פורום בינלאומי לנושא סת"ם

Monday, April 30, 2012

Sefard and Ashkenaz customs of reading the Torah

Does any one know of a makor or at least the reason why Sefardic minyans read the Torah while it is standing, where as Ashkenaz minyans read the Torah while it is laying down? Was this concept from a mesorah or did it evolve through the time as a way of giving proper kavod to the Torah, similar to some of the ornaments that came about over the time?


  1. It has to do with the machlokes between the rambam and the rosh, same reason why rambam says to put a mezuzah vertically and rosh says horizontally. A bimah should be on an angle according to ashkenazi custom same reason as mezuzah is on an angle so as to compromise between the two opinions

  2. Indeed, what Eli brings above is the maqor for the difference with respect to how Sifrei Torah are handled. The Talmud in Menachot 33a documents a difference of opinion between Rashi and Tosafot/Rabenu Tam of which position is more Kavod for a Sefer Torah, STANDING or LYING DOWN?

    As Eli points out above, this argument parallels that of the placement of a Mezuzah. In addition, it also extends into differing points of view as to how to place parashiyot into tefillin.

    For Rashi, the ideal placement is vertical. Rabbenu Tam states that the more respectful placement of scrolls is that of lying down horizontally. This is how he records scrolls placed in the Aron HaKodesh, and this then is how the mezuzah should be placed in the doorpost. He also states that this is how the parchments of tefillin should be placed in their batim.

    Rabbenu Tam’s reasoning is as follows: “Go and see, that it is a daily practice that when the Sefer Torah is standing on the Bimah that everyone stands, and when the shaliach tzibbur sets it down, everyone sits.” This is presumably evidence that the Sefer Torah is considered to be at rest, and in its proper place, when it is laid down horizontally.

    So how do we understand this difference of opinion between Rashi & Rabenu Tam? It appears that, for Rabenu Tam, the conceptual model for placing a mezuzah and parchments for tefillin is that of “storage” or “setting in its place.” To store Sifrei Kodesh means, for him, to lay them down horizontally. Likewise, to store, or to set the mezuzah in its place means to put it horizontally in the doorpost.

    As a side line, extremely old depictions of Torah Arks have been found in the catacombs in Italy as well as in Bet Shearim in Israel. These show Sifrei Torah lying down in the Aron HaKodesh, just like Rabenu Tam describes.

    Rashi views the mitzvah differently than Rabenu Tam. For him, the mitzvah is to affix the mezuzah, not to store or set the klaf. The klaf is being used, not stored, and as such it is held-up vertically. At a conceptual level, the mitzvah is even more than affixing – it is “writing” the mezuzah on the doorpost. Thus, if we are to write, we must do this with the standard vertical orientation, and when we affix the mezuzah, the klaf must be in a position that it can be read, that is, vertical.

    This is consonant with the way Sephardic Tiks work, and therefore the Sefer Torah is both read and stored while standing up.

    Standard Ashkenazic practice follows Tosafot’s explanation of the phrase איסתוירא. Tosafot states that this means diagonal, and that such an orientation would be good even for Rashi. The common practice, then, is to place the mezuzah diagonally, with the assumption that this is what Rebbe did, and that this would be proper in accordance to both Rashi and Rabbenu Tam.

  3. So if the prevalent Minhag Ashkenaz is to place a Mezuzah at an angle, why aren’t Sifrei Torah placed as such in the Aron HaKodesh?

    Take a look at the BACH in Yoreh De'ah 289:10 who writes that one should also lean the Sefer Torah on the diagonal when stored. In fact, this is the Minhag in Belz - where the Bach was the Rav.

    I believe that the answer to the above becomes apparent if we consider that the Ashkenaz world still fundamentally rules like Rashi. This can be seen in that mezuzot are still placed much more vertically than horizontally. In addition, if the doorpost is not wide enough for a diagonal placement, the mezuzah is then placed in a full vertical position.

    To sum this up. It appears to me that practice usually follows the form of the object. Many of the old scrolls depicted on ancient drawings did not have atzei chayim, or maybe had one. As such, they could not stand inside an ark and were layed flat as Rabenu Tam describes.

    Once Atzei Chayim were introduced, it became possible to stand them. This method also avoided the problem of scrolls crushing when stored horizontally because of the weight of other scrolls stacked above. Therefore, it became more KAVOD to stand them. Sometimes, the form of the object is re-engineered, as in our more modern middle-eastern tiks in order to be consistent with the concept that “standing” is Kavod LaTorah, or like Minhag Belz where the Aron HaKodesh was re-engineered to place the Sifrei Torah at an angle.

    Our Jewish world is rich. Sometimes whe give Kavod to the object, and at others to the idea behind the Posek. But most of all, whatever form is implemented, it must remain practical for us to use and to continue to uphold. In the ultimate sense, this is what demonstrates our true dignity and respect for the Torah.

  4. Alberto it is a pleasure reading your informative articles.Rabbi ezra attia ztz"l surely has nachas.


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