Fasting for a Fallen or Dropped Sefer Torah
1 א

-A few CRITICAL introductory points -

- Because there is NO source in the Gemara, Midrash, Rambam or Shulchan Aruch to any type of fasting etc. for a dropped Sefer Torah, any such response falls into the category of MINHAG

An all too common misconception is that there are three categories of Halacha.

A) Deroissa/Torah law. This category of law is comparable to constitutional law and is divided in to several dichotomous categories -such as, Positive and Negative; Kiyumis and Chiyuvis; MIshpat and Chok, inter alia

B) Derabanan Law. THis category, L'havdil, is comparable to State law and is open to things that do not conflict with Torah Law (cf. Taz's view on Negative Law). THis too is divided into two parts -Chiyuvim and Siyugim. CHiyuvim from the Rabbis are rare, and include, Chanukah, Purim, Netilas Yedaim, etc. They are largely unconnected to any Biblical command and are simply fiats from the Rabbis. However, the vast majority of Derabanans fall into the second category, Siyugim, or prtotevcite laws. These come as guardrails to preventing falling off of the Biblical legal cliff. Examples include anything from not working on Shabbos to Muktzah

C)MINHAG - It is here where the common misconception takes hold. Many would complete this list by exampling Minhag as being untethered to the first two categories of law. One may even define the term MINHAG as referring to any custom that a family or community or individual has that relates to Jewish life but that is source-less in our legal cannon.


2 ב

In order for a Minhag to be binding it must be based on the following (this is an incomplete list):

1-a real legal opinion that, while rejected by the vast majority, is kept by some

2 -a concern for the protection of Halacha by leaders of Patriarchial figures

3 -most important for our purposes -some basis in Chazal

This last type of Minhag is the type we will be speaking of. In order for Klal Yisroel to come up with such a universal Minhag as, say, fasting for a fallen Sefer Torah, then there MUST be some starting source. This does not mean that the source will be stating clearly the Minhag (for, that would make it a Halacha!), rather that a source will show that such a response is understandable).

This is a critical rule. For, if any Minhag or stringency would be allowed to develop unconnected to our Legal history it could be utter chaos, and could lead to a religion that is unrecognizable.

In other words -once the Talmud was closed we can not add to Halacha in any way.

3 ג

This is made no clearer than the following response from Rabbi Landau of Prague when a student asked about the Ethical Will of Rav Yehudah Hachasid, and the ruling found there that a potential son in law should not have the same name as his future father in law, and a potential daughter in law not have the same name as her future mother in law:

4 ד

Noda B'Yehuda EVHZ #79

(ב) לכבוד אהובי תלמידי ידידי הרב המופלג מוהר"ר דוד יצ"ו:

(ג) הלילה הזה הגיעני מכתבך אשר אתה שואל בדבר השידוך המדובר לגיסתך עם בן תורה ויחסן רק שבשעת חליו השינוי שם שלו הוא כשם אבי הבתולה: אהובי תלמידי לולא אהבתך אין דרכי להשיב בענינים כאלו דברים שאין להם שורש בתלמוד ובפוסקים אך גודל אהבתך הוציאני חוץ לגדרי. דע תלמידי החביב ויהיו דברים הללו חקוקים על לוח לבך לזכרון הכלל הגדול שאין לכל חכמים שאחר התלמוד רשות לומר דבר נגד התלמוד והאומר דבר לסתור קוצו יו"ד מדברי התלמוד לא יחשב בכלל חכמי ישראל, ואמנם כשאנו מוצאים אחד מחכמי ישראל המוחזק בתורה וביראה בלי ספק שכתב בספר דבר הסותר לדברי התלמוד חייבים אנו למשכוני נפשין לתרץ דבריו שלא דבר רק לשעה או למשפחה פרטית ודברי תלמוד הם על הכלל. וכיוצא בזה אנו מוצאים לרבינו יהודה החסיד בצוואה שלו דברים שכמעט אסור לנו לשומעם....

The Noda B'Yehudah reminds this student that no person, no matter how holy, has the right to add even one law once the Talmud was closed...

5 ה

For this reason we will be using Rav Moshe Feinstein as our guide. His Teshuvah on a Fallen Sefer Torah was written in 1968 to Rav Grubner of Detroit.

While many Sefarim discuss this issue, the advantage of using Rav Moshe as our guide is that he was a once in a generation Posek. He hardly quotes (or ownwed) Sifrei Achronim, and instead would focus on sources from Chazal.

For this reason, having Rav Grubner send Rav Moshe the various sources to this Minhag and reading Rav Moshe's reaction is both telling in how a Minhag is formed, how a posek thinks, and how to apply this Minhag today and to a variety of cases.

6 ו

Before reviewing possible sources to this Minhag, an important introductery comment from the Shulchan Aruch:

7 ז

Shulchan Aruch Y"D 282:1

(א) לנהוג כבוד בספר תורה ודין תשמישיה. ובו י"ט סעיפים:
חייב אדם לנהוג כבוד גדול בס"ת ומצוה לייחד לו מקום ולכבד המקום ההוא ולהדרו ביותר ולא ירוק כנגד ספר תורה ולא יגלה ערותו כנגדו ולא יפשוט רגלו כנגדו ולא יניחנו על ראשו כמשוי ולא יחזור (לו) אחוריו אלא אם כן גבוה ממנו עשרה טפחים אלא ישב לפניו בכובד ראש וביראה ופחד שהוא העד הנאמן על כל באי עולם שנאמר והיה שם בך לעד ויכבדנו כפי כחו:

8 ח

The first time the average person is encountered with this Minhag is in the Mishneh Berrura, quoting from a Magen Avraham in a later Siman:

9 ט

. נוהגים העולם להתענות כשנופל תפילין מידו על הארץ בלא נרתיקן וה"ה כשנופל ס"ת אפילו בנרתיקן. ועיין בא"ר שכתב דאפילו תפילין בנרתיקן יתן פרוטה לצדקה:

10 י

(ה) בנרתקן... ובמשפטי שמואל כתוב קצת סמך למה שנהגו העולם להתענות כשנפלו תפילין על הארץ, וה"ה כשנפל ס"ת ע"ש וצ"ל דמיירי בלא נרתיקן אבל בס"ת אפילו בנרתיקן עסי' מ':

11 יא

The Mishpetei Shmuel (Greece, d. 1590), while not the first to bring this Minhag (shu't Mahari Bruna -d.1480- may be the first, and even he implies that this Minhag predated him by many years), but he does bring a possible source. This is the first source offered to Rav Moshe:

12 יב


"ואלו קרעין שאין מתאחין הקורע על אביו ועל אמו ועל רבו שלימדו תורה ועל נשיא ועל אב ב"ד ועל שמועות הרעות ועל ברכת השם ועל ספר תורה שנשרף ועל ערי יהודה ועל המקדש ועל ירושלים ... ספר תורה שנשרף מנלן דכתיב (ירמיהו לו, כג) ויהי כקרא יהודי שלש דלתות וארבעה ויקרעה בתער הסופר והשלך אל האש אשר אל האח וגו' מאי שלש דלתות וארבעה אמרו ליה ליהויקים כתב ירמיה ספר קינות אמר להו מה כתיב ביה (איכה א, א) איכה ישבה בדד אמר להו אנא מלכא א"ל (איכה א, ב) בכה תבכה בלילה אנא מלכא (איכה א, ג) גלתה יהודה מעוני אנא מלכא (איכה א, ד) דרכי ציון אבלות אנא מלכא (איכה א, ה) היו צריה לראש אמר להו מאן אמרה (איכה א, ה) כי יקוק הוגה על רוב פשעיה מיד קדר כל אזכרות שבה ושרפן באש והיינו דכתיב (ירמיהו לו, כד) ולא פחדו ולא קרעו את בגדיהם מכלל דבעו למיקרע אמר ליה רב פפא לאביי אימר משום שמועות הרעות א"ל שמועות רעות בההיא שעתא מי הוו א"ר חלבו אמר רב הונא הרואה ספר תורה שנקרע חייב לקרוע שתי קריעות אחד על הגויל ואחד על הכתב שנאמר (ירמיהו לו, כז) אחרי שרוף המלך את המגלה ואת הדברים רבי אבא ורב הונא בר חייא הוו יתבי קמיה דרבי אבא בעא לאפנויי שקליה לטוטפתיה אחתיה אבי סדיא אתאי בת נעמיתא בעא למיבלעיה אמר השתא איחייבין לי שתי קריעות א"ל מנא לך הא והא בדידי הוה עובדא ואתאי לקמיה דרב מתנה ולא הוה בידיה אתאי לקמיה דרב יהודה ואמר לי הכי אמר שמואל לא אמרו אלא בזרוע וכמעשה שהיה"

13 יג

This would be a Talmudic source that shows that we have unique reactions to dishoner shown to a Torah. This would open the door to allow us to also create a Minhag for a fallen Torah.

Rav Moshe dissects this source.

First, he points out that the Bach and the Beis Yosef (YD Siman 340) debate how to read this Gemara. Is it unique to an action done against a Torah done by only a king? Only a Jew?

However, to the point, they DO agree that it only applies to a beligerent and spiteful destruction or dishonor to a Torah. This is also the reading of the Meiri, Maharsha, Sefer HaEshkol, et al.

Such a reading however, would not allow a Minhag for a fallen Torah BY ACCIDENT, which is the Minhag today.

However, Rav Moshe says that this Gemara may still be a source. He points to Rashi ad loc. who had a different reading:

14 יד

בזרוע - שאין יכול להצילו: וכמעשה שהיה - דיהויקים אבל דנעמיתא דמצי להציל. לא מיקרע:

15 טו

Rav Moshe seems to settle that this Gemara -and only according to Rashi who understands that our reaction is ONLY when we had no control over the outcome (we can't stop a king, or an acciddental drop) -is the source for our Minhag.

Nevertheless, he humors hearing the other sources mentioned by some.

The first of these (and the second possible source thus far) comes from the Kappos Temarim (Rav Moshe ben Chavib, d. 1696):

16 טז

לא יאחז אדם תפילין בידו וספר תורה בחיקו ויתפלל

17 יז

Chazal here in Sukkah 41b teach that one shouldn’t daven while holding sifrei kodesh—ostensibly, lest they fall. Rav Moshe is initially troubled by this source. “Do we really need a source telling us that one must be careful not to drop a Torah?” he asks. What we are really looking for is a source for a unique reaction to such a tragic event.

Rav Moshe then suggests that perhaps the Kappos Temarim’s proof was derived from the fact that such a far-fetched concern is even a factor, something that chazal were not worried about while holding a lulav that also might fall, and indeed become pasul. After all, how many people actually daven with such kavanah that we have to worry that they might drop a sefer Torah?

Perhaps, then, the intention of the Kappos Temarim, is that since we see such out of character fear from chazal for a falling sefer Torah, this alludes to the fact that it’s falling would be seen as a unique disaster, thereby allowing us to develop such a minhag. Still, Rav Moshe explains why it would be difficult to rely on this as the source. As an aside, he points out that if this were the source it would mean that a person should fast only if he was negligent and not if something happened beyond his control.

18 יח

Rav Grubner then shares the view of shu’t Imrei Eish. Chazal (Yerushalmi Sotah 7:4) understand the pasukasher lo yakum es divrei haTorah hazos” (Devarim 27:26) as referring to a gabbai who didn’t make sure that a sefer Torah was properly protected from falling. The Ramban (ad loc.) concurs. Rav Moshe points out that although this is a beautiful source, it would mean that only the person from whose hands the Torah fell would have to fast.

Here is that Ramban:

19 יט

Devarim 27:26 Ramban

(א) אשר לא יקים את דברי התורה הזאת ...ובירושלמי בסוטה (פ"ז ה"ד) ראיתי אשר לא יקים וכי יש תורה נופלת רבי שמעון בן יקים אומר זה החזן רבי שמעון בן חלפתא אומר זה בית דין של מטן דמר רב יהודה ורב הונא בשם שמואל על הדבר הזה קרע יאשיהו ואמר עלי להקים אמר רבי אסי בשם רבי תנחום בר חייא למד ולימד ושמר ועשה והיה ספק בידו להחזיק ולא החזיק הרי זה בכלל ארור ידרשו בהקמה הזאת בית המלך והנשיאות שבידם להקים את התורה ביד המבטלים אותה ואפילו היה הוא צדיק גמור במעשיו והיה יכול להחזיק התורה ביד הרשעים המבטלים אותה הרי זו ארור וזה קרוב לענין שפירשנו ואמרו על דרך אגדה זה החזן שאינו מקים ספרי התורה להעמידן כתקנן שלא יפלו ולי נראה על החזן שאינו מקים ספר תורה על הצבור להראות פני כתיבתו לכל כמו שמפורש במסכת סופרים (יד יד) שמגביהין אותו ומראה פני כתיבתו לעם העומדים לימינו ולשמאלו ומחזירו לפניו ולאחריו שמצוה לכל אנשים והנשים לראות הכתוב ולכרוע ולומר וזאת התורה אשר שם משה וגו' (לעיל ד מד) וכן נוהגין:

20 כ

Finally, Rav Grubner shares the source from the Sanzer Rav (Divrei Chaim, d. 1876). Chazal (Taanis 16a, and the previous mishnah -the Gemara is brought in the next box below) teach us the proper procedure for a communal fast. In addition to going out into the street to daven to Hashem, the kehillah must take the aron along with them. The Gemara explains that the purpose is as if the kehillah is saying, “We had a kli tzanua [the Torah in the aron] in our shul, and we shamed it with our aveiros.” Here we see a clear correlation between fasting and our reverence for sifrei Torah.

Rav Moshe comments that such a source would imply that the entire community should fast. It might even mean that those who weren’t present when it fell would have to fast too.

21 כא

למה יוצאין לרחוב ר' חייא בר אבא אמר לומר זעקנו בצנעא ולא נענינו נבזה עצמנו בפרהסיא ריש לקיש אמר גלינו גלותינו מכפרת עלינו מאי בינייהו איכא בינייהו דגלי מבי כנישתא לבי כנישתא ולמה מוציאין את התיבה לרחובה של עיר אמר ר' יהושע בן לוי לומר כלי צנוע היה לנו ונתבזה בעוונינו

22 כב

I would add two other sources that, in my opinion, allow us to create this Minhag:

1_When was the first time a Sefer/Devar Kodesh fell to the ground? Was it not the Shibrei HaLuchos?! And, when dod Moshe break these Tablets? Was it not Shiv'Aser B'Tamuz (17 Tammuz) A Fast day?!

2_When is the ONLY sanctioned time that we destroy a Devar Kodesh? Is it not with the Mei Sota when we destory a Parsha in the Torah in water?! And is not that a moment of deep Teshuva and sadness?!

23 כג

From and article published by this writer in Ami Magazine:

...There are many suggestions as to why such an event is seen as a call to teshuva.

Some suggest that the mere fact that one’s eyes witnessed such an ignoble event occur to a holy object, this alone can effect one’s neshama. Meaning, it is not so much that sins caused the event to happen in the first place, rather that the witnessing of the event itself demands teshuvah.

This is one of the reasons why I tell people with not-yet-frum relatives who wish to come for a meal on Shabbos, that even if there is a heter for them to be invited although they may drive (a topic for another time) they mustn’t park near the house. Our children shall never become accustomed to witnessing with their own eyes chillul Shabbos.

Others suggest similarly, that as opposed to this being seen that the evnt was allowed to happen in the first place as asign, the mere zilzul sefer Torah that was its result demands our fasting.

An allusion to this can be found in chazal (Yerushalmi, Moed Kattan 3:7) where the death of a Talmud chacham is compared to a sefer torah. “Said Rav (after such a death), ‘I did not taste any food (i.e. I fasted) the rest of the day””

However, many posit that our reaction is not simply a reaction to the event alone, rather the fact that Hashem allowed it to happen in the first place is indeed a sign from shomayim of our need to do teshuva.

Naturally, it seems, it is this last view that most who are witnessed to such an event, instinctively, seem to assume.

Immediately following the fallen sefer Torah on yom tov, many balla battim approached me with there take on why this happened.

“This is because of those that come late to davening

“This is due to those who I can’t get to stop talking during chazaras hashatz”

This is because the rav allowed/disallowed X”

The next day I mentioned some of these suggestions, and explained that they all had one thing in common –‘It was not my sin that caused this, rather the sin of the other!’

I pointed out from chazal (Sanhedrin 20a) that one of the greatest generations was that of R’ Yehudah bar Ilay where six men would be able to share one tallis.

Rav Elyah Lopian wonders how that would even be physically possible. He explains that it is true that when each person takes and pulls for himself then six people could not share one tallis, however, when each person tries to give some of the tallis to the other, when they pull it toward their friend, and visa versa, indeed many could share one tallis.

In a similar vain, if instead of finding out why the sins of the ‘other’ is responsible for this tragedy, and instead each person would seek to discover what they could improve in themselves then we could be confident in offering to Hashem the teshuva He is looking for.

I wish to conclude the series on this topic with an amazing story that is recorded by Rav Paysach Krohn.

Several years ago a shul was looking to purchase a new sefer Torah. After the Shabbos of the announcement for collection of funds for this endeavor, and elderly gentleman approached the rav with an envelope filled with enough cash to pay for the entire project.

This elderly individual was not well-off and so, naturally, the rav asked for an explanation.

The older man explained how he was a survivor from the camps.

He was getting sick and the Nazi’s had taken away his shoes, leading to a risk to his life as he worked outside. He begged one of the officers for a pair of boots.

Surprisingly, the Nazi agreed, and more, said he will make him a custom pair!

The next day the Nazi presented his gift, leather boots made…from ripped sections of a sefer Torah.

“I had no choice, it was sakanas nefashos. But with every step I took I promised Hashem that if I ever make it out alive I will pay back the kavod sefer Torah by writing a new sefer. I did survive, and every day or week or month since lliberation, when possible, I would put aside a little money; a little here, a little there. Now finally I have enough to purchase the entire sefer Torah and have kapara”!

Some times things happen beyond our control and the only remaining test is how we choose to react to it.

May Hashem protect the nation that protects His Torah.

24 כד

תניא רבי ישמעאל בן אלעזר אומר בעון שני דברים עמי הארצות מתים על שקורין לארון הקודש ארנא ועל שקורין לבית הכנסת בית עם