IF A MAN WAS READING IN A SCROLL ON A THRESHOLD AND THE SCROLL ROLLED OUT OF HIS HAND, HE MAY ROLL IT BACK TO HIMSELF.
The “scroll” of course, is no ordinary scroll (the common form of books until the codex or bound book began to take over around 300 CE). The scroll being discussed her is Scripture. A person reading it on a threshold between a public and private space who finds one edge of the scroll rolling out of his hand may, rather surprisingly, roll it back – even though that would seem to violate the transfer from one domain to another. But wait, there’s more:
IF HE WAS READING IT ON THE TOP OF A ROOF AND THE SCROLL ROLLED OUT OF HIS HAND, HE MAY, BEFORE IT REACHED TEN HANDBREADTHS FROM THE GROUND, ROLL IT BACK TO HIMSELF. BUT AFTER IT HAD REACHED THE TEN HANDBREADTHS HE MUST TURN IT OVER WITH ITS WRITING DOWNWARDS.
On the face of it, this makes sense. Above 10 handbreaths, as we have seen, it is still outside the public domain. And it might make sense if the scroll is extending beyond it and therefore in both a public and private domain, just to keep it there and protect it until Shabbat ends. You’d think that, but it ain’t necessarily so:
R. JUDAH RULED: EVEN IF IT WAS REMOVED FROM THE GROUND BY NO MORE THAN A THREAD'S THICKNESS HE MAY ROLL IT BACK TO HIMSELF. R. SIMEON RULED: EVEN IF IT TOUCHED THE ACTUAL GROUND HE MAY ROLL IT BACK TO HIMSELF, SINCE NO PROHIBITION THAT IS DUE TO SHEBUTH RETAINS ITS FORCE IN THE PRESENCE OF THE HOLY WRITINGS.
“Shebuth,” a rabbinic prohibition, does not stand up to the honor due to a Torah scroll – according to Rabbi Simon.
Turning the text over as a protection is curious, because a Sofer (scriptural scribe) is not permitted to turn even a work in progress over on its face in order to protect it (Sof. 3:12). Instead, they are supposed to spread a cloth over it.
There this is possible whereas here this is impossible; and if one were not to turn it over the holy writings would be exposed to much greater abuse.
The rabbis decide that the case being described here is of a slanting wall, and so the text extending “below three handbreaths” from the ground could be turned over safely.