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Some people in shul mark it as a sign of respect, as the Torah makes its way to/from the Aron Kodesh, to kiss it, and rush to get as close as possible. Others, given the cold season, think that this is unhygienic and disrespectful to the sefer (scroll). Still others make a kissing motion to the sefer as it passes.

What is the basis for any of these behaviors/minhagim?

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While we call this "kissing the sefer torah", I was taught to touch something to the scroll and then kiss that, not to kiss something and then touch the sefer. In other words, the "transmission" is from the sefer torah to me, not from me to the sefer torah. ("Something" being a tallit for those who wear one and a siddur otherwise.) Do others do the opposite -- kiss something and then touch? –  Monica Cellio Feb 11 '14 at 18:34
    
You're right, although I've also seen some s'fardi people actually lean in and kiss the Torah covering directly. –  cmose Feb 11 '14 at 18:45
    
related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/12016/759 –  Double AA Feb 16 '14 at 1:28
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@cmose Yes. I have seen some Ashkenazim kiss the Torah cover (and the curtain) too. –  Mike Feb 16 '14 at 14:48

3 Answers 3

Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (OC 149) writes:

ובמקומות שמצניעין אותו בהיכל, שהוא הארון בבהכ"נ, מצוה לכל מי שעוברת לפניו ללוותה עד לפני הארון שמכניסין אותה שם (ד"ע ומהרי"ל). וכן הגולל ילך אחר הס"ת עד לפני הארון, ועומד שם עד שיחזירו הספר תורה למקומה (הגה' מיימוני פ' י"ב מה"ת) וכן נוהגין במגביה הס"ת, כי הוא עיקר הגולל וכמו שנתבאר; ויש שכתבו שמביאים התינוקות לנשק התורה, כדי לחנכם ולזרזם במצות, וכן נוהגין. (אור זרוע).‏
And in the places where they store the Torah in the [...] ark in the synagogue, it is a Mitzva for everyone that [the Torah] passes in front of to accompany it until before the ark in which they will place it. Similarly, the one who wrapped the Torah should walk after it until before the ark and stand there until it they put the Torah scroll back to its place. And such is practiced also by the one who raised the Torah, for that is the main part of the wrapping. And some have written that we bring the young children to kiss the Torah in order to educate them and excite them about Mitzvot, and such is the custom.

Kissing a Torah doesn't seem to have anything to do with respecting it. If you would like to show respect to the Torah as it is being transferred you should accompany it, like an honor guard.

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Please don't push and shove other people to do this. Something tells me the Torah won't appreciate that very much. –  Double AA Feb 11 '14 at 19:02
    
"And some have written that we bring the young children to kiss the Torah in order to educate them and excite them about Mitzvot, and such is the custom." I wish that were more widely understood. –  Seth J May 19 at 19:08

The halacha book Ben Ish Chay (year 2, Tol'dos, 16) says the Ari would kiss the Tora after it was taken from the aron before it was read.

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Does it say why he did that? –  Double AA Feb 16 '14 at 1:04
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Also, does it indicate if this was done as it passed him on the way? Was it something for the entire synagogue to do? –  Double AA Feb 16 '14 at 1:28

The Shearim Metzuyanim Behalacha on the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (חלק א - כג ס"ק א, מהדורה תשס"א) writes:

As is known, we are obligated to stand for the Sefer torah, and this is learned from the obligation to stand for a torah scholar, for if we stand for those who learn the the Torah, all the more we should stand for the Torah itself. Rashi in Avoda Zara (17a) states that it was the custom when taking leave from the Synagogue, the people would kiss the most honored among them in a sign of respect, following this it would be fitting to kiss the Sefer torah as well, in line with Kal Vechomer the Gemara makes to obligate standing for the Torah from the obligation to stand for the Talmid Chacham. This would seem to be the source for the custom to kiss the Torah scroll as it passes.

This is the interpretation of the Rema (או"ח קמט) that we bring the children towards the Torah to kiss it on post to encourage and educate them in the observance of mitzvos, that this does not mean only children, rather even adults should kiss it but that there is a value in educating the children to this as well.

The Siddur Yaavetz and other siddurim quote the custom of the Ariza"l was kiss the sefer torah, it is also said that one should kiss with his lips specifically, and not the hands as is the custom of the general public. However the Sha'ar Ephraim (שער י' ס"ד) says that if it is difficult to kiss with the lips one can kiss with his hand.

The Pninei Halacha (מדיני קריאת התורה פרק כב' ס' ג) writes:

נהגו שכל מי שספר התורה עובר לידו מנשקו ומלווהו מעט. הרוב נוהגים לנשק את התורה בפיהם ממש, ויש שנוגעים בו בידם ומנשקים את היד (ע' פס"ת קמט, א-ב). וראוי שחולה או מצונן לא ינשק את התורה בפיו, כדי שלא להדביק את שאר המתפללים במחלתו.

The custom is that anytime a Sefer Torah passes one should kiss it and accompany it a bit. The majority have the custom to kiss the Torah directly with their lips, but some touch with their hand and kiss the hand. It is preferable of someone is ill should not kiss the Torah with his mouth so as not to infect others with his illness.

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Does anyone still kiss Talmidei Chachamim? Did anyone do so in the time of the Rama? –  Double AA May 19 at 13:55
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I dont know, I'm just writing the SMBH. Better to see it inside, don't know how well I represented his idea –  Mefaresh May 19 at 13:59
    
@DoubleAA sefardim still kiss talmidei chachamim, and so what if the practice that inspired kissing the sefer torah had become defunct, clearly the inspiration has stuck around. –  Mefaresh May 19 at 14:06
    
To show one inspired the other it seems important to show that they overlapped at some point in time, more specifically, that kissing people was in vogue when kissing Torahs started. Seemingly, this is all interesting Pilpul but the custom started bc the Ari decided to invent it based on his Kabbalistic considerations and it caught on from there. That at least seems like a more reasonable historical explanation given the silence about these customs and their interaction in earlier sources. –  Double AA May 19 at 14:12
    
Could be, nonetheless the SMBH says it. I wonder in the sefardishe literature if they discuss the Mekor for kissing ת"ח. Maybe they draw from kissing a ס"ת –  Mefaresh May 19 at 14:15

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