We have been informed that in the field kit prepared for chaplains there will be a small photographed Torah Scroll. Will it be permissible for the chaplain to use this at services in the field?
Maimonides in Hil. Sefer Torah, X, 1, describes the Scroll of the Law as to the parchment and the technical requirements of the writing. He declares that only a scroll meeting these requirements is suitable for public worship. It is, therefore, clear that in established camps and in regular chapels only a Sefer Torah meeting these requirements may be used for public worship.
Our question, however, concerns emergency circumstances. To what extent may these technical requirements as to the scroll be relaxed for services in the field? If a photographed Torah Scroll is used, may men be called up to the reading and may they recite the customary blessings over the Torah?
There are a number of interesting and important questions involved in this inquiry. First of all what is the sanctity of printed material and to what extent do the printed Sefer Torah, Mezuzah, and Bill of Divorce, etc., fulfill the command "to write" which Scriptures used with regard to them? Since the beginning of printing, there has been discussion on this matter, the whole discussion revolving around the passage in the Talmud in b.Gittin 20a, as to whether engraving, "Chakikah,"is really writing, "K'siva," involving the question of whether the writing is depressed or raised. The authorities, after the age of printing, take one or another side of the question.
This complicated discussion is summed up by Abraham Berliner in his booklet on the influence of printing on Jewish law and worship. All authorities agree that printed Hebrew texts have some sanctity. Since, moreover, the discussion ultimately revolves around the question of "engraving" and the hollow impression made by printer's type, it might well be that if a kosher Sefer Torah, fulfilling all the rules as to line space, etc., were exactly photographed, such a Torah would have considerable sanctity since photography does not depress the paper or parchment at all. This question would lead us far afield. We can come closer to a solution by means of another approach.
The Talmud in b.Gittin 60a discussed whether we may read from Chumashim in the synagogues at the public service, and the conclusion there is that, out of respect to the congregation (mep'nay kvod ha-tzibur), we should not. Because it is possible for the congregation to forgo the honor due it, it is possible to conclude as Solomon ben Adereth concludes in his Responsum, Vol.1. 805, that essentially the Talmud does not forbid the reading from an imperfect Torah. However, Solomon ben Adereth says that the Talmud would permit reading from a Chumosh because their Chumoshim were regular scrolls and if the congregation would cancel its right to have a regular Torah used, these scroll-Chumoshim could be used. However, he says our Chumoshim today, which are like books, may not be used for public reading.
It can be seen how open this question is when it is realized that, while the Shulchan Aruch says plainly that we may not read from Chumoshim in a service (O.H. 143, 1 & 3), and Joseph Caro in his Ben Joseph marshals all the arguments against it, nevertheless Maimonides in his Responsa #42 says plainly and forthrightly that the mitzvah of reading the Torah does not depend upon the scroll but upon the reading itself and that therefore if there is no regular Torah available, then the reading and the blessing may be recited nevertheless upon an imperfect Torah or a Chumosh. (Sheayn ha-b'rochoh t'luyoh basepher, im koshayr oh posul, ehlo bak'riyoh b'levad.)
But since there are so many opinions against Maimonides, and since he himself seems partially to withdraw from this opinion in Yad, Hilchos Sefer Torah X,1, we cannot rely in this case upon his opinion. It is, however, to be noted that even those who prohibit reading except from a perfect Sefer Torah say that in time of emergency, when a community has only an imperfect Sefer Torah, there are opinions justifying reading in it and blessing over it. See Isserles to O.H. 143,5. It is evident that the objection as to the dignity of the congregation mentioned in the Talmud does not weigh heavily with the authorities for the reason mentioned above, namely, that a community can forgo the honor due it,mochlin ahl k'vodom. What concerns them most is the danger of pronouncing an unjustified blessing (b'rochoh l'vatoloh) and that, of course, is important in this regard. We might, therefore, come to the following conclusion: Since these photographed Sefer Torahs are exactly like the written Sefer Torahs, except that they are not on parchment and sewn with sinews, but do resemble them more than Chumoshim, they may be used at services in the emergency, of field conditions, but no blessing should be recited over the reading. Of course, in the camp-chapels, regular Sefer Torahs should be used.
The few opinions which permit the reciting of the blessings over an imperfect Torah (or a Chumosh, etc.) are based upon the early responsum of Maimonides quoted above: thus the opinion of Benjamin, Anaw, brother of the author of Shibbole Haleket, cited in that work, and the tentative opinion of Isserles quoted above! Therefore, because it has considerable support in the Halacha, we record the opinion of our colleague and member of our committee, Rabbi Aronson, namely, that the blessings may be recited over the photographed scroll and also his suggestion that, instead of the usual blessing Asher bochar bonu, the blessing from the morning service be used (La' asok b' divre Torah).
Note:-- An interesting case is quoted by Joseph Messas, Rabbi of Tlemcen in North Africa, in his "Mayim Chayim," Number 79. He quotes a manuscript responsum of a Rabbi Marrakeesh in which he is asked by those Jews who travel for weeks in the Sahara in a caravan whether they may use a Chumosh for the Torah reading. And he responded that if it were for only one or two Sabbaths, it would be better if they did not read the Torah altogether rather than read it from a Chumosh. But since they will be away for many weeks, they may read from the Chumosh, but not pronounce the blessings.
It might be added that this whole question is discussed in eight successive responsa in R'vid Hazohov by Zev Wolf Avrech, Warsaw 1898.