Shabbat Parashat Vayechi| 5766
Ask the Rabbi
Question: Don’t the cartons that store sifrei kodesh (holy books) require geniza (burial of sacred articles)? Most people seem to just throw them out.
Answer: As far as the reuse and disposal of religiously related articles, we have a few basic categories. The gemara (Megilla 26b) distinguishes between objects that are used for regular mitzvot, which do not require geniza, and tashmishei kedusha (=tk), things that serve holiness, which do require geniza. The holiness referred to is of sacred texts, including sefarim other than Torah scrolls (Mishna Berura 154:7), and the list of tk includes bags in which Torah scrolls or tefillin are kept. There is a sub-category of tashmish d’tashmish (=tdt), something that serves an object that serves the kedusha. A tdt does not have kedusha, as it is twice removed from the kedusha. These halachot are codified in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 154:3.
In the normal case of a carton or paper or plastic covering of seforim there are a few reasons to justify throwing them in the garbage. We will mention a few reasons and also techniques to deal with the situation, because some of the possibilities are not unanimously agreed upon and because there are analogous cases where some factors apply but others do not.
The Birkei Yosef (Orach Chayim 154, in Shiyurei Beracha) says that in our days when the pages of seforim are generally bound in some way, the boxes that store them are considered tdt. (In the times of Chazal and beyond scrolls were put directly into boxes or leather bags.) The Mishna Berura (154:9) seems to accept this opinion without question, although some recent poskim are less convinced. (Rav Kook in Orach Mishpat 34 seems to ignore this possibility; Tzitz Eliezer VII, 7 considers it possible but not certain grounds for leniency). We should note that an aron kodesh isa tk even though the sifrei Torah are usually covered, because it honors the sifrei Torah. In contrast, the carton is used only to protect the books and it is thus considered a tdt (Birkei Yosef, ibid.).
Another factor that causes most cartons or paper or plastic covers from being a tk is the fact that they are intended to be used only temporarily, until the sefer reaches its intended destination on the purchaser’s bookshelf (Piskei Teshuvot 154:7). Part of the Shulchan Aruch’s (Orach Chayim 42:3) definition of a tk is that it was prepared to be used on a permanent basis. That is missing here in most cases, as the intention is to throw out the covering at the first convenience. This factor does not apply to strong cartons that a person uses for sets of seforim on a bookshelf or a tabletop on a permanent or an extended basis. Although one can make a t’nai (stipulation) that the strong carton not become a tk (Shulchan Aruch 154:8), one can still not to use it in a demeaning manner (Mishna Berura 154:34). Discarding directly in the garbage is demeaning, while covering it in a plastic bag before putting it in the garbage or putting it in a recycling bin, while not a substitute for geniza,is probably sufficient in this case (see Mishne Halachot VII, 24 & Ask the Rabbi, Chukat 5762).
A technique that might work to remove the status of tk isto sell the object for a nominal price (10 agurot is enough) and use the money for seforim. The main application of that concept is where the community has property set aside for a mitzva (i.e. a shul), which its leaders (zayin tuvei ha’ir)can sell and use the money for at least as holy a purpose (Shulchan Aruch, OC 153:9). Although it is not clear that this system works for an individual to remove the status of tk, some poskim suggest doing so along with other factors of leniency (Orach Mishpat, ibid.; Tzitz Eliezer, ibid.).
In summary, the standard practice to discard the packagings of sifrei kodesh is halachically valid. Only in regard to cartons that are used for an extended time after purchase may there be reason not to throw them directly in the garbage, and we have suggested systems which one may (but not necessarily needs to) use.
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