Taking a Torah Scroll Out to Field Training Exercises

  • Harav Yehuda Amital



Taking a Torah scroll out to Field Training exercises

Harav Yehuda Amital, zt"l



            This discussion regarding taking a Torah scroll out to field training exercises will be divided into two.  We shall first examine whether there is any fundamental prohibition to take a Torah scroll out to the field.  And then we shall consider the particular circumstances of the case, i.e., for whom is the Torah scroll being taken out, for how long, and the like.


            The prohibition of moving a Torah scroll from one place to another is brought in the Shulchan Arukh:


Regarding people incarcerated in a prison – a Torah scroll must not be brought to them even for Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur.  (Orach Chayyim 135:14)


            The Rema there adds:


This is only [when it is brought] exclusively for the time of reading.  But if a Torah scroll was prepared for him a day or two in advance, this is permitted (Or Zaru'a, Hagahot Oshri, first chapter of Berakhot).  And if he is an important person, it is permitted in all circumstances.


            The source of this prohibition is the Mordekhai at the end of the first chapter of Rosh Hashana, where this law is learned from the Yerushalmi based on a mishna which states:


The sexton of the synagogue takes a Torah scroll and gives it to the head of the synagogue, and the head of the synagogue gives it to the adjutant, and the adjutant gives it to the High Priest.


The Yerushalmi comments upon this mishna as follows:


In all places you say we go to the Torah, and here you say we bring the Torah to them! Rather since they are great people, the Torah is elevated through them.  But surely we bring a Torah scroll to the Exilarch [even though he is not always distinguished in Torah and mitzvot]! Rabbi Yose the son of Rabbi Bon said: There, because he is a descendant of David, we treat them in accordance with the custom of his ancestors.  (Yoma 7:1)


            The Peri Chadash comments on this:


I see no proof from here whatsoever, except for where it is possible for them to go to the Torah.  But where this is not possible, and they are incarcerated in prison, it is possible that it is acceptable for the Torah scroll to go to them, so that they can fulfill the obligation of reading from a Torah scroll.  As for the practical law, the matter requires further study.


            The Bei’ur Halakha (s.v.  ein mevi'in) raises a similar objection, and he proves that the Or Zaru'a, who permits bringing a Torah scroll to a sick person, since he is prevented from going to the Torah by circumstances beyond his control, disagrees with the Mordekhai, and that he permits this for prisoners as well, for there should be no difference between prisoners and sick people.  He concludes that even the Mordekhai does not prohibit the matter when there are ten Jews in the prison, for then they are subject to the requirement of public Torah reading and have no other means to fulfill this obligation.  This is also his practical conclusion.


            I found a similar argument in a more expanded form in the Meginei Afikim on Orach Chayyim, of R. S. Feinberg of Mikhilishik.  There he tries to prove this a notion that appears several times in the Gemara, that Torah scrolls would be brought from one place to another, as explained by Rashi:


… For it was their way to bring a Torah scroll from the building in which it was kept to the synagogue.  (Sota 39b)


            He explains that according to the Mordekhai, since the building in which the Torah scroll was kept was too small to accommodate the entire congregation, they are treated as people who are prevented from going to the Torah by circumstances beyond their control, and therefore it was permitted to bring the Torah scroll to them.  In the continuation, he rejects these proofs, arguing that transferring the Torah scroll from a house to a synagogue might be different, but in any case he comes to the same practical conclusion as does the Bei’ur Halakha.


            R. Tzvi Pesach Frank (Teshuvot Har Tzvi, Orach Chayyim 71) brings in the name of Sefer Minchat Pittim, that the Yerushalmi seems to imply otherwise, for it says: "In all places you say we go to the Torah," even if there are many tens of people upon whom the obligation of public Torah reading falls.  He reconciles the difficulty based on the view of the Gevurot Ari in Yoma (68b), that the Torah reading of the High Priest on Yom Kippur is not an obligation upon each individual, but upon the High Priest alone. 


            Now, in our case where the Torah scroll is moved about with its portable ark, and it has no fixed place, but rather it moves about with the unit – there is room to add to the aforementioned argument of the Bei’ur Halakha, several additional reasons in support of an allowance, most of which were already mentioned by the Acharonim.


1.  The purpose for which this Torah scroll was written


            The aforementioned Har Tzvi argues that the prohibition to move a Torah scroll about is limited to a Torah scroll that was dedicated from the outset to be used in a synagogue.  But a Torah scroll that was written for a particular person for his personal study, wherever he is, may be moved about with him.  See the Har Tzvi, who proves this from the Gemara in Yoma (70a): "And afterwards each would bring a scroll of the Torah from his house and read from it, in order to show the multitude its beauty." This passage is found also in Sota (41a), where Rashi writes that they would bring it on Yom Kippur itself (and not as Rashi writes in Yoma, that they would bring it on Yom Kippur eve; see Sho'el u-Meishiv, fourth ed. 3:2).  In light of this we can say that in our case as well, where the Torah scroll was set aside to accompany the unit wherever it goes, the scroll may be moved about with the unit.


2.  For whom is the Torah scroll brought


            According to what the Rema writes that in the case of an important person, it is permitted in all circumstances, it might be argued that a group of ten people, who are regarded as a congregation for all matters of sanctity, and among whom the Shekhina rests, is no worse than an important person.  See Responsa ha-Rashba (I, 115), who says that the honor of a congregation should not be treated any more lightly than the honor of a Torah scholar.  In tractate Horayot (13a) it says: "The goat [brought as a sin-offering] for idolatry precedes the goat [brought as a sin-offering] by the king.  What is the reason? The one is for a congregation while the other is for an individual." This rationale is mentioned in Responsa Beit Shelomo Kama (Orach Chayyim 34), and in more expanded form in Teshuvot Zekher Yehosef of R. Y. Z. Stern (Orach Chayyim 35).  No objection may be raised from prisoners in jail, to whom we do not bring a Torah scroll, for there they are individuals, as is explained there, and it is only for the purpose of the Torah reading that people join them in order to form a minyan, and it appears as if the Torah is being moved about just for individuals.


3.  What would be done with the Torah scroll were it not brought out to the field


            The Kaf ha-Chayyim (no. 82) brings in the name of Teshuvot Penei Aharon, that in a place where the community has only a single Torah scroll, and two Torah scrolls are needed for the day's reading, and someone in the community has a Torah scroll which is not being used – there is no concern whatsoever, and it may be moved about.  Only if the scroll is in a different synagogue and used there in the service, do we say that it is not to the scroll's honor to be brought elsewhere.  But here where the scroll is brought from a place where it is not used for reading, we may move it about, as this can only bring it greater joy.  See the aforementioned Teshuvot Zekher Yehosef, who expanded upon this distinction, and according to him, the same applies to a Torah scroll that is kept in a synagogue, but nobody reads from it.  In our case, then, when a minyan of ten people who could make use of the scroll is not found on the base, there is room to permit it to be moved about.


4.  The time and manner in which the Torah scroll is brought out


            As stated above, the Rema writes:


This is only [when it is brought] exclusively for the time of reading.  But if a Torah scroll was prepared for him a day or two in advance, this is permitted.


The Magen Avraham (ad loc.) brings the Maharam Padua, and writes:


The main thing is whether they provide the Torah scroll with a permanent place, [in which case] it is permitted.


            The Peri Megadim (ad loc.) also notes that the allowance depends not whether it is a day or two, but whether a fixed place was prepared for it.  The Maharam Padua writes as follows:


It seems to me that the Mordekhai is dealing with a situation where when the Torah scroll is brought out to read from it, they do not have an ark from which the scroll is taken out and to which it is returned.  They merely bring it from somewhere else for the duration of the reading, and after the reading the Torah scroll returns to its place… Regarding our custom, however, to designate a cabinet as an ark for a day or two, and put a Torah scroll into it, and take it out when it is time for reading, and put it on the lectern, and those called to the Torah move from their places to read from it at the lectern, and afterwards the Torah scroll is returned to the ark – it never entered anyone's mind to forbid it, for it involves no denigration of the Torah scroll, since it has its own ark and lectern to take it out from and put it back into.  There is no difference between a temporary synagogue and a permanent one.


            According to this, if a Torah scroll is brought, together with is ark, it stands to reason that it is not necessary that it be brought for a day or two, for we are not dealing with a fixed place for the ark, but with a fixed place for the scroll in the ark.  The Taz (no. 12), however, implies otherwise, for he writes that the reason that it is permitted if a place was prepared for it is that in such a case it does not appear as if the scroll was brought for the purpose of reading, but because this is its place.  According to this, we would certainly need a fixed place for the ark, and not only a fixed place for the scroll in the ark.  However, this does not follow from the plain meaning of the words of the Maharam Padua.


            In any event, we rely primarily on the above-mentioned Bei’ur Halakha, that when all ten people are unable to go to the Torah scroll for reasons beyond their control, there is no prohibition to bring the Torah scroll to them, and all the other reasons provide further basis and strengthen this permit.


            It therefore seems to me that one is permitted to bring a Torah scroll that is set aside for this purpose, in a portable ark set side for it, even for a one-time reading.  It is, however, proper to be stringent, and arrange for the ark to be brought to the site of prayer before the prayer begins, or at the very least, before the time of reading.


(Translated by David Strauss)