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GENIZAH – THE BURIAL OF HOLY SCRIPTURES

By: Rabbi Daniel D. Levy

1

 

           What is genizah?

Genizahis the obligation to give a proper burial to holy scriptures and objects. Due to their sanctity, one may not dispose of them in a regular manner. Giving honor to holy scriptures and objects and providing them proper burial has a profound impact in Heaven.  It is unfortunate that sometimes people disregard the significance of the mitzvah of geniza. (Otzar Hamedroshim pg. 505). As the mishnah  inPirkei Avot(ch. 4, mishnah 6) states, “One who respects the Torah (and its properties) will be respected by others.” 

 

2         What objects are we required
           to bury? What are the general
           guidelines of genizah? 

There are 3 basic categories regarding holy objects. A) An object that is intrinsically holy –such as a Sefer Torah, tefillin, chumash, siddur, mezuzah, etc. – must be used only for a holy purpose and requires genizahwhen it is no longer useful. B) Tashmish kedushah– an object which is used to protect a holy object such as akoratcha– tefillin bag, mezuzah case, etc. should be buried properly when it is no longer fit for use. If one made a condition before using his tefillin bag that he would also use it for holding money or candy as well as his tefillin, then that is okay to do so as long as the tefillin bag is not used in a degrading manner. This would include using it to hold work tools, nails, or dirty tissues. C) Tashmishof Tashmishof Kedushah – such as a regular plastic bag which has been used to hold one’s tefillin bag, which contains his tefillin inside. This type of item has no holiness and may be disposed of if it is not recognizable that it was used to serve a kedushahpurpose. If one has a designated hard plastic container made to hold the tefillin some are of the opinion it may be disposed of regularly while others maintain it should be burned and not wrapped up and disposed of, except under extenuating circumstances.

3

 

           Which school pamphlets
           are obligated to be buried?   

Any school pamphlet that has divreiTorah with elaborate explanations, such as a gemara test, requires genizah. A piece of paper that contains three or more words of a pasuk, at least that part should require genizahif one wishes not to bury the whole page. A chumashtest without pesukimand “who said to who” or true or false questions that do not contain much actual divreiTorah – some are lenient not to require genizah. One should consult a halachic authority on these matters, since different variables may change the halachah.

4

 

           What should one do with a magazine
           or newspaper which has a few pages
           of divrei Torah?   

It is recommended not to quote pesukimor divreiTorah in magazines or newspapers as inevitably they will be disposed of in the trash. However, if there is a set article of Torah in a permanent manner such as this article (Top Ten) in the Community magazine,the pages of Torah require genizah, not the whole magazine. Some rabbis advise that when one feels it is too much of a hassle to perform genizah, one may double wrap the magazine and dispose of it specifically in a recycling bin in a respectable manner. This means it is not placed alongside with dirty, smelly garbage, and ultimately is disposed of by a non-Jew into the garbage truck.

 

5         What should one do with
           the lulav and hoshanot after Sukkot?

Even though the holiness of a lulav, hadas, aravah, and etrogas well ashoshanotleaves them after the holiday, and technically one may use them for a non-holy purpose, nonetheless, one should be sensitive to these objects which once possessed holiness and were used for a mitzvah. Therefore one may not degrade them. Thus, one should not put them into the garbage or step on them. Many have the custom to save these 4 species on top of their doorpost for protection and erevPesach burn them with the hametz. Part of the remainders may be burned in the oven while baking matzot (Zohar Parshat Tzav, Ramah 554, 9, Kaf Hachayim 664, 60).

6

 

           What is the procedure of proper
           burial for items that require genizah? 

Holy scriptures that are written on parchment paper, such as a Sefer Torah, Megilat Esther, tefillin, and mezuzot require burial in earthenware vessels and may be buried together near the grave of a talmid hacham. Today it is customary to bury in durable hard plastic containers which are sealed tight. This is so that what is inside should be preserved properly for a prolonged time. Burial should be near a Jewish cemetery, and the containers should be at least approximately three tefachimunder the ground. Holy Scriptures not written on parchment paper, such as regular chumashim, siddurim, and the like, do not require burial in earthenware or strong vessels. Regular plastic bags may suffice if they are tightly sealed and placed in the ground in a safe location where they will not be dug up. It is not necessary to bury at the side of a cemetery.

7

 

           How should one dispose
           of worn out tzizit or a few fringe
           strings that came off one’s tzizit?

Tzizit are composed of two parts: 1) the cloth of the garment, which is usually made of wool or cotton, and 2) the strings. The garment part that is worn out (that does not contain strings) does not require genizahand may be disposed of. However one should be sensitive not to dispose of it in a degrading manner. Otherwise this would show a lack of appreciation for this great mitzvah (R’ Elyashiv) especially for a large prayer talit. Although the strings of tzitzit do not require genizah, some are stringent to do so, and will merit a blessing. It is advisable to use the ripped strings of tzitzit for a bookmark or other mitzvah related usage. One who sees a ripped tzitzit string on the floor is not obligated to pick it up. On Shabbat it is actually muktzeh, and it is forbidden to handle a ripped string which is not very useful.

 

8         Does a ripped page that came out of
           a chumash need genizah? 

A page that once contained divreiTorah and ripped, even if the part that is ripped does not fully contain divreiTorah, requires genizah. Even a page that one erased the Torah written on it and is no longer holy requires genizah

 

9         Do rabbi pictures require genizah?   

Rabbi pictures do not require genizah, and may be disposed of when desired. However, if there is a pasukon top of the picture such as, “Vehayu einecha ro’ot et morecha”[And your eyes should see your rabbis] then one should cut out that pasukand store it in genizah.

 

10

 

            What are the potential rewards of                           one who is cautious to do genizah and
            the consequences of one who does not? 

Potential consequences for not performing genizahinclude harsh strict judgments and curses from Heaven, tragic death of children (chas veshalom), poverty, and prolonged exile. On the other hand, performing proper genizahhas the ability to awaken Divine mercy, especially at a time of a plague. Just as we show concern and pity for holy objects that should not be degraded, so too Hashem shows concern and care for us and our children not to be degraded or obliterated.(Sefer Hamatamin pg. 65). Other benefits include ample rainfall, being respected by others, and redemption from exile.