Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Mitzvah in Buying Books

The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Tefillin 7:1) writes that it is a biblical mitzvah for every Jewish man to write a Torah scroll. The Rosh (Halakhos Ketanos, beginning of Hilkhos Sefer Torah) famously ruled that the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll only applied to earlier generations when people would write a scroll and then study from it. Nowadays, when people study from books, the mitzvah is write or acquire books of Torah, Talmud, commentaries, etc. and study from them. R. Yosef Karo, in his Beis Yosef (Yoreh De'ah 270), writes that the Rosh was only stating that nowadays the mitzvah is also with books but does not claim that one cannot fulfill this obligation by writing a Torah scroll. R. Yehoshua Falk, in his Perishah commentary to the Tur, disagrees and argues that the Rosh was of the opinion that in today's world the mitzvah is fulfilled only through books and not through a Torah scroll. However, most subsequent commentators disagree with the Perishah on this (see the Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh De'ah 270:10).

What emerges from this Rosh is that one who buys books that contain Torah and studies from them has fulfilled the biblical obligation to write a Torah.

However, there is another mitzvah aspect to buying books. The Mishnah in Avos (1:4) records: "Yosi ben Yoezer of Tzeredah said: Let your house be a meetinghouse for the sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst." How does one make one's home into a meetinghouse for the sages? R. Tzvi Pesah Frank used to have famous gatherings of leading Torah scholars in his house, the discussions of which led to his series of books Mikra'ei Kodesh. However, that is not an option for the vast majority of Jews. Are we supposed to ignore this Mishnah? R. Hayim of Volozhin, in his Ru'ah Hayim commentary states that this can be fulfilled by filling one's home with books written by scholars: "Through the books that are in our houses, it becomes a meetinghouse for those scholars."

Thus, one enhances one's home and turns it into a meetingplace for scholars by purchasing quality books of Torah literature.

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