When Is a Mistake Not a Problem?

Ask the Rov: Which mistakes in a sefer Torah require taking out a different Torah?

By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah

As noted in the previous issue, a sefer Torah with a mistake is invalid for krias haTorah according to some, and if discovered in the middle of reading, it must be switched for a new Torah. However, not all mistakes invalidate the Torah.

If a Torah has a missing or extra word, it is invalid and a new Torah should be taken out. The same applies if a word was written in the form it is read (“kri”) instead of the form it is meant to be written (“ksiv”), or if a closed gap (parsha setuma) is interchanged with an open gap (parsha pesucha). With a missing or extra letter, it is a problem only if it changes the word’s pronunciation (e.g., כשב/כבש) or its meaning (e.g., /ונמצא ונמצה). But a cholam spelled with a vav instead of without one (e.g., אבותינו/אבתינו) doesn’t invalidate the sefer Torah.1

If a gap in the middle of a word makes it appear like two words or two words are very close and appear like one long word, the Torah is invalid. However, if there is a less obvious gap and it is unclear whether it appears like two words or one word, halacha dictates that we ask a child who knows the shapes of the letters but not the meaning of the words (since he might figure out based on the context). If there is a final letter at the end of the first word, thus indicating the end of the word, some hold that one may be lenient.2

If letters or words have faded, the Torah is kosher if a remnant of the black shade remains. But if the ink has fallen off, leaving only a brownish-reddish residue, the letters are considered missing.3 The same applies to a crack in a letter (e.g., an alef with a detached yud).

A letter that touches another letter along its entire height or in a way that alters its form is invalid.4 However, if the attachment is slight and does not alter the letters’ shapes, and one can tell that it happened after the letters were mostly formed, the attachment may be scraped away during the week, and there is no concern for creating a letter through scraping (chak tochos). On Shabbos, when this isn’t possible, one may read from this Torah. Yet, if the attachment may have occurred while forming the letters, a new Torah should be taken out when possible.5

When unsure if a letter is of the proper size (e.g., whether a vav is long enough or looks like a yud), one can show it to a child and see how he identifies it. The surrounding text should be covered so he doesn’t compare it to the other vavs.6

If a letter is clearly severed by a hole, and the bottom is invalid due to the requirement of hekef gvil (being surrounded by parchment), the remnant below the hole must be covered so that the child doesn’t view the two parts together.7

See Sources (open PDF)

From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash

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