Parsha Mitzvot: Vayakhel: Modern Shabbat Violator
When a scribe had completed writing a Torah scroll, it was customary to have a Siyum, “completion celebration” in the synagogue. At this celebration the members and guests were asked to make contributions to defray the costs of the scroll. To encourage their generosity, they were given an opportunity to write their names symbolically into the scroll. This was done in the following manner: The scribe wrote the last few lines of the Torah in hollow letters to be blacked in at the ceremony. If the donor’s name is Abraham, for example, the scribe picked out the hollow letters spelling “Abraham” and guided the donor’s hand as he filled them in.
May we permit Sabbath violators to “write in” their names in the Sefer Torah, when the law considers them to be renegades and idolaters? Does not the law say specifically that a Torah written by an unbeliever must be burned, or at least is unfit for use?
Peace and all good life and blessing to my beloved friend, the scholar outstanding in learning in fear of God, the dear and honored Moses Klafter, in the city of New York.
Your valued letter has reached me. Now with regard to the question that it is the custom in your place of that, when a Torah is being donated to the synagogue, certain letters are left incomplete at the end of the Torah and to whoever gives most money is allowed to fill in these letters, thus completing the scroll.
Now there are among such people men who violate the Sabbath in public and therefore are to be considered apostates, and you are in doubt if that fact does not render the Torah one “written by apostates” and therefore unfit for public use.
I answer you in brief as to what is stated in the Shulchan Aruch, Yorah Deah, number 281, namely, that a Sefer Torah which an apostate has written is unfit for public use. The law applies specifically only to the man who violates the law provocatively, but not to the one who violates it because of his needs or desires. The violators of the Sabbath that are found in our day are not to be classed as “provocateurs,” for they do all that they do because of their livelihood. Although they may violate the Sabbath even in such matters which do not concern their business, that too is only because “one sin brings another in its wake,” and, alas, it seems to them by now as if all were permissible. At all events, there is no ground for the suspicion that this man would write that the Torah for idolatrous purposes or with idolatrous intent, since he does not do this provocatively at all.
It is true that, according to the opinion of the Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim, number 39, end of section 3, based on the Tosafot, Avodah Zarah 26b, it is quite clear that even a violator for his own desires is ineligible to write a Torah. Yet this opinion applies only if he writes the entire Torah, for in that case one would have to be concerned with the law, namely, the necessity, when certain letters are by accident run together, to scrape out the whole letter, whereas he, being lazy in the matter, not being pious, may content himself with scraping out only part of the attaching line. Therefore the Torah would be unfit because of “engraving in relief and move.” But all of this does not apply to our case here, where he writes just a few letters and a skilled scribe is standing by his side who vouches for him and shows them how to write.
Besides, the man writes no Name of God and there is, therefore, no grounds for suspicion. Obviously he writes under the authority of the scribe who guides.
This seems to my humble opinion, I have written in on this evening of Wednesday, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, 5661. (Tevuot HaSadeh, Page 80b)