The public domain is, put simply, a collection of works that can be used by anyone, that are not copyrighted.

Is the Torah in the public domain? If not, how can we be printing and copyrighting it? And, if not, what license is it under?

From my understanding, works can enter the public domain either if the author has been dead for 70 years, or if it was published before 1923. Now, assuming Hashem wrote the Torah, He isn't dead. (Nor "alive" by our definition, but that's irrelevant.) And, the Torah was published in 2448, which is after 1923 (hence copyright law should apply). And lest you say that because it was written long before that, it should be in PD, Wikipedia has already clarified:

The claim that "pre-1923 works are in the public domain" is correct only for published works; unpublished works are under federal copyright for at least the life of the author plus 70 years.

This question is Purim Torah and is not intended to be taken completely seriously. See the Purim Torah policy.


4 Answers 4


Obviously the Torah cannot enter the public domain (or even move 4 ammot within it) on Shabbat.

We know (Shemot 19:12) that when the Torah was given (which was on Shabbat) Moshe made sure to erect a boundary around Har Sinai making it a private domain (Rambam Shabbat 14:1). We also know that the encampment of the Jews in the desert is a classical public domain (Rashi Shabbat 6b).

The questions becomes, was there a valid eruv when the Torah was given? Generally, one cannot make an Eruv in a real public domain without doors (ShA OC 364:2). They didn't install doors because that would imminently create an obligation in Mezuzah which they didn't have any of yet. However, in this case God held a roof over the encampment (Bavli Shabbat 88a) in order to remove its status as a biblical public domain (OC 345:14) and make the Eruv Kosher.

However, we also know (Shemot 19:12) that no one was allowed to enter the mountain, giving it the Halachic status of Karpef which would prohibit carrying. This is supported by the Midrash which states that plants grew on Har Sinai just prior to the giving of the Torah. After all, a classical Karpef is freshly planted ground (cf OC 358:9-10).

At first glance, the prohibition of Karpef is removed because the walls surrounded Moshe's and God's dwelling on the top of the mountain. However, since the two of them only got there after the walls were put up (Shemot 19:20) they do not count as mechitzot shehukfu ledirah (OC 358:2). God (Shemot 19:23-24) even instructed Moshe to ensure that no one opened and closed the Eruv after he got up top, which would have made it a mechitza shehufah ledira (OC 358:2).

Thus the Eruv could only work to permit the Karpef if the area of Har Sinai was less than 5000 ammah^2. This was clearly not the case as the mountain covered the entire encampment, as above, including over 600,000 people, each of whom takes up 1 ammah^2 of surface area (Bavli Sukkah 7b "גברא באמתא יתיב a man sits in a square-ammah").

Yet we know God did give the Torah and it thus must have entered the public domain. We must conclude that the people were standing and not sitting. This is the source for the ancient custom of standing during the Torah reading of the 10 commandments.

  • 3
    Even standing, there's no way that many people could naturally fit into an area of 5000 cubits^2. So this seems to be an early instance of the miracle of compressing a standing crowd into an impossibly small space ("עשרה נסים נעשו לאבותינו... עומדים צפופים", Avos 5:7), which also explains the phenomenon in this question.
    – Fred
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 2:49
  • 9
    ~slow clap~ Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 17:40

The Torah was never published, so it is copyrighted until the death of God, which is impossible. The "Torah" is so much more than just the five books of Moses; it is a collection of divine ideas. Thus it isn't copyrighted at all, but patented. Assuming the patent has not yet expired, it is licensed to us under the terms outlined in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

  • 11
    Great answer, since we have a tradition to read the EULA once a year.
    – Mike
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 18:15
  • 2
    But a patent is only good for 20 years after the initial filing. When did this filing take place?
    – Mark
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 20:49
  • 3
    @Mark מחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד
    – Yitzchak
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 22:00

Hashem gave the Jewish people the Torah, as stated many times in the prayers. Hence, it now belongs to the Jewish people. Since the Jewish people will never cease, neither will their copyright on the Torah.

It could be argued that the Torah was really given to the generation of Sinai, and that we merely inherited it, in which case it would be in the public domain. However, several individuals from that generation are still alive, such as Serach bas Asher and Pinchas (who is Eliyahu). And American law states that the copyright does not expire until 70 years after the last surviving author’s death. Presumably, since the Author permanently gave away His Work1, the law would consider the last beneficiary's death.

Therefore, the Jewish people retain the copyright at least until 70 years past the deaths of all people who were at Mount Sinai, and possibly until 70 years past the death of the Jewish people. ח"ו.

1 The Torah says, לא בשמים היא, which the Talmud says means that our interpretation is given halachic precedence over Hashem's.


The Torah was given in the desert for just like the desert is ownerless, so too does the Torah belong to each merchant in the desert.

  • 3
    This is a serious answer to the question. Chazal said that, just like the desert is public domain, so is the Torah. Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 15:28
  • the last part about the merchant was a joke. but the first part is correct. just like torah is given in the desert which is ownerless, so too the torah is free for all.
    – ray
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 18:04

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