What Do I Do with My Sheimos?

American Friends of Nimla Tal Inc. is a tzedakah that distributes all of the money received to situations here in Eretz Yisroel. In addition, a special feature, good through the month of December, is that PayPal adds 1% to the amount donated. So, click on www.paypal.me/rabbikaganoff to donate, and you will be given the option to enter your amount. If you enter $100, for example, you get a US IRS tax deduction of $100, and $101 goes to help the poor in Israel. No money goes to pay salaries or other no expenses.

I know that the name of the parsha is Shemos, and not Sheimos, but…

What do I do with my Sheimos?

Question #1:

vintage-pagesOne of the shul’s baalei batim calls the rav with the following concern:

“The shul’s sheimos collection is a fire hazard – a catastrophe waiting to happen. Can we just burn everything before a dangerous fire breaks out?”

Question #2:

I receive the following question from Cheryl:

“Rabbi, this has got to be the most interesting e-mail question you receive today. I am on a cruise in the Mediterranean, courtesy of, and with, my not-yet-observant parents, and today I spent the day looking at Jewish sites and other tourist attractions at our port-of-call. At one of the places, an elderly gentile lady gave me a large bag of old, tattered siddurim – no value. I have no idea what to do with them, and they are with me now in my cabin on the ship. May I bury them at sea?”


Answering the above questions provides an excellent opportunity to understand the topic called either genizah or sheimos. The particular emphasis in this article will be: what is the proper way to dispose of worn-out seforim?

Should it be called sheimos or genizah?

Which is the “correct” term? The word used in Modern Hebrew for a religious item whose discarding must be handled in a special way is genizah, which literally means that they must be hidden. Indeed, this is the term used by the Gemara for the process of disposing of these items, and it is easy to understand how the term came to refer to items that require genizah, although technically genizah refers to the place where the item is placed.

The Yiddish word for these items is sheimos, whose source is the term sheimos she’einam nimchakim, meaning the names of G-d that the Torah prohibits erasing. In Parshas Re’eih, the Torah commands: Destroy all the places where the gentiles that you are driving out worshipped their gods, whether they are on high mountains, on hills, or beneath foliate trees. Raze their altars, smash their pillars, burn their worshipped trees, and demolish the images of their gods. Obliterate the names (of their deities) from that place (Devarim 12:2-4).

The Torah then closes this passage: Do not do this to Hashem your G-d!

When the Torah states: Obliterate the names from that place. Do not do this to Hashem your G-d, it is prohibiting obliterating Hashem’s Name (Shabbos 120b; Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:1). The Gemara (Shavuos 35a) calls the names of Hashem that we may not erase sheimos she’einam nimchakim, which later became the origin of the term sheimos as a generic term to describe religious items whose discarding must be handled in a special way. Thus, either word, genizah or sheimos, may be used.

That which we call Hashem

Although there are many expressions, such as the All-merciful One and the Creator, which refer to Hashem, halachah recognizes a major distinction between erasing the actual holy names of Hashem, and between erasing terms that describe Hashem, but are not actual names. Erasing the actual “names” of Hashem, the sheimos she’einam nimchakim, violates a lo saaseh of the Torah, one of the 613 mitzvos, and qualifies as a prohibition as serious as desecrating Yom Tov or eating non-kosher (see Makkos 22a). The names of Hashem, of which there are about ten, include, among others, Elokim, Elokeinu, Keil, Shakai, Tzevakos, Eloak, and, of course, the names I will call havayah and adnus. (Following the usual practice, I have substituted the “k” sound somewhere in the above names, so that readers do not err and recite these holy names in vain.) Erasing any of these names is prohibited min haTorah.

Erasing attributes

On the other hand, expressions that describe attributes of Hashem — such as Rachum, All-merciful one; Chanun, He Who bestows kindness — may be erased, even when they refer to Hashem (Shavuos 35a; Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 6:5). The Torah’s prohibition, do not do this to Hashem your G-d, applies only to a name of Hashem, not to an attribute that describes Hashem.

Similarly, there is no prohibition to erase His names written in other languages, such as G-d, even when spelled with the “o” in the middle (Shach, Yoreh Deah 179:11), although one must exercise care that these names do not become treated disrespectfully (Urim, 27:2, quoted also by Nesivos HaMishpat and Aruch HaShulchan ad loc.). The reason we are accustomed to spelling the name G-d, rather than with the added “o,” is because of concern that the paper it is written on might end up in the garbage or treated in some other disrespectful way.

Does the prohibition include commentaries, Gemaros, et cetera?

Although the Torah violation, do not do this to Hashem your G-d, applies only to actual names of Hashem, Chazal prohibited destroying other holy writings, including commentaries, works of Mishnah, Gemara or halachah, and other Torah works (see Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:8; Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:2).

What happens when they wear out?

Granted that the Torah prohibited destroying works that include Hashem’s Name, eventually a sefer Torah becomes worn out and unusable. What does one do with it, then, if it is prohibited to destroy it? The precise details of how to dispose of these items is exactly the topic for today’s article.

Buried in earthenware

The Gemara teaches that worn out sifrei Torah should be placed in earthenware vessels and then buried next to a talmid chacham, or, minimally, next to someone who learned halachah, meaning someone who at least studied Mishnayos (Megillah 26b). Placing them inside these vessels forestalls the decomposition of the sifrei Torah for a very long time (Ran), and placing them together with someone who studied Torah is a more respectful way of treating sifrei Torah that can no longer be used. It is very unfortunate that Hashem’s Name becomes obliterated, even in an indirect way, and we must delay the decomposition for as long as possible.

Genizah of printed sefarim

From after the time of the Gemara until the invention of the printing press in the 1400’s, we find little discussion about how to dispose of holy works. Since everything was handwritten and therefore scarce and very expensive, we can presume that there were not a lot of worn out sifrei kodesh, and there was no difficulty in following the Gemara’s description for their retirement. However, after the invention of the printing press, the sheer volume of printed material increased geometrically, and we find halachic discussion concerning whether wornout printed sefarim must be disposed of in the same manner as the Gemara describes for sifrei Torah.

The teshuvah of the Be’er Sheva

The earliest responsum I have seen on the subject is printed in the sefer Be’er Sheva, authored by one of the great Torah leaders of the early seventeenth century, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Eilenburg. He was a talmid of the Levush, and his sefer includes a haskamah from the Maharal of Prague! The Be’er Sheva reports that in his day, it was not uncommon for people to burn the worn-out printed editions of sifrei kodesh. Those who burned the sifrei kodesh claimed that this was more respectful than burying them, because burial often resulted in the sifrei kodesh being unearthed and therefore becoming treated disrespectfully.

The Be’er Sheva takes strong issue with this approach, noting that it is prohibited to destroy any type of kisvei hakodesh, and that burning them certainly violates halachah. The claim that burying the sefarim leads to their desecration is unfounded, he states, because the desecration is a result of not burying the genizah correctly. As we mentioned above, the Gemara describes burying in earthenware vessels. If, indeed, all genizah were to be buried this way, argues the Be’er Sheva, then the kisvei hakodesh would never be strewn about after their burial. He concludes that worn-out, printed Torah material must be buried in earthenware vessels, just as one is required to bury sifrei Torah this way. This responsum of the Be’er Sheva is subsequently cited authoritatively by the Magen Avraham (154:9).

Not enough earthenware to go around

Notwithstanding the rulings of the Be’er Sheva and the Magen Avraham prohibiting the burning of wornout kisvei hakodesh, we find the issue of burning sheimos resurfacing a century later. It appears that burying the massive amounts of sheimos in earthenware vessels was not practical, presumably because appropriate earthenware vessels were not easily available in the quantities required. Since no other practical solution was acceptable to the Be’er Sheva and the Magen Avraham, accumulations of sheimos were doing just that — accumulating. Thus we read:

The shul’s sheimos collection is a fire hazard – a catastrophe waiting to happen. Can we just burn everything, before a dangerous fire breaks out?”

This is the exact question asked three hundred years ago by members of the Jewish community in Metz, Alsace-Lorraine, from their rav, Rav Yaakov Reischer, one of the great halachic authorities of his era, famed for his many classic Torah works, including Minchas Yaakov (on the laws of kashrus), Chok Yaakov (on Hilchos Pesach), Toras Hashelamim (on Hilchos Niddah), Iyun Yaakov (on Agadah of Shas), and his responsa, Shevus Yaakov.

In a responsum published in Shevus Yaakov, Rav Reischer reports that previous attempts to bury the amassed sheimos had resulted in gentiles unearthing the kisvei hakodesh and using them in a highly degrading way. For lack of any solution, the sheimos were accumulating and indeed were a fire hazard. Because of the life-threatening emergency that now resulted, the Shevus Yaakov ruled that it was preferable to burn the sheimos, which he felt was the most viable resolution of the problem, since burial in earthenware vessels was no longer feasible.

Corresponding mechutanim

In Nissan 5483 (1723), Rav Reischer sent his teshuvah permitting, under these circumstances, the burning of genizah, to his mechutan, Rav Yechezkel Katzenellenbogen, the rav of Hamburg, for review, presumably hoping that Rav Katzenellenbogen would agree. The correspondence between these gedolei Torah was subsequently published in two different places – in Rav Reischer’s Shu’t Shevus Yaakov, as Yoreh Deah, Volume 1, #10-12, and in Rav Katzenellenbogen’s Shu’t Keneses Yechezkel as responsum #37. The two versions of the correspondence are not absolutely identical, but comparing the two versions broadens one’s understanding of the dispute. In general, the Keneses Yechezkel account is somewhat truncated in places, but includes the dates of the letters. Apparently, when Rav Katzenellenbogen decided to print this correspondence, he abbreviated his own letters, although he published his mechutan’s letters in full.

A more important fact is that the account published in Keneses Yechezkel includes a final letter from Rav Katzenellenbogen that does not appear in Shevus Yaakov.

Family feud

Although both gedolim correspond to one another with great respect, they dispute strongly regarding what one should do with the accumulated sheimos material when burial in earthenware vessels is not a practical solution. In his response dated 17 Kislev, the Keneses Yechezkel rejects fully his mechutan’s proposal that the circumstances permit burning the sheimos, but instead rules that one should construct wooden boxes around the genizah, find an abandoned lot, and bury the wooden-entombed sheimos with three tefachim (about 9-11 inches) of earth above them.

The second volley

On the 23 of Teiveis, the Shevus Yaakov penned his retort to his mechutan, rejecting the idea that wooden boxes are as good as earthenware, and insisting that if all kisvei hakodesh must be buried in earthenware, burying in wood, which decays much more quickly, will not suffice. He contends that burying in wood is the equivalent of burying directly in the earth, which he prohibits as a tremendous bizayon to the kisvei hakodesh. He feels that burying in earth, either with or without a wooden protection, is a far greater bizayon to the kisvei hakodesh than burning them. Thus, unswayed by his mechutan’s rejection of his proposal, he remains with his original suggestion – that since burying all the genizah in earthenware containers is not practical, and burying them in wooden containers is not acceptable, the remaining option is to burn the sheimos.

The response from the Keneses Yechezkel was not long in coming. On the 17th of Shvat, the Keneses Yechezkel penned his retort, again reiterating his position that it is absolutely forbidden to burn sheimos, and that it is perfectly acceptable, and therefore required, to bury them in wooden boxes. (This last letter is the part of the correspondence that does not appear in Shu’t Shevus Yaakov, but only in Keneses Yechezkel.)

Packing the printed material

It is noteworthy that both of these authorities rule that printed sefarim must be packed properly before burial, which was also the position of the Be’er Sheva and the Magen Avraham that I quoted above. On the other hand, the Pri Megadim (commenting on the above-quoted Magen Avraham), who was born shortly before the passing of the Keneses Yechezkel and the Shevus Yaakov, notes that the custom is to bury worn-out printed sefarim without placing them inside vessels, and to require burial in earthenware vessels only when burying worn-out, hand-written nevi’im and kesuvim that are written on parchment. (The nevi’im he is describing are used contemporarily by many shullen for reading the haftaros.) The custom mentioned by the Pri Megadim disputes the above quoted authorities, the Be’er Sheva, the Magen Avraham, the Keneses Yechezkel, and the Shevus Yaakov, all of whom held that printed sefarim must be packed in earthenware or with other protective means before burial.

What is the accepted halachic practice?

The prevalent accepted practice follows the Pri Megadim’s observation — that is, although we insist that worn-out printed sefarim must be buried, they are not packed in either earthenware or even wood boxes before burial. The Mishnah Berurah (154:22, 24), when discussing this issue, quotes only the Pri Megadim; he does not even mention the disputing earlier opinions.

How can we permit this?

Granted that the minhag follows the Pri Megadim, but what is the halachic basis to permit this? Neither the Pri Megadim nor the Mishnah Berurah explains the rationale to permit burying these items, without first packing them appropriately. However, an authority contemporary to the Pri Megadim, the Zera Emes (Volume II #133), does discuss this issue.

The Zera Emes was asked the same question that was asked of the Be’er Sheva, the Keneses Yechezkel and the Shevus Yaakov — whether there is any basis to permit the burning of printed sheimos. In response, the Zera Emes first cites many early authorities who held that all printed sefarim require burial in earthenware vessels. He indeed concludes that all genizah items require burial. He then analyzes whether all genizah items require to first be packed in earthenware vessels. He notes that the Gemara, itself, implies that there are different levels of kedushah when burying holy items. Although the Gemara mentions several items that require genizah, such as the coverings of the sefer Torah (often called mantelach), mezuzos, tefillin, tefillin bags and straps, it requires only that these items have genizah and does not mention that they be first placed in earthenware. The requirements of placing the genizah item in an earthenware vessel and burying it near a talmid chacham are mentioned only regarding a sefer Torah. Other holy writings do not require this, and it is sufficient to provide them with what the Zera Emes calls “a minimal burial” — meaning burial in earth. Burial is a respectful way to allow for the decay of holy works, both because burial is halachically a respectful way of disposal, and because the deterioration is caused indirectly.

The Zera Emes adds one more requirement – that the sheimos must be placed into some type of bag or covering before it is buried. This covering is necessary, in his opinion, because placing directly into the ground is not considered a respectful way to treat kisvei hakodesh. We should note that, according to the contemporary sefer Ginzei HaKodesh, Rav Elyashiv held that, in a situation where it is difficult to wrap the genizah, one may bury it without wrapping. This means that, in his opinion, placing kisvei hakodesh directly in the ground is not disrespectful.

Burial at sea

At this point, we can answer Cheryl’s question:

I am on a cruise in the Mediterranean. At one port-of-call, a gentile lady gave me a large bag of old, tattered siddurim, which are now in my cabin on the ship. May I bury them at sea?

As you can by now imagine, I answered Cheryl that she is not permitted to bury the genizah at sea. According to all opinions quoted above, disposing worn-out kisvei hakodesh in water is considered destroying them directly. According to the Be’er Sheva and the Keneses Yechezkel, all kisvei hakodesh require burial in the earth, and in earthenware. According to the Pri Megadim and the Zera Emes, although burial is permitted in earth, this is only in earth, where the deterioration takes time, but “burial at sea” is a bizayon to the holy works. Even the Shevus Yaakov, who permitted burning kisvei hakodesh when one cannot bury them in earthenware vessels, expressly forbade burial in earth without packing them first, because the moisture of the earth is considered directly destroying them and forbidden, and certainly, disposal directly in water is forbidden.

Conclusion — contemporary practice

Common practice of those who bury genizah today is to pack all handwritten kisvei hakodesh, including sifrei Torah, mezuzos, and tefillin parshiyos, in earthenware or glass containers before burial; whereas worn-out, printed sefarim are simply placed in bags or cardboard boxes and buried. Thus, it appears that although we are following the distinction between sifrei Torah and other holy writings as explained by the Zera Emes, contemporary practice is to be slightly stricter than his ruling regarding how we wrap mezuzos and tefillin parshiyos prior to burial.

Thousands of pages of Torah rattle off presses and home and business printers every day, spreading Torah to every corner of the globe. By disposing of this material appropriately, we help ensure that this glory of Torah does not lead to its desecration.



What Goes into the Sheimos Bag?



A few weeks ago, the main office of the Yated Neeman received the following communication:

“The Yated has numerous, excellent weekly columns that deal with halacha issues. I want to suggest a topic that I, and probably many others as well, would like to see clarified. The topic is sheimos.

“Among the questions I have on the subject are: What items constitute sheimos? What is the halacha concerning books containing words of Torah written by people who reject Torah? May I discard the booklets the children bring home from school or a newspaper that contains Torah articles into the regular trash? Does it make a difference if the item was produced knowing it would soon be disposed? May wedding invitations contain pesukim?

“Thanking you so much in advance,

“Yaakov Wolff”* (Name has been changed as requested by the correspondent.)

Indeed, in our time there is a huge proliferation of printed divrei Torah. Are we required to place all of these items in sheimos? As always, it is not the purpose of our column to determine the halacha for our readers; each person should refer his/her own shaylos to one’s rav. Our purpose here is to introduce the subject and the issues involved.

As an introduction to Mr. Wolff’s questions, I will analyze the halachic sources, which divide sheimos items into two basic categories:

I. Items that include Hashem’s name

II. Holy writings that do not include Hashem’s name


In Parshas Re’eih, the Torah commands: Destroy all the places where the gentiles that you are driving out worshipped their gods, whether they were on high mountains or on hills, or beneath any leafy tree. Raze their altars, smash their pillars, burn their idolatrous asheirah trees, and demolish the images of their gods. Obliterate the names (of their deities) from that place. Do not do this to Hashem your G-d!” (Devarim 12:2-4) This last verse teaches that, just as it is a mitzvah min haTorah to destroy idols and everything associated with them, so too it is a Torah violation to destroy anything containing Hashem’s name (Shabbos 120b; Rambam, Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 6:1).

When the Torah states: Obliterate the names (of their deities) from that place. Do not do this to Hashem your G-d, it prohibits erasing or obliterating something containing one of Hashem’s holy names, specifically referring to the seven sheimos she’einam nimchakim, the seven names of Hashem that may never be erased (Shavuos 35a). These names are the names of Hashem that we are careful not to pronounce except when reciting a prayer, but instead modify their pronunciation; for example, we say Elokim, Hashem, or Keil. When an item containing one of these names can no longer be used, it must be treated in a very special way, as we will see shortly.

As an extension of this prohibition, Chazal prohibited destroying other holy writings, including commentaries, halacha, and other Torah works (see Rambam, Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 6:8). The precise details of how to dispose of these items are sometimes disputed.


In Yiddish, holy items that require halachically-approved disposal are called sheimos, a truncating of the phrase sheimos she’einam nimchakim, names that may never be erased. The customary Hebrew word used in this context, genizah, means the place where these items are placed. Thus, one term describes the basis for the sanctity of these items, whereas the other depicts their treatment. To maintain the connotations and uses of both terms, I will use the word “sheimos” to refer to the items themselves that have sanctity and the word “genizah” to describe how these items are handled when no longer usable.


One may not erase the seven sheimos she’einam nimchakim even to repair a sefer torah. For example, if a sofer errantly wrote one of these names in a place where it does not belong, one may not simply erase the name to render the sefer torah kosher. Instead, some opinions allow one to surgically split the thickness of the parchment on which he wrote the holy name in a way that removes the holy name intact. This is an extremely delicate task since one must remove the complete intact name no matter how deeply its ink has seeped into the parchment. This piece of parchment containing the holy name must now be placed in genizah. In order to write on the parchment where this name was located, the sofer sands it to restore its texture.


What is the proper way to perform genizah?

Worn out sifrei torah should be placed in earthenware vessels and then buried (Megillah 26b). Placing them inside these vessels forestalls the decomposition of the sifrei torah for a long time. Indeed it is a tragedy that Hashem’s name becomes obliterated, even in an indirect way, and the mitzvah commands us to delay their decay for as long as possible. They should be buried near a talmid chacham, or at least near someone who studied halacha and other basic Torah.


Do printed seforim require the same standards of genizah that the Gemara requires for a sefer torah?

The poskim dispute whether printed seforim also need to be protected in earthenware vessels before they are buried. The Be’er Sheva requires them to be buried inside earthenware vessels, as does the Keneses Yechezkel (Shu”t Be’er Sheva #43, quoted by Magen Avraham 154:9 and Shu”t Shvus Yaakov 3:10; Shu”t Keneses Yechezkel #37, quoted by Rav Shlomoh Eiger in his notes to Yoreh Deah 282:10). The Keneses Yechezkel adds that packing them inside wood boxes is as acceptable as burying the sheimos in earthenware. Both of these authors rule that printed seforim must be packed properly before burial, even those without Hashem’s name.

On the other hand, the Pri Megadim (commenting on this Magen Avraham) notes that the custom is to bury worn-out printed seforim without placing them inside vessels, and to insist on this special treatment only for hand-written nevi’im and kesuvim (used contemporarily predominantly for haftarah and megillos) that are written on parchment. Thus we see that there is a dispute whether printed seforim must be packed in earthenware or other similarly protective ways before burial; the Be’er Sheva and Keneses Yechezkel requiring it, and the Pri Megadim not.

What is the accepted halachic practice?

The Mishnah Berurah (154:22, 24) quotes only the Pri Megadim, accepting that printed seforim, even those bearing Hashem’s name, do not have the full level of sanctity of hand-written seforim; he does not even mention the disputing opinions. My impression is that this is the practice usually followed by those who bury genizah: hand-written Sifrei Torah, mezuzos, tefillin, megillos and naviim are specially packed before burial in earthenware, wood, or glass containers; whereas worn-out, printed seforim are simply placed in bags or cardboard boxes and buried.

At this point, we can address specific aspects of Mr. Wolff’s questions:

“What is the halacha concerning books containing Torah words written by people who reject Torah?”


Despite the serious transgression of destroying Hashem’s name, names written by a Jew who rejects Torah belief have no sanctity min haTorah (Rambam, Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 6:8). If the texts including these names were written by such a Jew, or if the text contains sacrilegious or heretical ideas or references, one should destroy them (see Shabbos 116a; Gittin 45b).


Torah writings authored by a gentile that contain no heretical beliefs should be placed in genizah (Gittin 45b; Rambam, Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 6:8). Those that contain heresy should be destroyed.


Destroying Torah writings that do not include Hashem’s name is prohibited mi’derabbanan (see Rambam, Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 6:8, based on Shabbos 115, 116). Thus, Mishnayos, Gemaras, and most parts of commentaries on Tanach, Gemara, Halacha and Aggadah are considered sheimos only mi’derabbanan since it is unusual to find Hashem’s names in them.

Reference notes that are incomprehensible on their own are not considered divrei torah and may be placed in the regular garbage (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:75).


Is there any halachic difference between a printed sefer, which has kedusha, and a printed work on a non-holy subject that happens to contain some divrei torah or quotations from Chazal?


Some halachic authorities maintain that if a printer or writer did not intend to produce seforim or divrei kedusha, then the resultant product has no kedusha (Shu”t Ein Yitzchak 5:7-9; Chazon Ish, Yoreh Deah 164:3 s.v. ve’im; see also Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:172). According to this approach, a book published on a non-Torah subject that includes some divrei torah need not be placed in genizah when it wears out. This lenience applies only to items that do not contain one of the seven names of Hashem (Shu”t Meishiv Davar 2:80).


If a newspaper or magazine contains divrei torah, does this require it to ultimately be placed in genizah?

Based on much of the above-discussion, the Melameid Liho’il (2:89) rules that non-Hebrew publications containing Hashem’s name may even be respectfully burnt. He contends that since the printer did not realize he was printing anything holy, the magazine has no kedusha. There is therefore no requirement to dispose of these items in genizah. He does insist that they not be treated disdainfully, and in his opinion, burning these publications, so as not to treat them as regular garbage, constitutes treating them with adequate respect.


The Melameid Liho’il assumed that someone printing a non-Hebrew work would never have assumed that he was printing something holy. If the same assumption can be made regarding a Hebrew publication, then his line of reasoning would follow there as well. (Other reasons, beyond the scope of this article, are mentioned to distinguish between works written in Hebrew and those written in other languages, see for example, Shu”t Rama #34; Shu”t Chavos Ya’ir #109.)


Can we make the same assumption concerning a frum Hebrew newspaper? Does the printer think that there is no kedusha in what he is printing? Or, should we assume that since most frum newspapers contain some divrei torah, the printer realizes that he is printing divrei torah; thus, those parts of the newspaper or magazine should be placed in genizah.

The written opinions I have seen on this subject vary. Most contemporary poskim rule that one is not required to put a newspaper containing divrei torah into genizah; it is satisfactory to wrap the paper or simply the divrei torah before disposing of them in the garbage (Rav Elyashiv and Rav Vozner, quoted in Ginzei HaKodesh pgs. 154, 236). This approach accepts that these divrei torah were printed without intent to make them holy. However, they should be wrapped first so that they are not treated with disdain.

A minority opinion contends that one must place the divrei torah sections of these newspapers in genizah (Ginzei HaKodesh pg. 154, quoting Rav Nissim Karelitz). I have noticed that some chareidi newspapers in Israel print a note on the page when there is a dvar torah on the page, calling the reader’s attention to the fact that this page requires genizah. Apparently, these publications follow the stricter of the rulings cited above.


Several earlier authorities imply that divrei torah intended to be temporary do not have kedusha (see Shu”t Ayn Yitzchak #5:7; Shu”t Meishiv Davar 2:80). The line of reasoning here is that since the printer does intend to create permanent Torah works, the items do not become holy. This approach explains the common practice of photocopying Torah quotations for one time use without exerting major effort to retrieve the items for genizah. I leave it to the reader to discuss with his rav whether he may follow this approach.


At this point, let us address the next question on Mr. Wolff’s list:

“May wedding invitations contain pesukim?”

Two different halachic concerns are involved when one prints a pasuk or statement of Chazal on an invitation. The first issue is that many people will not realize that this invitation may not be disposed in the garbage, a contemptuous finale for holy writings. (Although the printer may not intend to print this for holy purposes, this only permits not placing the invitations in genizah. As I mentioned above, they may not be placed directly in the regular garbage.) Thus, the person ordering the printing of these works is guilty of causing the destruction of holy writings.

A second halachic concern is that one is only permitted to create written Torah works in order to learn Torah, but not as a decoration. (This is a lengthy subject that I discussed in an article published several years ago.) Thus, a decorative, non-educational use of pesukim or maamarei Chazal violates the halacha.


Granted that writing a pasuk on an invitation will make the invitation into sheimos, how much of a pasuk requires genizah? In a different context the Gemara rules that even three consecutive words of a pasuk should be treated as holy writings (Gittin 6b).


Although people are fond of quoting or paraphrasing scriptural blessings or prayers in an invitation, we see that one may not use parts of pesukim or statements of Chazal for this purpose. However, there is a simple solution to this desire: one may paraphrase a pasuk on the invitation in a way that it is no longer considered holy writings. Take, for example, the announcement: Naaleh es Yerushalayim al rosh simchaseinu, “We will place our memories of Yerushalayim above our celebrations.” Although this quote is reminiscent of Tehillim 137:5, it is not an exact quotation, nor does it contain three consecutive Scriptural words. Similarly, one may print on an invitation, Yom zeh asah Hashem nismecha v’nagila bo, “This day was made by Hashem. We shall rejoice and celebrate on it.” Although very similar to the pasuk we recite as part of Hallel, Zeh hayom asah Hashem nagilah v’nismecha bo (Tehillim 118:24) the words of the original pasuk have been transposed so that there are no longer three consecutive words from the original!

Similar concerns to those regarding wedding invitations may apply sukkah decorations bearing verses and statements of Chazal, notwithstanding their proliferation. Some authorities feel that since the decorations are intended to last for more than one year, there is a reason here to be lenient. Those who follow the stricter approach should utilize the same advice given above concerning pesukim on invitations: Do not quote three consecutive words of a pasuk in a straight line. Again, I refer the question to your own rav.

Thousands of pages of Torah rattle off presses and home and business printers every day, spreading Torah to every corner of the globe. By disposing of this material appropriately, we help ensure that this glory of Torah does not lead to its desecration.