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Just before my Bar Mitzvah, I asked my Hebrew teacher what would happen if I dropped the scroll while holding it. She solemnly told me that I, along with everyone present, would have to fast for some amount of time (I don't remember how long exactly).

Is there authority for this, or was she just trying to scare me into holding it really really tightly? :)

marked as duplicate by msh210 Apr 7 '16 at 2:55

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If a Torah falls and hits the ground, the original minhag was to engage in 40 days of sunrise to sunset fasting to atone for the disgrace to the Torah. The 40 days is to be in accordance with the 40 days that Moshe Rabbeinu was on Har Sinai receiving the Torah (without eating or drinking). Nowadays, people cannot handle that and will perform alternate means of Teshuvah such as tzedaka or a lesser amount of fasting as explained in the Tzitz Eliezer 5:4.

Forty Days Fasting

When someone does something wrong, certain acts can lessen his accountability. Such an act is called a "Tikun." A Tikun usually follows a rule known as mida kneged mida - meaning that it is related conceptually to the transgression. Fasting 40 days helps atone for the disrespect shown to the Torah, which was given in 40 days. Since everyone present sensed the enormous disgrace and degradation, they too would need to fast.

Now, this forty day fast would not have to be 40 days in a row, and would only include the daylight hours, but not the night before.

Nowadays, people are not as hale and hardy as they used to be. Instead of fasting, therefore, everyone present would give Tzedaka (charity) instead.

Why fast after dropping a Torah scroll or tefillin?

One of the earliest mentions of this practice is a responsa of Rabbi Israel of Brunna (present-day Brno, 15th century). He explains that dropping a Torah scroll or tefillin is a sign from Heaven that one has done something wrong for which one must repent.1 On the other hand, Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (18th century), commonly known as the ChIDA, cites another reason: The fast is to atone for the lack of care and respect which allowed the holy object to fall.2

  1. Shut Mahari Brunna 127.

  2. Chaim Sha'al 1:12.

Another difference is that although only the person who actually drops the Torah or tefillin is obligated to fast, under certain circumstances the rabbi of a community may declare a public penance for all of those present when a Torah falls. This may include studying the laws of respecting a Torah, a communal commitment not to speak during the Torah reading, charity, fasting, or a combination of some of the above.4

  1. Tzitz Eliezer 5:4.
  • Is that really the minhag? When is the last time that happened? – Double AA Apr 6 '16 at 23:17
  • @DoubleAA Google showed some articles which talked about cases. The last sentences of each quote say that we tend to do alternate forms of Teshuva nowadays. I will put them in bold. – sabbahillel Apr 6 '16 at 23:34

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