The opportunity to fulfill the mitzva of displaying respect for a Sefer Torah presents itself many times over the Yom Tov season. Is standing before a Torah scroll a full obligation or just a recommended practice? How far does the presence of the scroll obligate a display of reverence? The Torah scroll plays a significant part in the festivities of Simchas Torah. When are we obligated to stand, and why? The following article will attempt to clarify the issue.
Standing Before the Torah
In Chumash Vayikra we read: “You shall rise before a venerable person and you shall respect the elderly, and you shall fear your G-d” (19:32). This pasuk teaches of the obligation to show honor to the wise and the elderly. Chazal learn from this pasuk (Kiddushin 32b) that we must stand before a Torah scholar, both young and old. Torah observant people over seventy years of age are also included in this obligation, which will be detailed in a separate article.
This pasuk is also quoted in the Gemara as the source for the mitzva to honor a Sefer Torah. The obligation is learned from a fortiori – if one is obligation to stand before its scholars, certainly the Torah itself deserves the same honor (Kiddushin 33b). The Pri Megadim (OC 153) understands this mitzva is a full Torah obligation because of the manner of deduction — a fortiori is one of the Thirteen Principles of Torah Elucidation. As a result, when a community is in dire need for funding and either the Torah or the shul must be sold, since respecting the scroll is a Torah obligation and respecting a shul a rabbinic one, the community should rather sell the shul than sell its Torah scroll.
Standing before the Torah is fulfilling the mitzva of: “You shall rise before a venerable person and you shall respect the elderly.” Behaving in the opposite manner, is, G-d forbid, a transgression of a Torah obligation.
The Shulchan Aruch (YD 282:1-2) rules that the Torah must be shown exceptional honor: It must have a designated place of honor; the spot must be respected and decorated; one must not spit before the Torah or expose his covered parts or leg; the scroll should not be carried as an overhead load, nor should one turn his back away from it unless the Torah is ten tefachim (handbreadths) higher than his head. One must sit before the Torah in awe and reverence, for it serves as evidence for the world as the pasuk reads: “Take this Torah scroll and place it alongside the Ark of Covenant of the Lord, your G-d, and it will be there as a witness” (Devarim 31:26).
When a Torah scroll is being transferred, all onlookers must stand before it until the it reached its place, or until it is no longer visible.
Honoring Other Sefarim
The Zohar (Kedoshim 87b) describes that Rav Hamnuna Saba would stand before a Torah scroll and say the pasuk: “You shall rise before a venerable person.” When he stood before a single Chumash (a part of the Torah written on parchment in accordance with the halachos of writing the Sefer Torah) he would say “…You shall respect the elderly.”
The Rashba (Volume I, 144) rules that Rav Hamnuna’s custom is in fact the halacha: the obligation to stand before a Torah includes a single Chumash, provided it is written on parchment in the same script and rules for writing a Torah scroll. The Rama (YD 182:2) rules accordingly, but some poskim disagree (Beis Yosef YD 282:2; Rama ibid; Meiri Kiddushin 33b).
The Chazon Ish (Orchos Rabbenu volume I, Shabbos 24, p.232) is uncertain if the obligation to stand before the Torah includes a Navi or Megillah. To clear himself of doubt he was careful to stand whenever a Megillah or Navi (on parchment) passed by him.
Printed or handwritten paper sefarim do not carry the same sanctity, and do not invoke any of the above obligations.
Opening the Ark
All those present must stand in reverence when the Torah is being transported just as one must stand when a talmid chacham walks in — until he reaches his place. For a Torah, however, there is an additional practice: many customarily stand whenever the Torah Ark is opened. The Taz (YD 242:13; Mishna Brurah 146:17; Sha’ar Hatziyun footnote 18) notes the practice, adding that there is no obligation to do so since the scroll is in its appropriate place. However, many people do stand whenever the scrolls become visible.
The Pri Megadim (OC 141; Mishna Brurah 146:17; Sha’ar Hatziyun 18) adds that even when the Torah is out and held for Yizkor or on the bimah for reading, since it is in its current rightful place and stationary, standing is not obligatory. Therefore, during the Hosha’anos, Birkas Hachodesh, Kol Nidrei etc., when the scroll is held stationary for the prayer, the congregation is not obligated to stand.
During hagbah, however, since the scroll is lifted and displayed for all to see, everyone present is obligated to stand. Despite the sefer being in its place, or the bimah being another domain (if it is one meter higher than the shul floor level), since hagbah is intended to display the Torah to the public everyone present is obligated to honor it.
During Kol Nidrei the obligation to stand stems from another reason, unrelated to the Torah. The three Rabbis holding the Sifrei Torah function as a Beis Din to annul the congregation’s vows with the prayer of Kol Nidrei. Customarily, those requesting vow nullification must stand before the Beis Din. Therefore, the congregation should stand for Kol Nidrei. However, for the psukim recited afterwards standing is only a custom, and the weak or ill may sit.
When the Torah scroll is transported back and forth between the bimah and the ark, as well as after Kol Nidrei when the scroll is walked throughout the synagogue, standing is certainly obligatory. In this case one is obligated to stand until the scroll reaches its place or is no longer visible (Mishna Brurah 146:17).
The Rama (YD 182:2) writes that the obligation to stand for the Torah begins when one hears it coming even if before it comes into view.
During the hakafos on Simchas Torah, the Torah scrolls are out and danced about shul for long hours with the congregation dancing along. Can anyone sit in shul during hakafos? While on the one hand the scrolls are being transported and require a those present to stand in reverence, the elderly and ill cannot stand for so long. Is there a halachic solution to allow them to take part in the festivities?
The first to address this issue is the Shulchan Aruch (YD 282:5) who writes that when the Torah is circling the bimah all those present must stand in respect. Only when the person transporting it is no longer moving are those present permitted to sit.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchaso 24: footnote 125; Halichos Shlomo Moa’adim Tishrei 12:9) finds a solution: the weak and elderly who cannot stand for the entire hakafos should stand only for the first loop around the bimah. Afterwards, for the rest of the dancing, the weak can be lenient and sit. He explains the leniency with two reasons:
1) Since during dancing the Torah’s place is on the dance floor, after the first hakafa is in its appropriate place. (This is an even greater leniency than that of the Shulchan Aruch who permits sitting only when the scroll is being held stationary.)
2) The scrolls are usually carried in the inner circle with dancers surrounding them on all sides, while those sitting usually line the shul periphery. Since humans can (under certain circumstances) serve as a partition, here they serve to separate the Torah from those sitting in the sidelines.
In general, Rav Shlomo Zalman saw importance in finding leniencies for the issue. What kind of Simchas Torah is it if the elderly have to go out and only the youngsters remain inside for the dancing?
Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechave Da’at VI, chapter 42) similarly rules that preferably one should stand during the entire duration of hakafos. However, the weak can sit after the first loop of each hakafa.
Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos V’hanhagos II chapter 319) provides another justification for leniency here:
The obligation of honoring the Torah requires those present to stand. One who did so to the best of his ability has fulfilled the obligation, and from there on he can sit. Similarly, a weak person who cannot stand should stay in shul to at least honor the Torah with his presence. The obligation to honor the Torah is to the best of one’s ability, no more than that. While the Chazon Ish was careful to carry a Torah scroll when he was too tired to stand during the hakafos and had to sit, it is an added stringency and not the mainstream halacha.
Betzel Hachochma (volume V chapter 139) has an unusual leniency. He writes that the obligation to stand before a Torah is only twice a day, like the obligation to stand before talmid chacham. Since we recite the Shema only twice a day, the Gemoro says our obligation to show a talmid chacham respect can be no more than that. He claims that similarly although we try to be scrupulous and stand in honor of the Torah even several times each day, there is no obligation to do so more than twice. Therefore, the ill or weak can be lenient on Simchas Torah and sit during the hakafos after twice honoring it with standing. However, the consensus of poskim is not like this opinion.
Standing for Chazaras Hashatz
In conclusion of this issue we will briefly mention what many people are unaware of – which parts of the Chazaras Hashatz (the chazzan’s repetition of the Amida prayer) require standing. This is particularly relevant for the holidays when Chazaras Hashatz can be exceptionally long, especially in communities that customarily recite the Yotzros prayers. Is standing when the Torah Ark is open obligatory? And what can a weak or tired person do?
While one should stand during the entire repetition of the Amida, this does not include the additional prayers (Hayom Haras Olam, Yotzros, etc) which are not parts of the main body of the Amida.
One who can stand should try to do so whenever the Torah Ark is open – whether for reciting the piyutim, or for the entire Neila prayer this is not required.
Sefer Torah on the Bimah
A Sefer Torah that is on another level, be it bimah or another platform: if the platform is at least ten tefachim (handsbreadths) higher than the main floor level and the width of at last four tefachim, it is considered another domain. Standing for a Torah scroll moving in another domain is not compulsory (Taz YD 282:13; Pri Megadim OC 141; Mishna Brura 146:17; Sha’ar Hatziyun footnote 17). Consequently, ladies in a gallery, upper wing, or balcony, are not obligated to stand when the Torah is being transported on another level. Regardless, any honor one shows the Torah is praiseworthy.
Standing on a Bench
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC I, 38) was presented a question: A shul was doing renovations and wanted to order a customized bench with slits for the Torah handles on which the scroll could be propped up, thus saving the need for a person to hold it when more than one scroll was necessary for reading.
He answers that part of the obligation to honor the Sefer Torah is to safeguard it at all times. Propping it up on a bench does not fill this requirement. Rather a Jewish male must hold it whenever it is outside the ark. Placing the scroll on such a bench gives the impression the congregants couldn’t be bothered to hold it. He adds, that if they end up ordering such a bench, the entire congregating would be obligated to stand while the Torah is on the bench because it will be considered displaced. If nobody can or wants to sit and hold the first Sefer Torah while the second is being read, the congregation should rather make do with one Torah and wait for it to be scrolled to the appropriate place for the second reading.
Excellent and valuable summary and Piskei Din.
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