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The Flighty Customer
‘Scribes Who Write Torah Scrolls And Mezuzos …Are
Exempt From Kerias Shema And Prayer…’
(Sukkah 26a)
R. Chaninah b. Akavia says that a sofer stam, a scribe who is involved in writing a Sefer Torah, tefillin or mezuzos, as well as merchants (wholesale and retail) who are involved in selling those items are exempt from reciting the Shema, tefilla, tefillin and all mitzvos of the Torah in the course of their actual work (based on the rule that one engaged in a mitzva is exempt from fulfilling another mitzva at the same time).

The Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 38:8) infers from the words of Rashi (s.v. “Tagareihen”) that only a merchant who distributes tefillin and mezuzos [primarily] for the sake of heaven (with no regard for a profit motive), because he wants to make them available to people who cannot otherwise obtain them, is considered to be involved in a mitzva. However, one whose primary reason for selling these items is to earn a living is not considered involved in a mitzva and he is not exempt from other mitzvos while he is on the job.



The Scribe and the Merchant

The Bi’ur Halacha (Mishna Berura, Orach Chayim ad loc. s.v. “Hem vet’agareihem”) draws a distinction between those who write tefillin and those who sell them. Writing tefillin and mezuzos is an actual mitzva act, for the Torah explicitly states, “You shall write them…” whereas selling them is not an explicit commandment in the Torah; it is just something that is necessary to facilitate a mitzva (a hechsher mitzva – a preparatory mitzva act). Thus, he suggests that although selling tefillin for monetary gain diminishes the mitzva significance of the act, writing tefillin is always considered a mitzva act, even if the sofer’s primary intent is to earn a living (see also Responsa Chasam Sofer, Sha’ar HaTosafos, siman 15).


‘I’ve Got a Plane to Catch’

The Levush (cited by the Mishna Berura, Orach Chayim ad loc. s.k. 26) maintains that a sofer or a tefillin merchant is exempt from reciting the Shema and tefilla only when there is a customer on hand who absolutely cannot wait for his tefillin (today such a customer would say that his flight is about to leave…). Only in such a case, where the need is immediate, is the merchant or sofer permitted to attend to his customer and forgo the Shema recital. However, under normal circumstances a sofer may not forgo the Shema recital and prayer merely because he is occupied with his customers.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at and