Shabbat Parashat Bo| 5765
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I want to give a gift of an authentic, sacred scroll, presented in an artistic form, in a manner that, I think, will add a spiritual touch to the home of the recipient. Is it permitted?
Answer: We have to break up our discussion into two parts, the objective, halachic element and the subjective outlook on the specific situation, which is much harder to determine.
The gemara (Menachot 34b) brings an apparent contradiction. One source says that if one has two tefillin shel rosh and no shel yad, he can convert one shel rosh into a shel yad. Another source says that one may not turn a shel rosh into a shel yad, because one may not lower something from a higher level of kedusha (the shel rosh) to a lower one (shel yad). The gemara answers that the lenient source is talking about a case where the tefillin were not yet used. Based on the rule that hazmana lav milta (preparation does not halachically count), tefillin which were made but not used do not have the kedusha of tefillin that would forbid their being lowered in kedusha. According to the opinion that hazmana does count, says the gemara,the lenient case is talking when a stipulation was made during the shel rosh’s preparation, that it could be used for less holy purposes.
We accept the opinion that hazmana is not binding, and, therefore, one who made cloth into a tefillin bag can put coins into it prior to its use for tefillin (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 42: 3). However, the Rama (ad loc.) rules that when hazmana is done for something that is an article of kedusha itself (e.g. sefer Torah, tefillin, mezuza), as opposed to something to service the kedusha, then the article is imbued with kedusha. While the Magen Avraham (42: 6) brings those who argue with the Rama, the Biur Halacha (ad loc.) says that one should not be lenient against the majority opinion that the Rama presents. However, there is an important limitation to the stringency. It is forbidden to use the scroll prepared for use as kedusha only for chol (mundane use). It may, though, be used for matters of kedusha of a lower level, including for divrei Torah, for people to learn Torah from it (Mishna Berura 42:19).
After providing the halachic background, let us now address your specific case. If you are talking about a scroll that has already been used for its intended purpose, it is forbidden to use it in an artistic form, which is a lower level of kedusha than the mitzva it was helping fulfill. However, if it was not used, then the matter depends on the context of the use. If the artistic display of the scroll is done in such a way that one can expect it to draw people’s attention to its Torah content, then we can say that it is being used for divrei Torah in a positive, albeit “off the beaten track” way. Because of its kedusha, one would still need to be careful that it not be permanently displayed in bedrooms or have it pass through bathrooms, but it would be generally permissible. The content and tone of your description [ed. note- shortened, by necessity, in the published version], gives the impression that its intention (and, presumably, its use) is that the kedusha and the specific words of Torah found on the scroll be noticed and have a positive impact on the home. However, it is difficult to judge such matters in the forum of e-mail.
[Allow us to comment on a related, recent phenomenon. Happily, Torah themes have gone, in many circles, from being embarrassing to the observant Jew in contemporary society to being acceptable and even popular. As such, different art forms (especially, music) have had words of Torah incorporated in them. When done properly, we fulfill the laudable practice of “ze keili v’anveihu,” of beautifying and adorning Torah and mitzvot. However, when it is done in a manner that ignores or even degrades them (e.g. with grossly inappropriate beats) we run the risk of abusing our matters of kedusha (see Sanhedrin 101a). The excuse that the intent is to bring Torah to the masses, while legitimate in some cases, can be exaggerated and overused.]
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