Sifrei kodesh, sacred scriptures, vary in their degree of kedushah, holiness, and consequently, one accords them varying degrees of honor. A Sefer Torah is given the most honor, followed closely by other Sifrei Tanach written on parchment. All other sefarim, including the Talmud, its commentaries and codes, do not have the level of kedushah that a Sefer Torah has, but still they must be treated with respect and dignity. In many cases, the Rishonim rule that sefarim are to be accorded the same level of respect and honor as tefillin.
With the advent of the printing press in the fifteenth century, the Torah authorities of the time debated whether printed sefarim had the same level of kedushah as handwritten works. The consensus of the poskim was that a printed sefer is to be treated no differently from a handwritten one. The Taz, one of the great Torah luminaries of the time, warned that one who demeans the holiness of printed sefarim will suffer the consequences in the World to Come. With few exceptions, this has become the accepted halachah.
Let us review some of the halachos that pertain to the proper treatment of sefarim.
Sefarim are treated with dignity and respect. Thus:
Sefarim are treated with kedushah. Thus:
Sefarim are for the purpose of learning only; they may not be used for other purposes. Thus:
After learning is over . . .
1.Tosafos and Rosh, Berachos 26a, quoted in Beis Yosef, O.C. 240:6.
2.Y.D. 271:8. See also Beiur Halachah 83:5, s.v. ein, where the Chafetz Chayim tells of a severe punishment that befell a particular family because they were not careful with the kedushah of their sefarim.
3.Mishnah Berurah 40:4. A minority view, led by the Chavos Yair and Eliyahu Rabba, disagrees and maintains that printed matter is on a lower level of kedushah than handwritten material; ibid. In extenuating circumstances, we take this opinion into consideration; see Kaf ha-Chayim 40:16 and Shevet ha-Levi 2:143, 6:8. In addition, some authorities hold that sefarim in offset print are on yet an even lesser level of kedushah since offset is merely a photograph of the print; see Maharsham 3:357 and Sefer Shevilei Taharah, pgs. 176-180.
5.Rama, Y.D. 282:5. See Shiyurei Berachah ibid, who bemoans the fact that many people are not aware of this strict prohibition.
6.Beis Lechem Yehudah, Y.D. 282:7, quoting Maharil; Aruch ha-Shulchan 282:11.
7.Rama, Y.D. 282:7. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv and Rav C. Kanievsky are quoted (Nekiyus v’Kavod baTefillah, pgs. 97 and 187) as ruling that placing a bed sheet or a newspaper on the floor is not sufficient. See Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. 3, pg. 163, which states that Rav Y.Y. Kanievsky was careful not to place sefarim within a tefach of the ground. See also Chut Shani, Ribbis, pgs. 167-168.
8.Bais Lechem Yehudah, Y.D. 282:7; Aruch ha-Shulchan 282:11. It is customary to kiss a sefer after picking it up from the floor; ibid.
9.Mishnah Berurah 96:7.
10.Be’er Moshe 3:13.
11.Mishnah Berurah 96:7, based on Pri Megadim.
12.Rav M. Feinstein (oral ruling quoted in Ginzei ha-Kodesh 2, note 15); Rav S.Z. Auerbach (oral ruling quoted in Mevakshei Torah, vol. 4, pg. 124); Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (oral ruling quoted in Avnei Yashfei 1:16); Rav N. Karelitz (Chut Shani, Ribbis, pg. 168); Rav C. Kanievsky (written response published in Nekiyus v’Kavod baTefillah, pg. 188).
13.If the sefer is lying or standing on an object which is at least a tefach high, it is no longer considered as if it is lying or standing on the bench or chair; Shach 282:8 and Aruch ha-Shulchan 282:12.
14.Rama, Y.D. 282:7. [In a crowded beis midrash where it may be difficult to observe this halachah, some poskim permit sitting on a bench together with the sefarim; see Shach 282:9. A rav should be consulted.]
15.Shevet ha-Levi 3:11. Some poskim permit sitting on the same bench with sefarim so long as there is a barrier between them; Teshuras Shai 2:169, quoted in Tzedakah u’Mishpat 16, note 61.
16.Taz, Y.D. 282:4. If the chest or bench is nailed to the wall, it is permitted even according to this view; ibid.
17.Nekudos ha-Kesef and Shiyurei Berachah, Y.D. 282:7; Pischei Teshuvah 282:8.
18.Mishnah Berurah 40:13.
20.Sefer Chasidim, quoted by Beis Lechem Yehudah Y.D. 283:1.
21.Aruch ha-Shulchan, Y.D. 282:22, based on Rama, Y.D. 283:1. See also Beis Baruch 31:187, who agrees with this opinion.
22.Rav S.Z. Auerbach, written ruling, published in V’aleihu Lo Yibol, vol. 1, pg. 269).
23.Chazon Ish (quoted in Dinim v’Hanhagos and Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. 3, pg. 162).
24.Mishnah Berurah 45:5, 75:23. But this prohibition applies only to ervah mamash; we do not invoke tefach b’ishah ervah concerning this issue; Rabbi P.E. Falk (Kol ha-Torah, vol. 46, pgs. 187-194).
25.She’arim Metzuyanim b’Halachah 5:8; Ishei Yisrael 53:28.
26.Mishnah Berurah 43:25. Putting a sefer into one’s pants pocket is considered one “cover.” When the pocket is covered with a jacket or an overcoat, it is considered as two coverings; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Nekiyus v’Kavod baTefillah, pg. 94). [See Machazeh Eliyahu 8:30, who opines that a pocket with a lining is considered a double covering.]
27.See Machazeh Eliyahu 5-8 for an entire review of this subject. See also Teshuvos v’Hanhagos 2:137.
28.One should not place parts of torn pages from one sefer in between the pages of another sefer; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Avnei Yashfei 1:202).
29.See Pischei Teshuvah, Y.D. 282:17; Mishnah Berurah 154:31; Aruch ha-Shulchan, Y.D. 282:23. This includes blank sheets of paper which will be used for chidushei Torah. See, however, Igros Moshe, O.C. 4:72, who permits placing blank paper intended for chidushei Torah in a sefer.
30.Igros Moshe, O.C. 4:72.
31.Mishnah Berurah 154:31, 315:30.
32.Mishnah Berurah 154:31.
33.Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Nekiyus v’Kavod baTefillah, pg. 100).
34.Mishnah Berurah 154:31.
35.Mishnah Berurah 154:31.
36.Rama, Y.D. 282:7.
37.Chazon Ish (quoted in Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. 3, pg. 161); Rav N. Karelitz (Chut Shani, Ribbis, pg. 169).
38.Pischei Teshuvah, Y.D. 282:17; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Avnei Yashfei 1:202).
39.Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Avnei Yashfei 1:203). Some recommend that the page should be folded on the margin, not on the spot where there are words printed; Beis Baruch 31:186.
40.Chazon Ish (quoted in Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. 3, pg. 162).
41.Aruch ha-Shulchan, Y.D. 277:2. See also Da’as Kedoshim 277.
42.Shach, Y.D. 277:1.
43.Rav C. Kanievsky (Nekiyus v’Kavod baTefillah, pg. 189).
44.See Ohr Tzaddikim 22:17.
45.Mishnah Berurah 154:24. See Chelkas Yaakov 3:161, which maintains that a sefer which is no longer in use but is still usable may not be buried in the ground; it must be put aside in a safe place. See, however, Ginzei ha-Kodesh 8:2 and Ashrei ha-Ish, vol. 1, 29:16 who quote Rav Y.S. Elyashiv as permitting the burial of sefarim that are not going to be used even if they are still in relatively good condition.
Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org.
Rabbi Neustadt is Rav of Young Israel in Cleveland Heights. He may be reached at 216-321-4635.