CCAR RESPONSA

Contemporary American Reform Responsa

109. Burial of a Sefer Torah

QUESTION: The congregation has a Torah that can no longer be repaired. Must it be buried in the congregation's cemetery, or may it be buried on the grounds of the synagogue itself? (Rabbi E. L. Sapinsley, Bluefield, WV)

ANSWER: A Torah is buried out of respect. Traditionally it is placed in an earthen urn and buried in the cemetery near a scholar (Meg. 26b; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 282.10; Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 154.5). A Torah could, of course, also be placed in an absolutely safe spot; that was done in the Cairo Geniza into which not only Torah scrolls but all kinds of documents which mention the name of God were placed in order to assure that the name of God and holy writings would not be desecrated. A pasul Sefer Torah in which eighty-five consecutive letters remain continues to be holy (Sab. 115b), and so must be treated in a reverent manner. According to one strand of the tradition, such a defective Torah could be retained in the Ark, but not used. This was generally not followed, because it was easy to forget which was the defective Torah and to embarrass the congregation through its use (Jacob Ettlinger, Binyan Zion, 1.97; Magen Avraham to Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 154.8; Gedaliah Felder, Yesodeh Yeshurun, 2.142).

Burial of a Torah on the grounds of a synagogue has not been discussed. It would certainly be possible, but would represent a second best choice, primarily because the ground in which the Torah is buried may also be put to another use later, for example, as a playground, picnic site or parking space, etc. In other words, it is easy for the next generation to forget that a Torah has been buried there, and so, not treat it reverently. That is unlikely to occur in a cemetery. I would, therefore, suggest that if the burial is to take place on the grounds of the synagogue, that the site be appropriately marked. Otherwise, it would be preferable to bury the Torah in the cemetery in keeping with tradition.

May 1985

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