The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Yeshivat Har Etzion


Kitvei Kodesh

Part Two

By Rav Mordechai Friedman



In the first installment of the discussion, we explored the basic nature of the sanctity of kitvei kodesh apart from shem Hashem. It is possible that their sanctity and related prohibitions are of a Torah level; however, it is more likely they are of Rabbinical origin. We asked: do these prohibitions stem from the inherent sanctity of the object (kedushat ha-cheftza) or solely from the object's symbolic content?

We listed a number of issues that may pivot on this query, the first being which texts are included in the Rabbinical prohibition.

Examining the scope of the law of matzilin (the heter to save certain objects from a fire on Shabbat), we concluded that according to the Rambam and the Rif, 1) matzilin is dependant on kedushat ha-cheftza, and 2) Tanakh has the required kedushat ha-cheftza for matzilin to be applicable while other written Torah texts do not.

The scope of lo ta'aseh ken mi-derabbanan, which according to the Rambam included all Torah commentaries, led us to conclude that it was a prohibition against an act of degrading texts whose CONTENT was associated with God or His Torah.

In the second part of this article, we will discuss other issues that hinge on this query.

Is a sanctifying act or intent required during their production?

Do these texts require the same formal/technical requirements of a Sefer Torah in order to attain a special status?

Can these texts affect (sanctify) other objects? Practically, how must we treat these texts?

Is non-degrading erasure permitted?

Is burial with a talmid chakham required?

Are we allowed to place mundane objects on top of them?

Are there special geniza (halakhically permissible storage) requirements?

The Act of Sanctification

One of the most significant developments in sifrei kodesh, since the heter of writing Torah she-ba'al peh, is the invention of the printing press and moveable type (1450). This development raised new halakhic challenges, the most pressing of which was dealing with the sudden rise in amounts of discarded texts caused by galley sheets, misprints and the shortened life span of texts due to easy replacement. In every generation since 1450, the gedolei ha-poskim dealt with this issue and there are still new developments in this area. I recently heard of a scam discovered by Va'ad Le-Mishmeret ST"aM. Someone had been selling mezuzot printed in Hong Kong on kosher parchment using the latest in bubble jet printing. What status, if any, would such mezuzot have?

What status does a printed Tanakh have? (We limit ourselves to Tanakh in order to avoid the previous issue of Torah she-ba'al peh texts.)

Some hundred years after the Guttenberg Bible was printed, Rav Shmuel De-Modina, the MaHaRSHDaM, dealt with the use of discarded printed pages of sifrei kodesh in the bindings of new books. He raises four possible relevant differences between handwritten and printed books that theoretically would be grounds for leniency. In the end, he rejects each one of the four.

One fundamental issue he raises is that of le-shmah - intent. Without dealing with the question of the applicability of le-shmah in objects produced automatically by machines, we will focus on the pure question of what role le-shmah plays in giving kitvei kodesh their status of kedusha.

Kedusha, or sanctification, by definition is a status bestowed on something through a person's act of separating it from the mundane and designating it to God or His Torah.

The MaHaRSHDaM ruled that lack of le-shmah, while invalidating a Sefer Torah for use, does not render any kitvei kodesh without kedusha. As a result, one may not use discarded printed pages of a sefer for binding new sefarim. His main proof is the Rambam's pesak that tefillin or a Sefer Torah written by a non-Jew is invalid but still requires proper geniza. (The aspect of the geniza requirement will be discussed later).[15] It is not fully clear, however, what the MaHaRSHDaM meant by the term "kedusha." It is quite probable that he was referring to the status requiring respect for the symbolic content and not the inherent kedushat ha-cheftza.

Based on our discussion until now, we are inclined to understand, at least according to the Rambam, that some halakhot are dependent upon kedushat ha-cheftza while others exist solely on the basis of symbolic content. An alternate approach would be to see it as an all or nothing situation, namely that if there is no kedushat ha-cheftza, then the text before us has no halakhic restriction and may be disposed of in a conventional manner despite its symbolic content.

This seems to be the direction of many poskim. Some, based on the lack of le-shmah, others based on negative le-shmah, allow the burning or the use of printed galley sheets of kitvei kodesh in binding, on the basis that there was no original intent (le-shmah) for normal use. (These include Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector in Ein Yitzchak, ch. 5; the Netziv in Meyshir Davar II ch. 80; the Chazon Ish YD ch. 164.),[16 [17] It is possible that these poskim accepted our assumption of content based restrictions, but felt that the alternative, of possibly greater degradation out weighed these restrictions.)

Formal / Technical Requirements

We have seen until now that certain halakhot apply only to texts with inherent sanctity, while others might apply to texts solely because of their content.

The act of writing le-shmah - with intent to sanctify - would be the prime cause of sanctification. Technical requirements, of format and medium, while less central, might still be a requisite for the attainment of inherent sanctity.

Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot all require klaf (kosher parchment), deyo (kosher black permanent ink) and ketav Ashurit (the specific set of aleph bet characters). These media can be seen as part of the basic identity of kitvei kodesh. A person cannot decide to sanctify a text of nursery rhymes; even when employing all the proper rules, he would lack the content and thus the basic identity of the kitvei kodesh. Similarly, the proper medium of klaf, deyo and Ashuri characters being basic to the identity of kitvei kodesh - would be indispensable in attaining kedushat ha-cheftza.

Using this understanding, some authorities[18] concluded that since printed books lack these requisite media, they are therefore devoid of kedusha, thus allowing the use of their discarded pages for binding newer books.

The MaHaRSHDaM took issue with these arguments as well, claiming (once again) that while printed Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot would not be kosher for ritual use, they do not lack the sanctity that would proscribe degrading use, such as binding for books.

He brings an interesting proof from the responsa of the Rambam (268) where the question asked was whether a person could wear a talit that had pesukim embroidered along its edges. The shem Hashem was represented by a triple letter yud. The Rambam ruled it to be assur; his second reason was:

"He surrenders the pesukim of the Torah to degradation. Since the tzitzit are tashmishei mitzva and have no inherent sanctity of the object ("kedushat ha-guf"). It is therefore permissible to enter a bathroom with a garment with tzitzit, trample it underfoot and use for example to cover ones private parts. How can we abandon pesukim of Torah, that were written in sanctity, that were written from the mouth of the Almighty, to such filth and degradation? This is undoubtedly a degradation of Torah!"

The Rambam goes on to rule that he must cut the verses off the talit and place them in geniza.

The MaHaRSHDaM points out that the Rambam proscribed degradation and required geniza despite the fact that these verses lacked any halakhically recognized medium (klaf and deyo). It is possible that the MaHaRSHDaM and the Rambam felt that kedushat ha-cheftza can be attained even without a formmedium. Indeed, if we examine the language of the Rambam, we see that he contrasts tzitzit which lack "kedushat ha-guf" with pesukim embroidered on a garment, perhaps implying that the latter have kedushat ha-guf. However, the fact that the Rambam does not quote any formal halakhic rulings pertaining to kitvei kodesh (e.g. bringing a Sefer Torah into the bathroom (Hilkhot Sefer Torah 10:6)), but rather speaks of exposing "pesukim written from the mouth of the Almighty to such filth and degradation," makes it seem that his concern is not with formal kitvei kodesh of inherent sanctity, but rather the degradation of Torah through the text's symbolic CONTENT.

It stands to reason that the symbolic content aspect of a text is not dependent on any formal medium or format. The word of God that it represents, demands eschewal against acts of degradation.

You may recall that we postulated an assumption that the law of stacking sefarim of differing levels of kedusha was dependant on the kedushat ha-cheftza aspect. The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (YD 282:22) rules that vis-a-vis stacking, when not written le-shmah or on klaf, or printed, (as opposed to handwritten) chumashim do not have greater kedusha than any other sefer. This runs parallel with our assumption that the aspect of kedushat ha-cheftza carries formal, technical requirements.

Furthermore, if you will recall, the Rambam limits the texts that may be saved from a fire on Shabbat ("matzilin") to those written in Hebrew and with Ashuri characters both technical requirements, not relevant to content. Based on this Rambam, the Rema (in his Responsa, no. 34) deals with the permissibility to sit on a crate containing sefarim. He concludes that one can be lenient concerning books printed with non-Ashuri characters since their kedusha "is lower." (He does not differentiate between Tanakh and Torah she-ba'al peh.)[19]

Texts Affecting Other Objects

It is becoming clear that the term "kedusha" presents us with the challenge to overcome its ambiguity when used in the gemara, Rishonim and Acharonim as well as to clarify our own thought. Are we dealing with inherent kedushat ha-cheftza or an object whose content symbolizes God's kedusha?

The laws of matzilim and destruction of texts have more than one possible explanation. They may stem from kedushat ha-cheftza or the symbolic-content of the text.

We have examined a number of issues that may hinge on kedushat ha-cheftza or the symbolic content of texts. As we noted, they are not clear cut, single-possibility examples. For example, the Raavad agrees with the Rishonim who maintain that matzilim applies to all Talmudic texts (Ba'alei Hanefesh, Sha'ar Perisha 2:10) and adds the prohibition of destruction and having sexual relations in the same room where Talmudic texts are located. Yet it is not clear if these laws stem from the view that Talmudic texts have a status of kedushat ha-cheftza, or perhaps all the above are out of respect to the text's content.[20]

One halakha which is unambiguous in this respect is the issue of "tashmishei kedusha."

The gemara in Megila 26b brings a beraita:

"'Tashmishei kedusha' require geniza... and these are tashmishei kedusha: a case for sefarim [Nakh], tefillin, and mezuzot, a bag for a Sefer Torah... Rava says these chumash cases and book chests are tashmishei kedusha and require geniza."

Logically, it would be difficult to assume that an object with only symbolic content should affect its container, which has the status of tashmishei kedusha, since it itself lacks an inherent status of kedusha. It would appear, therefore, that the common denominator of these items is that they all serve objects that have inherent kedushat ha-cheftza.

Again, the term "kedusha" is still ambiguous. The Mishna Berura (OC 154 s.k. 9), commenting on the Shulchan Arukh who quoted the above beraita, quotes the Pri Megadim (M.Z. introduction to OC 154) who rules that printed sifrei kodesh and Torah she-ba'al peh have the status of kedusha, albeit a lower level than of a Sefer Torah. The Mishna Berura adds that ALL sefarim are included in this law of creating tashmishei kedusha.

This would indicate that the Mishna Berura believed that all sefarim (he seems to include printed sefarim as well) have kedushat ha-cheftza.

This question of what exactly is the nature of "kedusha" of printed kitvei kodesh would possibly affect both bookcases and discarded book covers of sefarim. [21]

Geniza Requirements

Although the word "geniza" appears throughout Shas and Rishonim, its definition and purpose are rarely clarified.

When dealing with forbidden texts, as was the case before Chazal allowed the writing of Torah she-ba'al peh, or a Torah with countless mistakes, the purpose of "gonzin" was to hide the text from use - to prevent mishaps. Unusable, worn out kitvei kodesh, on the other hand, required geniza in order to prevent possible degradation (Rashi Sota 20a., d.h. "Megilla").

It would stand to reason that these different purposes might require different methods of geniza. The best way to hide something so that no one will come across it and transgress might be burial (the mishna in Temura 33b).

On the other hand, if our purpose is simply to store the text in a fitting manner so that it does not meet degradation, a designated cabinet or even an entire room should logically serve the purpose.

The gemara describes the procedure for geniza in connection with a worn out Sefer Torah. Megilla 26b:

"Rava says: A worn Sefer Torah we are 'gonez' with a talmid chakham... Rav Acha bar Ya'akov says: and in an earthen vessel, as it says (Yirmiyahu 32) 'And you shall put them in earthen vessels in order that they may keep for many days.'"

Although this gemara seems to support the widely accepted definition for geniza, i.e. burial, the Rivav explains 'gonez' to mean literally store, not bury. Thus we give the Sefer Torah to a talmid chakham for proper storage!

This fits the logic mentioned above - fulfilling the purpose of guarding against degradation. The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (OC 154:8) follows a similar line. He explains the requirement as burial next to a talmid chakham, but only if the Sefer Torah cannot be stored properly above ground.

The reason behind the view of always preferring burial over storage might be because it is seen as a more honorable manner of disposal.

This puts the nature of geniza in a different light. Rather than viewing it as a way of dealing with unusable texts, it becomes an obligation of doing a last act of honor to them. (The parallel to human burial might be valid. Add to this the halakha requiring 'kriya,' rending one's garment, both at the sight of the destruction of a Sefer Torah as well as the death of a Jew. The Rashba (and others) explains that the reason why we are obligated to do kriya when present at the death of any Jew is because it is similar to the burning of a Sefer Torah.)

The Magen Avraham (OC 154 s.k.9) rules that the requirement of burial in an earthen vessel next to a talmid chakham applies to all kitvei kodesh. On the other side, the Sde Chemed, in the name of the Zera Emet, writes that this is limited to a Sefer Torah. (The Peri Megadim, ibid., comments that he never saw people follow this ruling of the Magen Avraham.)

It is likely that the Magen Avraham sees the nature of geniza as an active fulfillment of showing honor to kitvei kodesh, while the Zera Emet views geniza as a way to avoid possible future degradation. Even so, a Sefer Torah has an added requirement of honor. It is possible that both approaches are correct. The facet of the kedushat ha-cheftza of the text may require a positive, active fulfillment of honor - burial aside a talmid chakham - as well as preservation, in an earthen vessel.

The aspect of symbolic content, however, only proscribes degradation, and thus any type of proper storage will do. (Recall what we said about the nature of "matzilin" as opposed to that of "lo ta'aseh ken" mi-derabbanan.)

Furthermore, as we pointed out, there is the likelihood that according to the Rambam only Tanakh texts have kedushat ha-cheftza. Add to this opinion the variauthorities that require proper le-shmah, or deyo and klaf in order to achieve kedushat ha-cheftza. Add to this the ruling of the Arukh Ha-Shulchan not requiring burial for a Sefer Torah. It stands to reason that for printed texts other than Tanakh, any precaution taken which would safeguard the text from future degradation should suffice.


We will summarize our discussion by addressing a common, present day challenge: the proper disposal of printed weekly parasha sheets.

The structure of our discussion was to examine halakhot particular to kitvei kodesh in order to investigate whether each halakha was dependent solely on the text's kedushat ha-cheftza or its symbolic content as well.

1. Texts included

a. The Rabbinical prohibition against destruction - According to the Rambam, the prohibition against the destruction of kitvei kodesh is dependent on the symbolic content of the text - and therefore would include printed Torah articles and possibly a student's notes. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l, the sanctity and thus the prohibition to destroy, stems not from the symbolic association to God, but rather the text's use in Torah learning. This gives it the status of tashmishei mitzva. Once the owner decides that he has no such use for the object, it loses its status and may be disposed of. (Any texts, such as most gemarot, would be restricted on the Torah level.)

b. Matzilim - the Rambam and Rif limit to Tanakh alone (kedushat ha-cheftza). Other Rishonim include Talmud (and possibly any divrei Torah).

c. Tossing - the Rambam includes even agadot (content based) and thus Torah articles would be included.

d. Stacking - the Rambam seems to limit to Tanakh (kedushat ha-cheftza); thus in his view it would appear that we need not be careful when placing objects on top of such sheets.

In the second part of the discussion:

2. Act of sanctification

For those halakhot dependent on kedushat ha-cheftza, the act of creating the text with intent to sanctify (le-shmah) would be essential. Many poskim seem to reject our assumption that an additional facet of symbolic content exists. Many poskim allow texts printed without le-shmah to be used in binding or even to be burnt.

On the other hand, the MaHaRSHDaM's view was that even when lacking le-shmah a text may not be used in the binding of other books. This supports our assumption that an additional facet of symbolic content affects certain halakhot and would apply to Torah sheets.

On the other hand, some poskim allow texts without le-shmah to be recycled in binding books or even burnt. (See note 15 and 16.) The Chazon Ish's advice of having in mind not to sanctify the book during its printing, would be useful for Torah sheets, as would the Netziv's pesak. However, other decisions, such as Rav Yitzchak Elchanan's, depend on complete lack of le-shmah of galley sheets which were never intended for Torah learning. These decisions would not apply to Torah sheets, although their use is temporary.

3. Formal requirements

Although some authorities allowed the above mentioned recycling or disposal of texts on the basis that they lacked their requisite formal media of deyo, klaf and Ashuri characters, the MaHaRSHDaM and the Rambam proscribed degradation and required geniza. Both the Rema and the Arukh Ha-Shulchan view that stacking is not a problem yet maintain that these texts have some "lower" level of sanctity.

4. Texts affecting other objects

We concluded that the fact that the Mishna Berura held that all sefarim create tashmishei kedusha status for their bookcases or covers would indicate that he held all sefarim to have an inherent kedushat ha-cheftza.

5. Geniza requirements

What should we do, practically, with parasha sheets? Can they be disposed of without burial?

We saw that geniza has two roles: storage to prevent mishaps and to prevent degradation. The requirement of burial with a talmid chakham can be seen as a final act of honor. The Rivav and the Arukh Ha-Shulchan seem to reject this view and did not require burial as a first resort.

Furthermore, we saw that while the Magen Avraham required burial for all kitvei kodesh, the Zera Emet and Pri Megadim limit it only to a Sefer Torah. This again might be along the lines of our differentiation between kedushat ha-cheftza, which might require the active honor burial, and symbolic content, which only proscribes degradation.

The indications that we have examined would lead us to conclude that such parasha sheets lack the dimension of sanctity of kedushat ha-cheftza. Even if they have a dimension of symbolic content that has halakhic implications, it is very likely that actual burial is not required. It therefore stands to reason that (if they lack one of the seven written forms of God's name) any precaution taken which would safeguard the text from future degradation should suffice.

I have thought of a practical solution similar to the one that is practiced by many people with regards to teruma today. Despite the fact that teruma has many halakhic limitations due to its sanctity, there is a widely accepted view that one need not leave it to decompose in one's home, but rather one can put it in a bag before throwing it out in such a manner that placing it with the refuse will not defile it. The main assumption of this practive is that it is not considered an act of degradation. To my mind, this should be applicable to kitvei kodesh (other than Tanakh that lack one of the seven forms of God's name) as well. Add to this that Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l as well as the Netziv would be lenient without these precautions. I feel the need to discuss and review this issue further before putting it to practice.

Another practical application is the common use of verses from Tanakh in the decoration of everyday items such as shirts and shtenders (bookstands).

Our study now affords us the proper perspective. While such writing would lack kedushat ha-cheftza and so allow for "stacking" (as mentioned above), it would retain it's symbolic content and thus proscribe "tossing."

As we saw, the Rambam, in his response, objected to such texts on talitot (prayer shawls) because of the wearers entering the bathroom as well as exposure to filth. In addition, constant wear brings to eventual erasure. Even if unintentional, one must weigh the mere aesthetic gain against the exposure of the words of God to abuse.


[15] One may argue with this proof from the Rambam, by saying that he required geniza for one of two possible reasons: 1) the doubt or possibility that the non-Jew can and did have proper intent (le-shmah). See Rashi on Gittin 45a. Or, 2) the shemot Hashem that are included in the text - which the Rambam held could be sanctified by a non-Jew. (See Rav Chaim on the Rambam, Hil. Tefillin.)

[16] Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector brings a proof from the Rambam, Yesodei Ha-Torah 6:8 - that a Sefer Torah written by an apikoros must be burnt and that there is no kedusha in the shemot he wrote since he lacked proper intent. Rav Spector interprets this to mean that there is no problem to burn it. This is against what we explained above, that the issue of the mi-derabbanan of lo ta'aseh ken prohibits active destruction of texts with symbolic content. Our understanding of this law would be that the Rambam's point concerning the lack of le-shmah of an apikoros, is that it removes the issur de-oraita of lo ta'aseh ken, erasing or destroying shem Hashem. Although the de-rabbanan remains, it is overcome by the pressing need to eradicate any memory of apikorsim.

[17] The Netziv, in his ruling to allow the burning of old sefarim without shem Hashem, raises a fascinating comparison to kodashim (animals sanctified to the beit ha-mikdash). After proving that according to Tosafot, the allowance to actively destroy kodashim that couldn't be used was because they would inevitably meet destruction, the Netziv then maintains that kitvei kodesh should have the same status and permits even preferred burning. Since they would inevitably be destroyed and possibly in a more degrading manner - burning is not considered "bizayon kodashim."

Thwould seem like the approach of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l, but in truth, is very different in understanding the nature of the source of kedusha for kitvei kodesh. Rav Moshe zt"l maintained their status to be that of tashmishei mitzva - as long as they can be used for the mitzvah of Talmud Torah. Once they can no longer be used for Talmud Torah, no kedusha or limitations remain. The Netziv on the other hand, seems to have believed that man, through his intention during production, sanctifies the text, and the text remains sanctified. Destruction is permitted accordingly to Tosefot despite the high level of sanctity.

The Netziv explains that although the Rambam might not agree with Tosafot, there is a heter for destroying a printer's test galley sheets. The Rambam holds that an animal sanctified after the destruction of the mikdash can be destroyed. From the onset, man, being the sanctifier of kodashim, automatically limits the level of sanctity to allow for disposal by destruction.

The Netziv notes that the bechor, which is sanctified from birth, not by man, may not be destroyed. He assumes that texts, like kodashim, are sanctified by man's intention and therefore can be sanctified with future disposal in mind.

(In truth, even those poskim who allow burning, do so only in situations where the alternative would lead to a greater degradation by non-Jews. So they might not reject the additional facet of symbolic content).

The Chazon Ish suggests printing all sefarim with negative intention - intention that the books not be sanctified.

[18] See Responsa: Rema ch. 34; Havat Yair ch. 106; TaShBeTz, vol. I ch. 2.

[19] It is important to mention that in this point the Rambam did stop short of requiring black dye despite the fact that this question was raised by the above gemara. According to the Rambam (ibid. 27), matzilim would apply even if red ink was used. This would indicate that:

1) A text can maintain kedushat ha-cheftza while still not being kosher for ritual purpose. (e.g. A worn Sefer Torah with only 85 characters legible).

2) While Ashuri characters and Hebrew language are a basic requirements, black dye is not.

[20] See Chavot Yair 184.

[21] The Rema (OC 154) rules like the Or Zarua (II siman 386) who holds that a container used to honor an object can become tashmishei kedusha - but for protection it does not.


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