Burying Religious Articles
This is the approved revision of this page, as well as being the most recent.
Geniza (Trans. burial; Hebrew: גניזה) refers to a ritual respectful manner of disposing of religious articles. A Sefer Torah or Sefer, holy book, which are worn out or have no more use are collected and organized for a geniza to bury it properly with honor. From a shtender to printed divrei Torah there is a discussion of which items require geniza and how.
- 1 Forms of Writing
- 2 Erasing Hashem's name
- 3 What must be Buried?
- 4 Things to be careful for
- 5 Procedure of Geniza
- 6 Sources
Forms of Writing
- Divrei Torah which are written in any font or language need Geniza.
- However, Divrei Torah written in mirror image fonts don’t need Geniza.
- Divrei Torah written in Brail need Geniza.
- Divrei Torah written in microscopic font, some say they do need Geniza, but some are lenient if there’s no name of Hashem.
- One shouldn’t write Divrei Chol in Ktav Ashurit (block-print font of Hebrew as is written in the Torah).
Erasing Hashem's name
- Erasing Hashem’s name is learned from the juxtaposition of VeAvadtem Et Shemam and Lo TaAsun Ken LaHashem. In general, it’s forbidden to erase even one letter of any of the 7 names of Hashem: Yud Hay Vav Hay, Adonai, Elohah, El, Elokim, Shaddai, Tzivaot.
- Many authorities permit erasing Torah or names of Hashem in electronic or digital form.
- Even though some poskim wrote that one shouldn't write the word "Shalom" completely if it is on a paper or letter that is going to be thrown out, the minhag is be lenient. According to everyone, it is permitted to use Shalom in the context of a story or Bracha such as Shalom Ubracha as opposed to being used alone or Shalom Lecha.
- There is a dispute regarding printing a paper with Divrei Torah which was done for temporary use and without intent of making it Kadosh.
- Many poskim permit erasing the name of God written in languages other than Hebrew.
- Even though technically it is permitted to cause God's name to be erased nonetheless it is forbidden to let someone with a contagious disease wear a pair of Tefillin and will inevitably have to be burnt for medical purposes.
What must be Buried?
"God" in English
- A paper that says "God" in English may be thrown away and does not need to be buried. The same is true of writing Hashem whether in English or in Hebrew.
- Marah Mekomot, which are a list of references, and even if some words are jotted down but it is only understood by the one who wrote it, doesn't have kedusha and can be thrown out.
Sukkah and Lulav
- The schach, etrog, lulav, hadasim and aravot do not need to be buried, they can be thrown into the trash after being wrapped within a plastic bag.
- A yarmulke does not need to be buried.
Tallit or Tzitzit
- A Tallit gadol or Tallit katan should ideally not be thrown out in a disgraceful manner. Therefore one should wrap it or place it in a bag before placing it in the garbage.
Bookshelf for Sefarim
- A cabinet or book shelf designated for sefarim may be used for mundane purposes. If it wore out and you want to throw it out, you should redeem it with money and use that money to buy sefarim and then it is permitted to throw it out.
- A shtender when it is in use for the shul it may not be used for a mundane purpose, however, if there was a stipulation that they could be used for a mundane purpose they are permitted to be used for that purpose but can't be used for a degrading use. Once it is worn out, they can be thrown out..
- A sefer Torah that is worn out must be buried, which is genizah. It should be put in a earthenware vessel in the ground buried together with a Talmid Chacham.
- An Aron Kodesh that is worn out should be buried. It shouldn't be used to bury a person in it.
- It is possible to make a stipulation for an Aron Kodesh that it will be used for mundane purposes after it is finished being used to house the Sefer Torah.
- A temporary Aron Kodesh can be used for mundane purposes after it is finished being to house the Sefer Torah. Ideally one should stipulate that it is to be used for mundane purposes after it is done being used by the Sefer Torah.
- Many poskim hold that the Aron Kodesh may not be used to house Neviim or Ketuvim even if they are written on a Klaf since they aren't the same status as a Sefer Torah.
- The boxes in which the Tefillin are held need to be buried.
- The bag in which the Tefillin are placed need to be buried.
- The outer plastic bag does not need to be be buried, but should be wrapped and disposed of.
- A parochet is something used for a secondary degree of kedusha, that is, it adorns the Aron which houses the Torah, therefore it doesn't require genizah. As long as it is in use it can't be used for mundane purposes.
Things to be careful for
- Organizations should not send out advertisements with the name of Hashem written on them because people may unknowingly throw it out.
- Many poskim write that one should not write a pasuk on an invitation as most people simply throw these away.
- Pesukim should not be placed in newspapers since the people will throw them away.
Procedure of Geniza
Strict Geniza for Sefer Torah
- A Sefer Torah, Neviim, or Ketuvim written on Klaf properly, Tefillin, Mezuzah need to have Geniza inside an earthenware container buried under the ground. Some say the actual Tefillin Shel Rosh also needs this type of Geniza.
- One earthenware container can be used for a Sefer Torah, Tefillin, and a Mezuzah together and don't need to be separated.
- Today the practice is to bury a Sefer Torah and similar items in plastic containers, which don't degrade, and seal them.
- A Sefer Torah that got wet ideally it should be left to dry before burying it, however, it isn't obligatory.
- A Sefer Torah that is in a state of decay and are moist shouldn't be buried together with a good Sefer Torah.
Standard Geniza for Items of Kedusha
- All other items that require geniza, such as holy books, Sefarim, do not need to be sealed in an earthenware container. However, they should be covered in nylon before being buried. If they're buried in a construction site, which is protected from the elements can be buried as is.
- This category includes parts of a Sefer Torah, Tefillin, or Mezuzah that were cut off after they were made. Also the sinews of the Sefer Torah are in this category.
- Items that serviced kedusha, tashmishei kedusha, such as an Aron Kodesh or the polls of a Sefer Torah do not need to be covered before being buried.
- It is permitted to bury within the same container items of different levels of kedusha such as newspapers with mundane sections and also Divrei Torah.
- Geniza should be buried so that there is 3 tefachim of dirt on top of it and if that isn't possible, at least 1 tefach of dirt on top.
- Items which need the strict geniza, such as a Sefer Torah, should be buried with a Talmid Chacham or next to him. Today the practice is to bury them next to a cemetery. If it is impossible, it is possible to bury them far away from a cemetery.
- Standard geniza can be done anywhere.
- It is sometimes recommended to do it where construction garbage is disposed since it isn't likely to be uncovered. However, it should be covered with dirt immediately.
- It is forbidden to bury geniza in a place that it is likely that it'll be uncovered and disgraced.
- A geniza which is left open for more to be added from time to time should be kept protected from the elements.
- It isn't necessary to mark where the geniza is buried, though it is a good idea because sometimes it could be disgraced by accident.
- If a geniza was cemented over it can be use as a path or street. Similarly, geniza can be buried under a building, even if in the building above it are a bathroom, bathhouse, or mikveh. If it wasn't cemented over there is a dispute if people should walk over area used for burying geniza.
- When bagging the geniza it isn't critical to ensure that the pages or items are organized in a neat fashion. However, the container should be closed well.
- It isn't critical to be sure that Neviim and Ketuvim aren't on top of Chumashim. If one does notice this one should fix their positioning.
- It is permitted to place the bags of geniza on the ground before they are buried.
- It is permitted to throw the bags of geniza in the ground to be buried and they don't need to be placed gently.
- The bags of geniza should not be trampled. In an extenuating circumstance it is permitted.
- Often tattered or ripped parts of Sefarim get mixed with dirt in the burial process. They should be collected and buried. If they can't be collected they should buried with the dirt.
Burning or Disgrace
- It is forbidden to burn items that require geniza.
- It is forbidden to leave the geniza in an abandoned or ownerless area since it can come to be disgraced.
- Shulchan Aruch O.C. 154:5
- Kaf HaChayim on Shulchan Arukh Orach Chayim 154:38 writes that letters that are written backwards making up a Dvar Torah don’t need geniza as it’s not considered letters. This is also the opinion of the Maharsham 3:39 and Ginizei HaKodesh 11:7 in name of Rav Elyashiv.
- Ginizei HaKodesh 11:7 in name of Rav Elyashiv
- Ginizei HaKodesh 11:7 in name of Rav Elyashiv says that microscopic font doesn’t need Geniza, while Rabbi Karlitz holds they do need Geniza.
- Rama Y”D 284:2 writes in name of the Sh”t HaRambam 7 (quoted in the Bet Yosef YD 284) that it’s disgraceful to write Divrei Chol in the Ktav Ashurit since it’s the lettering that the Torah was given in. Even though the Tashbetz 1:2 permits writing Divrei Chol in Ktav Ashurit, most poskim hold like the Rambam including the Orchot Chaim (Talmid Torah 1:9), Sh”t Radvaz (quoted by Pitchei Teshuva 283:3), Sh”t Chovot Yair 109, Sh”t Rav Poalim 4:32, and Aruch HaShulchan 284:8. Rav Hershel Schachter in a shiur on yutorah.org (min 1-3) says that upon the insistance of his father-in-law his wedding invitations were written with Rashi script and not block letters because many block letters are similar to Ketav Ashurit. There is also a minhag to extend the above practice and reserve Ketav Ashurit for Tanach.
- Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 276:9
- Sh”t Yechave Daat 4:50 is lenient because the electronic encryption is illegible but says that it’s preferable to be strict. Sh”t Igrot Moshe YD 1:173 writes that although there's no clear prohibition one shouldn't do it since it appears as erasing Torah.
- The Maharil (Yamim Noraim no. 3) quotes Maharash and Tashbetz who held that it is proper not to write the complete word Shalom in a letter since it is a name of Hashem and the letter is usually thrown out. Rather it should be written as 'שלו. Tosfot Sotah 10a s.v. elah is strict that Shalom shouldn't be erased. The Rama 276:13 codifies this minhag. However, the Rosh (responsa 3:15) held that it is permitted to erase the word “Shalom” and throw out a letter with the word Shalom on it. The Shach YD 276:16 writes that the minhag is to be lenient like the opinion of the Rosh. Mateh Efraim (Elef Lmateh 581:9) writes that the minhag is to be lenient since our Hebrew script or Rashi script aren't considered real writing.
- Igrot Moshe OC 4:40:3 writes based on the Radvaz (cited by Pitchei Teshuva 276:28) that even though the halacha follows the Rosh nonetheless one should be strict not to write the complete word Shalom in a letter when it is written just Shalom or Shalom Imcha or the like since those imply Hashem, whose name is Shalom, should be with you. However, it is permitted to use Shalom in the context of a bracha as it isn't referring to Hashem such as Shalom Ubracha or Shalom Lcha or Shalom Vkol Hatov.
- Rav Asher Weiss (quoted by Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz on http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/739819/Rabbi_Aryeh_Lebowitz/Ten_Minute_Halacha_-_Assorted_Sheimos_Issues) is lenient because of the expense. Ginzei Hakodesh (p. 249) quotes Rav Elyashiv and Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor (Eyin Yitzchak OC 5) who are lenient based on the Yerushalmi Sotah.
- Mishna Brurah 85:10 and Shach YD 179:10 both hold that it is permitted to erase the name of God in languages other than Hebrew.
- See Gemara Shabbat 120b
- Igrot Moshe OC 1:4
- Ginzei Hakodesh 10:3:19 quoting Rav Elyashiv
- Mishna Brurah 85:10
- Iggerot Moshe YD 2:138, Ginzei Hakodesh 7: footnote 8
- Igrot Moshe YD 2:75
- Mishna Brurah 21:6. See Order_of_Taking_the_Four_Minim#After_Sukkot.
- Ginzei Hakodesh 17: footnote 22 quoting Rav Elyashiv
- Chida in Shiurei Bracha 154:1 writes that cabinets for sefarim today aren’t tashmishei kedusha since the sefarim are bound and so they are a tashmish d’tashmish d’kedusha which may be thrown out. Mishna Brurah 154:9 and Kaf Hachaim 154:21 agree. However, Ginzei Hakodesh 8:18 fnt. 45 quotes Rav Nissim Karelitz and Rav Elyashiv that potentially we look at the binding of a sefer as the sefer itself and if so, the cabinet should be a tashmish d’kedusha. Rav Elyashiv and Chelkat Yakov OC 41 suggested that it is sufficient to sell the cabinet and use that money for buying sefarim and then throw out the cabinet. In general, redeeming a tashmish d’kedusha with money is discussed in S”A YD 282:16 and Magen Avraham 153:14.
- Ginzei Hakodesh 13:2
- Gemara Megillah 26b, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 154:3
- Rava in Gemara Megillah 26b states that an Aron Kodesh is a tashmishei kedusha and can't be converted into a chair for a sefer Torah. This is codified in Shulchan Aruch O.C. 154:6 and Y.D. 282:13. Ginzei Hakodesh 5:8 writes that an Aron Kodesh that is worn out needs to be buried like every tashmishei kedusha. See Chatom Sofer 6:10 who explains that originally it was considered a tashmishei kedusha when the covering of the sefer torah was too short and didn't fully cover the klaf.
- The Chatom Sofer 6:10 writes that it is forbidden for a person to be buried in an Aron Kodesh since that is considered a mundane use of a tashmishei kedusha. He explains that even though the Gemara Megillah 26a permits burying a person with clothes that were used to wrap a sefer torah that is because a Jew after he dies has kedusha. Yet, burying a person with clothes is a valid use of kedusha for a cloth that used to wrap a sefer torah, but having an aron kodesh hold a person isn't being used for kedusha if the person is buried inside it since he is buried with clothing. Alternatively, it doesn't really enhance the burial to have the person buried in a coffin (see Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 362:1). Kaf Hachaim 154:39 quotes the Pitchei Teshuva who argues that the distinction of the Chatom Sofer isn't compelling. He adds that it is certainly forbidden to use an aron kodesh to transport a corpse if it isn't going to be used to bury him.
- Shulchan Aruch O.C. 154:8, Ginzei Hakodesh 5:11
- Ginzei Hakodesh 5:13 based on Kaf Hachaim 154:65 and Rav Nissim Karletiz
- Ginzei Hakodesh 5:9 writes that the Aron Kodesh can't be used for Neviim or Ketuvim on Klaf. He cites the Taz 154:7 citing the Bach and Or Letzion 2:45:61 as strict as well as Rav Nissim Karelitz. He also quotes Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg as being lenient since there is an implicit stipulation of the congregation that the Aron Kodesh will also be used for the purpose of housing the Neviim and Ketuvim.
- Shulchan Arukh Orach Chayim 154:3
- Shulchan Arukh Orach Chayim 154:3
- Kaf HaChayim 297:11
- Ginzei Hakodesh 5:14 clarifies that today when the parochet isn't used for covering the bimah, when a sefer Torah is brought to the bimah it isn't considered a tashmish of kedusha, rather it is a tashmish d'tashmish d'kedusha which doesn't require geniza. He adds that it has kedusha of the shul which, while it is being used, can't be used for mundane purposes.
- Iggerot Moshe YD 2:134-135. Ginzei Hakodesh 7:17:footnote 35 quotes Rav Elyashiv that it would be permitted if you do not write the complete name of Hashem.
- Iggerot Moshe 2:135, Ginzei Hakodesh 9:5, Halichos Shlomo Tefilla 20:footnote 72. Rav Hershel Schachter in a shiur on yutorah.org (min 1-2) agrees.Rav Moshe Heinemann, however, writes that the pasuk of od yeshama is only a melitza and not written as a pasuk and is therefore permitted.
- Rav Elyashiv in Kovetz Teshuvot 1:115. This is based on the Shach 283:4 who writes that the reason Shulchan Aruch 283:4 says one shouldn't write pesukim on a Tallit is because someone may come to throw it away.
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:1
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:1
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:2
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:3
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:3
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:4
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:5
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:4
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:6
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:10
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:7
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:8
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:8
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:9
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:10
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:11
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:12 quoting Rav Elyashiv
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15 fnt. 25 citing Emet Lyakov 276 fnt 197 as lenient and Tzitz Eliezer 15:8 as strict.
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:13
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:14
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:15
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:15
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:16
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:18
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:19
- Ginzei Hakodesh 15:23