In honor of Yom Haatzmaut, we will publish a number of reponsa 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).
Rav Amital has graciously allowed us to reprint his article here.
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 Hashana or Yom Kippur." The Rama adds that "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."
The question arises in a military context when soldiers leave their base to go to a training area, whether they 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 halacha is the Mordechai (Rosh Hashana 710) who derives this rule from the Jerusalem Talmud (Yoma 7:1). The Mishna (Yoma 7:1) describes how the Sefer Torah was passed to the Kohen 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 Kohen Gadol, who in turn hands the Sefer Torah to the Kohen Gadol.
The Jerusalem Talmud 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 Kohen 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 (Resh Galuta - who was not always an eminent Torah scholar). Answers Rabbi Yose, since the Exilarchs are the descendants of King David, we extend to them the same honor accorded to their illustrious ancestor."
The Pri 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 Pri Chadash concludes that he is not sure how to rule regarding this matter. Biur Halacha (s.v. "Ein M'vle'in") raises the same objection to the Mordechai and the Shulchan Aruch's rulings and demonstrates that the Ohr 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 Halacha concludes that the Mordechai and Shulchan Aruch's prohibitions apply 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 Halacha 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 Harav S. Feinberg, Rabbi of Michilishek, in his work "Meginei Afikim," who reached the same conclusion as the Biur Halacha. Rav Feinberg marshals numerous sources in the Babylonian Talmud which indicate that it was common practice to bring a Torah Scroll from one place to another (Eruvin 86b, Sukkah 16b, and Sotah 39b).
In our military situation, where 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 Halacha.
1. The Designation of the Torah Scroll
Rabbi 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 Rabbi Frank's reasoning to our situation, and assert that since this Sefer Torah has been designated to accompany the unit in its sojourning, 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 which states that the community sin offering is brought prior to the sin offering of the President, since the community takes precedence even over such a distinguished individual (see also Teshuvot Rashba 1:115, Beit Shlomo Orach Chaim no. 34, and Zecher Yehosef Orach Chaim no. 35 for similar assertions).
[Editors note: The Teshuvot Beit Shlomo was authored by the great great grandfather of Torah Academy student Dovid Gilad]
3. What Will the Torah be Used for, if not Transported?
Kaf Hachaim (135:82) cites Teshuvot P'nei 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 when 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. Magen 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. Pri Megadim (135:22) adds that what is truly required is the 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 halacha 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 Halacha. 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 begining of services, or at the very least before the time of Torah reading.