Genizah 101: Why You Should Think Twice Before Discarding Your Child’s School Papers


Rabbi Joey Mizrahi

HOME SCHOOL. Did we ever think we would play the role of parent and teacher at the same time? Yet, we were thrown unexpectedly into that double role and our homes were suddenly transformed into classrooms for all different ages. As we look at the jumble of what is left over from at-home learning, we see a collection of schoolwork, sefarim, and Hebrew worksheets that have to be organized and sorted in preparation for the summer. Many of these items contain pesukim and divrei Torah, which may deem these items to be too holy to just throw away. Have you ever wondered why?

From our daily prayers to the many berachot we recite, we constantly use our holy books to guide us. These holy books are used by all ages, from a child’s schoolwork to a man’s learning books and a woman’s siddur and Tehillim. We use them on all occasions and during all of the holidays. For what reason? To give us a guide on how to live our lives the proper way. Holy books that guide us include Humash, Navi, Mishnah, Gemara, the commentaries, and books by halachic authorities. Think. When we have questions, the first thing we do is to pick up a phone and reach out to a rabbi. Where does the rabbi get an answer from? From our holy Torah and the many books written on that specific topic. Many people do not realize how important these sefarim are and what they represent.

When Sefarim Are No Longer Fit for Use

Consider what happens when sefarim wear out and can’t be used anymore. What happens when a new version is printed, and no one is using the old one? What is done with these books? The Rambam writes in his commentary on Pirkei Avot (Chapter 4, Mishna 6), that one who respects the Torah properly will in return be respected by others. This rule does not only apply to the Torah itself but to all the books of Torah learning that are written as well. Respecting a book means treating it the way you would treat a sefer Torah. How do we treat holy books properly once they are no longer in use? By burying them properly.

We see here how our children’s Hebrew schoolwork is not just made up of random papers and notebooks that can be thrown away, but the schoolwork papers themselves may contain holiness. Like a sefer Torah, they too must receive the proper respect.

Besides schoolwork, there are other items you should keep in mind before discarding – such as tefillin, mezuzot and their cases, and tzitzit.

Halachot of Genizah for Everyday Life

Many times, we assume that items used for a mitzvah need genizah when, in fact, they do not. An example would be a kippah. A kippah has no intrinsic holiness, and may be thrown away after it is worn out.

There are many halachot that come with the mitzvah of genizah and it is important to be familiar with them because situations often occur in our lives where these halachot are relevant. The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 18b) relates that after the Hashmonaim defeated the Greek army and instituted the holiday of Hanukah, the Hashmonaim also decreed that all documents must have Hashem’s name written on them. When the rabbis heard about this, they were upset. They said that when one pays off his loans, for example, the document with Hashem’s name will end up being thrown into the garbage. The rabbis therefore abolished the rule to include Hashem’s name on all documents and decreed that no document should have Hashem’s name on it. When they heard how everyone who was already accustomed to writing Hashem’s name on documents stopped doing so, the rabbis made that day into a holiday, celebrating the fact that they saved Hashem’s name from being desecrated.

Through keeping this vital mitzvah may we merit seeing the coming of Mashiah very soon!

R’ Joey Mizrahi picks up genizah items from homes and can be contacted at (347)-598-3215.

Below are some questions you should contemplate when sorting through your kids’ school papers and books:

  • Do they include the name of Hashem?
  • Do they include pesukim?
  • Do they include divrei Torah?
  • Do they include an article on the weekly parashah?
  • Are they Rashi sheets or translation sheets?
  • Do they include pizmonim?
  • Are they siddurim, humashim, or nevi’im?

If so, a competent halachic authority should be contacted to evaluate whether they should be put aside for genizah.