In honor of Rav Yehuda Amital, zt”l, a great Torah leader whom the Jewish People lost this past July, we shall share a number of responsa penned by Rav Amital (Rosh Yeshivat Har Etzion) in response to questions posed by students of Yeshivat Har Etzion during their service in Tzahal (the Israel Defense Forces). We should note that while Rav Amital is generally renowned for his Lamdut (Talmudic analysis) and Hashkafah (Jewish Thought), he was also an excellent Halachic decider. The three responsa we shall be presenting in the following issues address an area of specific expertise for Rav Amital: Halachah observance in the context of service in the Israel Defense Forces. In addition to serving for over four decades as the Rosh Yeshiva of Israel’s largest Yeshivat Hesder (with students who serve in the Israel Defense Forces), Rav Amital served as an officer in Israel’s War of Independence. Thus, Rav Amital was able to combine his expertise in Halachah with sensitivity to the special needs of an observant soldier.
The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 135:14) records the prohibition for one to bring a Sefer Torah to people, instead of people coming to the place where the Sefer Torah is located. Rav Yosef Karo states, “One may not bring a Sefer Torah to people who are in jail, even on Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur.” The Rama adds, “If the Torah scroll is brought a day or two in advance, then this prohibition is avoided, and it is always permitted to bring a Torah scroll to a distinguished personality.”
This question arises in a military context, when soldiers leave their base to go to a training area: are permitted to bring a Sefer Torah to the training area so that they do not miss the Torah reading during the time they are away from their base? A response to this question requires an examination of Talmudic sources regarding this prohibition and the many responsa which discuss this issue.
The source for this Halachah is the Mordechai (Rosh HaShanah 710), who derives this rule from the Talmud Yerushalmi (Yoma 7:1). The Mishnah (Yoma 7:1) describes how the Sefer Torah was passed to the Kohein Gadol to read on Yom Kippur in the Beit HaMikdash: “The attendant of the Temple’s synagogue takes the Torah scroll and hands it to the head of the Temple’s synagogue, who hands the Sefer Torah to the Assistant Kohein Gadol, who, in turn, hands the Sefer Torah to the Kohein Gadol.”
The Talmud Yerushalmi asks, “We always insist that the person go to the place where the Torah scroll is housed, and here we bring the Torah to people!” Answers the Talmud, “Since they (the Kohein Gadol and his assistant) are people of exalted status, it is an honor for the Torah scroll to be brought to them.” The Talmud proceeds to ask, “But in Babylon, the practice is to bring the Torah scroll to the Exilarch (Reish Galuta – who was not always an eminent Torah scholar). Answers Rabi Yoseh, since the Exilarchs are the descendants of King David, we extend to them the same honor accorded to their illustrious ancestors.”
The Peri Chadash (154:14) questions the Shulchan Aruch’s application of this Talmudic passage to the question of bringing a Torah scroll to imprisoned Jews. He argues that the Talmudic principle would appear to apply only to one who had the ability to come to the Sefer Torah’s location and not to prisoners who are unable to do so. The Peri Chadash concludes that he is not sure how to rule regarding this matter. Biur Halachah (135 s.v. "Ein Mevi'in") raises the same objection to the Mordechai and the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling. He demonstrates that the Or Zarua disagrees with the Mordechai and permits a Sefer Torah to be brought to someone who is unable to come to the Scroll’s location. The Biur Halachah concludes that the Mordechai and Shulchan Aruch’s prohibition applies only when there is no quorum of adult males in the prison. In such a situation, there is no obligation to read from the Torah, since this obligation devolves only upon a Minyan and not upon a group of less than ten males. However, if there is a Minyan in the prison, Biur Halachah rules that even the Mordechai and the Shulchan Aruch would permit bringing a Sefer Torah for the prisoners to discharge their obligation to read from the Torah.
This author has discovered a responsum authored by Rav S. Feinberg, Rav of Michilishek, in his work “Meginei Afikim,” who reached the same conclusion as the Biur Halachah. Rav Feinberg marshals numerous sources in the Talmud Bavli which indicate that it was common practice to bring a Torah Scroll from one place to another (Eiruvin 86b, Sukkah 16b, and Sotah 39b).
In our military situation, in which the Torah scroll is transported in a portable Holy Ark which does not have a set location but instead accompanies the unit in its travels, there are four considerations to rule leniently, in addition to the lenient approach of the Biur Halachah.
1. The Designation of the Torah Scroll
Rav Zvi Pesach Frank (Har Zvi Orach Chaim no. 71) proves from Yoma 70a and Sotah 44a that our prohibition applies only to a Torah scroll which is intended to be permanently housed in a synagogue, but not to a Sefer Torah whose intended use is for individuals to study from it wherever they may be. It is quite possible to apply Rav Frank’s reasoning to our situation and to assert that since this Sefer Torah has been designated to accompany the unit in its travels, one may take the Scroll along with the unit.
2. For whom is the Scroll Brought?
Just as the Rama mentioned above rules that a Sefer Torah may always be brought to a distinguished personality, so too it may be said that a Minyan enjoys the same privilege as a distinguished personality. Evidence for this may be found in Horayot 13a, where the Gemara states that the community sin offering is brought prior to the sin offering of the President (Nasi), since the community takes precedence over even such a distinguished individual (see also Teshuvot Rashba 1:115, Beit Shelomoh Orach Chaim no. 34, and Zeicher Yehosef Orach Chaim no. 35 for similar assertions).
3. What Will the Torah be Used for, if not Transported?
Kaf HaChaim (135:82) cites Teshuvot Penei Aharon, who permits the transportation of a Torah Scroll in a situation in which it would otherwise not be used. Similarly, there is an additional consideration to allow the moving of the Torah if no Minyan remains in the base to read from the Torah.
4. When the Scroll is Brought and How it is Brought
We previously mentioned the Rama’s lenient ruling that the Torah may be brought a day or two prior to the Torah reading. Magein Avraham (135:22) cites Maharam of Padua, who states that the essence of the requirement is that there be a set place for the Scroll. Peri Megadim (Orach Chaim 135:22) adds that what is truly required is a set place for the Sefer Torah and not that it be in place a day or two prior to the reading.
Accordingly, if the Torah is transported in its Holy Ark, then Halachah does not require the Scroll to be in place a day or two prior to the Torah reading. The focus is on the place of the Scroll in the Ark and not the placement of the Holy Ark (see Taz 135:12, however, who appears to reject this approach).
Accordingly, there exist four considerations to rule leniently, in addition to the lenient approach of the Biur Halachah. Therefore, one may transport a Torah Scroll which is designated to be transported from place to place and is placed in a portable Holy Ark made especially for this Scroll, even if the Torah is to be read from only once. Nevertheless, it is best to honor the Torah Scroll by bringing the Ark to the place of prayer prior to the beginning of services, or at the very least before the time of Torah reading.