Issues in Practical Halacha
Issue Number 28 --- Purim, 5757
Compiled and Published by
Kollel Menachem - Lubavitch (Melbourne, Australia)
in the zechus of the Lubavitcher Rebbe




In the following some of the halochos pertaining to s'forim (holy books) - and especially the honour required for them - are treated:

1) The obligation to purchase s'forim 2) The obligation to honour them 3) Printed s'forim 4) S'forim printed by a non-Jew 5) Some individual halochos relating to the honour of s'forim

The Obligation to Purchase S'forim

The Rambam [1] writes that it is a mitzvah of the Torah for every person to write for himself a Sefer Torah. Why, today, do we not see widespread effort in fulfilling this mitzvah?

The Rosh [2] writes that the mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah applied only in previous generations, when one would learn from a Sefer Torah. Today, however, when we write a Sefer Torah and leave it in the beis k'nesses only for public readings, the mitzvah is to write Chumashim, Mishnayos, Gemorros and their commentaries. For since the obligation to write a Sefer Torah is in order to learn from it, and today we learn out of the abovementioned s'forim, the obligation applies to writing these.

The poskim argue as to the intentions of the Rosh. The Beis Yosef [3] and the Taz [4] write that the intention of the Rosh cannot be to exempt one from writing a Sefer Torah, in that one does not learn from it; for if so, one should be obligated to write a Sefer Torah and to learn from it. Rather the Rosh is saying that by writing Chumashim etc. one is also fulfilling this mitzvah, and to a greater degree than by writing a Sefer Torah to be left in the beis knesses. However, the principal obligation is still to write a Sefer Torah and to learn from it [4a].

The Prisha [5] and the Shach [6], however, explain the Rosh to mean that the mitzvah applies today only to chumashim etc. and not to a Sefer Torah. In previous generations, when it was prohibited to write the oral law, there was an individual need for a Sefer Torah complete with all its details ("missing" and "extra" letters, crowns on the letters etc) - from which the oral law is learnt - to remind them of their oral learning.

Moreover, unlike today, they were permitted then to write Chumoshim only in the form of a Sefer Torah. Nowadays, however, when we are permitted to write the oral law (and to write Chumoshim differently), there is no need to write a Sefer Torah, especially as we are not capable of learning the oral law from its details.

According to all explanations of the Rosh, even if the mitzvah does apply to Chumoshim, Mishnayos etc., it should still be to write (or at least correct [7]) them, in accordance with the verse "Write for yourself..." How, then, do we fulfil this mitzvah through purchasing them?

The Gemorro [8] states that one who buys a Sefer Torah is as though "grabbing" a mitzvah, whereas one who writes a Sefer Torah, is as though he received the Torah at Mt. Sinai.

Rashi [9] and the Nimukei Yosef [10] explain the Gemorro to mean that buying a Sefer Torah is not as great a mitzvah as writing one. But, nevertheless one has still fulfilled the mitzvah.

The Remo [11] explains it, that through buying a Sefer Torah, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah at all. Thus those who buy s'forim (but do not write them) may be relying on achronim [12], who rule according to the opinions of Rashi and the Nimukei Yosef.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe [13] maintains that the ruling of the Remo was made only regarding the purchase of a Sefer Torah. However, if one bought other Seforim (even in languages other than Hebrew [14]) the Remo would also agree that this is sufficient.

The Obligation to Honour Them

It is stated in Pirkei Avos [15] that one who honours Torah is himself honoured.

The Medrash Shmuel [16] understands this to refer to one who honours Torah s'forim. It is recorded [17] that many great sages would ask forgiveness from s'forim - in case they had been treated with disrespect - before Yom Kippur, or seek permission from them to leave, before journeying (just as one would from his Rebbe).

Printed S'forim

There is much discussion as to whether the honour due to s'forim applies also to those which have been printed as distinct from written by hand.

The conclusion of most poskim [18] is that it does; and, moreover, this applies even to s'forim written in other languages, which possess holiness by virtue of their content - Torah - and purpose - to learn Torah [19].

S'forim Printed By a Non-Jew

The Shulchon Oruch [20] rules that a Sefer Torah written by a min (an idolator) is to be burnt since in writing it he has idolatrous intention [21].

One written by a non-Jew , who is not known to be idolatrous, is to be put away, but not burnt, since there is the possibility that it was not written with idolatrous intention.

If, however, he wrote a Sefer Torah for a Jew, there is a disagreement. Rashi [22] rules that it may be used. Tosefos [22] - and so most poskim [23] - rule that it is invalid and should be put away.

Regarding other s'forim, some achronim [24] rule that those printed by non-Jews for themselves, such as a Bible in Hebrew, do not possess holiness and should be put away. Those printed on behalf of Jews could be considered holy [25].

Others rule that when permission was given to write the oral Torah, this included use of s'forim written by a non-Jew and even by a min and their usability endows them with a sanctity. Furthermore, most books of the oral Torah are printed only for Jews, as non-Jews do not believe in the oral Torah (and so would not impart into them any idolatrous intention). Hence, such s'forim may be used [26].

The Noda B'Yehudah [27] writes that Tosefos only forbade s'forim written by a non-Jew for himself with the intention of selling it subsequently to a Jew. If, however, he was hired by a Jew to write them, they are permitted, since in that case he will not have any idolatrous intent, especially if the non-Jew does not understand the language in which the sefer is written.

The Oruch HaShulchon [28] writes that today there is no concern that s'forim printed by non-Jews contain idolatrous intent as there is no idol worship today.

The Siach HaKohen [29] mentions that the first set of Gemorros and the first Rambam were printed by non-Jews, and no objection was made. However, s'forim printed by missionary groups, according to all opinions, may not be kept in one's house but should be put away or burned [30].

Some Indivudual Halochos Concerning the Honour of S'forim

If two people wish to enter a doorway, precedence must be given to one holding a sefer [31].

The Shulchon Oruch [32] writes that one may not sit on a bed upon which there is a Sefer Torah (or any other sefer [33]). If, however, the sefer is resting upon another object which is at least one tefach (eight centimetres) high it is permitted [34].

The Beis Yosef [35] adds that it is preferable that the sefer be elevated three tefochim above the bed, although, according to the basic halocho, one tefach would suffice [36].

The Taz [37] writes that one may not sit on a chest or box containing s'forim unless it is fixed to the wall or floor.

The Pischei Teshuvo [38] cites an opinion permitting one to sit on such a box, not fixed to the building, where he has no other choice. This is provided the box is not designated to house s'forim, and all the more so where there are other items in the box. (This last leniency does not apply where there is a Sefer Torah in the box.)

One may not write mundane matters on the pages (including the margins) of a sefer, or on a sheet of paper which contains Torah material, nor may one test his pen on a sefer [39]. However, words of Torah may be written in a sefer [40].

There is a cherem of Rabbeinu Gershom, prohibiting cutting off the margin from a page of a sefer [41].

The Shulchon Oruch [42] states that one may place one Sefer Torah upon another, and Chumoshim upon N'vi'im or K'suvim. One may not, however, place N'vi'im or K'suvim upon a Chumosh, nor a Chumosh upon a Sefer Torah. Nevi'im and Kesuvim may be placed one on top of the other. If the Chumosh and Nevi'im or Kesuvim were bound together, this prohibition would not apply [43].

The Remo [44] writes that in current times, when Chumoshim are printed in book form (as opposed to Talmudic times, when they were written on parchment, like a Sefer Torah), there is no difference between a Chumosh and Nevi'im. The custom, however, is to retain the same stringency.

The Sefer Chassidim [45] writes that while a Gemorro may not be placed upon scripture (T'NaCH), it is permissible if it were put there to protect the T'NaCH from becoming dusty.

The Taz [46] writes that one may not put one sefer under another, in order to raise it, this being disrespectful to the sefer, since the same could be achieved with a piece of wood or the like. If, however, the sefer was already lying on the table, another sefer may placed on it. So, too, if one is learning from several s'forim, he may place one upon the other to raise it.

The Pischei T'shuvo [47] adds that it is also prohibited to place one sefer inside another to mark one's place.

The Mogen Avrohom [48] disagrees with the Taz. From the Gemorro [49] which states that an Oron HaKodesh (chest conaining a Sefer Torah) - an item associated with holiness - may be placed in a window in order to prevent the ritual impurity conveyed from a dead body from entering a shul, the Mogen Avrohom concludes that the mundane use of a Sefer Torah (or of other seforim) is permitted through its simple repositioning. For "what difference does it make where the sefer is lying?" - and so it is permissible to use one sefer to raise another.

The Mishno Bruro rules similarly [50]. (Perhaps for this reason the Mogen Avrohom would also permit placing one sefer inside another sefer to mark one's place.)

The Shulchon Oruch [51] cites the following Gemorro [52]: "One who writes a sheet [of a Sefer Torah] and wishes to leave it to dry, should not turn it face down since this is disrespectful. Rather he should leave it face up, and cover it with a cloth." The Bach [53] states that this halocho refers to other s'forim as well: accordingly one should never leave a sefer open and walk out but should first cover it. The Shach [54] adds that it is known from Kabbolo that there is an angel whose task it is to guard holy books [55] and if one leaves a book open the angel causes him to forget his learning.

The Oruch Hashulchon [56] qualifies the above halocho, stating that it applies only if one goes outside the for a long time. One, however, who merely goes to the next room, or even outdoors, but only for a short time, need not worry about closing the sefer.

The Oruch Hashulchon cites the Sho'el U'meishiv [57] who rules in this way adding "If one would have to shut every sefer whenever leaving the room even for a short while, this would cause him to lose much time from his learning since often four or five seforim are open at once. Nevertheless, happy is he one who is careful with regard to the honour of s'forim."

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld [58] writes that, when leaving the room, it is sufficient to place something on the sefer although it only partially covers the sefer since he is only leaving for a short while and there is an indication that he is not "deserting" the sefer. (The use of a sefer for this purpose would in turn depend on the above-mentioned dispute between the Taz, prohibiting, and the Mogen Avrohom, permitting, this.[59]) It is best, however, to close the sefer. He further notes [60] that the above obligation to cover an open sefer applies even if his chavruso (study partner) remains near the sefer, where they are not using the same sefer.

Regarding the practice of some to place the detached hairs of the beard in the s'forim [60a], there are those who prohibit it as disrespectful to the s'forim [61]. The L'kutei Maharich [62] writes [63], however, that those who are careful to follow the Arizal's admonition [64], based on kabbalistic reasons, not to remove hairs from the beard, may place fallen hairs from the beard in a sefer (because of the holiness with which these hairs are associated).


[1] Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:1, from Devorim 31:19
[2] Halochos Ketanos beginning Hilchos Sefer Torah
[3] Yoreh Deah 270
[4] 270:4
[4a] See responsa Chasam Sofer Y.D. no 254; Likutei Sichos vol 23 p17 ff
[5] 270:8
[6] 270:5
[7] see Menuchos 30a
[8] ibid.
[9] s.v. Kechotef Mitzvah
[10] Halochos Ketanos beginning Hilchos Sefer Torah
[11] 270:1
[12] see Taz 270:1; Pischei Teshuvo 270:9
[13] Likutei Sichos ibid.
[14] ibid. footnote 67
[15] 4:6
[16] on above mishna. See also Rambam's Pirush HaMishna ibid.
[17] Nachalei Emunah p43
[18] see Responsa Mas'as Binyomin 99; Taz Y.D. 271:8;
Mogen Avrohom O.C. 154:14; 32:57
[19] Responsa Chavos Yo'ir 159
[20] Y.D. 281:1
[21] Shach ibid.
[22] Gittin 45b "v'amri"
[23] see Bais Yosef and Shach Y.D. 281:3, responsa Shvus Ya'akov 15
amongst others
[24] Responsa Halochos Ketanos 15; Reponsa Chavos Ya'ir 184
[25] according to above Halochos Ketanos
[26] Responsa Shvus Ya'akov 15
[27] Responsa 2nd edition, Y.D. 181
[28] Y.D. 281:6
[29] Responsa, Y.D. 67
[30] see the following responsa: Divrei CHaim 2nd edition Y.D. 60;
Maharam Shik O.C. 66; Igros Moshe Y.D. Vol II 137 and 172;
and others
[31] Likutei Maharil 18b
[32] Y.D. 282:7
[33] Remo ibid.
[34] Yerushalmi Berochos 3:5. see Beis Yosef Y.D. 282 "ossur Leisheiv" who
brings Rabbenu Mono'ach and Raavad (Hilchos Sefer Torah 10:6)
[35] ibid.
[36] Shach 282:8
[37] 282:4
[38] 282:8
[39] Mogen Avrohom 154:14
[40] implication of above Mogen Avrohom
[41] Be'er Hagolah Y.D. end of 334
[42] Y.D. 282:19
[43] Remo ibid.
[44] 283:1
[45] no 909 Quoted partially in Beis Lechem Yehudah ibid.
[46] 282:13
[47] 282:17
[48] O.C. 154:14
[49] Megillah 26b
[50] 154:31; 315:30
[51] Y.D. 277
[52] Eruvin 98a
[53] Y.D. 277. see Shach; Taz; Nekudos HaKessef ibid.
[54] ibid.
[55] The angel's name is Sh"D - an acronym for Shomer Dappin
[56] Y.D. 277:2
[57] in Sefer Yedos Nedorim simon 277
[58] Responsa Salmass Chaim Y.D. 377
[59] see Yeshuos Chochmo (R.Chaim Yeshaya HaKohen author of
Misgeres HaShulchon)
[60] Salmas Chaim Y.D. 376
[60a] see Sefer Hadras Ponim Zoken pp523-526
[61] see Sefer Ya'alzu Chassidim (commentary on Sefer Chassidim) no.100[62] Vol 1 p106
[63] after quoting Sefer Me'orei Or who disagrees with this custom
[64] see Be'er Heiteiv Y.D. 181

The above is not intended to decide halachic questions, but rather to clarify them in a clear and concise form. Please refer all your practical questions to your local Rabbi.

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