Shabbat 58

I have always thought that the reason why bells are often attached to the Torah cover and atop of a Sefer Torah was merely ornamental in order to add further splendour and regality to the honour we give to a Torah scroll. However, according to Rashi’s commentary, the מטפחות ספרים which is referenced in a Beraita on our daf (Shabbat 58b) refers to the bells attached to Torah scroll covers which rang when the Sefer Torah was carried to the synagogue where young children used to learn, thereby informing them, like a school bell, that their Torah lesson was about to begin. We learn from here that the greatest honour we can give to Torah is being aware that Torah is in our presence and being present to hear and learn the sacred words of Torah.

Interestingly, our daf also considers the status of bells without clappers which also has relevance to the bells (rimonim) that adorn a Sefer Torah. According to the Taz (OC 338:1 & YD 282:2), given the rabbinic prohibition of השמעת קול (making a noise on Shabbat), such bells should have their clappers removed. Magen Avraham (OC 338:1) disagrees and rules that the clappers need not be removed as these bells are not for the purpose of generating music. Beyond this, the Shach (YC 282:4), commenting on the remarks of the Rema (YD 282:2) who rules that when we hear the sound of a Torah we should stand up, adds a further justification for the custom by explaining that the rabbinic prohibition of השמעת קול does not apply to mitzvot.

It is noteworthy that while the Mishna Berura (OC 338:6) lists all the above considerations, he appears to align with the words of the Sha’arei Efraim (10:3) that such bells should ideally not be used on Shabbat though we should not object to those who do, whereas the Aruch HaShulchan (OC 338:3) asserts that the primary rationale is with those who permit, ‘and that this is the general custom across the world’.

More recently, Rav Shmuel Halevi Wozner (Shevet HaLevi 1:61) offered a further justification to our custom by noting how the bells that customarily adorn Sifrei Torah are very small and barely make any noise which thereby affirms their purpose as merely ornamental and not to create noise, while others (see Piskei Teshuvot, OC 338 note 6) state that since our custom is already to stand before the ark is opened, the very function of bells operating as an ‘alarm call’ is nowadays defunct and therefore it is clear that the bells are merely ornamental and may be used on Shabbat.