In Parashas Behaalosecha we read about the Aron HaKodesh, the holy ark that carried the tablets of the Torah: “And it was, when the Aron set forward, that Moshe said: Rise up, Hashem, and let Your enemies be scattered; and let them that hate You flee before You. And when it rested, he said: Return, Hashem, unto the many thousands of Israel” (Bamidbar 10:35-36).
This brings us to reflect on an interesting set of halachos that relate to the moving of the Aron. It is often desired to move a Sefer Torah, whether inside an Aron or outside of one. For instance, when there is a temporary minyan at a summer camp, a family Shabbos occasion, and so on, we often bring along a Sefer Torah for the Torah reading.
But is it always permitted to transport a Sefer Torah for such reasons? What is the halacha concerning bringing a Sefer Torah to a beis avel? Must the Sefer Torah be read from at least three times? Does one need to keep the Sefer Torah in a fixed place after it is transported? We will address these questions, and others, below.
Taking the Torah to the Reader
Concerning the reading of the Torah by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, the Mishnah records how the Sefer Torah was passed from hand to hand, until it reached the Kohen Gadol who received it and read from it (Yoma 7:1). On this Mishnah the Yerushalmi asks: “In every place we say that people must go after the Sefer Torah, and here the Sefer Torah goes to the people?” The Yerushalmi answers: “Because they are important people, the Torah is elevated by them.”
In general the custom is to be called up to the Torah, and the person called up approaches the Torah and reads from it. For the Kohen Gadol, however, the Torah is brought to him for his reading. The Yerushalmi explains that this is permitted because the Kohen Gadol is a distinguished person, and bringing the Sefer Torah to him honors the Torah rather than the opposite.
The Yerushalmi states that the Torah is also brought to the Reish Galusa, the head of the exile and leader of the Jewish community, for him to read from it. Even if he was not always the most righteous and virtuous of people, the Gemara explains that his lineage from the house of David warrants the honor.
Similarly, the custom among the Geonim was that after the first two aliyos (Kohen and Levi), the Torah would be taken to the Nasi—the head of the community—who would read the Torah for the third aliyah. Following his aliyah, the Torah was returned to the bimah for the remaining aliyos. This custom is mentioned in Sefer Hamanhig (Hilchos Shabbos, p. 181 in the Yitzchak Refael edition), among other places, and the source is given as the above Yerushalmi.
Transporting the Torah to the Sick
The sources above teach us that as a general rule, it is considered disrespectful to transport a Sefer Torah from its fixed location. If somebody wishes to read from the Torah, he must come to the Torah’s place, rather than the Torah be transported to him.
This principle receives halachic expression in the Or Zarua (Kerias Shema 9), who writes that somebody who is sick, and cannot go to Shul, should host a minyan in his home if possible. If he is an important person, an adam chashuv in his city, then a Sefer Torah may be brought from Shul to his home to read from the Torah (implying that if he is not an important person, it is forbidden to bring him a Sefer Torah).
The Maharam of Rottenberg, who was a disciple of the Or Zarua, writes in a similar vein that one does not bring a Sefer Torah to a prison facility for the benefit of Jews incarcerated there. This of course was of great relevance to the Maharam himself, who was tragically imprisoned for several years until his death.
Both these authorities note the Yerushalmi as the source for the rulings. It is permitted to transport a Sefer Torah for a distinguished person, but not for a regular Jew who cannot make it to Shul.
The ruling of the Maharam is cited by the Mordechai (Rosh Hashanah 710), and it serves as the basic ruling on which the discussion among later authorities is based.
While the halacha of transporting a Sefer Torah is not mentioned by Geonim and by early Rishonim (including the Rif and the Rambam), it is noted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 135:14), who writes that it is forbidden to bring a Sefer Torah to a person who cannot come to Shul, such as somebody who is sick or a prison inmate.
However, as noted above, it is permitted to transport the Sefer Torah for the needs of an important person. This ruling is given by the Rema and the Mishnah Berurah (50) explains that this is considered an elevation for the Sefer Torah. Many authorities write that the important person must be sick. However, others are lenient in this, and the common custom is to rely on the lenient opinion (see Darchei Moshe 135:10; Magen Avraham 135:23; Aruch Hashulchan 135:31; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 23:30; among others) and therefore a Sefer Torah may brought to a distinguished person even if he is not sick.
There is also a discussion about who qualifies as an “important person” for this halacha. The basic qualification is that the person must be important and a Torah scholar (see Gra 135:21; Mishnah Berurah 50). Note that it is permitted to transport a Sefer Torah for an important person even when it will not have a fixed place (Mishnah Berurah 51; see below).
Transporting for a Minyan
The Shulchan Aruch and Rema dispute whether an avel leaves his home to hear the reading of the Torah in shul (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 344:18). The Ashkenazi custom is that the avel does not leave his home for this reason. But is it permitted to bring a Sefer Torah to the avel’s home, so that the Torah can be read at his home minyan?
It is possible that the entire prohibition against transporting a Sefer Torah only applies to moving the Torah for an individual. By contrast, it is permitted to move a Sefer Torah for a tzibbur, a community (of at least ten). This ruling is noted by the Pri Chadash (135:14), the Elyah Rabba (135:17), and others, and is cited by the Mishnah Berurah in his Biur Halacha (s.v. ein).
The Mishnah Berurah explains the reason for the leniency is that a minyan is equivalent to an important person, for whom it is permitted to move a Sefer Torah.
Although the above-mentioned ruling of the Or Zarua notes that a Sefer Torah must not be transported for a minyan held in the home of a sick person, it is possible that this refers only to an ad-hoc minyan for a sick person, and not to an actual congregation (see below, however, concerning cases in which the Sefer Torah has a designated place).
In the case of an avel, there are additional grounds for leniency when the Torah is read-from three times. While there is no clear basis for this, there is a common custom whereby if the Torah is read from three times, it is permitted to transport it. The idea is mentioned by the Aruch Hashulchan (135:32) and others. While there seems to be no halachic basis for this (see Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:694; Vayevarech David 1:26; see also Halichos Shlomo, Tefilla 12:38), Rav Moshe Feinstein is cited as having said that one should not criticize those who rely on the custom (Vayevarech David, loc. cit.; Rivevos Ephraim 3:95:1).
Transporting to a Designated Place
An important leniency in the matter of transporting a Sefer Torah, which is also highly relevant for a beis avel, is putting the Sefer Torah in an appropriate place.
If a proper place has been prepared for the Sefer Torah, such as an Aron Kodesh, it is permitted to move it to the designated location (Peri Megadim 135:12). Some authorities write that the Sefer Torah must be brought a day or two before it is read-from, but most understand that this is not required (see Maharam Padiva 88; Taz 12; Elya Rabbah 18; among others).
The reason for the leniency is that when there is an appropriate place for the Sefer Torah, it is not apparent that it was brought for the reading, but rather seems that it was transported to leave it in the new place—even for a short time.
Thus, where one needs to transport a Sefer Torah to a beis avel, to a hotel or camp, and so on, the best option is to have a proper Aron HaKodesh where the Sefer Torah will be kept. This ensures that there is no concern for prohibition in transporting the Sefer.
- It is generally accepted that one may transport a Sefer Torah from room to room in the same building without concern. The Gra (Ma’aseh Rav 129), however, was stringent in this.
- It is permitted to transport a Sefer Torah if this is needed to fulfill an obligation, such as Parashas Zachor or Parah (Magen Avraham 135:23, Elya Rabbah 17; Chayei Adam 31:15; Mishnah Berurah 46; among others). The Aruch Hashulchan (31) writes that this is permitted for all four Parshios.
- The common custom is not to apply the above halachos to a private Sefer Torah that is kept at home (see Shut Tzitz Eliezer 18:6).
- It is permitted to transport a Sefer Torah where this is required for the protection of the Sefer itself (see Shut Tzitz Eliezer11:16). This was more common in times gone by (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 148).