A Tax Free Meal
‘A Town Whose Torah Scroll Was Stolen…’
(Bava Basra 43a)
Our daf cites a baraisa teaching that if a city’s communal Sefer Torah was stolen, people of that city cannot judge or testify about it since it affects them. In order for a community member to testify regarding the Sefer Torah, he would theoretically be required to relinquish his share in the mitzvah of the reading of that Sefer Torah. The Gemara stresses that we do not ask anyone to do this.
A Group Effort
A Jewish community in Lithuania used to collect a welfare tax on the sale of meat unless the meat was bought for a meal celebrating a mitzvah (seudas mitzvah). A group of friends decided to fund writing a sefer Torah, to be owned jointly, and planned a meal to honor the start of the project. The tax collectors demanded their share, claiming that the meal was not a seudas mitzvah. The group said it was. Rabbi Yitzchak Elchonon Spektor was asked to rule on the case.
He explained (Be’er Yitzchak, Yoreh Deah 19) that we must first determine if a group writing a sefer Torah observes a mitzvah or if the mitzvah only exists when the whole sefer is written by an individual (see Pischei Teshuvah Yoreh Deah 270; Hagahos Rabbi Akiva Eiger, ibid.; Or Sameach Hilchos Sefer Torah 7; etc.).
Rabbi Spektor at first argues that our sugya proves that the mitzvah only exists for an individual writing a Sefer Torah. How so? Because the Gemara considers the possibility of someone withdrawing his rights to a Sefer Torah in order to testify against someone suspected of stealing it (for only then would he be considered impartial). The Gemara would never present this as an option if his participation in purchasing the sefer was a mitzvah (Beis Efrayim, Yoreh Deah 63).
Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Spektor, however, refutes this proof: If the congregant will not testify regarding the theft and thus retrieve the Sefer Torah, the entire community, including the witness, will be placed in an impossible situation whereby they will never be able to fulfill the mitzvah of Keri’at haTorah. Perhaps, therefore, it is only due to this unusual situation that he may relinquish his share in the mitzvah.
An Engagement Party A Seudas Mitzvah?
Rabbi Spektor ultimately defines a joint purchase of a sefer Torah as a mitzvah. The question remains, however, whether to consider a meal honoring the start of its writing a seudas mitzvah. Rabbi Spektor ultimately concludes that it is since it celebrates the beginning of a mitzvah – just like an engagement party, preparing for the mitzvah of marrying and begetting children, is considered a seudas mitzvah.