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Grand Opening!

Question #1: Aramaic or Arabic?

Why is Kaddish in Aramaic? Isn’t it prohibited to pray in Aramaic and Arabic?

Question #2: Doing it right

In which arm does a lefty hold the sefer Torah?

Question #3: Caught in the act

Do I join everyone in reciting Berich She’mei when I am in the middle of pesukei dezimra?

Background

The structure of most of our prayers, including the Shemoneh Esrei and the berachos we recite surrounding the Shema, was created by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, 120 great leaders of the Jewish people who lived during the beginning of the second Beis Hamikdash. Many of these leaders had been exiled to Babylonia before the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash. This venerable group included such great leaders as Ezra, Mordechai, Nechemiah, Daniel, Chanaya, Mishael, Azaryah, Zerubavel, Shimon Hatzadik (of the famous story with Alexander the Great), Chagai, Zecharyah and Malachi (the last three prophets of the Jewish people). The Anshei Keneses Hagedolah authored and edited the last volumes of Tanach and organized it into its final form (Baba Basra 14b-15a).

Perhaps one way to recognize how great the leaders of this generation were is by realizing that Mordechai, whom we all knows was a great gadol, was not the greatest of his generation. All agree that this distinction belongs to Ezra.

Chazal tell us that Ezra was so great that he should have returned to Eretz Yisrael accompanied by the same types of miracles that occurred when Yehoshua led the Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. Then, the Bnei Yisrael experienced many overt miracles including what happened when the Jordan River was crossed, when Yericho was conquered, and when the Canaanite kings were eliminated (Berachos 4a). Unfortunately, the Jewish people in the days of Ezra were not on a high enough level to warrant such miracles, but the statement of Chazal provides an appreciation for the greatness of their leaders.

Ezra, fully aware of the problems that Kelal Yisrael faced in so many major areas — from intermarriage (see Ezra, Chapter 9), to Shabbos observance (see Nechemiah,Chapter 13), to knowledge of the laws germane to the Beis Hamikdash (see Chaggai, Chapter 2; Pesachim 17a) — instituted many takanos to assist the rebirth of the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael in his time (Bava Kama 82a). Among the many improvements he made was adding to the takanah made by Moshe Rabbeinu to read the Torah three times every week. After Ezra’s additions to this takanah, three people are called up every time the Torah is read, and it is read also at Mincha on Shabbos. Thus, in his day, the practice of reading the Torah already resembled the way we fulfill thismitzvah.

Berich She’mei

In last week’s article, I discussed some of the halachos and customs that we observe when we remove the sefer Torah from the aron hakodesh. We discussed the beautiful Aramaic prayer that begins with the words Berich She’mei. This prayer, whose source is in the Zohar (Parshas Vayakheil #206a\#225), was written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, the tanna quoted all over the Mishnah and Gemara simply as Rabbi Shimon, whose burial place on Har Meiron is the focus of much celebration, poetry, and three-year olds’ haircuts on Lag Be’Omer.

Bowing during Berich She’mei

In many communities, the custom is to bow before the sefer Torah when reciting the words desagidna kamei, “When I bow before Him,” during Berich She’mei. The authorities dispute whether this custom is proper. The Riaz, a rishon, is among those who contend that one should not bow other than to Hashem, not even toward the aron hakodesh or a sefer Torah (quoted by Shiltei Hagiborim, Kiddushin 14b note #1 and by Keneses Hagedolah, Yoreh Deah 282). Rav Yisrael Binyamin, an esteemed 16th century posek, also questioned this practice, contending that it might be forbidden because of the prohibition of worshipping idols (see Shu’t Ohalei Yaakov #57)!

The Kaf Hachayim concludes that we should not bow during Berich She’mei, since bowing when the sefer Torah is taken out is not mentioned in the Gemara, and the Gemara rules that we are to bow at specified points during the Shemonei Esrei – and not at any other time. This position is well-known as the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, who contended that we should not bow anywhere except when dictated by Chazal, not only during the Shemoneh Esrei, but also during such prayers as Kaddish and Aleinu (Biur Hagra, Orach Chayim 56:10).

On the other hand, the Maharikash, a highly respected 16th century posek, rules that it is correct to bow before the sefer Torah (Shu’t Ohalei Yaakov #57), because otherwise we are stating something untruthful when we declare (while saying Berich She’mei) desagidna Kamei — that we bow to Hashem but we do not. The Chida accepts this conclusion (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 134:3), which is subsequently followed by Rav Ovadyah Yosef (Shu’t Yabia Omer,Volume 5, Orach Chayim #8) who explains that bowing towards the sefer Torah is a sign of respect to Hashem, just as standing up for a sefer Torah is. This latter distinction is expressly opposed by the Riaz, who contends that it is required to stand up for a sefer Torah, but prohibited to bow to it.

A similar discussion is applicable regarding bowing when reciting Aleinu. Our custom is to bow when we say the words va’anachnu kor’im umishtachavim umodim¸ in which we say that we bow to Hashem. (Sefardim recite a shorter version here: va’anachnu mishtachavim.) Again, if we do not bow when we say these words, it appears as if we are being hypocritical and untruthful – we claim to be bowing, but we aren’t!

Language

Much halachic literature is devoted to the fact that Berich She’mei is recited in Aramaic. In general, we discourage prayers in Aramaic, although there are major exceptions, such as Yekum Purkan, some selections in our selichos, and, of course, Kaddish. Some even question why we sing the beautiful Shabbos zemer, Kah ribbon alam, written in Aramaic by the great posek and mekubal, Rav Yisrael Najara, which includes prayers and requests (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim #64). (By the way, there is no mention of Shabbos in Kah ribbon alam, and some Sefardim recite it as part of the daily davening, somewhat similar to the way we say Adon Olam or Yigdal.)

No Aramaic

The Gemara states that a person should not request from Hashem in the Aramaic language when he is praying by himself (Sotah 33a; Shabbos 12b). Many reasons are offered to explain this ruling (Elyah Rabbah 101:9); a more in-depth study of this topic will be postponed to a future date. For our purposes, I will share three approaches to the question, since there is an interesting halachic ramification that results.

A. Aramaic was viewed as a type of pidgin Hebrew, and therefore not acceptable for dignified procedures, such as davening (Ma’adanei Hamelech). As some authorities note, Arabic is also considered a slang offshoot of Hebrew, and, therefore, it would be prohibited to daven in Arabic, in private (Elyah Rabbah 101:9).

B. In the days when Aramaic was the common spoken language, there was concern that if Jews prayed in Aramaic, they would forget whatever Hebrew they still maintained (Tamim Dei’im, quoted by Elyah Rabbah 101:9).

C.Hashem made certain that the angels do not understand Aramaic, so that they would not get jealous of some of the beautiful Aramaic prayers we recite (Tosafos, Berachos 3a s.v. Ve’onin; Be’er Sheva, Sotah 33a).

According to the second and third reasons I cited, an individual could pray in Arabic, but not in Aramaic, whereas, according to the first reason, he should not pray in Arabic either.

We should also note that, since the prohibition against praying in Aramaic is only when praying privately, two of the three prayers we have mentioned, Kaddish and Berich She’mei, are not concerns, since they are recited only with a tzibur.

Reciting Berich She’mei during pesukei dezimra

What should someone do if he is in the middle of reciting pesukei dezimra when the sefer Torah is taken out? Should he recite the prayer of Berich She’mei, or does this constitute a prohibited interruption? Rav Shimon Greenvald, a greatly respected authority in pre-war Hungary, was asked this question, ruling that our davener should not interrupt pesukei dezimra to join the tzibur for Berich She’mei or any of the other prayers recited when the sefer Torah is taken out (Shu’t Maharshag 1:52:2). However, if he has completed the brocha of Yishtabach and has not yet begun the brocha of Yotzeir Or, nor has he yet answered Borchu, he may recite Berich She’mei and the other prayers, together with the tzibur (Shu’t Yabia Omer,Volume 5, Orach Chayim #8).

The reason for this ruling is that, although it is prohibited to interrupt between Yishtabach and Borchu, a very important matter may be performed at this time, and it is better to do it at this point in the davening than during the alternative options. For example, someone who did not have tzitzis or tefillin available before davening, or it was too early, then, for him to put them on, should put them on immediately after Yishtabach and, at that time, recite the appropriate berachos.

The basis for this is found in earlier authorities, who discuss whether mitzvah requirements or community needs are permitted to be discussed between Yishtabach and Borchu. The Tur (Orach Chayim 54) rules: “One may not interrupt between Yishtabach and Yotzeir, unless it is for community needs or (to solicit) for someone who needs to be supported from charity.” The Rema discusses this question at length (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 54:1) and codifies the ruling of the Tur in his comments to Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 54:3), although he concludes that it is best to attempt to avoid any interruption at all. Thus, we see that, when there is a necessity to interrupt, it is better to do so between Yishtabach and Borchu than either earlier or later.

Berich She’mei and Rabbeinu Tam tefillin

Many men have the practice of removing their regular tefillin, which they refer to as Rashi tefillin, toward the end of davening and then putting on a different pair of tefillin, called Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. (A discussion of this topic will need to wait for a different time.) The question is what to do on Rosh Chodesh, since, according to some kabbalistic sources, tefillin should not be worn any time after Musaf, thus limiting strongly the opportune times for putting on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. Some authorities permit putting on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin while reciting Berich She’mei (Yalkut Yosef 34:9), and wearing them through the reading of the Torah.

Being in the right

Returning to the laws of taking out the sefer Torah – the sefer Torah should be removed from the aron hakodesh using the right hand primarily and carry it by resting it against the right shoulder. This is because (1) the right hand and arm are used for most mitzvah actions. In addition, (2) various pesukim, such as, “His right hand embraces me” (Shir Hashirim 2:6) refer to our relationship with Hashem and the Torah in terms of the “right” hand.

Sefer Torah for southpaws

What should a left-handed person do? Should he pick up the sefer Torah primarily with his stronger hand and rest it against his stronger shoulder, or should he do both with his right hand and arm?

It should make a difference which of these two reasons is primary. If a right-handed person is to hold the Torah with his right hand because he uses it more to perform mitzvos, a left-handed person should take and hold the sefer Torah with his left hand, which is the one he uses to perform mitzvos. On the other hand, if the right hand is preferred because pesukim place emphasis on the right, a lefty should use his right hand, as in the pesukim.

We find different approaches among the halachic authorities. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 134:5) is uncertain whether a left-handed person give the left hand preference when taking out the Torah, and seems more inclined that he should. On the other hand, the Sha’ar Efrayim concludes that a left-handed person may emphasize either hand as he takes the Torah out, but he should rest it in his right hand against his right shoulder, notwithstanding that this is his weaker hand and arm, unless he is afraid that he might drop it (Sha’ar 10:2). The Mishnah Berurah (282:1) rules that when a sefer Torah is handed from one left-handed person to another, they should both emphasize use of their right hands.

Shabbos versus Yomim Nora’im

On weekdays, when the chazzan receives the sefer Torah, he invites the community to join him, reciting the posuk, Gadlu laHashem iti uneromemah Shemo yachdav (Tehillim 34:4), “Join me in declaring the greatness of Hashem: thereby, we shall exalt His Name, together.” On Shabbos and Yom Tov, two other pesukim are recited before the posuk Gadlu, both of which are recited first by the chazzan and then by the community in unison: the posuk of Shema Yisrael, and then the praise Echad Elokeinu, gadol Adoneinu, Kadosh Shemo, “Our G-d is one, Our Lord is great, His Name is Holy.” This last passage is not a pasuk in Tanach, but a praise that has its origin in Mesechta Sofrim (Chapter 14). (We should note that the procedure described in Mesechta Sofrim varies somewhat from our practice.)

On Shabbos, these two pesukim are recited only in the morning, but not at Mincha. The Aruch Hashulchan writes that he is uncertain why this is so (Orach Chayim 292:2).

When the chazzan recites the word Gadlu, he should bend over a little bit, reminiscent of bowing (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 282:1), although other authorities disagree with this practice, noting that one is not permitted to add additional bowings to our davening (Biur Hagra, Orach Chayim 56:10).

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the practice is to add the word venora (awesome) to the posuk Echad Elokeinu, so that it reads Echad Elokeinu gadol Adoneinu, Kadosh veNora Shemo. “Our G-d is One, our Lord is Great, His Name is Holy and Awesome!” Notwithstanding that our standard practice is to add the word veNora only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many authorities contend that the word veNora should be added also on Shabbos and other Yomim Tovim (Elyah Rabbah 134:4; Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 134:4). Mesechta Sofrim, the major source introducing this praise, mentions this practice, as does Rav Amram Gaon.

Follow the leader

The Shulchan Aruch mentions a practice, followed in most Sefardic congregations, that the entire tzibur follows the sefer Torah as it is removed from the aron hakodesh and brought to the shulchan from where it will be read. This is an honor for the sefer Torah, in that everyone follows it like an honored guest. The source for this practice is in Mesechta Sofrim (Chapter 14). However, when this is not a standard custom in the shul in which you are davening, there are authorities who feel that it is better to refrain from this practice, because it gives an impression of yohara, halachic conceit (Aruch Hashulchan 282:1).

Stand up for the Torah!

While the sefer Torah is moving, there is a requirement min haTorah to stand up and remain standing in its honor. This is derived by the Gemara (Kiddushin 33b) in the following way: The Torah requires that we stand when a talmid chacham walks by. The source for this law is the words in parshas Kedoshim, takum vehadarta pnei zakein, “You must rise and treat with respect the presence of an elder,” and Chazal explain that the term “elder” means someone worthy of respect because of his learning, even if he is still young. On the basis of a kal vechomer, the Gemara proves that it is a mitzvah min haTorah to show the same level of respect for the Torah itself: if we must stand for someone who studied the Torah, we must certainly stand for the Torah itself.

Conclusion

In the introduction to Sefer Hachinuch, the author writes that the main mitzvah upon which all the other mitzvos rest is that of Talmud Torah. Through Torah learning, a person will know how to fulfill all of the other mitzvos. That is why Chazal instituted a public reading of a portion of the Torah every Shabbos, twice, and on Mondays and Thursdays. Knowing that the proper observance of all the mitzvos is contingent on Torah learning, our attention to keriyas haTorah will be heightened. According the Torah reading the great respect it is due should increase our sensitivity to the observance of all the mitzvos.




Taking out the Sefer Torah

Question #1: Confused genealogist asks: Which?

Which Keil erech apayim should I say?

Question #2: Caring husband/son asks: Who?

My wife is due to give birth shortly, and I am saying kaddish for my father. On the days that the Torah is read, should I lead the davening (“daven before the amud”), open the aron hakodesh, or do both?

Question #3: Concerned davener asks: When?

When do I recite Berich She’mei?

Background

Prior to taking the sefer Torah out of the aron hakodesh, various prayers are recited, all of which have been part of our liturgy for many hundreds of years. This article will discuss the background and many of the halachos of these prayers.

Introduction

Reading the Torah, which is a mitzvah miderabbanan, is actually the earliest takanas chachamim that was ever made. It was instituted by Moshe Rabbeinu in his capacity as a community leader, which placed on him the responsibility of creating takanos when necessary. As a matter of fact, one of Moshe Rabbeinu’s names is Avigdor, which refers to his role as the one who created fences to protect the Jewish people (see Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 1:3). In this instance, after he saw what happened at Refidim (see Shemos 17:1), he realized that three days should not go by without an organized studying of the Torah. Therefore, he instituted that the Torah be read every Monday, Thursday and Shabbos (Bava Kamma 82a; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 12:1).

Over a thousand years later, Ezra expanded this takkanah, including a reading on Shabbos Mincha, to provide those who did not study Torah regularly an extra boost of Torah learning. Ezra also instituted that, when the Torah is read, three people are called up, each aliyah contains at least three pesukim, and the entire reading should add at least one additional pasuk, for a minimum of ten pesukim. (There is one exception to this last rule — on Purim, Ashkenazim read the story of Vayavo Amaleik that is exactly nine pesukim. This is because the topics both before and after this section have nothing to do with the Amaleik incident, and it is therefore better to keep the reading focused rather than add an extra pasuk. Ashkenazim read just the nine pesukim, whereas Sefardim repeat one of the pesukim, in order to extend the reading to ten pesukim.)

Keil erech apayim

On weekdays on which tachanun is recited, prior to removing the sefer Torah we say a short prayer that begins with the words, Keil erech apayim, “Hashem, You who are slow to anger and are full of kindness and truth, do not chastise us in Your anger! Hashem, have mercy on Your people (Israel), and save us (hoshi’einu)from all evil! We have sinned to You, our Master; forgive us, in keeping with Your tremendous compassion, O, Hashem.” The Keil erech apayim prayer should be said standing, because it includes a brief viduy, confession, and halacha requires that viduy be recited standing (Magen Avraham, introduction to Orach Chayim 134).

Am I a German or a Pole?

In virtually every siddur I have seen, two slightly variant texts are cited, the one I quoted above, which is usually labeled the “German custom” or “German version,” and a slightly variant version described as the “Polish version.” Some siddurim provide greater detail, presenting the “first” version as the “custom of western Germany, Bohemia and parts of ‘lesser’ Poland,” and the “second” version, as the “custom of ‘greater’ Poland.” In one siddur, I saw the following, even more detailed explanation, describing the “first” version as the custom of the areas in and near “western Germany, Prague, Lublin and Cracow,” and the second text for the areas around “Posen and Warsaw.”

But, if your family came from somewhere other than Germany, the Czech Republic (where Bohemia and Prague are located) or Poland, which one do you recite? Many people are bothered by this question, myself included, since my father was born in Ukraine, as were all my grandparents and great-grandparents on his side of the family, and my mother’s side of the family is from Lithuania.

Eidot hamizrah

A more intriguing question is, that both versions of this prayer are in Eidot Hamizrah siddurim, and their custom is to recite both, “German” version first. I found this or a similar custom mentioned in several rishonim from very different times and places – in the Machzor Vitri, of 11th century France; the Kol Bo,of 13th century Provence, and the Avudraham, of 14th century Spain. Some rishonim record a custom of reciting both versions, but having the chazzan recite the first and the community respond with the second (Machzor Vitri). According to either of these approaches, the question is why recite both prayers, since they are almost identical.

The answer given by the Machzor Vitri is that the first version uses the word hoshi’einu, whereas the second uses the word hatzileinu. Both of these words translate into English as “Save us.” However, their meaning is not the same; hoshi’einu implies a permanent salvation, whereas hatzileinu is used for a solution to a short-term problem. The Machzor Vitri, therefore, explains that the first prayer is that Hashem end our galus. After requesting this, we then ask that, in the interim, He save us from our temporary tzoros, while we are still in galus.

Ancient prayer

The facts that these prayers are in both Ashkenazic and Eidot Hamizrah siddurim, and that rishonim of very distant places and eras are familiar with two different versions, indicate that these prayers date back earlier, presumably at least to the era of the ge’onim. Clearly, although our siddur refers to a “German” custom and a “Polish” one, both versions were known before a Jewish community existed in Poland – earlier than when the words “Polish” custom could mean anything associated with Jews!

Atah hor’eisa

In some communities, reading of the Torah was introduced by reciting various pesukim of Tanach, the first of which is Atah hor’eisa loda’as  ki Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim, ein od milevado, “You are the ones who have been shown to know that Hashem is The G-d, and there is nothing else besides Him” (Devarim 4:35). The practice among Ashkenazim is to recite the pesukim beginning with Atah hor’eisa as an introduction to kerias haTorah only on Simchas Torah. However, in Eidot Hamizrah practice, Atah hor’eisa is recited every Shabbos, just before the aron is opened, and a shortened version is recited any time that no tachanun is recited. (Essentially, these pesukim are said instead of Keil erech apayim, which is recited only on days that tachanun is said.) According to the Ben Ish Chai, as many pesukim should be recited as people who will be called to the Torah that day: On Shabbos, the pasuk Atah hor’eisa is the first of eight pesukim; on Yom Tov, the first two pesukim, including the pasuk  of Atah hor’eisa, are omitted (Ben Ish Chai year II, parshas Tolados, #15); on weekdays when no tachanun is recited, only three pesukim are recited, beginning with the pasuk, yehi Hashem Elokeinu imanu ka’asher hayah im avoseinu, al ya’az’veinu ve’al yi’tesheinu (Melachim I 8:57). The Ben Ish Chai emphasizes that, apparently because of a kabbalistic reason, it is incorrect to recite more pesukim than the number of people who will be called to the Torah that day. Most, but not all, Eidot Hamizrah communities follow this approach today.

Opening the aron

Having completed the recital of either Keil erech apayim, Atah hor’eisa, neither or both, the aron hakodesh is opened. The poskim rule that the aron hakodesh should not be opened by the chazzan, but by a different person, who also removes the sefer Torah. (In some minhagim this is divided between two honorees, one who opens the aron hakodesh and one who takes out the sefer Torah.) The chazzan himself should not remove the sefer Torah from the aron hakodesh because it is a kavod for the sefer Torah that someone else remove it from the aron and hand it to the chazzan. The honor is that the extra people involved create more pomp and ceremony with which to honor the reading of the Torah (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 282:1, based on Mishnah, Yoma 68b).

The opener

A minhag has developed recently that the husband of a woman who is in the ninth month of pregnancy should open the aron hakodesh to take out the sefer Torah and close it after kerias haTorah. The idea that opening the aron is a segulah for a smooth and easy opening of the womb is recorded in kabbalistic authoritiesof the Eidot Hamizrah (Chida in Moreh Be’Etzba 3:90; Rav Chayim Falagi in Sefer Chayim 1:5(.

To the best of my knowledge, this custom was unheard of among Ashkenazim until the last forty or so years. So, as I see it, this custom has value in that it ameliorates a husband’s feelings since he is now doing something to assist his poor wife when she goes through highly uncomfortable contractions. And, it also makes his wife feel that he did something for her, so there is a sholom bayis benefit.

Caring husband

At this point, let us address the second of our opening questions:

“My wife is due to give birth shortly, and I am saying kaddish for my father. On the days that the Torah is read, should I lead the davening (“daven before the amud”), open the aron hakodesh, or do both?”

Let me explain the question being asked. Well-established practice is that an aveil davens before the amud on days other than Shabbos or Yom Tov, as a merit for his late parent. (There are many variant practices concerning which days are considered a “Yom Tov” for this purpose; discussion of this issue will be left for another time.) Based on the above information, our very caring husband/son is asking: since he should not take both honors of leading the services and of opening the aron hakodesh, which honor should he take? Or perhaps he should do both?

In my opinion, he should lead the services, which is a custom going back hundreds of years, whereas the custom of taking the sefer Torah out of the aron hakodesh is mentioned much more recently, and was not even practiced by Ashkenazim until a few years ago. And, as we mentioned in the name of the Aruch Hashulchan, one person should not both lead the services and take the sefer Torah out of the aron hakodesh.

Berich She’mei

At this point, we can discuss the third of our opening questions: “When do I recite Berich She’mei?

The Aramaic words of Berich She’mei are a prayer that is recorded in the Zohar (parshas Vayakheil). When we trace back the customs on which days this prayer is recited, we find many different practices:

1. Recite it only before Shabbos Mincha reading.

2. Recite it on Shabbos at both morning and Mincha readings.

3. Recite it not only on Shabbos, but also on Yom Tov.

4. Recite it on Shabbos, Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh, but not on weekdays or fast days (other than Yom Kippur).

5. Recite it whenever the Torah is read.

6. A completely opposite custom — never recite it at all.

Allow me to explain the origins of these various practices.

1. Only Shabbos Mincha

Although I saw different sources mention this practice, I did not see any explanation.

I can humbly suggest two possible reasons for this custom. One is that, as we explained above, the kerias hatorah of Shabbos Mincha was not part of the original takkanah of Moshe, but was established subsequently to provide those who did not learn Torah during the week the opportunity to study some extra Torah while they were in shul for davening. Thus, this kerias hatorah represents the entire Jewish people studying Torah together, creating a level of kedusha that justifies recital of the beautiful prayer of Berich She’mei.

Another possible explanation: Shabbos has three levels of sanctity, Friday evening, Shabbos morning and Shabbos afternoon. There are several ramifications of these different levels, including that the central part of the three shemoneh esrei tefilos of ShabbosMaariv, Shacharis and Mincha — are three completely different prayers (as opposed to all other days when the main parts of these three tefilos are identical). These three tefilos represent three historical Shabbosos and their spiritual ramifications. Maariv, or, more accurately, the Friday evening part of Shabbos, represents the Shabbos of creation, Shabbos morning represents the Shabbos of the giving of the Torah, and Shabbos afternoon represents the future Shabbos of the post-redemption world. These three aspects are also manifest in the three meals of Shabbos, and, for this reason, seudah shelishis is traditionally approached as having the pinnacle of spirituality. This would explain that Shabbos Mincha is the time that the prayer, Berich She’mei, addresses.

2. Only Shabbos, but both morning and Mincha

This approach is quoted in the name of the Arizal – presumably, it has to do with a certain level of kedusha that exists only on Shabbos. (See also Magen Avraham, introduction to 282).

3. Only Shabbos and Yom Tov

and

4. Only Shabbos, Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh

These two customs are both based on the concept that Berich She’mei should not be recited on a weekday, but is meant for a day when there is special sanctity. This is based on the words in Berich She’mei, Berich kisrach,“May Your crown be blessed.” In kabbalistic concepts, we praise Hashem in this special way only on Shabbos and Yomim Tovim, and that is why the kedusha in nusach Sefard for Musaf begins with the words keser yitnu, which refers to Hashem’s crown.

I saw this practice quoted in the name of the Arizal and the Chida, and most Eidot Hamizrah siddurim mention Berich She’mei prior to the Shabbos and Yom Tov readings, but not prior to weekday reading.

Many authorities note that those who follow this practice regarding Berich She’mei should also recite it on Rosh Chodesh, since they recite the words keser yitnu also as part of the kedusha of Rosh Chodesh (Ben Ish Chai year II, parshas Tolados, #15).

5. Always

This is the common practice among Ashkenazim and in nusach Sefard (Elyah Rabbah, 141; Be’er Heiteiv, Pri Megadim, Machatzis Hashekel, Mishnah Berurah; all at beginning of 282).

The Seder Hayom, an early Sefardic kabbalist, mentions the laws of reciting Berich She’mei when he discusses the laws of reading the Torah on weekdays. From this, the Elyah Rabbah (134:4) suggests that the Seder Hayom holds that Berich She’mei is recited whenever the sefer Torah is taken out of the aron hakodesh. In other words, he disagrees with the approach followed by the other mekubalim mentioned, the Arizal and the Chida.

6. Not at all

In some communities in Germany, the practice was not to recite Berich She’mei. There appears to be a historical reason why not, based on the words of the prayer Berich She’mei itself, which states, lo al bar elohin samichna, “We do not rely on the ‘sons of G-d.’” Apparently, some of Shabsai Tzvi’s proponents claimed that the term “sons of G-d” alluded to Shabsai Tzvi, and, for this reason, it was decided to omit the entire prayer. (Those who recite Berich She’mei assume that this term bar elohin refers to angels.) Several sources quote this position in the name of the Noda BeYehudah, although I have been unable to find any place where he wrote this. It is certain that the Noda BeYehudah was strongly opposed to the introduction of kabbalistic ideas into our tefilos; for example, he attacks very stridently the custom, which he refers to as “recently introduced and very wrong,” of reciting lesheim yichud prior to fulfilling mitzvos (Shu’t Noda BeYehudah Orach Chayim 2:107; Yoreh Deah #93).

When to say it?

When is the best time to recite Berich She’mei? In a teshuvah on this subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein notes that the words of the Zohar describing this beautiful prayer do not mention specifically whether it should be said before the Torah is removed from the aron hakodesh or afterward. However, the Shaar Efrayim,authored by Rav Efrayim Zalman Margoliyos, one of the great early nineteenth-century poskim, rules that the optimal time to recite Berich She’mei is after the sefer Torah has been removed from the aron hakodesh, and this is the conclusion that Rav Moshe reaches. In other words, it is preferred that the person being honored with taking the sefer Torah out of the aron hakodesh should do so as soon as practical, and then hold the sefer Torah while Berich She’mei is recited. Someone who was unable to recite Berich She’mei then can still say it until the sefer Torah is opened to lein (Seder Hayom, quoted by Elyah Rabbah 134:4).

For the conclusion of this article, see here.




Taking out the Sefer Torah

The Mishkan surrounds the Aron, which contains the Torah…

Question #1: Confused genealogist asks: Which?

Which Keil erech apayim should I say?

Question #2: Caring husband/son asks: Who?

My wife is due to give birth shortly, and I am saying kaddish for my father. On the days that the Torah is read, should I lead the davening (“daven in front of the amud”), open the aron hakodesh, or do both?

Question #3: Concerned davener asks: When?

When do I recite Berich She’mei?

Background

Prior to taking the sefer Torah out of the aron hakodesh, various prayers are recited, all of which have been part of our liturgy for many hundreds of years. This article will discuss the background and many of the halachos of these prayers.

Introduction

Reading the Torah, which is a mitzvah miderabbanan, is actually the earliest takkanas chachamim that was ever made. It was instituted by Moshe Rabbeinu in his capacity as a community leader, which placed on him the responsibility of creating takkanos when necessary. As a matter of fact, one of Moshe Rabbeinu’s names is Avigdor, which refers to his role as the one who created fences to protect the Jewish people )see Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 1:3(. In this instance, after he saw what happened at Refidim (see Shemos 17:1), he realized that three days should not go by without an organized studying of the Torah. Therefore, he instituted that the Torah be read every Monday, Thursday and Shabbos (Bava Kamma 82a; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 12:1).

Over a thousand years later, Ezra expanded this takkanah to include a reading on Shabbos Mincha, in order to provide those who did not study Torah regularly an extra boost of Torah learning. Ezra also instituted that when the Torah is read, three people are called up, each aliyah contains at least three pesukim, and the entire reading should be a minimum of ten pesukim. (There is one exception to this last rule — on Purim, we read the story of Vayavo Amaleik that is exactly nine pesukim. This is because the topics both before and after this section have nothing to do with the Amaleik incident, and it is therefore better to keep the reading focused rather than add an extra posuk.)

Keil erech apayim

On weekdays, prior to removing the sefer Torah on days that tachanun is recited, we say a short prayer that begins with the words, Keil erech apayim, “Hashem, You who are slow to anger and are full of kindness and truth, do not chastise us in Your anger! Hashem, have mercy on Your people (Israel), and save us (hoshi’einu)from all evil! We have sinned to You, our Master; forgive us, in keeping with Your tremendous compassion, O, Hashem.” The prayer Keil erech apayim should be said standing, because it includes a brief viduy, confession, and halacha requires that viduy be recited standing (Magen Avraham, introduction to Orach Chayim 134).

Am I German or a Pole?

In virtually every siddur I have seen, two slightly variant texts are cited, the one I quoted above, which is usually recorded as the “German custom” or “German version” and a slightly variant version described as the “Polish version.” Some siddurim provide greater detail, presenting the “first” version as the “custom of western Germany, Bohemia and parts of ‘lesser’ Poland,” and the “second” version, as the “custom of ‘greater’ Poland.” In one siddur, I saw the an even more detailed, halachic explanation, describing the “first” version as the custom of the areas in and near “western Germany, Prague, Lublin and Cracow,” and the second text for the areas around “Posen and Warsaw.”

But, if your family came from somewhere other than Germany, the Czech Republic (where Bohemia and Prague are located) or Poland, which one do you recite? Many people are bothered by this question, myself included, since my father was born in Ukraine, as were all my grandparents and greatgrandparents on his side of the family, and my mother’s side of the family was from Lithuania.

Eidot hamizrah

A more intriguing question is that both versions of this prayer are in eidot hamizrah siddurim, and their custom is to recite both, “German” version first. I found this or a similar custom mentioned in several rishonim from very different times and places – in the Machzor Vitri, of 11th century France, the Kol Bo of 13th century Provence, and the

Avudraham of 14th century Spain. Some rishonim record a custom of reciting both versions, but having the chazzan recite the first and the community respond with the second (Machzor Vitri). According to either of these approaches, the question is why recite both prayers, since they are almost identical.

The answer given by the Machzor Vitri is that the first version uses the word hoshi’einu whereas the second uses the word hatzileinu. Both of these words translate into English as “Save us.” However, their meaning is not the same; hoshi’einu implies a permanent salvation, whereas hatzileinu is used for a solution to a short-term problem. The Machzor Vitri, therefore, explains that the first prayer is that Hashem end our galus. After asking for this, we then ask that, in the interim, He save us from our temporary tzoros, while we are still in galus.

Ancient prayer

The facts that these prayers are in both Ashkenazic and Eidot hamizrah siddurim, and that rishonim of very distant places and eras are familiar with two different versions, indicate that these prayers date back earlier, presumably at least to the era of the ge’onim. Clearly, although our siddur refers to a “German custom” and a “Polishcustom,” both versions were known before a Jewish community existed in Poland – earlier than when the words “Polish custom” could mean anything associated with Jews!

Atah hor’eisa

In some communities, reading of the Torah is introduced by reciting various pesukim of Tanach, the first of which is Atah hor’eisa loda’as  ki Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim, ein od milevado, “You are the ones who have been shown to know that Hashem is The G-d, and there is nothing else besides Him” (Devorim 4:35). The practice among Ashkenazim is to recite the pesukim beginning with Atah hor’eisa as an introduction to kerias haTorah only on Simchas Torah. However, in eidot hamizrah practice, Atah hor’eisa is recited every Shabbos, just before the aron is opened, and a shortened version is recited any time that tachanun is not said. (Essentially, these pesukim are said instead of Keil erech apayim, which is only recited on days that tachanun is said.)

According to the ruling of the Ben Ish Chai, as many pesukim should be recited as people who will be called to the Torah that day. Therefore, on Shabbos, the posuk, Atah hor’eisa, is the first of eight pesukim; on Yom Tov, the first two pesukim, including the posuk that beings with the words Atah hor’eisa, are omitted (Ben Ish Chai year II, parshas Tolados, #15). On weekdays when no tachanun is recited, only three pesukim are recited, beginning with the posuk, yehi Hashem Elokeinu imanu ka’asher hayah im avoseinu, al yaaz’veinu ve’al yi’tesheinu (Melachim I 8:57). The Ben Ish Chai emphasizes that, apparently because of a kabbalistic reason, it is incorrect to recite more pesukim than the number of people who will be called to the Torah that day. Most, but not all, eidot hamizrah communities follow this approach today.

Opening the aron

Having completed the recital of either Keil erech apayim, Atah hor’eisa, neither or both, the aron hakodesh is opened. The poskim rule that the aron hakodesh should not be opened by the chazzan, but by a different person, who also removes the sefer Torah. (In some minhagim this is divided between two honorees, one who opens the aron hakodesh and one who takes out the sefer Torah.) The chazzan himself should not remove the sefer Torah from the aron hakodesh, as it is a kavod for the sefer Torah that someone else remove it from the aron and hand it to the chazzan. The honor is in that the extra people involved create more pomp and ceremony with which to honor the reading of the Torah (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 282:1, based on Mishnah, Yoma 68b).

The opener

A minhag has developed recently that the husband of a woman who is in the ninth month of pregnancy should open the aron hakodesh and close it, afterward. The idea that opening the aron is a segulah for a smooth and easy opening of the womb is recorded in eidot hamizrah kabbalistic authorities (Chida in Moreh Be’etzba 3:90; Rav Chayim Falagi in Sefer Chayim 1:5(. To the best of my knowledge, this custom was unheard of among Ashkenazim until the last thirty or so years. As I see it, this custom has value in that it might ameliorate a husband’s feelings that he is at least doing something to assist his poor wife when she goes through highly uncomfortable contractions. And, it also makes his wife feel that he did something for her, so there may be a sholom bayis benefit. As to whether there is any segulah attached to this practice, I will leave that for the individual to discuss with his own rav or posek.

Caring husband

At this point, let us address the second of our opening questions:

“My wife is due to give birth shortly, and I am saying kaddish for my father. On the days that the Torah is read, should I lead the davening (“daven in front of the amud”), open the aron hakodesh, or do both?”

Let me explain the question being asked. Well-established practice is that an aveil davens in front of the amud (leads the services) on days other than Shabbos or Yom Tov as a merit for his late parent. (There are many variant practices concerning which days are considered a “Yom Tov” for these purposes; discussion of this issue will be left for another time.) Based on the above information, our very caring husband/son is asking: since he should not take both honors of leading the services and of opening the aron hakodesh, which honor should he take?

In my opinion, he should lead the services, which is a custom going back hundreds of years, whereas the custom of taking the sefer Torah out of the aron hakodesh is mentioned much more recently, and was not even practiced by Ashkenazim until a few years ago. However, I will leave it to the individual to discuss this issue with his rav or posek.

Berich She’mei

At this point, we can discuss the third of our opening questions: “When do I recite Berich She’mei?”

The Aramaic words of Berich She’mei comprise a prayer that is recorded in the Zohar (parshas Vayakheil). When we trace back the customs on which days this prayer is recited, we find many different practices:

1. Recite it only before Shabbos Mincha reading.

2. Recite it on Shabbos at both morning and Mincha readings.

3. Recite it not only on Shabbos, but also on Yom Tov.

4. Recite it on Shabbos, Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh, but not on weekdays or fast days (other than Yom Kippur).

5. Recite it whenever the Torah is read.

6. A completely opposite custom — never recite it at all.

Allow me to explain the origins of these various practices.

1. Only Shabbos Mincha

Although I saw different sources mention this practice, I did not see any explanation.

I can humbly suggest two possible reasons for this custom. One is that since the kerias hatorah of Shabbos Mincha was not part of the original takkanah of Moshe, but was established subsequently to provide those who did not learn Torah during the week the opportunity to study some extra Torah while they were in shul for davening, the kerias hatorah represents the entire Jewish people studying Torah together, creating a level of kedusha that justifies recital of the beautiful prayer of Berich She’mei.

Another option: Shabbos has three levels of sanctity, Friday evening, Shabbos morning and Shabbos afternoon. There are several ramifications of these differences, including that the central part of the three shemoneh esrei tefilos of ShabbosMaariv, Shacharis and Mincha — are three completing different prayers (as opposed to all other days when the main parts of these three tefilos are identical). These three tefilos represent three historical Shabbosos and their spiritual ramifications:

(1) Maariv, or, more accurately, the Friday evening part of Shabbos, represents the Shabbos of creation.

(2) Shabbos morning represents the Shabbos of the giving of the Torah.

(3) Shabbos afternoon represents the future Shabbos of the post-redemption world.

These three aspects manifest themselves also in the three meals of Shabbos, and, for this reason, seudah shelishis is traditionally approached as having the pinnacle of spirituality. This explains why Shabbos Mincha is the time that the prayer, Berich She’mei, specifically addresses.

2. Only Shabbos, but both morning and Mincha

This approach is quoted in the name of the Arizal – presumably, it has to do with a level of kedusha that exists only on Shabbos. (See also Magen Avraham, introduction to 282).

3. Only Shabbos and Yom Tov

4. Only Shabbos, Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh

These two customs are both based on the concept that Berich She’mei should not be recited on a weekday, but is meant for a day when there is special sanctity. This is based on the words in Berich She’mei, Berich kisrach,“May Your crown be blessed.” In kabbalistic concepts, we praise Hashem in this special way only on Shabbos and Yomim Tovim, and that is why the kedusha in nusach Sefard for Musaf begins with the words keser yitnu, which refers to Hashem’s crown.

I saw this practice quoted in the name of the Arizal and the Chida, and most eidot hamizrah siddurim include Berich She’mei prior to the Shabbos and Yom Tov readings, but not prior to weekday reading.

Many authorities note that those who follow this practice regarding Berich She’mei should also recite it on Rosh Chodesh, since the practice is to recite the words keser yitnu also as part of the kedusha of Rosh Chodesh (Ben Ish Chai year II, parshas Tolados, #15).

5. Always

This is the common practice among Ashkenazim and in nusach Sefard (Elyah Rabbah, 141; Be’er Heiteiv, Pri Megadim, Machatzis Hashekel, Mishnah Berurah; all at beginning of 282).

The Seder Hayom, an early Sefardic kabbalist, mentions the laws of reciting Berich She’mei when he discusses the laws of reading the Torah on weekdays. From this, the Elyah Rabbah (134:4) notes that the Seder Hayom appears to hold that Berich She’mei should be recited whenever the sefer Torah is taken out of the aron hakodesh. In other words, he disagrees with the approach followed by the other mekubalim mentioned, the Arizal and the Chida.

6. Not at all

In some communities in Germany, the practice was not to recite Berich She’mei at all. There appears to be a historical reason why not, based on the words of the prayer Berich She’mei itself, which states, lo al bar elohin samichna, “We do not rely on the ‘sons of G-d.’” Apparently, some of Shabsai Tzvi’s proponents claimed that the term “sons of G-d” alluded to Shabsai Tzvi, and, for this reason, it was decided to omit the entire prayer. Several sources quote this position in the name of the Noda BeYehudah, although I have been unable to find any place where he wrote this. It is certain that the Noda BeYehudah was strongly opposed to the introduction of kabbalistic ideas into our tefilos; for example, he attacks very stridently the custom, which he refers to as “recently introduced and very wrong,” of reciting lesheim yichud prior to fulfilling mitzvos (Shu’t Noda BeYehudah Orach Chayim 2:107; Yoreh Deah #93).

Those who do recite Berich She’mei assume that this term bar elohin refers to the angels, and they certainly exist, just as it is certain that it is prohibited to pray to them.

When to say it?

When is the best time to recite the prayer Berich She’mei? In a teshuvah on this subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein notes that the Zohar prayer does not mention specifically whether it should be said before the Torah is removed from the aron hakodesh or afterward. However, the Sha’ar Efrayim,authored by Rav Efrayim Zalman Margoliyos, one of the great early nineteenth century poskim, rules that the optimal time to recite Berich She’mei is after the sefer Torah has been removed from the aron hakodesh, and this is the conclusion that Rav Moshe reaches. In other words, it is preferred that the person being honored with taking the sefer Torah out of the aron hakodesh should do so as soon as practical, and then hold the sefer Torah while Berich She’mei is recited. Someone who was unable to recite Berich She’mei then, can still say it until the sefer Torah is opened to lein (Seder Hayom, quoted by Elyah Rabbah 134:4).

Conclusion

In the introduction to Sefer Hachinuch, the author writes that the main mitzvah upon which all the other mitzvos rest is that of Talmud Torah. Through Torah learning, a person will know how to fulfill all of the other mitzvos. That is why Chazal instituted a public reading of a portion of the Torah every Shabbos, twice, and on Mondays and Thursdays. Knowing that the proper observance of all the mitzvos is contingent on Torah learning, our attention to kerias haTorah will be heightened. According the Torah reading the great respect it is due should increase our sensitivity to the observance of all the mitzvos.




Writing a Sefer Torah

Question #1: Why not?

“Why doesn’t everyone write his own Sefer Torah?”

Question #2: Partners in Torah

“May two people partner
together to fulfill the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah?”

Question #3: Traditional
Chapters

“Why did some gedolei
Yisroel
not use perakim and pesukim numbers to identify pesukim,
whereas others did?”

Introduction:

The last mitzvah mentioned in the Torah, which we are taught
in parshas Vayeileich, is that each individual is required to write a Sefer
Torah
. The words of the Torah from which we derive this mitzvah are, Ve’atah
kisvu lachem es hashirah hazos velamdah es Bnei Yisroel simah befihem lema’an
tihyeh li hashirah hazos le’eid bivnei Yisroel,
“And now, write for
yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel, place it in their
mouths, so that this song shall be a testimony among the Children of Israel” (Devorim
31:19). We should note that two of the targumim, the early Aramaic
translations of the Torah, authored by Onkelus and by Yonasan ben Uziel, both
translate the word shirah not as “song,” but as
“praise.” On the other hand, both Rashi and the Rambam (Hilchos
Sefer Torah
7:1) explain the posuk a bit differently from the Targum,
translating shirah as “song” and understanding it to refer to
the song of parshas Ha’azinu. The Rambam explains the posuk
to mean that one should “write the Torah, which contains the song of Ha’azinu.”

The Baal Haturim on the posuk
notes two gematriyos, one that the words velamdah es Bnei Yisroel
equal zeh Torah shebiksav,“this is the Written Torah,” and the
words simah befihem equal zeh Talmud, “this is the Oral Torah.”

Nothing missing

Fulfilling the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah
requires that one write an entire Sefer Torah — even if one letter is
missing, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah (Rambam). A Sefer Torah
must be written in black ink on parchment. Parchment is made from animal hide,
and the mitzvos of Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos
require that the parchment is produced from the hide of a kosher species. There
is no halachic requirement to make it from an animal that was
slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law, and, as a matter of fact, the hide
is usually not from animals that were slaughtered according to halacha.

Lishmah

The tanning of the hide into parchment must be done lishmah,
for the purpose of using it for a Sefer Torah. At the first step of the
tanning, the Jew who processes the hide into parchment should state that he is
processing it lishmah. Whether or not a non-Jew can perform some of the
tanning under a Jew’s supervision, or whether doing this undermines the
requirement that the processing must be lishmah, is a lengthy discussion
among early halachic authorities (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah #3).

The writing of the Sefer Torah must also be performed
lishmah. Before he begins writing, the sofer should state aloud,
“I am writing this Sefer Torah for the sanctity of Moshe Rabbeinu’s
Torah” (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah #4). There is an additional
requirement that, when writing the names of Hashem, the scribe write
them for the sake of creating holy names.

Dipping the quill

There is an interesting halacha that, when writing
the name of Hashem, the sofer should not dip his quill into the
ink immediately before writing His name. The reason is that the first letter
written after a quill is dipped into ink often smears, and one does not want
this to occur while one is writing Hashem‘s name.

Scoring

Prior to writing the words of the Torah on the specially-made
parchment, one must score the parchment in a way that leaves no written marks.
This process, called sirtut, is accomplished by running an awl or other
sharp instrument across the parchmentto mark the lines on which one
plans to write (Rambam, Rosh, Tur; cf. Rabbeinu Tam, who disagrees).
This law is a halacha leMoshe miSinai, meaning that it is a mesorah,
a tradition, that we were taught by Moshe Rabbeinu, who learned it
directly from Hashem when he learned the Torah on Har Sinai.

Punctuating Torah

We have a mesorah how the words of the Torah are
vowelized and punctuated; the markings indicating this appear in every standard
chumash. However, in a Sefer Torah itself, halacha dictates
that no periods, other punctuation marks, reading aids or music notes appear.

Chapters

Similarly, the division of the Torah into chapters,
perakim
, is originally from non-Jewish sources and is never used in
handwritten Sifrei Torah. Indeed, this is true not only of the Torah,
but also in most of the rest of Tanach. The chapter divisions that are
commonly used for most of Tanach do not originate in Jewish sources. The
two books that are exceptions, where the chapters are according to Jewish
sources, are Tehillim and Eicha. In all other kisvei hakodesh,
the division into pesukim is part of our tradition, but not the division
into chapters. Consequently, the numbering of the pesukim, which is
based on the non-Jewish chapter division, is also not our tradition.

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions:
“Why did some gedolei Yisroel not use perakim and pesukim
numbers to identify pesukim, whereas others did?”

Many of our gedolim, for example, the Chofetz
Chayim
and the Ohr Somayach, refrained from referring to pesukim
according to chapter and posuk. Instead, they would refer to them by the
parsha of the week and its location within the parsha. Clearly,
they did not want to use a system that was non-Jewish in origin. Those who do
use the chapter and posuk system felt, presumably, that since there is no
prohibition to use this system, which makes it much easier for the student to
locate the posuk being quoted or studied, one may use it to facilitate
the student’s learning.

Pesuchos and sesumos

The Torah itself is divided into sections using a different
system, which are called pesuchos and sesumos. These are
indicated by the letter “pei” or “samach” in our standard chumashim.

There is a dispute among rishonim exactly how one is
to make the pesuchos and sesumos. Both approaches agree that when
the pesucha is in the middle or beginning of a line, it is indicated by
leaving the rest of the line blank, and then continuing the next passage on the
next line. When a sesumah is in the middle or beginning of a line, it is
indicated by leaving blank an area at least nine spaces long and then
continuing the next passage on the same line. However, when a pesucha or
sesumah is at the end or towards the end of a line, the poskim
dispute how it must be written. In order to avoid writing a Sefer Torah
that is kosher only according to some authorities, accepted practice is to
avoid having a pesucha or sesumah at the end or towards the end
of a line. We will see shortly how we make sure that this happens.

Write the letters carefully

The sofer must be careful to write the letters
clearly and to follow the halachic rules governing how the letters are
to be written. He must also make sure that each letter is completely surrounded
by parchment. This last requirement, called mukaf gevil, means that each
letter must be written in a way that it does not connect to another letter, nor
may it run to the top or bottom of the piece of parchment on which it is
written.

One of the rules for writing a Sefer Torah is that
the scribe must have another Sefer Torah or a tikun in front of him
that has all the words of the Torah correctly spelled. In practice, sofrim
use a tikun not only to help them spell the words correctly, but to
mimic their exact placement on the line and column. Among other reasons, this
is to avoid having the sesumos and pesuchos occur towards or at
the ends of lines, which creates a halachic problem, as mentioned above.

Size of letters

A Sefer Torah may be written with very small letters
or with very large ones, but the relative size of the letters within the same Sefer
Torah
must be consistent, except for those few letters that have a
tradition to be written larger or smaller.

The scribe who writes a Sefer Torah must be a
yarei
shamayim and knowledgeable in all the laws of writing a Sefer
Torah
. There are many more details of these laws, far more than we can
discuss in this article. Suffice it to say that numerous works are devoted
entirely to the topic of the correct writing of letters in a Sefer Torah.

Someone who does not believe in the G-d-given nature of the
Torah at Har Sinai is ineligible to be a scribe for Sifrei Torah, tefillin
and mezuzos. Such a person may write a kesubah, which is halachically
a contract and not holy writing.

How does it dry?

After writing a section of parchment that needs to dry, it is
prohibited to suspend it upside down to prevent dust from settling on it.
Notwithstanding that this is a simple method for making sure that the parchment
remains clean while drying, it is a disrespectful way to treat the words of Hashem
(Tur, Yoreh Deah Chapter 277).

Stitching

The pieces of parchment are stitched together with a
specially-made thread processed from sinews of kosher animals. (As before, the
animals must be of kosher species, but there is no requirement that they be
kosher-slaughtered.) It should not be stitched all the way to the top or all
the way to the bottom (Tur, Yoreh Deah Chapter 278).

Requirement

Until now, we have been discussing the halachos
germane to writing a Sefer Torah, all of which are essential to fulfill
this mitzvah. At this point, we will discuss some of the other laws germane to
fulfilling the mitzvah.

The Gemara writes that a person who purchased a Sefer
Torah
that was not kosher, even if only because of one letter, and then
repaired the error, it is considered as if he wrote an entire Sefer Torah
(Menachos 30a). This is because one is not permitted to own an incorrect
Sefer Torah.

Why would someone get credit for writing the entire Sefer
Torah
when all he did was write one letter? The answer is that a Sefer
Torah
containing mistakes must be repaired or checked within 30 days.
Otherwise, one should place it in genizah. Thus, the individual who
corrected the one letter took an incomplete Sefer Torah that would have
required genizah and made it into a source that can be used for study
and reading the Torah.

Selling a Sefer Torah

The Gemara teaches that one may not sell a Sefer
Torah,
even if he does not have food to put on his table (Megillah
27a). There are two situations in which one is permitted to sell a sefer Torah:
(1) one needs funds to study Torah, or (2) one needs funds to get married (ad
locum). The Rema (Yoreh Deah 270:1) adds a third case, permitting
the sale of a Sefer Torah in order to have funds with which to fulfill
the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim, redeeming captives.

One may not sell a Sefer Torah, even if he owns
several already, and even if he wants to sell an older one in order to have the
funds with which to purchase a newer one (Tur, Yoreh Deah, Chapter 270).

Purchasing a Sefer Torah

Does one fulfill the mitzvah if one purchases a Sefer
Torah
? Based on his understanding of the Gemara (Menachos 30a),
the Rema rules that one fulfills the mitzvah only if the Sefer Torah
had mistakes and he purchased it and hired a sofer to repair it (or
repaired it himself); but, if the Sefer Torah was in good order, he has
not fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah by purchasing it.

Indeed, there is a dispute among the rishonim
concerning this halacha: Rashi (Menachos 30a) and the Sefer
Hachinuch
explain that one fulfills the mitzvah in a non-optimal way by
purchasing a Sefer Torah, whereas the Rambam, Smag, Shulchan
Aruch
and Rema all rule that one is not yotzei by purchase,
because the Torah states that the mitzvah is to “write.”

The Minchas Chinuch notes that if he hired a sofer
to write a Sefer Torah and then failed to pay him, not only has he
violated the Torah prohibition of failing to pay a hiree, he has also not
fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah.

Gave it away

According to the Toras Chayim (Sanhedrin 21,
quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 270:3 and by Minchas
Chinuch
), someone who sold, lost or donated his Sefer Torah no
longer fulfills the mitzvah and he must write another one. The Sefer
Hachinuch
implies that he agrees with this approach, since he writes that
the mitzvah is that each individual should own a Sefer Torah. However,
there are prominent authorities who dispute this conclusion, ruling that once
he fulfilled the mitzvah by writing a Sefer Torah, selling it or giving
it away does not invalidate his fulfilling of the mitzvah (see Pischei
Teshuvah
).

Partners in Torah

At this point, let us examine another of our opening
questions: “May two people partner together to fulfill the mitzvah of
writing a Sefer Torah?”

The Pischei Teshuvah, an anthologized commentary on
the Shulchan Aruch, quotes a few poskim who discuss this
question. Most are inclined to rule that one has not fulfilled the mitzvah of
writing a Sefer Torah this way.

The Sefer Hachinuch defines the mitzvah as being that
each person must own a Sefer Torah, which sounds as if he also holds
that one does not fulfill the mitzvah by partnering with someone else to hire a
sofer to write it.

The Sefer Hachinuch also writes that the optimal hiddur
is to write the Torah himself, with his own hand. If someone is unable to
write it himself, he should hire someone to write it for him.

Purchasing seforim

Does one fulfill the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah
by purchasing seforim used to study Torah? The Rosh writes: Today,
when people write a Sefer Torah and it is then left in shul to be
used for the mitzvah of kerias haTorah, it is a positive mitzvah on
every Jewish male who can afford it to write Chumashim, Mishnayos,
Gemaras and their commentaries, in order that he and his children be
able to study them. This is because the mitzvah of the Torah specifies “in
order to learn from them,” and with the Gemara and commentaries one
understands the mitzvos and their details well (Hilchos Sefer Torah #1).

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 270) explains that
the Rosh was not coming to rule that there is no longer a mitzvah to
write a Sefer Torah, but that there is also a mitzvah to write
other seforim, and that this acquisition is a bigger mitzvah than
writing a Sefer Torah. In the Shulchan Aruch, he reflected this
opinion. However, there are prominent acharonim who disagree with the Shulchan
Aruch
and understand that the Rosh’s conclusion is that there is no
mitzvah today to write a Sefer Torah (Perisha; Shach). This
understanding of the Rosh explains that the mitzvah of the Torah is to
produce materials used to study Torah. Since a Sefer Torah is not used
today for this purpose, writing one does not fulfill the 613th mitzvah of the
Torah.

According to this approach, there
is an easy answer to our opening question: “Why doesn’t everyone write his
own Sefer Torah?”

There are other reasons to explain
why people do not write their own Sefer Torah. Another approach is that
one is not required to spend more than a fifth of what he owns to fulfill a
mitzvah (Minchas Chinuch). Thus, many poor and middle-class people are
exempt from the mitzvah. (See the Sha’agas Aryeh, Shu”t Chasam Sofer,
Yoreh Deah
#52 and #54 and the Minchas Chinuch for yet other reasons
to exempt people today from the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah.)

Conclusion

The goal of the Torah’s mitzvah to
write a Sefer Torah is so that, wherever Jews live, there should be
readily available seforim to study Torah. However, if this was the
Torah’s only concern, it would have required each individual to purchase seforim
according to his ability. Instead, the Torah required each individual to write
a Sefer Torah, thus implying two additional ideas. (1) The Torah wanted
each individual to be involved in the providing of Torah learning material,
regardless of his personal financial situation. (2) The Torah wanted each
individual to be involved, himself, in the writing of Torah materials and their
procurement, and not to deputize this mitzvah to others, even when they are
more skillful.

The Torah is referred to as a Tree
of Life.  B’nei Yisroel are depicted as an agricultural
people.  As the Torah is, indeed, a source — the Source — of life, it is
certainly appropriate that we care for its proper “planting” and
flourishing, as outlined in halacha.




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.