If a sefer torah has a definite mistake, it cannot be used, and the reading must be done again from a kosher torah. (SA OC 143:4)

But what if it only might have a mistake? For example, if it's unclear whether a letter is a ו or a י.

Does the reading continue (we're lenient), get stopped and replace the torah (strict), or perhaps something else?

  • This is the first time i've asked an answered a question because i had an answer, not a question. – Scimonster Dec 14 '14 at 22:19

If there is a doubt whether or not a letter is properly formed, a child, who can recognize letters but does not yet know how to read, is brought, and checks the letter. If he identifies it properly, the torah is considered kosher, and the reading continues; if not, the torah is pasul and must be fixed.

Source: Shulchan Aruch OC 32:16

The Mechaber paskens that the surrounding words need not be covered; the Mishna Berurah brings in the name of the Magen Avraham that at least the preceding text should be covered, lest the child figure out what the letter is supposed to be.

Also, from http://www.dailyhalacha.com/m/halacha.aspx?id=1194: (quoting MB)

This method may not be used in situations where the letter lacks the proper "Tzurat Ha'ot," meaning, the basic structure and form of the letter is deficient. For example, the letter "Alef" is drawn with a diagonal letter "Vav" with a "Yod" protruding from the lower left and another from the upper right. If one of the "Yod's" does not reach the diagonal "Vav," then even if a child identifies the letter immediately as an "Alef," the Sefer Torah may not be used. In this case, the letter lacks the basic configuration required for that letter, and the Torah scroll is therefore invalid. This case differs from the situations described earlier, where the letter is basically drawn properly, and the question involves only the length of its "leg."

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    I don't see how this answers the question. If we have a kid we can figure out if it is kosher or not. But the question was where there is a doubt, such as a case where there is no child around. – Double AA Dec 14 '14 at 22:20
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    The question was where there is a doubt - i did not specify anything about whether or not a child is around. – Scimonster Dec 14 '14 at 22:22
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    Your 'answer' gives a way of resolving a certain kind of doubt, not what to do if we conclude there is a doubt. – Double AA Dec 14 '14 at 22:23
  • We can't conclude that there's a doubt - either he identifies it properly, or he doesn't. – Scimonster Dec 14 '14 at 22:27
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    What if he's not there? Then it's a doubt. That perforce is the case in your question (which is quite interesting, +1). It could also be the case that no one knows that a kid can be used in this case, or there is no expert Sofer to decide about some other question. What happens then where there is a doubt? Do they take a Torah out to read from? Do they continue if it's out, but wouldn't take it out originally? Do they put it back even after starting? – Double AA Dec 14 '14 at 22:27

My answer is reaction to both the previous answer as well as accounting for @DoubleAA's comment.

I've had this situation a few times in my shul while I was reading the parsha. Our shul rarely has kids attending. (Sad, somewhat...) When I fiind a questionable mistake, I call the rav. He makes the final decision. Sometimes he can tell, it's definitely no good - it looks like a yod when it should be a vav, for example. To make this decision, he compares what he decided with a similar letter in a completely different pasuk. (Caveat to this, which I'll mention, below.) If he's not sure, he will let the reading continue, but, that Torah will not be used the following week until a Sofer can correct it.

Caveat - A number of our Sifrei Torah have been significantly repaired and parts of been corrected and pieced together by multiple Sofrim. (Talk abot a challenge for me as a Ba'al Kri'ah!!!) So, when the Rav does a comparison with another pasuk, he does it somewhat quickly, to avoid tircha d'tzibbur. If there's a section where the style suddenly changes to a different sofer's style, he tends to be a bit more lenient.

I can't state, offhand, the original source of where my Rav gets this halacha / practice from, but, he is more knowledgable in halachot than I am, and he is the rav, so I have to respect his decision unless I can justify that he is wrong! (After all, you do state in the M.Y. policy CYLOR!)

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