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Why fast after dropping a Torah scroll or tefillin?

Why fast after dropping a Torah scroll or tefillin?


Although it is not mentioned in the Talmud, the custom to fast after accidentally dropping a Torah scroll or tefillin has indeed been widespread for many hundreds of years.

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

An important difference between Torah scrolls and tefillin: One must only fast after dropping his Tefillin if they are not in their protective case or bag. On the other hand, one must fast after a Torah falls—even if it is within its mantle.3

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

By the same token, in light of our generation’s relative weakness in comparison to our hardy ancestors, there are many who advise giving charity (or learning Torah) as a fitting alternative.5

Yours truly,

Menachem Posner


Shut Mahari Brunna 127.


Chaim Sha'al 1:12.


Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 44:5).


Tzitz Eliezer 5:4.

See Piskei Teshuvot 40:2 and sources cited in footnotes 6-10. See also Tanya, Iggeret Hateshuvah, chapter 3.
Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (10)
January 26, 2010
I agree with Chaim
We should learn from the reverence that we give a Torah how much we should respect our fellows, who are created in the image of G-d.
gershon m
January 26, 2010
My point being is that our religion has lost the human touch. A Torah scroll is parchment with words on it. Yet there is a law of fasting if dropped even by mistake. Why don't we take as much care with matters between man and his fellow man? Why do most of "religious" Jews fear more about breaking Shabbos than speaking Loshon Hora (evil gossip)? And why is a person called religious if he keeps shabbos and not guarding his tongue but not the other way round?
Chaim Steinberg
London, UK
January 26, 2010
Maybe we should do that, but then some people would never have a chance to eat...
January 26, 2010
What about the people?
Why don't we fast if you disrespect a person? A human being!!!
Chaim Steinberg
London, UK
March 15, 2009
RE: droppin tefillin
Seems that the fast should be from daybreak to nightfall. However, I am not sure of there is a hard and fast rule on when to fast. If it happens to you, I would suggest that you discuss what to do next with your rabbi.
Menachem Posner (author)
March 15, 2009
droppin tefillin
how long? can u be more specific please? is it a full day or a half day.. and when.. the day of or the next day? how bout if it was on friday morning?? do you fast shabbos?? or sat. night to sunday night?? .. etc. thank you
February 15, 2009
The big picture.
The greatest respect we can show for the Torah is to observe the commandments that G-d commanded us to.
Brooklyn, NY
February 11, 2009
RE: How long?
The generally accepted custom is to fast for a day, from morning to evening.
Menachem Posner (author)
February 11, 2009
How long?
I was in shul on a Friday when a Torah fell. The Rabbi said that we should all fast, sunrise to sunset, on the following Monday, Thursday, and Monday. I belong to a Conservative shul.
February 11, 2009
How Long?
How long is the fast for each?
Daniel R
Louisville, Kentucky