Mountains of Shaimos

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I would like to extend a special “thank you” to
Dayan Levi Yitzchok Raskin shlita, of Stamford Hill, England, and Rabbi Yosef Feigelstock shlita, of Argentina, for reviewing this article.

As the world is becoming increasingly computer dependent and “paperless,” the Jewish world is still heavily dependent on handwritten or printed materials, whether they are sifrei Torah, tefillin, mezuzos, seforim, divrei Torah, or stories oftzaddikim. When Pesach approaches, most Jewish households are confronted with mountains of papers containing Torah thoughts or other holy works, as well as damaged seforim and old magazines.  Now that these printed items are so readily available, either from the local bookstore, newsstand, or even right from your own printer, the challenge of dealing with shaimos is greatly magnified.

What objects are really considered shaimos (literally: Hashem’s holy names, referring to religiously sacred objects due to their use of Hashem’s name)?

Is Hashem’s name printed in English considered shaimos?

Do Jewish newspapers that have Torah-related articles need to be buried in genizah (a burial place for shaimos)?

Do Torah audio cassettes, CDs, and videos have kedusha; does one need to place it in genizah?

What about computer hard drives with Torah content?

Which other holy articles are shaimos (tzitzis, mezuzah nails, Aron Kodesh etc.)?

As mentioned above, the shaimos problem has become much larger in recent generations. In addition to the vast amount of material printed from our home computers, a large volume of seforim and Torah literature is being printed on an ongoing basis, which ultimately ends up in our shuls, schools and homes. Just as important as it is to properly dispose shaimos in genizah, it is equally important to remove non-shaimos related items from the genizah. One should sanctify the shaimos by keeping it exclusively for sacred items. To say, “Let’s just put it into shaimos,” may actually be a disgrace for real shaimos

Note: In this article, some issues will have several opinions. In that case, one should consult one’s local Orthodox rabbi for direction, because different communities have different traditions. For that reason, I have attached footnotes in Hebrew for reference.

In Devarim (Deuteronomy 12:2-4) it states, “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations that you are driving away worshipped their gods… and you shall obliterate their names from that place. You shall not do this to Hashem.” From these passages we learn that one must treat Hashem’s holy name with the greatest respect. One cannot erase Hashem’s name or discard it – one actually has to go to great lengths to preserve it with sanctity. In addition, one must treat all Holy Scriptures as well as other sacred objects with the utmost regard.

The Jewish community has kept the practice of preserving sacred objects with great fervor. Even during the harshest of times, Jewish people demonstrated self-sacrifice to sanctify Hashem’s name and His Torah by going into a burning shul just to save a holy Torah. A remarkable example of this devotion occurred during the Holocaust, when my Zaidy (Reb Yaakov HaLevi Friedman, ob”m, Gabbai Tzedokoh) was rounded up with his community in Kovno, Poland, by the Nazis, ym”s and ordered to go on a death march. My Zaidy could not just leave the great Jewish city of Kovno with all of its Sifrei Torah in the hands of the cruel and despicable Nazis. He ran to the shul and wrapped an entire Sefer Torah around his waist, hoping the Nazis would not detect it. At one point, when he saw the Nazis getting suspicious, he found the right opportunity and buried the Sefer Torah. When repeating the story, my Zaidy would not brag about his self-sacrifice, rather he would shed a tear, exclaiming, “Perhaps I did not bury the Torah properly!”

Levels of Holiness and How to Care for Them
(According to Chazal)2

  1. Kedusha V’Kisvei Kodesh
    Holy items and sacred writings, including the Torah scroll, Tanach, Torah She’baal’peh (Oral Torah), and writings containing Hashem’s name.
  2. Tashmishei Kedusha
    Holy objects that serve kedusha, including Aron Kodesh and mezuzah cases.
  3. Tashmis D’Tashmish D’Kedusha
    Objects that serve the holy objects of kedusha, including seforim cases and bimas.
  4. Tashmishei Mitzvah
    Objects that are used for a mitzvah, including tzitzis and shofar.

A: Kedusha or Kisvei Kodesh
Initially, only Sifrei Torah, tefillin, mezuzos and Tanach written on parchment (klaf) were included in kisvei kodesh. Torah She’baal’peh (Oral Torah) was not included in kisvei kodesh, since one was not permitted to write Oral Torah at all. In addition, one was not allowed to write a Torah scroll unless it was written it its entirety, on kosher parchment, with kosher ink. Therefore, if one either printed Tanach in an impermissible manner or printed Oral Torah at all, the writings did not retain any holiness and would not be placed in shaimos.

During the era of the Mishnah, not too long after the destruction of the Second Temple, people lost interest in studying the Torah with the old intensity and fervor. Our Sages were concerned that if they continued to rely on memory to retain the Torah it would be forgotten.

For this reason, they ruled3 that from now on one would be allowed to print Oral Torah. As it says in Tehillim (119:126): “For it is a time to act for Hashem, they have voided your Torah.” The printing of the Mishnah and Talmud followed this. They also ruled that one can print the Chumash, Tanach or a portion of it on paper. Chazal felt that it was too expensive for one to write his own Torah scroll; therefore, they allowed the printing of the Torah, so that people would actually learn directly from the Torah.

Over the course of the centuries, Chazal permitted printing Torah on a much larger scale, including printing Tanach and Oral Torah in many languages, Haftoros, individual passages of Torah, siddurim, Rishonim, Achronim, as well as the latest surge of published Torah books, printed in the last few decades.

Now that it is permitted to publish all of the above items, one should care for these Torah writings with the utmost respect and holiness, as well as disposing them properly in shaimos.

The most sacred part of kisvei kodesh is “Shaimos Hakodesh,” which includes the seven holy names of Hashem. One must dignify them with the greatest respect. It is forbidden (m’di’oraisa) to erase one of Hashem’s holy names. Accordingly, any item containing Hashem’s name, whether in the Tanach, Oral Torah, siddur, or anywhere else, must be placed in shaimos when worn out or no longer in use.

• The use of words and names like “Shmuel,” “Yeshaya,” and “Daniel” are permitted, even though two of their letters represent Hashem’s name, since the intended use is for a person’s name, not Hashem’s name. The word “Bethel” can be written, as well as Beth-El in two words. Since it is the name of a city, it does not matter how it is spelled.5

• In the siddur we spell Hashem’s name with the letter “yud” twice. This does not have the same holiness as Hashem’s name, though one must treat it respectfully, and only write it when necessary, like in a siddur, since it refers to Hashem’s name.6

• With regard to writing “B”H” on the top of a letter, or a “hey” as reference to Hashem’s name, many poskim believe that “B”H” does not have any holiness, and can be discarded after use. However, some poskim are of the opinion that one should tear off those letters and place them in shaimos. Therefore, these poskim encouraged their followers to write “BS”D” instead, to avoid showing disrespect for Hashem’s name.7 All agree that “BS”D” does not need to be placed in shaimos. The same applies to the letters “B”H,” “b’ezras Hashem,” and “Im yirtzeh Hashem” in English, as well as the word “Hashem” in English.

• When it comes to writing Hashem’s name in English – G-d8 (without a hyphen), though it does not have the same holiness as Hashem’s name, it is a keinui (loosely: a nickname for Hashem), and it should be placed in shaimos. This does not apply when writing G-d (with a hyphen).

• In the present day, Torah books are printed by machine. This does not take away from their kedusha, even though a non-Jew might be pressing the buttons that control the printing press,9 since it was published for the purpose of learning Torah. However, misprints, scraps of paper, printing plates, proofreading copies and extra copies, which were not used, may be discarded, since they do not have kedusha.10 Similarly, homework, parsha sheets and tests children bring home from school may be disposed since they are meant for reviewing purposes only. [It is preferable to make a tenai (condition) before printing or copying divrei Torah, that all unusable copies should not have kedusha.] This rule only applies when no names of Hashem are printed on these copies. However if Hashem’s name is printed, it must be placed in shaimos, since Hashem’s name contains the highest level of holiness.

• Regarding divrei Torah and seforim that are worn out and are not usable,11 there were those poskim in the past that allowed burning them in a respectful way, particularly during a period of time when it was extremely difficult to bury them properly. HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l held that in the present time one can place such seforim respectfully in the recycling bin, but not in the garbage (providing Hashem’s name is not spelled out in them), but most poskim disagree. They hold that one must take great measures to bury them.

• One of the most complicated issues is the disposal of newspapers and magazines. Many have divrei Torah and secular topics printed back to back. Many of the Gedolei Yisroel wrote strongly against printing such papers.12 It does not show respect for the divrei Torah, especially when the pictures and advertisements are not in the spirit of Torah. If need be, the magazines should be printed with a Torah section, that is easily detachable, so one can put the Torah section in shaimos, and the rest can be put in the garbage.

Since there is not always a separate Torah section, it is preferable for one to remove the Torah related articles that one read and put them in shaimos. Afterwards, one should place the rest of the publication in the garbage, since putting it into shaimos is disrespectful for the holy writings. Even though some of the other articles use phrases from the Torah or Chazal, they do not have kedusha, since they are often written as a melitzah (allegory), not for Torah study. If it is not possible to remove the Torah related articles, or if one did not read the Torah related articles, then the entire magazine should be double wrapped and placed in the recycling bin (or garbage) providing there is no mention of Hashem’s name.

• A picture, a stamp, or an advertisement that has a posuk of Torah or a page of Talmud does not go in to shaimos,13 since it is not intended for learning. However if Hashem’s name (as long as it is readable) is printed on it, then it would require proper respect and disposal in shaimos. If it is not readable, it does not have kedusha.

Audio cassettes, CDs, and videos do not have kedusha, even if one can hear or see words of Torah or Hashem’s name.14 The same is true with a computer or a hard drive. One may place them in the garbage unless clearly indicated on the object that it contains Torah (like on a label). In that case, one should cover them or remove the indicator before placing it the garbage.

B: Tashmishei kedusha
Holy objects, whose purpose is to serve kedusha, need to be placed in shaimos. They can include an Aron Kodesh, a mantel of the Torah, a gartel of the Torah, a crown, an Etz Chaim and the paroches covering the bima, because the purpose of all these is to serve the Sefer Torah. In addition, mezuzah coverings, tefillin boxes, tefillin straps,15 tefillin bags, gidim of the Torah scroll and the bindings of seforim must be placed in shaimos. Some poskim say that one may use these items for another use (like using tzitzis as a bookmark in a sefer), which is kedusha instead of putting them in shaimos.16 This is in contrast to items that are of a higher level of kedusha, which must be put in shaimos.

C: Tashmish D’tashmish D’kedusha
Objects that serve as tashmish d’tashmish d’kedusha do not need to be placed in shaimos, but should not be used in a disrespectful way. They include a bima, paroches of the Aron Kodesh,17 seforim cases, book sleeves, mezuzah nails, and tallis bags, as well as esrog boxes, shofar bags, and lulav covers (tashmish d’tashmish mitzvah). All of these are not kodesh as long as no pesukim of Torah are written on them.

D: Tashmishei Mitzvah
Holy objects, which are used for a mitzvah directly, only have kedusha while in use. Once they are no longer in use for the mitzvah, they do not retain the same kedusha. Therefore, halachically one does not need to bury them in genizah and can dispose them in a respectful manner. A Baal Nefesh should be machmir and place them in shaimos or use them for holy matters.
Tashmishei mitzvah include tzitzis, arba minim, schach of a sukkah, walls of a sukkah,18 and shofar, as well as tables, benches and shtenders dedicated for the use of Torah and tefillah, such as in a shul.

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the many halachos of respect and dignity we ought to have for holy objects while in use, prior to the burial. Additionally, it was not possible to cover the subject of the “burial site” and its halachic ramifications.

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