By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
The best defense students have against being forced to learn is to try to use halacha against their teachers. For example, there is a dispute whether all parts of Torah may be learned on erev Tishah B’Av afternoon or only topics relevant to Tishah B’Av and mourning. I remember in camp the stringent minhag was adopted by many campers. If the group one was in was learning their regular studies on that afternoon, the student would say “Rebbe, it’s my minhag not to learn this now!” The Rebbe would counter, “How long have you had this minhag for?” The student would respond, “I just adopted it.”
As a bachur, I tried to convince my mashgiach that he wasn’t allowed to take attendance on Shabbos. Typically, during the week, there was a list with the names of all the bachurim. If he was present at seder, a dot was placed next to his name. On Shabbos, the bachurim who were present at afternoon seder (on long Shabbosim) had their names covered with a bobby pin. I argued that this was forbidden. Since the normal way to take attendance was with writing, one should not be allowed to take attendance with a bobby pin, because he may inadvertently come to write. The mashgiach considered the point and consequently sent the query to a renowned posek. The posek concurred with the logic in general, but said that the yeshiva can be lenient for a mitzvah purpose. Since attendance at seder improves when there is a record, this was deemed a mitzvah purpose.
Perhaps, from the daf, one can find another excuse not to learn in class. Suppose the morah or Rebbe wrote some pesukim from the Torah on the board; the student can argue, “I am not allowed to read them!”
The Mishnah in Yoma (37a) records that Hilney the Queen donated a golden tablet to the Beis Hamikdash that had parashas Sotah written on it. If a Kohen needed to write the parashas sotah, he now no longer needed to bring a sefer Torah for this purpose. He could simply copy it from the tablet. The Gemara attempted to prove from this Mishnah that one is permitted to transcribe one portion of the Torah on an individual piece of paper if necessary. One does not need to write an entire Chumash just for the purpose of the few pesukim that are needed.
The Gemara rejects this proof, however. Instead, the Gemara suggests that perhaps, after three words from a particular verse were written on the tablet, the remainder of the verse was written in shorthand. Perhaps it would be forbidden to ever write any complete verse of the Torah (or Neviim) if it is not intended to be part of an entire Chumash. The Gemara concedes that one may write up to three words of the Torah for whatever reason.
This very question was asked by Abaye to his Rebbe, Rabba, in Masechta Gittin (60a). “May one write a scroll containing only one parashah from the Torah for the purpose of teaching children?” Rabba answered that it is forbidden. One is not allowed to write verses from the Torah except as part of an entire Chumash. The Rambam codifies Rabba’s response as practical halacha. The ramifications of this ruling are potentially enormous. May one include kriyas Shma in a Siddur? The three parshiyos of Shma are verses from the Torah. According to the Rambam, one may not write verses from the Torah unless they are part of an entire Chumash. The Rambam himself wrote in a teshuvah that it is a violation of this halacha to have verses from the Torah embroidered on a tallis bag.
Can this indeed be an excuse for a student not to read the pesukim his Rebbe wrote on the board? The rebbe isn’t allowed to write those pesukim on the board to begin with! One may argue that perhaps the halacha is only against writing the pesukim, but reading them after they were already written is not an issue. However, the Gemara in Gittin discusses a “Sefer Haftaros,” a sefer that did not have the entire Neviim, but simply the haftaros that were read after Torah leining during the course of a year. The Gemara says that the creation of this sefer is a violation of the aforementioned halacha against selectively writing verses from Tanach. Furthermore, the Gemara suggests that this sefer is muktzeh on Shabbos since it cannot be read from! It is apparent that if one is not allowed to write the verses from the Torah, one may not read them even after they were written. Indeed, if the student follows the Rambam’s opinion on everything else, perhaps he may have a point in refusing to read the pesukim.
The Gemara concludes, however, that the Sefer Haftaros may indeed be used because of “Eis lasos LaHashem.” Since it was difficult for every congregation in the times of the Talmud to obtain a complete set of Nevi’im, a special dispensation was instituted to permit them to use this sefer. (The Magen Avraham suggests that perhaps nowadays this leniency may no longer be employed since it is certainly within the means of every congregation to purchase a printed volume of the entire Neviim.)
The Beis Yosef says that the Rif uses the Gemara’s conclusion to argue on the Rambam. The Rif says that individual verses may be written for the sake of learning. It is too difficult for us to require a Rebbe or morah to write an entire Chumash on the board, in order to teach a single pasuk! Therefore, just as the Gemara permitted synagogues to use a sefer Haftoras due to extenuating circumstances, teachers may print worksheets and write selected pesukim on the board due to extenuating circumstances. The Shach says that the widespread custom is to follow the Rif and to permit writing individual pesukim from the Torah for the sake of learning.
However, this may not be a carte blanche permit. The Mishnah Berurah (638:24) writes that one may not write the verse of “basukos tashvu shivas yamim” on Sukkos decorations. Although, the leniency to write pesukim is widespread, it was only for the permit of teaching Torah or learning Torah. There is no heter to write verses from the Torah simply for the purpose of decorating. This is true even if one is decorating a sukkah! However, Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, said that one may purchase decorations that have the pesukim already printed on them. The restriction is only against writing the verses out of context not against purchasing an item with the verses on it. The reader may ask, but isn’t it clear from the Gemara in Gittin, that where the verses may not be written, they may not be read either? In our situation, it is permissible regardless. If one doesn’t read the words on the sukkah decoration all is fine and well. If one does read the words then he is learning! Nowadays, we permit writing verses for the purpose of learning.
There is the opinion of the Tashbetz that is worth noting. He concludes that the only prohibition is against writing pesukim in ksav ashuris, in script that is valid in a sefer Torah. If his opinion were followed, this discussion wouldn’t be that relevant. However, there is a custom that is growing in popularity to read the parashah of Ketores every day from a parchment written in ksav ashuris. This would potentially be a problem even according to the Tashbetz. However, the Tashbetz himself holds of the permit of “eis la’asos,” so he would permit this practice, since the purpose of composing the klaf is for reading/learning Torah.
A friend of mine says that the reason for the minhag is that it is a segulah to become rich. Therefore, some people spend hundreds of dollars to purchase beautiful Ketores parchments. A Judaica dealer told me, “I’m not sure if the segulah works for others, but it has definitely worked for my business!” v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.