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QUESTION

Maryland, USA

I see a lot of non-Orthodox shuls have a practice of unrolling the Torah entirely on Simchat Torah (I think this started with the Renewal movement). Is this a kavod to the Torah or it a bizayon to the Torah? Are there any halakhic issues with this practice?

ANSWER

Regarding holding the entire Torah open – the first and primary concern that I would have is the issur to hold the klaf of the sefer Torah directly with your hands, based on Shabbat 14a, that a person cannot hold a sefer Torah “naked,” i.e, when it is naked, see Shulchan Arukh OC 147:1 – אסור לאחוז ס”ת ערום, בלא מטפחת. Interestingly, this interpretation of the Gemara, that “naked” refers to the Torah, which is accepted by the wide swath of Rishonim, seems to be rejected by the Rambam, who says that it is referring to the person who holds it. Thus, Yemenite Jews do directly handle the klaf when they are rolling the sefer Torah, particularly when they are rolling from VeZot HaBerakhah to Bereishit. Rav Kapach writes as follows,

ומוסב על האדם כלומר שאסור לאדם ערום לאחוז ס”ת אע”פ שערוותו מכוסה משום כבוד התורה…ויפרש רבנו בלא אותה מצוה כלומר מצות כבוד התורה וכן פירשו לנו רבותינו חכמי תימן. ולפיכך לא הקפידו בתימן לאחוז ס”ת דווקא במטפחת בעת שגוללין אותו להכינו לסדר שצריכים לקרוא וכך כאשר גוללין מסוף הספר לתחילתו בראשית השנה

So – maybe the solution, davka in the age of COVID-19, is for everyone to wear gloves! If you do that, then, while the practice seems to me to be a little boundary breaking, I can see how if done properly it could be a kavod of the Torah, or at least not a pegiah in the kavod, and it could be a way to make a powerful, positive impression on people. Given all the other oversteps / minor violations / leniencies that we do on Simchat Torah for these types of purposes, it would seem to me that with gloves it is ok. Technically. I leave it to you to decide how you want to handle the denominational identity issues.