to an attribute that describes Hashem.

Similarly, there is no prohibition to erase His names written in other languages, such as G-d, even when spelled with the “o” in the middle (Shach, Yoreh Deah 179:11), although one must exercise care that these names do not become treated disrespectfully (Urim, 27:2, quoted also by Nesivos HaMishpat and Aruch HaShulchan ad loc.). The reason we are accustomed to spelling the name G-d, rather than with the added “o,” is because of concern that the paper it is written on might end up in the garbage or treated in some other disrespectful way.

Does the prohibition include commentaries, Gemaros, et cetera?

Although the Torah violation, do not do this to Hashem your G-d, applies only to actual names of Hashem, Chazal prohibited destroying other holy writings, including commentaries, works of Mishnah, Gemara or halachah, and other Torah works (see Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:8; Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:2).

What happens when they wear out?

Granted that the Torah prohibited destroying works that include Hashem’s Name, eventually a sefer Torah becomes worn out and unusable. What does one do with it, then, if it is prohibited to destroy it? The precise details of how to dispose of these items is exactly the topic for today’s article.

Buried in earthenware

The Gemara teaches that worn out sifrei Torah should be placed in earthenware vessels and then buried next to a talmid chacham, or, minimally, next to someone who learned halachah, meaning someone who at least studied Mishnayos (Megillah 26b). Placing them inside these vessels forestalls the decomposition of the sifrei Torah for a very long time (Ran), and placing them together with someone who studied Torah is a more respectful way of treating sifrei Torah that can no longer be used. It is very unfortunate that Hashem’s Name becomes obliterated, even in an indirect way, and we must delay the decomposition for as long as possible.

Genizah of printed sefarim

From after the time of the Gemara until the invention of the printing press in the 1400’s, we find little discussion about how to dispose of holy works. Since everything was handwritten and therefore scarce and very expensive, we can presume that there were not a lot of worn out sifrei kodesh, and there was no difficulty in following the Gemara’s description for their retirement. However, after the invention of the printing press, the sheer volume of printed material increased geometrically, and we find halachic discussion concerning whether wornout printed sefarim must be disposed of in the same manner as the Gemara describes for sifrei Torah.

The teshuvah of the Be’er Sheva

The earliest responsum I have seen on the subject is printed in the sefer Be’er Sheva, authored by one of the great Torah leaders of the early seventeenth century, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Eilenburg. He was a talmid of the Levush, and his sefer includes a haskamah from the Maharal of Prague! The Be’er Sheva reports that in his day, it was not uncommon for people to burn the worn-out printed editions of sifrei kodesh. Those who burned the sifrei kodesh claimed that this was more respectful than burying them, because burial often resulted in the sifrei kodesh being unearthed and therefore becoming treated disrespectfully.

The Be’er Sheva takes strong issue with this approach, noting that it is prohibited to destroy any type of kisvei hakodesh, and that burning them certainly violates halachah. The claim that burying the sefarim leads to their desecration is unfounded, he states, because the desecration is a result of not burying the genizah correctly. As we mentioned above, the Gemara describes burying in earthenware vessels. If, indeed, all genizah were to be buried this way, argues the Be’er Sheva, then the kisvei hakodesh would never be strewn about after their burial. He concludes that worn-out, printed Torah material must be buried in earthenware vessels, just as one is required to bury sifrei Torah this way. This responsum of the Be’er Sheva is subsequently cited authoritatively by the Magen Avraham (154:9).

Not enough earthenware to go around

Notwithstanding the rulings of the Be’er Sheva and the Magen Avraham prohibiting the burning of wornout kisvei hakodesh, we find the issue of burning sheimos resurfacing a century later. It appears that burying the massive amounts of sheimos in earthenware vessels was not practical, presumably because appropriate earthenware vessels were not easily available in the quantities required. Since no other practical solution was acceptable to the Be’er Sheva and the Magen Avraham, accumulations of sheimos were doing just that — accumulating. Thus we read:

The shul’s sheimos collection is a fire hazard – a catastrophe waiting to happen. Can we just burn everything, before a dangerous fire breaks out?”

This is the exact question asked three hundred years ago by members of the Jewish community in Metz, Alsace-Lorraine, from their rav, Rav Yaakov Reischer, one of the great halachic authorities of his era, famed for his many classic Torah works, including Minchas Yaakov (on the laws of kashrus), Chok Yaakov (on Hilchos Pesach), Toras Hashelamim (on Hilchos Niddah), Iyun Yaakov (on Agadah of Shas), and his responsa, Shevus Yaakov.

In a responsum published in Shevus Yaakov, Rav Reischer reports that previous attempts to bury the amassed sheimos had resulted in gentiles unearthing the kisvei hakodesh and using them in a highly degrading way. For lack of any solution, the sheimos were accumulating and indeed were a fire hazard. Because of the life-threatening emergency that now resulted, the Shevus Yaakov ruled that it was preferable to burn the sheimos, which he felt was the most viable resolution of the problem, since burial in earthenware vessels was no longer feasible.

Corresponding mechutanim

In Nissan 5483 (1723), Rav Reischer sent his teshuvah permitting, under these circumstances, the burning of genizah, to his mechutan, Rav Yechezkel Katzenellenbogen, the rav of Hamburg, for review, presumably hoping that Rav Katzenellenbogen would agree. The correspondence between these gedolei Torah was subsequently published in two different places – in Rav Reischer’s Shu’t Shevus Yaakov, as Yoreh Deah, Volume 1, #10-12, and in Rav Katzenellenbogen’s Shu’t Keneses Yechezkel as responsum #37. The two versions of the correspondence are not absolutely identical, but comparing the two versions broadens one’s understanding of the dispute. In general, the Keneses Yechezkel account is somewhat truncated in places, but includes the dates of the letters. Apparently, when Rav Katzenellenbogen decided to print this correspondence, he abbreviated his own letters, although he published his mechutan’s letters in full.

A more important fact is that the account published in Keneses Yechezkel includes a final letter from Rav Katzenellenbogen that does not appear in Shevus Yaakov.

Family feud

Although both gedolim correspond to one another with great respect, they dispute strongly regarding what one should do with the accumulated sheimos material when burial in earthenware vessels is not a practical solution. In his response dated 17 Kislev, the Keneses Yechezkel rejects fully his mechutan’s proposal that the circumstances permit burning the sheimos, but instead rules that one should construct wooden boxes around the genizah, find an abandoned lot, and bury the wooden-entombed sheimos with three tefachim (about 9-11 inches) of earth above them.

The second volley

On the 23 of Teiveis, the Shevus Yaakov penned his retort to his mechutan, rejecting the idea that wooden boxes are as good as earthenware, and insisting that if all kisvei hakodesh must be buried in earthenware, burying in wood, which decays much more quickly, will not suffice. He contends that burying in wood is the equivalent of burying directly in the earth, which he prohibits as a tremendous bizayon to the kisvei hakodesh. He feels that burying in earth, either with or without a wooden protection, is a far greater bizayon to the kisvei hakodesh than burning them. Thus, unswayed by his mechutan’s rejection of his proposal, he remains with his original suggestion – that since burying all the genizah in earthenware containers is not practical, and burying them in wooden containers is not acceptable, the remaining option is to burn the sheimos.

The response from the Keneses Yechezkel was not long in coming. On the 17th of Shvat, the Keneses Yechezkel penned his retort, again reiterating his position that it is absolutely forbidden to burn sheimos, and that it is perfectly acceptable, and therefore required, to bury them in wooden boxes. (This last letter is the part of the correspondence that does not appear in Shu’t Shevus Yaakov, but only in Keneses Yechezkel.)

Packing the printed material

It is noteworthy that both of these authorities rule that printed sefarim must be packed properly before burial, which was also the position of the Be’er Sheva and the Magen Avraham that I quoted above. On the other hand, the Pri Megadim (commenting on the above-quoted Magen Avraham), who was born shortly before the passing of the Keneses Yechezkel and the Shevus Yaakov, notes that the custom is to bury worn-out printed sefarim without placing them inside vessels, and to require burial in earthenware vessels only when burying worn-out, hand-written nevi’im and kesuvim that are written on parchment. (The nevi’im he is describing are used contemporarily by many shullen for reading the haftaros.) The custom mentioned by the Pri Megadim disputes the above quoted authorities, the Be’er Sheva, the Magen Avraham, the Keneses Yechezkel, and the Shevus Yaakov, all of whom held that printed sefarim must be packed in earthenware or with other protective means before burial.

What is the accepted halachic practice?

The prevalent accepted practice follows the Pri Megadim’s observation — that is, although we insist that worn-out printed sefarim must be buried, they are not packed in either earthenware or even wood boxes before burial. The Mishnah Berurah (154:22, 24), when discussing this issue, quotes only the Pri Megadim; he does not even mention the disputing earlier opinions.

How can we permit this?

Granted that the minhag follows the Pri Megadim, but what is the halachic basis to permit this? Neither the Pri Megadim nor the Mishnah Berurah explains the rationale to permit burying these items, without first packing them appropriately. However, an authority contemporary to the Pri Megadim, the Zera Emes (Volume II #133), does discuss this issue.

The Zera Emes was asked the same question that was asked of the Be’er Sheva, the Keneses Yechezkel and the Shevus Yaakov — whether there is any basis to permit the burning of printed sheimos. In response, the Zera Emes first cites many early authorities who held that all printed sefarim require burial in earthenware vessels. He indeed concludes that all genizah items require burial. He then analyzes whether all genizah items require to first be packed in earthenware vessels. He notes that the Gemara, itself, implies that there are different levels of kedushah when burying holy items. Although the Gemara mentions several items that require genizah, such as the coverings of the sefer Torah (often called mantelach), mezuzos, tefillin, tefillin bags and straps, it requires only that these items have genizah and does not mention that they be first placed in earthenware. The requirements of placing the genizah item in an earthenware vessel and burying it near a talmid chacham are mentioned only regarding a sefer Torah. Other holy writings do not require this, and it is sufficient to provide them with what the Zera Emes calls “a minimal burial” — meaning burial in earth. Burial is a respectful way to allow for the decay of holy works, both because burial is halachically a respectful way of disposal, and because the deterioration is caused indirectly.

The Zera Emes adds one more requirement – that the sheimos must be placed into some type of bag or covering before it is buried. This covering is necessary, in his opinion, because placing directly into the ground is not considered a respectful way to treat kisvei hakodesh. We should note that, according to the contemporary sefer Ginzei HaKodesh, Rav Elyashiv held that, in a situation where it is difficult to wrap the genizah, one may bury it without wrapping. This means that, in his opinion, placing kisvei hakodesh directly in the ground is not disrespectful.

Burial at sea

At this point, we can answer Cheryl’s question:

I am on a cruise in the Mediterranean. At one port-of-call, a gentile lady gave me a large bag of old, tattered siddurim, which are now in my cabin on the ship. May I bury them at sea?

As you can by now imagine, I answered Cheryl that she is not permitted to bury the genizah at sea. According to all opinions quoted above, disposing worn-out kisvei hakodesh in water is considered destroying them directly. According to the Be’er Sheva and the Keneses Yechezkel, all kisvei hakodesh require burial in the earth, and in earthenware. According to the Pri Megadim and the Zera Emes, although burial is permitted in earth, this is only in earth, where the deterioration takes time, but “burial at sea” is a bizayon to the holy works. Even the Shevus Yaakov, who permitted burning kisvei hakodesh when one cannot bury them in earthenware vessels, expressly forbade burial in earth without packing them first, because the moisture of the earth is considered directly destroying them and forbidden, and certainly, disposal directly in water is forbidden.

Conclusion — contemporary practice

Common practice of those who bury genizah today is to pack all handwritten kisvei hakodesh, including sifrei Torah, mezuzos, and tefillin parshiyos, in earthenware or glass containers before burial; whereas worn-out, printed sefarim are simply placed in bags or cardboard boxes and buried. Thus, it appears that although we are following the distinction between sifrei Torah and other holy writings as explained by the Zera Emes, contemporary practice is to be slightly stricter than his ruling regarding how we wrap mezuzos and tefillin parshiyos prior to burial.

Thousands of pages of Torah rattle off presses and home and business printers every day, spreading Torah to every corner of the globe. By disposing of this material appropriately, we help ensure that this glory of Torah does not lead to its desecration.

 

 

Nine and a Child

torah-1427213-639x479Since the beginning of parshas Tolados discusses the education of Yaakov and Esav, it is appropriate for us to discuss the topic of:

Nine and a Child

Question #1: Nine and a Chumash?

“A friend of mine once moved to a community where the local daily minyan was not that reliable. On a regular basis, services were conducted by having a ten-year old hold a chumash as the tenth man. Is there a basis for this practice?”

Question #2: Studying Chumash

“When the rishonim referred to a chumash, what did they mean? After all, they lived before the invention of the printing press.”

Answer:

When Avraham prayed for the people of Sodom and its four sister cities, he asked Hashem to save them if forty-five righteous people lived among them, which Rashi (18:28) explains would be the equivalent of a minyan of righteous people per city: nine plus Hashem counting as the Tenth. Can one consider that there is a minyan present with a quorum of less than ten?

The basis of this topic is the Gemara (Brachos 47b-48a), which discusses whether one may conduct services requiring a minyan or a mezuman when one appears to be short of the requisite quorum. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi ruled that if one has nine adults and a baby, one can bensch as if one has a minyan. Rav Huna stated that if one has nine adults present one can count the aron hakodesh to form a minyan. To this, Rav Nachman retorted, “Is the aron a person?” Rav Huna explained that he meant that there are situations in which a group of nine people can act as if they are a minyan. Rav Ami ruled that two great talmidei chachamim who sharpen one another in their halachic discussions can be considered the equivalent of three for a zimun. Rabbi Yochanan stated that a child who is almost bar mitzvah can be included as the third for a zimun. Some rishonim (Rabbeinu Yonah) quote a text that concludes that, on Shabbos, one can make a mezuman with two adults – with the day of Shabbos counting as the third “person.”

However, the Gemara concludes that we do not permit a mezuman with less than three adults or a minyan with less than ten — the only exception being that we can count a child for a zimun, if he is old enough to know to Whom we are reciting a brocha. Nevertheless, Rabbeinu Tam rules that one may rely on the above-quoted opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that nine adults and a baby qualify as a minyan even for prayer (Tosafos, Brachos 48a). The Rivash feels that one should not follow the lenient approach, but rules that those who do rely on it can do so only when the child is at least nine years old (Shu’t Harivash #451). Others understand that a minor can be counted as the tenth man, but only if he is twelve years old, which halachah recognizes as an age of majority regarding oaths and vows (Rabbeinu Yonah). We should note that none of these authorities permit counting more than one child to complete a minyan.

Nine and a chumash

Tosafos (Brachos 48a s.v. Veleis) reports that some people counted a child holding a chumash as the tenth “man.” He then notes that Rabbeinu Tam criticized this approach, explaining that if we follow Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s opinion, a child qualifies as the tenth man even if he is not holding a chumash, and if we do not follow that opinion, counting a child holding a chumash is without halachic basis. Rabbeinu Tam explained further that even should one locate a statement of Chazal that a child holding a chumash completes a minyan, the ruling would mean a chumash as was commonly used in the days of Chazal, which comprised one of the five chumashim (Bereishis, Shemos, Vayikra, Bamidbar, or Devorim) of the Torah written as a scroll, similar in style and appearance to a small sefer Torah or a navi scroll used for reading the haftarah. However, in the time of Rabbeinu Tam, although chumashim were still handwritten, they were no longer written as scrolls, but were bound into books. Thus, there would be no basis to permit counting a child holding the type of chumash used in his era.

What is the source?

What is the source for this custom of counting a child with a chumash for a minyan? Rabbeinu Tam was unaware of any such source in the halachic literature that he knew. However, since the practice was widespread, the possibility existed that there was a halachic source somewhere. Bear in mind that in the days of the rishonim, all halachic material was handwritten, almost always on parchment, and that it was therefore very expensive and difficult to have access to seforim. (Rabbeinu Tam lived approximately 300 years before the invention of the printing press.) Rabbeinu Tam had such profound respect for this custom of Klal Yisroel that he assumed that there probably was a statement of Chazal somewhere, one that he had never seen, with a source for the custom. This is what the Gemara refers to as hanach lahem leyisroel, im ein nevi’im hein, bnei nevi’im hein (see Pesachim 66a), “allow Jews [to continue their practice], if they are no longer prophets, they are descended from prophets,” and their customs are based on solid foundations.

However, Rabbeinu Tam understood that should such a statement of Chazal exist permitting a child holding a chumash to be counted as the tenth, it would include only a chumash written as a scroll and would not apply to what existed in his day.

Later authorities note that having a child hold a sefer Torah would count as the tenth man, according to this custom. Furthermore, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:18) notes that the requirement of having the child hold a sefer Torah scroll would not require that it be a kosher sefer Torah. Even a sefer Torah that is invalid because some words are no longer legible would qualify as a holy scroll for the purpose of counting towards a minyan.

Do we permit a child+Torah?

Most rishonim rule that one cannot count a child as the tenth man even when he is holding a chumash or a Torah. For example, the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 8:4) rules that a minyan for prayer must be a minimum of ten men, although for bensching he allows that the tenth “man” be a child who is seven years old or more (Hilchos Brachos 5:7). This is based on his understanding of the conclusion of the Gemara (Brachos 48a) we quoted above that allows counting a child for a mezuman or minyan for bensching, and this forms the basis of Sefardic practice. However, regarding prayer the Rambam does not allow counting a child who is holding a chumash or a sefer Torah. Praying with a minyan requires ten adult men, no exceptions.

Nevertheless, the Tur mentions that “some permit the inclusion of one child with nine adults if they place a chumash in his hand.” The Tur then notes that his father, the Rosh, wrote that one should never count a child as part of a minyan or a mezuman. This Rosh is the main approach followed by Ashkenazim.

Kerias Hatorah

Some early authorities conclude that a minor cannot be counted as the tenth “man” of a minyan for bensching or for prayer, but can be counted to allow the reading of the Torah (Tashbeitz Katan #201). The reason for this distinction is that a minor can sometimes be given an aliyah to the Torah (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 282:3 and commentaries). Some authorities permit giving a child even one of the seven aliyos, and all authorities permit giving a child maftir and having him read the haftarah. Thus, for this mitzvah he is indeed considered a man.

The Magen Avraham (55:4; 690:24) cites this position of the Tashbeitz, but does not accept it, demonstrating that both the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 143:1) and the Rema (Orach Chayim 690:18) do not accept the line of reasoning proposed by the Tashbeitz (see also Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 55:4).

Shulchan Aruch and Rema

In regard to prayer, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 55:4) concludes: “Some permit the recital of devarim she’be’kedusha [meaning kaddish, borchu, kedusha, reading of the Torah, etc.] when there are nine adults and one minor who is older than six years and understands to Whom we pray. However, this opinion is not accepted by the greatest of the authorities.” With these words, the Shulchan Aruch provides honorable mention to Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion that a child can count, on his own, as the tenth man, but he follows the majority of rishonim who reject it. The Rema comments that although one should not count a child as part of the minyan even if he is holding a chumash, there are those who permit it under extenuating circumstances.

Difference between bensching and davening

Some authorities note a curious reversal in the positions of the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema. The Shulchan Aruch rejects counting a child as the tenth man for tefillah (Orach Chayim 55:4), but accepts counting him as the tenth or third man for bensching purposes (Orach Chayim 199:10). This, of course, reflects the position of the Rambam and most Sefardic Rishonim.

On the other hand, although the Rema mentions the practice of counting a child as the tenth man under extenuating circumstances, he absolutely rejects counting him as the third or tenth for bensching (Orach Chayim 199:10). Thus, he accepts the Rosh’s ruling not to count a child as the third or tenth man for bensching, and cites a leniency only with regard to davening. This is strange, since the halachic sources imply that there is more basis to be lenient regarding bensching than there is regarding davening.

The Maharsham explains that the Rema rules that a minor can count as part of the minyan only if he holds a scroll, which to us would mean that he must hold a sefer Torah. In shul, one may take a sefer Torah out of the aron hakodesh and place it in a child’s arms in order to have a minyan. However, one would not be permitted to bring a sefer Torah to the dining room, and for this reason the Rema rules that one can never include a child in the count of a minyan or mezuman for bensching.

Later authorities

The Magen Avraham (55:5), whose opinion is highly respected by the later authorities, concludes that one may include one minor holding a chumash, but not more than one, to enable the recital of borchu, kedusha or a kaddish that is a required part of davening. However, when relying on a child to complete the minyan, one should not recite any of the kaddeishim at the end of davening (other than the full kaddish recited by the chazzan), since they are not obligatory. This means that when having a minyan of nine plus a child holding a sefer Torah, one may not recite kaddish after Aleinu, or after the shir shel yom.

After quoting this statement of the Magen Avraham, the Mishnah Berurah writes that many later authorities rule that one should not count a child as part of a minyan even under the limited circumstances established by the Magen Avraham. However, the Graz (Rav Shulchan Aruch 55:5) rules that one should not correct someone who completes a minyan under extenuating circumstances by counting a child at least six years old who understands to Whom we are davening, even if the child is not holding a chumash.

We should note that, although the Magen Avraham ruled that even those who are lenient permit the inclusion of only one child, a much earlier authority (Shu’t Min Hashamayim #53) ruled that one may include even two children, provided they are old enough to daven. He explains that since the mitzvah of davening with a community is rabbinic in origin, a child old enough to daven can be included in the count since he is also required to daven as part of his training in the performance of mitzvos (Mishnah, Brachos 20). (The obvious question is that this reasoning should permit counting more than two children, yet Shu’t Min Hashamayim permits only two, but we will leave this question for the moment.)

The shul in which I don’t daven!

In this context, it is highly educational to study two relatively recent cases recorded in the responsa literature. In the late nineteenth century, the Bruzhaner Rav, known also as the Maharsham, Rav Shalom Mordechai Hakohen Shvadron (the grandfather of Rav Shalom Shvadron, the famed maggid of Yerushalayim), was asked the following (Shu’t Maharsham 3:162): The only minyan in a small community in Hungary has been meeting for the past 25 years on Shabbos and Yom Tov in the house of a local wealthy individual. Recently, this individual has been insisting that they incorporate certain innovations in the davening, including changing the nusach of the “shul,” and requiring that the audience recite the entire davening extremely quietly and that not even amen should be answered aloud. The individual who owns the house where the minyan has been davening has now agreed to allow some members of the community to form their own separate minyan whereby they will be able to daven as they are accustomed. However, the group desiring to form their own shul has only nine adult men. Their question: May they lechatchilah begin their own shul, knowing that, according to most authorities, they will not have a minyan?

After listing many of the authorities who rule that they are forbidden to conduct services because they do not have a proper minyan, the Maharsham concludes that he is highly wary of the baal habayis of the original shul and therefore feels that they should rely on the lenient opinions and form their own minyan. He further concludes that they could rely on the opinion that, if necessary, upon occasion, they could have two children holding sifrei Torah to complete the minyan, thus ruling according to the above-quoted Tashbeitz and against the Magen Avraham. The Maharsham is the only late authority, of whom I am aware, who permits eight men plus two children to be considered a minyan.

Another responsum

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked a similar question in which an established shul’s membership had dwindled to the point where there were only nine adults at its daily minyan. If the shul cannot count a child for the daily minyan, it will be forced to disband. Rav Moshe discusses whether they may continue their minyan notwithstanding the fact that there is another shul in the neighborhood, although it is a bit distant. Rav Moshe notes that although a majority of poskim contend that one should not allow the recital of kaddish, kedusha, etc. when there are less than ten adult men present, maintaining the existence of this shul is considered extenuating circumstance. Since the prohibition of reciting a davar she’be’kedusha without a minyan is only rabbinic, this extenuating circumstance would allow one to follow the minority opinion against the majority. He concludes that since the members of this shul may not make the trek to the other shul, and will also stop attending the shiurim provided in their current shul, the minyan should be continued.

Rav Moshe then raises a few practical questions. The Magen Avraham, upon whom Rav Moshe is relying, permits counting a child for the tenth man only if he is holding a sefer Torah. However, this creates two interesting halachic questions.

  1. One is not permitted to hold something while reciting shma and the shemoneh esrei, so how can the child be holding the sefer Torah then?
  2. While the sefer Torah is being held by someone who is standing, everyone is required to be standing, which means that the entire membership of this shul will be required to stand for the entire davening. (It appears that Rav Moshe understands that one may count the child for a minyan only when he is standing. I am unaware of the source for this ruling.) Therefore, Rav Moshe suggests that the sefer Torah be placed on a table, and that the child stand next to the sefer Torah with his hands holding the atzei chayim, the “handles” of the sefer Torah, which Rav Moshe considers equivalent to holding the sefer Torah.

Rav Moshe writes that it is preferable to have a 12-year-old child hold the sefer Torah, citing the authorities we quoted above who permit a 12-year old to be the tenth man of a minyan.

Rav Moshe recommends that the shul relying on these heterim not have a repetition of shemoneh esrei (chazaras hashatz). This is because reciting chazaras hashatz without a minyan present involves a brocha levatalah, a brocha in vain, which, according to some authorities is prohibited min hatorah. Rav Moshe rules that the chazzan should not recite the quiet the shemoneh esrei, but, instead, should wait until everyone has finished their shemoneh esrei and then he should recite his own shemoneh esrei aloud.

Conclusion

At this point, let us return to our opening question: “A friend of mine once moved to a community where the local daily minyan was not that reliable. On a regular basis, services were conducted by having a ten-year old hold a chumash as the tenth man. Is there a basis for this practice?”

If we follow Rav Moshe’s psak and consider it applicable to their situation, then a child should hold the atzei chayim of a sefer Torah that is placed on the table. Only the kaddeishim required according to halachah should be recited, and no mourner’s kaddish or kaddish derabbanan. The chazzan should preferably not recite his own quiet shemoneh esrei.

The Gemara teaches that Ein Hakadosh Baruch Hu mo’eis bitefillasan shel rabim, Hashem never despises the prayers of the community. Certainly, this should inspire all of us to daven with the tzibur whenever we can.

 

Holding the Torah Upright

According to some rishonim, the mitzvah to raise the Torah (hagbahah) is mentioned in parshas Ki Savo.

Question #1: Holy Roller

“I was in a shul, and when they took out the sefer Torah, they opened it and carried it all around the shul, showing everyone with a yad where the beginning of the keri’ah is. I had never seen this before, and was wondering if this is a common practice. Is it mentioned in halachic sources, or does it simply manifest someone’s enthusiasm?”

Question #2: Reversing the Trend

Is there any halachic basis for the custom on Simchas Torah of reversing the sefer Torah so that the writing faces away from the magbiah?

Answer: Needing a Lift

The mitzvah of hagbahah is to raise the sefer Torah and show it, so that everyone in the shul can see the writing of the sefer Torah. The prevalent, but not exclusive, tradition among Ashkenazim is that this mitzvah is performed after each sefer Torah is read, whereas the exclusive practice among edot hamizrach (Jews of Middle Eastern and Sefardic descent) is that this lifting is performed prior to reading from the Torah. Among the edot hamizrach, some open the sefer Torah and lift it up immediately upon removing it from the Aron Kodesh, whereas others first bring the sefer Torah to the shulchan and then perform hagbahah, prior to calling up the kohen for the first aliyah (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). Some even perform hagbahah both before and after the reading (ibid.; Kaf Hachayim 134:17) As a matter of curiosity, it is interesting to mention that some Chassidim and Perushim in Eretz Yisrael observe the practice of the Sefardim and perform hagbahah before the Torah is read. When following this procedure, the magbiah does not sit down with the sefer Torah after he has completed his job, but places it down on the shulchan from which it is read.

As we will soon see, both customs – performing hagbahah before the reading and performing it after the reading – can be traced back to antiquity.

The earliest description of hagbahah

The earliest extant description of the procedure of hagbahas haTorah is found in Masechta Sofrim, as follows:

“One must raise the sefer Torah when reciting the words Shema Yisrael… and then raise it again upon reciting Echad Elokeinu Gadol Adoneinu Kadosh Shemo… Immediately, [the person performing the mitzvah] opens the sefer Torah to a width of three columns and lifts the sefer Torah — showing the writing to all the people standing to his right and his left. Then he moves the sefer Torah in a circular motion before him and behind him — because it is a mitzvah incumbent on all the men and women to see the text of the sefer Torah, to bow, and to say Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael” (Masechta Sofrim 14:11-14).

What are the sources for the divergent customs?

As noted by the Beis Yosef and the Gra, the Masechta Sofrim describes performing hagbahah before keri’as haTorah. Nevertheless, the venerated practice of the Bnei Ashkenaz is to do hagbahah after we read the Torah (see Darkei Moshe 147:4; the practice is quoted at least as early as the Sefer HaItur, who lived over eight hundred years ago). This custom is based on the Gemara (Megillah 32a) that states, “After ten people read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll up the Torah,” which refers to hagbahah and implies that it is performed after the Torah has been read. Similarly, a different passage of Gemara (Sotah 39b) mentions that the person reading the haftarah should be careful not to begin until the rolling of the Torah is complete. This implies that the hagbahah and subsequent rolling closed of the Torah is performed immediately prior to the haftarah, and not before the Torah is read.

Two places in Shulchan Aruch

This difference in practice resulted in an anomalous situation. Because the Tur was an Ashkenazi, he included the laws of hagbahas haTorah after the reading of the Torah, in Chapter 147 of Orach Chayim. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch, who follows Sefardic practice, mentions hagbahas haTorah before the rules of the reading of the Torah in Chapter 134:2, yet he also discusses the laws of hagbahas HaTorah where the Tur placed the halachah in Chapter 147. As a result, the halachos of hagbahas haTorah are located in two different places in Shulchan Aruch, some in Chapter 134, others in Chapter 147, with the laws of keri’as haTorah sandwiched between.

Why do Ashkenazim do hagbahah afterwards?

Logically, it would seem that we should display the text of the sefer Torah prior to reading the Torah, so that people observe the section that is about to be read, as, indeed, the Sefardim do. Why do Ashkenazim delay displaying the words of the Torah until after the reading is concluded?

The authorities present the following basis for what seems to be an anomalous practice: In earlier generations, there were unlettered people who mistakenly assumed that it was more important to see the words of the Torah during the hagbahah than it was to hear the reading of the Torah. As a result, many of these people would leave shul immediately after the hagbahah and miss the reading. Therefore, the practice was introduced to postpone the hagbahah until after the reading was concluded — which now caused these people to stay in shul and hear the reading of the Torah (Shiyarei Keneses Hagedolah 134:2, quoted by Kaf Hachayim 134:17).

Are there any other ramifications to this dispute?

Indeed, there is another interesting ramification that results from the Ashkenazic practice of delaying the hagbahah until after the reading is concluded. Should one notice a pesul in the sefer Torah that does not require taking out another sefer Torah, but precludes reading from this sefer Torah until it is repaired, one should not recite the words Vezos HaTorah and Toras Hashem temimah when being magbiah the sefer Torah (Kaf Hachayim 134:17, quoting Shu’t Adnei Paz #13).

What is the proper way to do hagbahah?

A sefer Torah is written on sections of parchment that are stitched together. The person who is performing hagbahah should make sure that the stitching is in front of him before he lifts the Torah, so that if the sefer Torah tears from the stress of the lifting, the stitching, which is easy to repair, will tear and not, G-d forbid, the parchment itself (Megillah 32a, as explained by the Tur; see esp. Aruch HaShulchan 147:13; cf., however, how Rashi explains the Gemara).

“Reading” the Torah

When the sefer Torah is raised, each person in shul should try to actually read the letters of the sefer Torah. This causes a bright, spiritual light of the Torah to reach him (Arizal, quoted by Magen Avraham 134:3). Some have the practice of looking for a word in the sefer Torah that begins with the same letter as their name (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). In most Sefardic communities, someone points to the beginning of the day’s reading while the sefer Torah is held aloft for all to see. Some congregations consider this a great honor that is given to the rav or another scholar (Kaf Hachayim 134:13). This may be the origin of the custom that some people have of pointing at the sefer Torah during hagbahah (cf. Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, Parshas Ki Savo, 27:26).

In order to make sure that everyone sees the text of the sefer Torah, some Sefardic congregations have the magbiah carry the open sefer Torah around the shul to display its holy words to every attendee (Kaf Hachayim 134:13).

In which direction is the Torah held?

The usual Ashkenazic practice is that the magbiah holds the sefer Torah with its writing facing him. Some congregations have the practice that, on Simchas Torah, the sefer Torah is lifted in the reverse way, so that the writing is away from the magbiah. Most people think that this is a “shtick” as part of the Simchas Torah celebration, but this is not halachically accurate.

The Bach (147) contends that the original approach was to hold the sefer Torah with the writing visible to the people — as we do on Simchas Torah. This is because when the magbiah lifts the sefer Torah the way we usually do, his body blocks the view, and for this reason, the Maharam and other great Torah leaders held the Torah with its text away from them when they performed hagbahah. Presumably, the reason this practice was abandoned is because it is much more difficult to do hagbahah this way, and there is concern that someone might, G-d forbid, drop the sefer Torah while doing it. Nevertheless, in places where the custom is to perform hagbahah this way on Simchas Torah, the reason is to show that on this joyous occasion we want to perform hagbahah in the optimal way.

The more the merrier!!

The above-quoted Masechta Sofrim requires that the magbiah open the sefer Torah three columns wide. The authorities dispute whether the magbiah may open the sefer Torah more than three columns. In other words, does Masechta Sofrim mean that one should open the sefer Torah exactly three columns, or does it mean that one should open it at least three columns, so that everyone can see the words of the Torah, but that someone may open it wider, should he choose? The Magen Avraham (134:3) suggests that one should open it exactly three columns, although he provides no reason why one should not open the sefer Torah more, whereas the Mishnah Berurah says that it depends on the strength of the magbiah — implying that if he can open it more, it is even better. It is possible that the Magen Avraham was concerned that opening the sefer Torah wider might cause people to show off their prowess and cause the important mitzvah of hagbahas haTorah to become a source of inappropriate pride — the exact opposite of the humility people should have when performing mitzvos.

Lift and roll!?

Most people who perform the mitzvah of hagbahah roll open the sefer Torah to the requisite width and then lift it, whereas others unroll it while they are lifting it. Which of these approaches is preferred?

The Shaar Efrayim discusses this issue, and implies that there is no preference between the two approaches, whereas the standard wording of Masechta Sofrim is that one should unroll the sefer Torah first.

Reciting Vezos HaTorah

When the sefer Torah is elevated, everyone should bow and recite the pasuk Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael (Masechta Sofrim 14:14). Indeed, the Chida cites sources who hold that since Chazal mention saying Vezos HaTorah, it has the status of a davar shebekedushah and can be said even if one is in the middle of birchos keri’as shema (Kenesses Hagedolah, quoted by Birkei Yosef 134:4). Subsequently, the Chida wrote a lengthy responsum in which he concluded that reciting Vezos HaTorah does not have the status of a davar shebekedushah, and therefore should not be said in a place where it interrupts one’s davening (Shu’t Chayim She’al 1:68).

Vezos HaTorah should be said only while facing the words of the sefer Torah (Be’er Heiteiv 134:6, quoting several earlier sources). If one began reciting Vezos HaTorah while facing the writing of the sefer Torah, one may complete the pasuk after the text of the sefer Torah has been rotated away from one’s view (Shaar Efrayim).

In many siddurim, after the sentence Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael, five words are added: Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe (Bamidbar 9:23), as if this is the continuation of the verse. Many halachic authorities question adding the words Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe, since these words are from a different passage of the Torah (Aruch Hashulchan 134:3). Others are concerned for a different reason, because these last five words are not an entire verse and they question the practice of reciting partial verses of the Torah. Indeed, many old siddurim do not quote this addition, and many halachic authorities contend that one should not recite it.

Who should be honored with hagbahah?

The Gemara (Megillah 32a) states “Ten people who read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll the Torah,” which refers to the mitzvah of hagbahah, since the magbiah rolls the Torah both prior to displaying it, and when he closes it, afterwards. The Baal HaItur quotes two opinions as to whom the “ten people” refers. Does it mean the attendees of the current minyan, and that the greatest of this group should be the one who is honored with the mitzvah of lifting and displaying the Torah? Or, does it means according the honor of lifting and displaying the Torah to the greatest of the ten people who were involved in that day’s reading (the seven who had aliyos, the maftir, the baal keriyah, and the person who recited the Targum after each pasuk was read, which was standard procedure at the time of the Gemara).

The halachic authorities rule according to the first approach, that one should honor the greatest person in the shul (Gra; Mishnah Berurah 147:6). They also refer to another practice, which was to auction off the mitzvah of hagbahah to the highest bidder (Tur; Shulchan Aruch). However, where the hagbahah is not auctioned, one should provide the honor to the greatest Torah scholar in attendance (Machatzis Hashekel). The prevalent practice of not necessarily offering hagbahah to the greatest scholar is in order to avoid any machlokes (Shaar Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah). Nevertheless, in a situation where no machlokes will develop, one should certainly accord the mitzvah to the greatest talmid chacham who can properly perform hagbahah. Whatever the situation may be, the gabbai is responsible to give hagbahah only to someone who is both knowledgeable and capable of performing the mitzvah properly.

The importance of performing hagbahah correctly

The Ramban, in his commentary on the verse, Cursed be he who does not uphold the words of this Torah (Devarim 27:26), explains that this curse includes someone who, when performing hagbahah, does not raise the sefer Torah in a way that everyone in the shul can see it properly. Apparently, there were places that did not perform the mitzvah of hagbahah at all out of concern that someone will be cursed for not performing hagbahah properly (Birkei Yosef, Shiyurei Brachah 134:2; Kaf Hachayim 134:15; Encyclopedia Talmudis, quoting Orchos Chayim). Although I certainly do not advocate eliminating the mitzvah of hagbahah, a person who knows that he cannot perform the mitzvah correctly should defer the honor, and the gabbai should offer the honor only to someone who fulfills the mitzvah properly.