Siman 143 A Mistake in the Sefer Torah

  • Rav Asher Meir





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SHIUR #80: Siman 143


by Rav Asher Meir








Very often a person may miss the Torah reading at shacharit.  Perhaps there was no minyan where he prayed, or no sefer Torah, or no reader, or simply not enough time.  Under what circumstances can the reading be heard later?




The BH at the beginning of our siman discusses the case of a minyan where most of the ten have not yet heard the Torah reading and the question of whether a second reading can be performed for those individuals.  The Har Tzvi (I:52) was asked this question, and the questioner was inclined to think that even if an ENTIRE minyan of ten had not heard the Torah reading, the reading can not be made up later, since the Torah reading is like a continuation of the tefilla.  He likened this to chazarat ha-shatz which can not be said if the individual in the minyan prayed separately.


The other reason the questioner is inclined to be stringent is due to the custom (mentioned in MB 69:18) not to take the sefer Torah out of the ark for a second minyan (if it is not fixed, regular minyan).


The Chayei Adam discusses the issue in 31:11.  He asks if the Torah may be read "for a few individuals."  He suggests that in such a case perhaps no blessings should be made, since these berakhot were instituted "for the congregation, but not for the individual."  His doubt is unclear; from the word "congregation" it seems he requires that ALL ten not have heard (but at any rate he is lenient in this case - unlike the question to Har Tzvi), but from the word "the individual" it sounds like the problem is only for the individual, implying that if a minyan is present then it is permissible.


The Har Tzvi himself reaches the same conclusion as the Bi'ur Halakha.  The Tefilla KeHilkheta cites as an additional opinion in the name of the Maharsham (I:175), that we may read even for three people on a weekday - because it is necessary only to have the number of people who are called up to the Torah.  Looking at the Maharsham inside, it seems to me that he only connects the number necessary to repeat the reading with the number of those called up on Shabbat, since on Shabbat the number of olim (seven) is a majority of the minyan.  I don't find any evidence from this responsum that the Maharsham permits taking out a sefer Torah for three people on a weekday.  So perhaps the Maharsham too rules like the Bi'ur Halakha.


Several authorities discuss the possibility of making up the reading at mincha.  At the beginning of siman 135, the MB wrote that the regulation to read on Monday and Thursday fundamentally applies all day.  Sha'ar HaTziyun 5 indicates that it could be read up until Ashrei of mincha.


However, many authorities have ruled that this may be done only in an unusual situation, where by some quirk there was no reading in the morning.  In the case of people who miss the Torah reading on a regular basis (because they have to be at work very early in the morning), allowing a mincha reading would be like instituting a new custom.  Therefore, Rav Ovadia (Yabia Omer IV: 17) suggests that in this case it is better not to read from the Torah at mincha.


Soldiers miss the Torah reading frequently, but not regularly (since nothing is regular in the army) and when there is time to read at mincha many do, in accordance with the ruling of the Mishna Berura.


(I recall a case many years ago that there was a minyan of Jewish soldiers at West Point, but fixed days for training made it impossible to read on Monday or Thursday.  The question was asked if the reading could be moved to another day.  Here the problem was double: the reading was not only at a different time, but on a different day.  There is a dispute in the poskim if the early sources imply that the reading should be in the morning or if this is only because of "zerizim makdimim" (see Rav Ovadia's responsum) but it is certainly explicit that the custom is to read on Mondays and Thursdays.  Furthermore, the change was to be on a regular basis.  The ruling was that moving the day of the reading was impermissible.)




We have a general principle "safek berakhot le-kula" - one does not make a berakha if there is a doubt as to its necessity.  Rav Ovadia has a long responsum (Yabia Omer I Orach Chaim 18) in which he concludes that even if there are many doubts (sfeik-sefekah) we should not make a berakha.


This seems difficult to reconcile with the ruling of the Rema (se'if 3) that we make a blessing after reading from an invalid sefer Torah, relying presumably on the minority view that it is proper to read from such a sefer.  Likewise, regarding the four species at Sukkot, we often rule that when we don't have arba minim which are fit according to the most accepted opinion, we may rely on minority opinions to take dry or defective branches and even make a berakha - see siman 649:6 in the Rema and s.k. 67 in the MB.


We must distinguish between the halakhic assessment of the situation and the assessment of the need of that situation for a berakha.  When we need to assess the kashrut of the sefer Torah, or the lulav, we will in a difficult situation rely on minority opinions.  But once we have relied on these opinions and validated the object, then there is no doubt whatever that a berakha is required.


A similar situation is mentioned by some Acharonim regarding monetary judgments.  Even though we have a principle "we do not judge according to the majority of cases" (ein holkhim be-mammon achar ha-rov - see Bava Batra 92b), there are authorities who explain that once we have established the status of an object or person according to the usual majority criterion, then we can use this status as the basis for a money judgment.  For instance, the Rashba on Yevamot 37b explains that in the case of an unproven heir, a majority may be used to determine his status as the son of the deceased; once this status is established, he may inherit even though the deceased's (undoubted) brother is considered "muchzak" - the presumptive heir.  (See Arukh LaNer on Yevamot 22, cited in his own responsa Binyan Tzion siman 104.)


In the next section we will propose an alternative explanation for the Rema's ruling.




The MB s.k. 13 mentions three different approaches, but if we study his words carefully we see that actually there are many more.  What are the requirements for a sefer Torah to be valid?




There is no question that the underlying obligation of reading the Torah can be fulfilled by reading from a scroll that only contains one of the Five Books of the Torah, a single chumash.  The gemara itself rules that a single chumash is disqualified only because of "kevod ha-tzibbur" - the honor of the congregation.  (Gittin 60a.)


May the congregation "forgo on" its honor and read from such a chumash if there is no sefer Torah?  There are two opinions:


i.  The Mordekhai (Hilkhot Ketanot 968, printed with Menachot - unfortunately this is not printed with my shas)  writes that the congregation may forgo on its honor.


ii.  The Ra'avia (cited in Mordekhai Gittin 406) points out that according to the Yerushalmi (Megilla 3:1 at the end) the reason we forbid reading from a single scroll is in order to encourage the congregation to obtain a full Torah scroll, and of course if we permit reading in a chumash if there is no sefer Torah then the prohibition will not have its desired effect.


iii.  The Rema, based on the Ran, makes a compromise: if all five books are present, even if some of them are defective, then the reproach is less significant and if necessary we may read from a kosher chumash in a sefer where another chumash is defective.




The Rambam in a responsum (294) writes that we may read from a defective sefer Torah.  He explains that the berakha is on the portion being read and not on the book at all, and if necessary the berakha can be made even on a written chumash or even on a reading from memory!  The main proof is the gemara mentioned which says that a single chumash is invalid only because of the "honor of the congregation," and the Rambam points out that there is no question that a single chumash is completely invalid as a sefer Torah.


The Migdal Oz (Sefer Torah 9:14) cites Rabbeinu Meshulam as also permitting reading from a written chumash when there is no sefer Torah, but mentions that Rabbeinu Tam forbids this.  The same lenient opinion is brought by Rav Abudraham (cited by Beit Yosef) in the name of "gedolei [the Torah greats of] Narvona" in Spain.


But the Tur (YD 269) writes that even after the fact reading from a defective scroll is void.  This is the view of the Rosh and of the Rambam in Mishneh Torah (Sefer Torah 10:1).  The stringent Rishonim claim that the Rambam reversed the view of his earlier responsum in the Mishneh Torah.


However, the Beit Yosef writes in the name of Rav Yitzchak BeiRav and some Rishonim (including Rashbash - the son of the Tashbetz) that after the fact we validate such a reading.  They claim that the Rambam did not reverse his ruling.  Rather, what he wrote in the Mishneh Torah is relevant for a sefer Torah of an individual; since he did not fulfill the mitzva of writing a sefer Torah, we should not read from his defective scroll.  But this does not relate directly to the mitzva of public Torah reading - at least bedi'avad.


The Mordekhai (Megilla 792) reaches the same conclusion for a slightly different reason.  He refers to the mishna in Sota (40b) which teaches that part of the Torah reading of the kohen gadol in the Temple on Yom Kippur was read from memory, showing that such a reading is valid when this was the original intention.  The gemara asks why we don't bring a second scroll to read this part, and gives two answers.  The first answer is that people will think the first scroll is defective, when in fact the only reason we would bring a second one is to avoid the time and trouble of rolling up the first.  This reason is not relevant to our case, since we are discussing a scroll which actually is defective.  The second reason is that we would have to make a new blessing on the new scroll, and we don't want to add unnecessary blessings.  The Mordekhai concludes that this reasoning is relevant in Beit Knesset as well.


The Mordekhai does not write explicitly why we can't read even in the first instance from a defective scroll, but the Beur Halakha infers that the reason is that we are not allowed to unnecessarily read any verse from the Written Torah from memory.  (In my edition of Mordekhai this opinion is cited in the name of the Ra'avia, but the MB writes in the name of the Mordekhai himself.)


Though both the Mordekhai and the Ri BeiRav validate the reading bedi'avad, they disagree on how to proceed once the mistake is discovered.  This is explained fully in the MB.


To summarize, there are three opinions:


i.  Rambam Mishneh Torah (Sefer Torah 10:1): A defective scroll makes the reading void even bedi'avad;


ii.  Mordekhai based on Ra'avia, Ri BeiRav and Rashbash based on responsum of Rambam: A reading made from a defective scroll should be considered valid bedi'avad, and the reading may continue from where the problematic reading left off, without a new blessing;


iii.  Rambam in a responsum (294), Rabbeinu Meshulam: We may read if necessary even from a regular chumash or even from memory.





The above rulings relate to the status of a defective sefer Torah.  But it doesn't tell us what kind of errors render the book defective.


The Rema rules that if the sefer is defective only because of the presence or absence of redundant vowels, we do not take out another sefer.  The Rema does NOT write that such a sefer is kosher - he merely points out that the other sefer may not be any better.


However, the Minchat Chinukh (mitzva 613) DOES assert that such errors do not disqualify the sefer Torah.


It is important to remember that prior to the days of printing, when standardization came to the publishing of copy models for scribes ("Tikkun Sofrim") there were many parallel traditions regarding how to write a sefer Torah - unlike today when there are only three (Ashkenazi, Sefaradi, Temani).  Even today, computer proofreading reveals that most scrolls that were considered kosher actually deviate from the Tikkun Sofrim in some significant way.


However, the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah rules that any error makes the sefer Torah invalid.




There seems to be no question that the fundamental obligation of public Torah reading can be fulfilled even with a defective sefer Torah, since the gemara indicates that a chumash could theoretically be used for this purpose and the mishna indicates that even a reading from memory qualifies.


It seems that the Rishonim who disqualify such a reading (the MB says that they are the majority, and so it seems from the Beit Yosef) understand that "kevod hatzibbur" - "the dignity of the congregation" - now comprises a fundamental element of the obligation of Torah reading.


The Drisha on our siman suggests an interesting compromise between these extremes.  The basis for his explanation is a seeming contradiction in the opinion of the Rosh.  The Rosh is the source for the Tur who writes, as we mentioned, that the reading is void even bedi'avad if the Torah scroll is not perfect.  Yet the Agur writes that the Rosh rules that we MAY read from a defective scroll!


One possibility suggested by many commentaries is that there is an error in our text of the Agur.  The Drisha suggests an additional solution: that the "stringent" Rosh was asserting the basic halakha.  However, explains the Drisha, nowadays we have virtually no Torah scrolls which are properly proofread.  (Computer proofreading confirms this, as we mentioned.) It follows that if we were to follow the rule of "kevod ha-tzibbur" all the way, we would not fulfill the UNDERLYING obligation of public Torah reading three times a week.  So practically, the Rosh ruled leniently, and this is what was recorded in the Agur.


This seems to be closely related to the ruling of the Rema.  The Rema, as we pointed out, does NOT write that chaser and yater do not invalidate the sefer Torah.  If so, how can we read at all? The answer seems to be that if we were to hold to the regulation requiring a perfect scroll we would not read at all.  Of course there is nothing wrong with not fulfilling an obligation which we can not carry out, but in this case omitting the reading would be improper since the UNDERLYING obligation CAN be met with a defective sefer.  So due to the regulation we never read from a scroll when we know that there are others which are better, but regarding "optional" vowels (from the grammatical point of  view) we do not take out a new scroll.