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Proper Disposal of Holy Objects

Proper Disposal of Holy Objects

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Question:

Rabbi,

1. Sometimes I print out pages from the web that contain G‑d's name. If I need to discard them, should I give them any proper care? Is it necessary to even bury them like one does a prayer book?

2. A related question: Perhaps I'm being ridiculous, but don't a lot of newspapers and magazines mention G‑d, whether using the term G‑d or even other names? Do any of these items need proper care too?

Answer:

Great questions!

Here are some guidelines on this subject prepared and distributed by the Association of Chabad Rabbis of Illinois:

Objects which are used for holy purposes acquire holiness themselves. Depending on the particular use, there are guidelines for how to treat and dispose of these objects.

Generally, they fall into the following categories:

Holy Objects:

These must be set aside (in "shaimos" or "geniza") and are subsequently buried.

Included in this category are such things as:

  • Torah scrolls, their mantles and sashes; tefillin, their straps, covers and bags; mezuzah scrolls, wrappings and cases; a parochet (cloth ark covering) and bima (Torah reading table) cover; tzitzit or tallit fringes; Torah books, their covers, dust jackets, slip covers or other parts.
  • Materials containing: (a) G‑d's name, (b) three consecutive words of a biblical verse, when written on one line with the intent to quote the verse, or (c) other written or printed Torah ideas or laws.
  • Schoolwork, homework and test papers may be included in this category if they contain any of the above.

All these materials are considered holy objects whether they are in Hebrew or another language, in Braille or on microfilm.

It is not proper to use the lettering used for writing Torahs, tefillin and mezuzot for mundane purposes. Anything written or printed with such lettering must also be treated as a holy object.

(In many places, synagogues and other communal organizations arrange burial for items requiring it, at times asking for a fee to help defray the associated cost.)

Mitzvah Objects:

Objects in this category must be disposed of in a respectable manner; e.g. double wrapped in paper or plastic before being put in the garbage.

Included in this category are such things as:

The garments of a tallit or tzitzit (after the fringes have been removed for burial), tallit bags, the Four Species, willows used for hoshanot, schach (foliage covering for a sukkah), and a gartel (prayer sash).

There are other items which technically may not have the status of a holy object, but one may feel that they too should be treated respectfully, such as pictures of holy individuals.

Discardable Items:

Kippot, audio or video materials, computer disks, diagrams or pictures without text, and stories.

It is generally accepted that misprints, overruns etc. which were not actually used for learning are not holy, and may be double wrapped and tossed, but it is better to avoid making the extra copies in the first place.

Newspapers which contain Torah-related columns can be wrapped and tossed. If you want to put them into shaimos, remove the Torah sections and put only them into shaimos.

It is not necessary to put papers into shaimos because they contain BH (whether in English or Hebrew). If putting such items in shaimos, just the corner containing BH should be snipped off and place in shaimos, and the rest discarded.

It is not respectful to put into shaimos articles which do not belong there -- causing holy objects to be buried together with mundane items.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Menachem Posner

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Discussion (22)
January 12, 2017
Thank you!
Thank you so much!
Anonymous
January 10, 2017
To Anonymous
A tissue used during prayer can be regularly disposed of in the trash.
Chabad.org Staff
chabadone.org
January 8, 2017
something I used in prayer?
Hi there,

I had used once a tissue to cover my eyes during prayer (can't remember why...) and I have set it aside since because not sure if disposing of it in the normal manner is ok? How should it be disposed?

Thank you,
Anonymous
October 9, 2016
To Leslie
No special prayer needs to be said.
Chabad.org Staff
chabadone.org
October 5, 2016
Chumash and Sidorim to be Buried
I have some damaged prayer books and i am aware the custom is to bury them, but before doing this i need to know if there is a special prayer that needs to be recited
Leslie Millman
United Kingdom
May 2, 2016
How about a minim text that has served its purpose, that has the Holy name spelled out in another language?
Anonymous
Nashville, TN
July 30, 2015
Electronic Files
They are not considered shaimos. Thus, you may close windows, delete files etc. This issue was discussed in the 1950s regarding audio cassettes. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that he saw no reason to forbid erasing a tape with Torah content, but still advised "perhaps not to erase since it appears like erasing G-d's name." He--and others--therefore advised that it would be ideal to do the erasing in an indirect manner (gramma), such as asking a a child to do it.
Menachem Posner
July 28, 2015
Can one delete an electronic file or photo or close a window on the computer?
The English word with three letters, God. Is it allowed to close this window, for example?

What is the ruling regarding electronic documents, photos, etc. Can they be deleted from the hard drive or should there be a prayer or ceremony about disposing of them?

What do the modern poskim say? Does Shaimos apply here?
Greg Magarshak
Brooklyn
November 25, 2014
Hi,

What about e-mails?

As long as the Biblical verse is not printed on paper and stays in e-mail format, is it ok to delete in one's e-mail box?
Anonymous
Baltimore
August 4, 2013
To Jack
The ideal (but not required) thing to do is to bury the strings. If you cannot do that, you may discard them in a respectable manner.
Menachem Posner
Montreal