I decided to write a shtikel torah b'zchus refuah sheleima of my dear friends son who remains in a coma - נתן צבי בן שרה רבקה קשתיה.
May Hashem grant him a Refuah Sheleima B'soch Sha'ar Cho'lei Yisroel and protect Acheinu B'nei Yisroel in Gaza.
The gemara cites a machlokes regarding Megillas Esther wether or not it making one's hands tamei. The gemara uses this din as a litmus test as to which books where canonized as part of Tanach. The gemara says that specifically for Megillas Ester would depend on whether there is a hint to the writing of it within the Torah itself. The gemara also suggests that Shir Hashirim and Koheles are questionable.
Where does this halacha of kisvei hakodesh being metamei come from and why? Rashi references the sugya in Shabbos 14a. The gemara in Shabbos says there were two independent gezeiros made on kisvei hakodesh. One was that it is metamei Terumah because there was a tendency to store the Terumah next to the Torah in the Aron Kodesh causing mice to nibble at the Torah when they went to eat the Terumah. Therefore, chazal were gozer tu'mah on the Torah that it would be metamei teruma as a way to prevent people from putting the Terumah next to the Torah in the Aron. A second gezeira that was made was that a Torah would be metamei one's hands. The rationale for this the gemara explains has nothing to do with Terumah, rather it is based on the din of R. Pranach - האוחז ס"ת ערום נקבר ערום בלא אותה מצוה. One who holds a bare Sefer Torah is punished that whatever mitzvah they were doing while holding the Torah, they lose reward for that mitzvah. Rashi explains that people's hands were generally dirty (not necessarily tamei) and they would touch the Torah with dirty hands, which is why R. Pranach said that it is assur. To prevent people from touching a Torah with dirty hands, they were gozer tu'mah on kisvei hakodesh. Since one's hands would be come tamei by touching the scroll, they would refrain from touching it.
Tosafos (Shabbos 14a) writes that the din of R. Pranach applies equally to all kisvei hakodesh from the simple fact that chazal were gozer that ALL kisvei hakodesh would make one's hands tamei. Rashi in Megilla implies that as well.
An argument can be made that since the purpose in the gezeira of tu'mah on kisvei hakodesh was to prevent touching it with dirty hands, it would only apply if one would not wash their hands. However, if one would wash their hands they would not be in violation of R. Pranach's concern, and therefore their hands would not become tamei from the Sefer Torah. This approach is the opinion of the Mordechai citing the Ravya. The Mordechai holds that washing one's hands would permit the touching of a sefer torah with bare hands. Tosafos (Shabbos 14b) rejects this approach and assumes that even if one were to wash their hands, their hands would become tamei by touching the Sefer Torah. The Rama 147:1 writes that we are lenient to rely on the Mordechai for other kisvei hakodesh, but not for a sefer torah. However, without washing hands one should not even touch other kisvei hakodesh. The Biur Halacha explains that we are only meikel for other kisvei hakodesh because even Tosafos doesn't seem positively sure that the prohibition to touch the sefer torah "arum" would apply to kisvei hakodesh.
The approach above is based on the pashut peshat of the gemara that the gezeira that kisvei hakodesh is metamei one's hands has absolutely nothing to do with the gezeira of it being metamei terumah. However, the Rambam (Hilchos Sha'ar Avos HaTumah 9:5) connects the gezeira on kisvei hakodesh being meta'mei Terumah, with the gezeira on kisvei hakodesh being metamei one's hands by writing ולא עוד אלא מי שהיו ידיו טהורות. This implies that the reason that the Rambam offers for Terumah which is the mice coming and ruining the seforim, is the source of why they were gozer on kisvei hakodesh being metamei one's hands. In his piruch hamishna to Maseches Yadayim (3:3) the Rambam writes this explicitly and fails to even mention the statememt of R. Pranach as the source. The simplest reconciliation of the Rambam is that without the gezeira that seforim are metamei teruma, chazal would never have created the concept of tu'mah on kisvei hakodesh just to prevent touching seforim with dirty hands. However, once they were gozer that kisvei hakodesh are metamei terumah, they extended the tu'mah to even be metamei one's hands to prevent touching a sefer with dirty hands violation the din of R. Pranach. The weakness in this approach is that the Rambam should have still mentioned R. Pranach, in addition to the Terumah gezeirah, yet he fails to do so. Therefore, to reconcile the Rambam with the gemara, the Nodeh B'Yehuda (Mahadurah Kamma, O.C. 7) writes that R. Pranach only applies to a Sefer Torah, and therefore requires the gezeira on Terumah to extend the tumah to all types of kisvei hakodesh. The reason the gemara cites R. Pranach is because without that there would be no concept of any sefer being metamei one's hands. But, once they were gozer on a sefer Torah because of R. Pranach, they extend it to other seforim based on the gezeirah of Terumah because if there would be a difference between seforim and sefer torah for tu'mah on one's hands, people will think that there is also a difference regarding terumah.
There is a significant difference between the Rambam's approach and the more conventional approach. According to the Rambam since R. Pranach only applies to a sefer torah, it would be permitted to touch other seforim even without washing one's hands, even though if one would touch them, their hands would become tamei (there is no issur in making one's hand tamei). Based on this he also says that according to the Rambam it would be permitted to touch the amudim of a sefer torah, because the fact that they are metamei one's hands is not an indication that there is an issur to touch them (arguing on the Magen Avrohom who holds that since the Rambam holds they are metamei one's hands, it must be assur to touch the amudim of a sefer torah). The Node B'Yehuda also proves from the language of the Rambam in the pirush hamishna that just as for stam yadayim, washing helps, it also helps to avoid the issur of R. Pranach, like the opinion of the Mordechai, against Tosafos. He points out that the Rambam in the Yad seems to have been chozer from this and holds that if one would touch a sefer after washing hands, they would still become tamei. Yet, the Nodeh B'Yehuda explains that the Rambam is only partially chozer to hold that one's hands would become tamei even if he washed them, but there would not be any issur to touch the sefer after washing one's hands because R. Pranach would not apply after washing. Therefore he is matir to touch the amudim of a sefer torah after washing one's hands. In the next teshuva he writes that if one wants to be machmir to hold the amudim with a talis he should do so in an inconcpicous way so that it is not כרמות רוחא. He also comments that one can rely on the washing in the morning to waive the issur of R. Pranach to permit touching the eitz chaim of the sefer torah.