Shabbat Parashat Vayeira | 5764
Ask the Rabbi
Question: My talit bag is worn out, and I have replaced it. What do I do with the old one?
Answer: We’ll start the discussion with a talit,upon which there are classical sources, and move on to its bag.
The gemara (Megilla 26b) rules clearly: “Things used for mitzvot (tashmishei mitzva)may be thrown out; things used for holiness (tashmishei kedusha)need to be buried (nignazin).” The examples the gemara gives for tashmishei mitzva are a sukka, lulav, shofar, and tzitzit. Examples of tashmishei kedusha are Torah scrolls, tefillin, mezuzot, and the “accessories” of the above. So clearly, if tzitzit can be thrown out, then certainly their bag can, and this is what the Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chayim 21:1).
On the other hand, it is clear that one is not allowed to be disrespectful to mitzvot. The gemara (Chulin 87a) says that one should not perform the mitzva of covering the blood of an animal with his feet for this is disgraceful for the mitzva. From this, the Sh’iltot (cited by the Tur, Orach Chayim 21) says that as long as an object is still related to the performance of a mitzva (such as tzitzit that are still attached to a garment) they should not be used for one’s personal needs. The Tur argues, claiming that the example of covering the blood is different, because there the disgrace is at the time of performing the mitzva. But even he agrees that something which is no longer earmarked for the future performance of a mitzva loses its special status and can be discarded, according to the gemara.
The problem is that later authorities suggested that it is proper to be stricter in order to show respect to articles related to mitzvot, and through them to the mitzvot themselves. The Maharil (Laws of Tzitzit) says that instead of throwing out tzitzit strings which were severed, one should look for another mitzva-related use for them. The Rama (OC 21:1) accepts and extends this approach, saying that one should not throw them in a disgraceful place. The Rama even cites those who are careful to even put them in geniza, a practice he describes as being deserving of blessing. He similarly suggests (Orach Chayim 664:9) to try to use aravot to help bake matzot (almost six months later) and thus keep them related to mitzvot. The Shulchan Aruch himself (ibid.:2) mentions that it is improper to use a worn-out talit for disgraceful purposes, (e.g. as a rag), but he does allow one to throw it out. It is not clear if he considers a talit, which is set aside for use in davening, as more or less important than the tzitzit of a regular four-cornered garment (see Pri Megadim, OC, Mishbetzot Zahav 21:3).
If one can find a constructive, respectful use of the talit bag (e.g. as part of a Shabbat decoration) it would be a nice idea, but it is impractical to expect everyone to do so. So what is the halacha? The Pri Megadim (ibid.:2) is unsure whether the walls of a sukka have the status of tashmishei mitzva in reference to dealing with them after their use is over. There, the walls are at least a halachic requirement for the completion of the mitzva. A talit bag, by comparison, is just a convenience related to the mitzva article. The Mishna Berura (21:13) says that even those who say one cannot throw out tzitzit (strings) say that one can throw out a talit garment. So certainly, one may throw out the talit bag. Many have the practice to wrap up such borderline items before throwing them into the garbage. While we have not found this idea in poskim in this context, it seems consistent with the spirit of the matter. Note: Overloading geniza resources unnecessarily is not a positive thing.
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