Rabbi Yaakov Yosef has caused a stir in the rabbinic world, ruling that a watermark on Torah scrolls in the IDF renders them unfit for use. Other rabbis disagree.
Rabbi Yosef, son of former Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and a leading rabbi in the pro-active Land of Israel camp, publicized his ruling in “Eretz Yisrael Shelanu” (The Land of Israel is Ours), one of many weekly Torah pamphlets distributed in synagogues around the country.
The ruling was rendered in time for Shabbat Zakhor, the Sabbath on which it is a Biblical commandment to hear, from a Torah scroll, the edict to wipe out the name of the evil Amalek. Shabbat Zakhor comes before the holiday of Purim, which commemorates the thwarting of the plot by Haman the Amalekite to wipe out the Jewish People.
Rabbi Yosef advised religious soldiers to ask to be excused this Sabbath so that they can hear the Amalek passage at their home synagogues and to make up their missed army duties during the week.
He wrote that the identifying watermark - the words “IDF property” imprinted on the scrolls - disqualifies them for use. “Blessings may not be recited when reading from them, and certainly not to fulfill the Biblical commandment of remembering Amalek,” according to Rabbi Yosef. He based the ruling on precedents set by his father Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef in his work Yechaveh Daat, and by the late Rabbi Ovadiah Hadaye in his work Yaskil Avdi.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office told Israel National News that it is preparing a response in conjunction with the IDF Rabbinate. The response has not yet been publicized.
Others: Watermarks Have Always Been Accepted
An official at Machon Ot (Letter Institute), a non-profit organization that has developed a unique method to identify Torah scrolls based on the distances between letters, told Israel National News that watermarks have traditionally been accepted as a kosher means of identification. “Writing on the back of the parchment is considered OK, as are watermarks visible on either side,” he said.
Machon Ot’s computerized technique has been used by Israel Police, Interpol, New York Police Department and others to identify stolen Torah scrolls. The cost is only 150 shekels per scroll, and is often subsidized by insurance companies. “We have 15,000 scrolls on file,” the official said, “nearly half of them from Israel. If we would double this number, we would be able to end the scourge of Torah scroll theft.”