A Torah Scroll In Which a Mistake Was Found
Based on a shiur by Rav Shlomo Levy*
Adapted by Yitzchak Forer
The Disagreement between the Rambam and the Rashba
The Rambam and the Rashba disagree about what to do if a mistake was found in a Torah scroll that was to be used for a public Torah reading. The Rambam writes that in such a situation there is no problem reciting the blessings and conducting the Torah reading in the usual manner:
Question: [Regarding public Torah reading when a Torah scroll is not available, may they read from Chumashim and recite the blessings before and after the reading, or should they refrain from reading altogether? And similarly regarding a Torah scroll] that was not made in the proper manner, or Torah scrolls written on parchment that was not processed for the sake of a Torah scroll which are certainly unfit, is it permissible for the reader to recite a blessing over it, or is it forbidden to recite the blessing? May our master teach us.
Answer: It is permissible to recite the blessing… Here regarding the reading the mitzva is to read from a Torah scroll, whether one reads from a fit scroll, or he reads from an unfit scroll, and even if he reads it by heart, he should recite the blessing, for the reading itself is the mitzva over which we recite the blessing…. (Responsa ha-Rambam, no. 294)
According to the Rambam, an unfit Torah scroll is indeed unfit, but there is no reason not to read from it. According to his understanding, the mitzva is the reading and study of Torah – one person reads and the congregation listens. As long as this happens, the mitzva is fulfilled, and blessings may be recited in the usual manner.
The Rashba disagrees with the Rambam and expresses surprise at his words:
For if it is not unfit for [public] reading and for a blessing, regarding what is is fit or unfit? For you shouldn't say that it is unfit to read from it in the first instance if a fit Torah scroll is available, and similarly, whereever they said that we do not read from it, that this should mean that we do not read from it in the first instance where a fit scroll is available. And furthermore, the argument itself upon which the master relies, namely, that the blessing is recited on the reading itself, even if he reads by heart, I am amazed by it. For they did not ordain [public] reading in the synagogue by heart, but only from a Torah scroll. For were the enactment [to read even] by heart, why do we not read even from Chumashim; how is a Chumash worse than by heart… Rather Moshe and Ezra enacted [public] reading of the Torah as an obligatory enactment to read on Mondays and Thursdays and on Shabbat and festivals… Even so if he read from the Torah on those fixed times, even immediately, he is obligated to recite a blessing for the mitzva of ordained [public] reading. And that enactment was only made with respect to reading from a Torah scroll. Therefore, whoever does not read from a scroll and from a fit scroll does not recite a blessing, for this is not part of the enactment. (Responsa ha-Rashba, cited by Kolbo, no. 20)
The Rashba argues that Moshe and Ezra enacted public Torah reading, rather than Torah study. We must study Torah every day, but on Shabbat and festivals, and on Mondays and Thursdays, we must fulfill the enactment of public Torah reading. From this it follows that the enactment is to read from a fit scroll, and if the scroll is unfit we do not fulfill the mitzva, and thus there is no need to recite a blessing.
We see then that the Rambam and the Rashba disagree about the nature of the enactment. According to the Rambam, the mitzva is one of Torah study, whereas according to the Rashba, there is an enactment of reading. The Rashba raises an objection against the Rambam's viewpoint: If the mitzva is solely to learn Torah from a written text, what need is there for a fit Torah scroll? What purpose is served by all the rules regarding the fitness of a Torah scroll, if there is no problem reading from an unfit scroll?
One way to explain the Rambam's viewpoint is that a fit Torah scroll is required lekhatchila, but bedi'eved it is unnecessary. The Ran (cited by the Rashbash) brings another responsum:
And he wrote regarding that which we learned in a Mishna: "Regarding the two portions of Scripture in a mezuza… even one [imperfect] letter can invalidate the whole," certainly the same applies to a Torah scroll, regarding that which a Torah scroll is equal to tefilin and mezuzot. For in the case of tefilin and mezuzot, there is no mitzva to read from them, but rather every person is obligated to attach a mezuza [to his doorway] and to don tefilin, and similarly in the case of a Torah scroll, every person is obligated to write a Torah scroll for himself. And with respect to this mitzva, just as regarding tefilin and mezuzot even one [imperfect] letter can invalidate the whole, so too regarding a Torah scroll, even one [imperfect] letter can invalidate the whole, so that he has not fulfilled the mitzva of writing [a Torah scroll] until he fixes it. But as for fulfilling [the obligation to] read from it, which is an enactment of the prophets and Ezra, one may not learn [the law governing] a Torah scroll from tefilin and mezuzot. (Responsa ha-Rashba, no. 332)
According to the Ran's explanation, all the rules and conditions for a fit Torah scroll relate to the mitzva of writing a Torah scroll cast upon each and every individual.
This explanation accords with the disagreement between the Rambam and the Rosh regarding the writing of a Torah scroll. According to one understanding of the Rosh, the essence of the mitzva of writing a Torah scroll is for the sake of Torah study. Most people do not write a Torah scroll, nor do they even have one in their house, for they all rely on the Rosh's viewpoint. According to the Rosh, if a person has Chumashim, a Tanakh, and a Shas, he has fulfilled the mitzva.
In contrast, the Rambam understands that the mitzva of writing a Torah scroll is not for the purpose of Torah study, but rather an independent mitzva. Every person must write for himself a fit Torah scroll, but for public reading and learning even an unfit scroll suffices.
But still the Rashba raises an objection against the Rambam regarding the enactment itself: If, according to the Rambam, the entire obligation is to learn from a Torah scroll, what exactly did the prophets ordain?
It may be proposed that according to the Rambam, this indeed is the case – the enactment is to study Torah. Another explanation of the Rambam's viewpoint is brought in Responsa ha-Re'em:
Since I incline to the position of the Rambam and those in his camp, I ruled for those who run away from the city during a period of plague and go to villages populated exclusively by gentiles, and a fit Torah scroll cannot be brought there, that they should read from a Chumash and recite a blessing before and after, as with a fit Torah scroll… And regarding that which he argued further from the fact that we are exempt all day from reciting a blessing over the Torah with Birkat ha-Shachar and Ahava Rabba, but regarding the enactment of public Torah reading we are not exempt with Birkat ha-Shachar, but rather we recite a blessing over it at the beginning and at the end, even if he read it immediately after reciting Birkat ha-Shachar, that this indicates that Birkat ha-Shachar is one thing and the blessing over the reading required by the enactment is another thing, that Birkat ha-Shachar is recited over the very reading and exempts all the readings, and the blessing over the reading required by the enactment is over the enactment, and therefore the former does not exempt the latter – it seems to me that this is not an argument. For it may be proposed that the enactment did nothing else but turn this reading into an obligation, and since it is obligatory and not similar to the reading in the morning, the one does not exempt the other. But the blessing is recited over the very reading and not over the enactment. And the wording of the blessing proves this, as stated above, for if it is only over the enactment, why not recite a blessing with the formula customary with all other Rabbinic enactments? (Responsa Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi, no. 10)
According to the Re'em's explanation, there are from the outset two different levels of Torah reading: the Torah reading of the individual and the reading of the congregation.
Even before the enactment, it was necessary to recite a blessing over public Torah reading, only that the enactment obligates reading and studying the Torah in a public manner. Since the law exists in any case, the enactment did not obligate a person to read from a fit Torah scroll, but rather it is possible to read from an unfit scroll. The person recited a blessing over his personal Torah study already in the morning, and now he recites an additional blessing over the reading of the Torah.
According to this, the enactment did not introduce any new parameters regarding the manner of study, but merely established fixed times for public Torah reading. Therefore, there is no obligation to read from a fit Torah scroll. The enactment did not introduce anything new regarding the reading, but only regarding the obligation.
By Torah law or Rabbinic decree
The Rishonim also disagree on the question whether the blessing over the Torah is by Torah law or only by Rabbinic decree. The Ramban in his strictures to the Rambam's Sefer ha-Mitzvot maintains that the blessing over the Torah is by Torah law; whereas the Rambam does not count it as a separate mitzva. There are those who understood that even according to the Rambam, the blessing over the Torah is by Torah law, only that the obligation to recite it is part of the mitzva of Torah study, and therefore he did not count it separately. Others, however, understood that according to the Rambam, the blessing is only by Rabbinic decree. In this context, the Be'er Sheva has some interesting remarks:
Rav Yehuda said: From where do we know that Birkat ha-Mazon after [the meal] is from the Torah? As it is stated: "When you have eaten and are replete, then you shall bless" (Devarim 8:10). From where do we know that the blessing over the Torah before [the reading] is from the Torah? As it is stated: "When I will call on the name of the Lord, ascribe greatness to our God" (ibid. 32:3). Now this is difficult, for [public] Torah reading is not from the Torah, but only by Rabbinic decree. How then can we learn from a verse [to recite] the blessing over the Torah before [the reading], i.e., when he reads in a synagogue, because that is what is under discussion, for regarding an individual, it is not relevant to say: "When I will call on the name of the Lord, ascribe greatness to our God." Rather, what must you say? That even though the Torah does not obligate Torah reading in the synagogue, nevertheless, if he wishes on his own to read in the synagogue, then the Torah obligates him to recite a blessing beforehand, as it is stated: "When I will call on the name of the Lord, ascribe greatness to our God," as with respect to Birkat ha-Mazon, that the Torah obligates one to recite a blessing after eating, if he wishes to eat. But he is not obligated to eat in order to recite Birkat ha-Mazon. This is like the blessing "to wrap oneself in tzitzit," so too here. This explains the words of Rashi in Sota 33a.
According to the Be'er Sheva's explanation, the blessing recited over public Torah reading is by Torah law, whereas the blessing recited over individual Torah study is by Rabbinic decree. If a person reads from the Torah by himself, the blessing is not by Torah law, but when the congregation reads from the Torah, they are obligated in a blessing by Torah law, and therefore in the case of public Torah reading a blessing must be recited even in the absence of a fit Torah scroll.
The nature of public Torah reading
After all that we said thus far, we must understand the Rashba, for on the face of it the Rambam is right. Surely we hear the Torah reading, that which the Torah reader proclaims out loud, so what difference should it make whether the scroll is fit or unfit? What difference does it make whether in the Torah scroll the word "Pinchas" is written plene with a yod or defective without one?
It may be possible to suggest an answer to this question based on an idea that appears in several places, according to which public Torah reading is not merely a fulfillment of Torah study, but also a reenactment of the giving of the Torah. The entire process of removing the Torah scroll from the ark and reading from it in public is a reenactment of the Sinaitic experience, in which we hear a voice reading the Torah to us.
According to this, we understand the importance of public Torah reading – reading the Torah is like a renewed receival of the Torah. Today we tend to relate to the practice of lifting up the Torah before or after the reading (hagbaha) as an auxilliary element, but according to this understanding lifting up the Torah is an essential part of the reading.
Thus, it follows that the Torah scroll must be entirely fit. If we are receiving this Torah scroll, it must be absolutely kosher and fit, that it not be missing even a single letter. We cannot take out and read from an unfit Torah scroll.
Another possible way to explain the Rashba lies in the very sanctity of a Torah scroll. When we read from a Torah scroll, it has more sanctity than when we read from an ordinary Chumash, and therefore it is of utmost importance that the Torah scroll be fit.
It is difficult for us today to fully understand the sanctity of a Torah scroll, because we look at it merely as a means, as a tool. We relate to a Torah scroll merely as an object on which the Torah is written, and we attribute importance only to its contents, and not to the scroll itself. In reality, a Torah scroll is not only ink and parchment, but the resting place of the Shekhina, one of the manifestations of the Torah. Therefore it is of great importance that the scroll be fit, and accordingly, there is greater sanctity reading from a fit scroll than from an unfit one.
Mahari Engel asks with respect to public Torah reading, whether the obligation falling upon the congregation is merely to hear the reading, or whether there is an obligation upon each and every individual to read, and based on the rule that one who hears is regarded as one speaks, it is as if each person is reading? If the mitzva is for each person to read as opposed to learn Torah in public, it follows that the Torah scroll must be fit.
FInding a mistake in the course of reading
Thus far we have seen the disagreement between the Rambam and the Rashba. If, prior to the public reading, a Torah scroll was found to contain a mistake, the law follows the Rashba, and we do not read from that scroll. It often happens, however, that the error is only discovered in the course of the reading. According to the Rashba, in such a case there is no question: the congregation did not full the obligation to read from the Torah, the blessings that were recited were uttered in vain, and now a new scroll must be taken out and the reading must commence from the beginning. According to the Rambam, regarding that which was already read, they fulfilled their obligation, but in any case a new scroll must be taken out, for lekhatchila we require a fit scroll. But they need not start from the beginning, but rather they may resume from the place where the reading had stopped.
In practice, the Beit Yosef follows his teacher Mahari Beirav that owing to the inconvenience that would be caused to the congregation, they need not repeat the reading a second time; on this point all the Posekim agree with the Beit Yosef.
Disagreement regarding the blessings
The later authorities disagree about what should be done regarding the blessings according to the Rambam:
If an error was found in a Torah scroll during the course of reading, [in between readers] they take out another Torah scroll and start reading from the place where the error was found and they complete the number of readers counting those who read from the scroll with the error. If the error was found in the course of [the actual] reading itself, the reader completes his reading from the fit scroll, and a blessing is recited afterward, but a blessing is not recited beforehand. (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayyim 143:4).
According to the Shulchan Arukh then, a fit Torah scroll is taken out, the reading is resumed from the place where it had been interrupted without an additional blessing, and upon completion of the reading a blessing is recited as usual. The Mordekhai, however, disagrees:
Regarding the High Priest who reads "Acharei Mot" from a Torah scroll and "Be-Esor la-Chodesh" in Bamidbar he reads by heart, and the Gemara asks: Let him bring another Torah scroll and read, and Rabbi Yochanan answers: Because it might cast a reflection on the first one, and Resh Lakish says: Because of an unnecessary blessing, and Rashi explains that were he to bring another Torah scroll, the reader would have to recite a blesssing before and after, therefore he reads by heart, for he fulfills his obligation with a single blessing. And even though there is no reflection on the first one, for it is [already] impaired and missing [letters]. (Megila, no. 792)
On Yom Kippur the High Priest reads one section from a Torah scroll and another section he reads by heart. The question arises: Why not read the second section from another scroll, to which two answers are given:
1) If they read from a second Torah scroll, people will think that there is something wrong with the first scroll, when this is not true.
2) In order that an unnecessary blessing not be recited.
In our case, where an error was found in the Torah scroll, the first problem does not exist, because the Torah scroll is in fact defective.
But from the second explanation it follows that when a second scroll is taken out, it is necessary to recite another blessing before beginning to read from the fit scroll. The Gaon of Vilan and many other Acharonim claim that this is a strong proof, and therefore they rule against the Shulchan Arukh. According to them, even according to the Rambam, even though the reading resumes from the place where it was interrupted, a blessing must be recited following the reading from the unfit scroll, and then another blessing must be recited before beginning to read from the fit Torah scroll.
It may be suggested that according to the Shulchan Arukh, only the first answer in the Gemara in Yoma was accepted, or that an additional blessing is only required when reading from a different section, but not when reading the section that he already had in mind when reciting the first blessing. The Bach also disagrees with the Shulchan Arukh, and he adduces proof to his position from the law governing turmusin, a certain type of legume. The Yerushalmi (Berakhot 6:1) states that if a person recited a blessing over a particular turmus, and after reciting the blessing, the turmus fell to the ground, and he took another one, he must recite a second blessing.
The Posekim disagree whether we are dealing here with a case where he had intended from the outset to eat the second turmus or with a case where he had originally intended to eat only the first one.
The Bach maintains that the law applying to a new Torah scroll is the same as the law governing a new turmus, and therefore a new blessing is required before reading from the second Torah scroll, for when the first blessing was recited, the intention was only to read from the first scroll, which only later proved to be unfit.
It may be suggested that the disagreement regarding a blessing depends on the dispute between the Rambam and the Rashba. If we follow the Rashba, that the mitzva relates to the object of the Torah scroll itself, the Bach is right. But if we follow the Rambam, that the essence of the mitzva is Torah study, the blessing is not recited over the scroll itself, but over its contents, and therefore it is not the same as the case of the turmus.
In any event, according to the Rashba, there is no disagreement – all agree that a second Torah scroll is taken out, and the entire reading starts from the beginning, and of course new blessings are recited. According to the Rambam, the reading resumes from the place where it had been interrupted, and the disagreement is only whether or not the blessings must be repeated.
There is an additional issue according to the Bach, who requires that a new blessing be recited before reading from the fit Torah scroll, there is a disagreement whether the blessing recited after the reading must be recited over the unfit Torah scroll before beginning to read from the fit scroll, or whether we immediately move on to the fit scroll. The reason is that we take both positions into account: Since re-reading the entire parasha from the beginning involves an "incovenience to the congregation," we rely on the Rambam and don't go back to the beginning, and according to him there is room to recite the blessing that follows the reading over the first scroll; but at the same time we take the Rashba's position into account, and according to him reciting that blessing over the unfit scroll would be a blessing recited in vain.
The Sha'ar Efrayim and other Acharonim rule that the blessing recited following the reading is not recited over the unfit scroll, in deference to the Rashba's position that such a blessing would be a blessing recited in vain. The Magen Avraham and the Bach disagree, and according to them, a blessing recited after the reading is recited over the unfit scroll, and a blessing recited before the reading is recited over the fit scroll.
This ruling may be understood in two ways:
1) If we rely on the Rambam, and do not go back and read from the beginning of the Parasha, it is possible that the reading from the unfit Torah scroll was valid, and the blessing recited after the reading would not be in vain, and this would also spare us any uncertainty about reciting a blessing before beginning to read from the fit scroll.
2) It is possible that they maintain that the blessings are an integral part of the enactment, so that if the blessings are not recited, the enactment is not fulfilled, and therefore it is necessary to recite the blessing that follows the reading over the unfit scroll and the blessing that precedes the reading over the fit scroll.
We see then that there are three views regarding the blessings:
Shulchan Arukh: The blessing that follows the reading is recited over the fit scroll at the end of the reading, but no blessing is recited before the reading.
Gaon Vilna, Bach and Magen Avraham: The blessing that follows the reading is recited over the unfit scroll and the blessing that precedes the reading is recited over the fit scroll.
Sha'ar Efrayim: The blessing following the reading is not recited over the unfit scroll.
If there are not enough verses
The Posekim disagree about yet another point, regarding the case where the mistake was found toward the end of the reading, and there are not enough verses for another aliya, or where the mistake was found in the fourth aliya on Rosh Chodesh, and it is impossible to call up a fifth person to the Torah.
The Rema rules that such a case is not governed by any special laws, and the reading continues from a fit Torah scroll. He does not distinguish between a case where there are many verses left and a case where only a few verses are left.
There are, however, other Posekim, e.g., the Bach and the Mordekhai, who distinguish and say that if there are not enough verses for an additional aliya, we do not change Torah scrolls, but rather we continue to read from the unfit scroll. The Mordekhai states explicitly:
That which we rule that lekhatchila he reads the missing verses by heart – this applies where he has not yet read three verses, or where it is the fourth [aliya] on Rosh Chodesh or on Chol ha-Mo'ed, so that he must finish the section, because we do not add [aliyot], or where the missing verse is within two verses of the next section, because we do not leave less than three verses of a section, as it is stated below in the third chapter, similar to a High Priest, who must read it all. But if he already read three verses, and he is far from the [next] section, so that he can end [there] and recite a blessing, he should recite the "asher natan" blessing, and finish, and they should bring another Torah scroll and another person should read, for there is no blessing recited in vain, and there is no problem of casting reflection, for it is defective. (Mordekhai, Megila, no. 794)
In this case there is a problem deciding between the Rambam and the Rashba.
If we rely on the Rambam, we should rule that a second Torah scroll should not be taken out, for if a blessing is recited over it, it is an unnecessary blessing.
But if we continue to read from the unfit Torah scroll, according to the Rashba, the blessing that will be recited after the reading will be a blessing recited in vain.
Accordingly, we must consider whether it is preferable to continue the reading and recite a blessing at the end over an unfit Torah scroll, thus possibly entering into a situation of a blessing recited in vain according to the Rashba; or to take out a new Torah scroll and add verses, even though according to the Rambam this is an unnecessary blessing. According to the Shulchan Arukh, there is no problem, because there is no additional blessing, but rather we move over to the new Torah scroll without another blessing, but according to the other Posekim, there is a problem here.
Some argue that if in any case we follow the Rambam and don't go back and read from the beginning, but only resume the reading from the place where the error was found, then in such a case we must follow the Rambam "to the end," and continue reading from the unfit Torah scroll.
Others rule that that we take out a new Torah scroll and recite a blessing before reading from it, but we do not recite the blessing following the reading from the unfit Torah scroll, and we reread the verses that had already been read.
There is no consensus on the matter, and each community follows its own custom.
We first saw the disagreement between the Rambam and the Rashba regarding the need for a fit Torah scroll for public Torah reading, which stems from different understandings regarding the enactment of public Torah reading.
In practice, we take both positions into account, and therefore where there is no fit Torah scroll, lekhatchila there is no public Torah reading.
If an error was found in a Torah scroll in the course of reading, owing to the "incovenience that would be caused to the congregation," we follow the Rambam, and resume the reading from the place where it was interrupted, but we do not go back to the beginning, as would be required by the Rashba.
Regarding the blessings that must be recited in such a case, there are several positions: Do we only recite the blessing that follows the reading over the fit scroll, but not the blessing that precedes the reading; do we recite the blessing that precedes the reading over the fit scroll, but not the blessing that follows the reading over the unfit scroll; or do we perhaps recite both blessings?
(Translated by David Strauss)
* This shiur was delivered by
 The Rambam adds that the blessing recited over public Torah reading is unlike the blessings recited over a lulav or a sukka, which, if the lulav or sukka are unfit, are blessings recited in vain. In the case of public Torah reading, the blessing is recited over the reading, and it makes no difference whether the scroll is fit or unfit.
 He even argues that the Rambam wrote this responsum in his youth, but later retracted it.
 See Tur and Beit Yosef, Yoreh De'a 270.
 This is also the situation with respect to the recitation of Kaddish: There is an obligation to recite Kaddish on specific occasions, but there is no limit to the number of times that Kaddish may be recited, and whoever wishes to add, may do so.
 The Torah did not establish an obligation of public Torah reading. As is the case with respect to Birkat ha-Mazon, where a person is not obligated to eat, but if he does eat, he is obligated to recite Birkat ha-Mazon by Torah law – so too with respect to public Torah reading. But the Sages came and established specific times for the mitzva.
 I am not sure that the Rambam can be understood as the Be'er Sheva understands him, for the Rambam is generally very clear about the level of obligation – by Torah law or by Rabbinic decree – and were this his position, he should at least have made some allusion to it.
 The Posekim disagree about whether a person is permitted to take out a Torah scroll, recite a blessing, and read from it on an ordinary day, at a time that there is no obligation to do so. According to the Re'em and the Be'er Sheva there is no problem to do this. It is customary in certain places today when a new Torah scroll is brought to a synagogue to recite the blessings and read from the Torah. The Netziv, however, objected to this practice, and said that it involved a blessing recited in vain.
 There was a time when it was customary to complete the reading cycle once every three years, and not every year, as is the common practice today. From here we see that what is important is not the study or the quantity, but the very reading.
 Indeed, the Shulchan Arukh writes (Orach Chayyim 134:2): "He shows the writing in the Torah scroll to the people standing to his right and to his left, and he turns it forwards and backwards, for there is a mitzva that all the men and women should see the writing, and bow down, and say: 'This is the Torah… the Lord's Torah is perfect.'"
 Some people are accustomed at the beginning of the month of Nisan to read the section of the Nesi'im from a Torah scroll, and for this reason they are particular about reading from a fit Torah scroll.
 Like the obligation to hear the blast of the shofar, according to certain opinions.
 Like Megila reading, where every person is obligated, but in practice only one person reads and all the others fulfill their obligation based on the principle that "hearing is equivalent to speaking."
 Rav Soloveitchik explains at length that the mitzva is to read, and that a person fulfills his obligation even if he does not understand a word that has been read.
 Yoreh De'a 279, s.v. sefer.
 Similarly in the case of Sheva Berakhot, if after several blessings have already been recited, the wine spills, and now a new cup is filled, the "bore peri ha-gefen" blessing must be recited a second time.
 In any event, a new blessing prior to the reading is recited over the fit scroll, and there is no concern about a blessing recited in vain, because even the Rambam accepts the law regarding the turmus.
 I heard about an incident where an error was found in a Torah scroll, and the rabbi ruled that the reading should continue from that scroll. Later the rabbi explained that since the scribe who had written that scroll was present, he did not want to embarrass him, and therefore he relied on the Rambam and ruled that they should continue reading from that scroll.