Kedushah of Sefarim Today
Care for the Honor of Sefarim
- One must be very careful with the honor of sefarim. Whoever disgraces the Torah is himself disgraced by people; whoever honors the Torah is himself honored by people (ספר חסידים תתקט”ז).
- Banging on a sefer. One may not bang on a sefer out of anger (בית לחם יהודה בשם ספר חסידים סי’ רע”ו). However, one may bang on a sefer while learning [e.g., when asking a powerful question…], but he should be careful not to tear it (אהל יעקב פ”א י”ד הערה ט”ו).
- The foremost Acharonim argue whether printed sefarim today have the same kedushah as the handwritten sefarim of the past. Some say their kedushah is the same (ט”ז יור”ד סי’ רע”א סק”ח, ערוך השולחן אור”ח סי’ קנ”ג ס”ו, שו”ת רמ”ע מפאנו סי צ”ג והובא במג”א סי ל”ב ס”ק נ”ז וריש סי רפ”ד וסי’ של”ד ס”ק י”ז, ובסי’ ר”מ א”א ס”ק י”ח, שו”ת תשובה מאהבה ח”א סי ט’, פתחי תשובה יור”ד סי’ רפ”ב).
- Rashi script, cursive. Some are meikel with sefarim written in Rashi script or cursive, i.e., a fully written text just in a different font than used in safrus (שו”ת חוות יאיר סי’ ק”ט וסי’ קפ”ד, הובא בפתחי תשובה יור”ד סי’ רע”א ס”ק כ’ וסי’ רפ”ב ס”ק י”ב, וכן משמע כיסוד זה בתשו’ הרמ”א סי’ ל”ד הובא בנקודת הכסף יור”ד סי רפ”ב לט”ז ס”ק ד’).
- In practice. However, all the major poskim were machmir on today’s printed sefarim, and one may not disgrace them (שו”ת שבט הלוי ח”ה סי’ קס”ב, הגריש”א, הגר”נ קרליץ) (see Issue 44, paragraph 4).
- Written by a non-Jew. Torah sefarim printed for Jews by a non-Jew also have kedushah; one must guard their honor too (שערי תשובה אור”ח סי’ של”ד ס”ק א’, פתחי תשובה יור”ד סי’ רע”א ס”ק כ’).
- One may not throw kisvei kodesh, even halachos and aggados. For example, when giving a sefer to someone else, do not throw it to him. Give it to him gently and respectfully (שו”ע יור”ד רפ”ב ס”ה). One may not even give a small toss less than three tefachim since we are not meikel at all with the kedushah and honor of sefarim (ספר בני יונה סי רפ”ב סעיף ט’, אבני ישפה בשו”ע שם). Accordingly, when putting a sefer onto a table, put it down gently; do not throw it.
- Packaged sefarim. If one has many sefarim inside plastic or paper packaging and he wants to throw them in order to clear them out quickly, he may do so gently, but only if they are wrapped in two covers (שו”ת אמרי יושר ח”ב סי’ קע”א).
- Shipping sefarim. One may ship sefarim by mail or the like if they are wrapped in a box and have two covers; he does not need to fear they will be degraded (שו”ת אמרי יושר ח”ב סי’ קע”א, ובס’ גנזי הקודש הביא כן מהגריש”א פ”ב הערה נ”ט).
Respect for Sefarim
Laying a Sefer Upside Down
- One may not put a sefer kodesh upside down (דרכי משה בשם מהרי”ל, רמ”א סעיף ה’, ערוך השולחן סעיף י”א). There are three forms of this:
- 1) An open sefer with its pages facing the table and its binding facing up (משמעות דברי הגר”א ס”ק ט”ז); 2) A closed sefer with its back cover facing up and the front cover facing the table (שו”ת רבבות אפרים ח”ה סי’ ת”פ אות ב’ ס”ק ו’); 3) A closed sefer standing on a bookshelf with its top end facing down (שו”ת אבני ישפה ח”ג סי’ צ”ד ענף א’).
- Even momentarily. One should be careful not to put a sefer upside down even if he is only getting up from learning for a moment. A common example is putting a sefer upside down when called up for an aliyah; one should make sure not to do this (שיורי ברכה סי’ רפ”ב סעיף ה’).
- Written left to right. A sefer kodesh written in English or any other language written from left to right should be set down according to the way it is read (ברכת נפתלי ח”ב עמוד ס’).
- Defective, backward. Sometimes a sefer is printed defectively, e.g., the pages are opposite the direction of the binding. Some say such a sefer should be placed on a bookshelf or a table with its pages straight even though it looks backward from the outside (הגר”ח קניבסקי דרך שיחה ח”א ע’ תקי”ג). Others say that when it comes to a print sefer, whose honor is primarily based on its binding, the binding should face the right way even if the rest of the sefer will be upside down (שמירת כבוד הספרים ע’ רע”ג). Thus, it is proper to keep the pages of the sefer straight but to cover the outside binding with tape or the like so that it does not look like the sefer is being degraded.
Putting Sefarim on the Ground
- One may not put a sefer Torah or other sefarim on the ground (רמ”א סי’ רפ”ב סעיף ז’). One may also not put sefarim on the steps in front of an aron kodesh (רמ”א שם).
- Where people walk. One should take care not to put sefarim on a ladder in an otzar sefarim since people step on it (הגר”ע אוירבאך, ס’ אהל יעקב פ”ג סעף ב’ הערה ג’). One should also make sure not to put sefarim on bleachers. This is true even when no one is standing there; it is not respectful to a sefer to put it in a place meant for standing (הגר”ח קניבסקי ס’ גנזי הקודש אות ד’).
- In a case or bag. One may put a case with sefarim on the ground if he needs to since the case is a distinct item and considered a barrier. Some go further and raise it a tefach off the ground. It would seem that all opinions would agree a bag does not help since a bag on its own is insignificant (הגר”נ קרליץ יקרא דאורייתא וכן כתב הגר”ח קניבסקי מובא בס’ גם אני אודך).
- One may not put a sefer Torah – or other sefer – on his lap, as doing so is degrading, but one may do so for the purpose of learning (רמ”א סי’ רפ”ב סעיף ז’). Some write one may not rest his two elbows on a sefer even if it is on a table (הגר”ח קנייבסקי, בעל שבט הלוי אהל יעקב פ”ו הערה א’).
- It is proper lechatchila not to put together with sefarim items that are not in keeping with the honor due to sefarim. Thus, when going on a trip or traveling with a suitcase, one should make sure to put a sefer in its own bag next to food or clothing so that it is not degraded (שמירת כבוד הספרים פ”ד סעיף ח’).
Objects on Sefarim
- Hat. One should not put his hat on a sefer; many people make this mistake. Some allow putting a hat on a sefer to cover it when he leaves (גנזי הקודש פ”ג סעיף כ”ה). Others allow putting a hat on a bag containing sefarim.
- Other items. One should be careful when learning not to put anything on top of sefarim. A pen or the like is fine if it is for the purpose of learning. One should make sure not to put a computer on top of sefarim even if it is for learning since that is degrading. However, if one has a computer only used for learning, e.g., it is connected to Otzar HaChochma, and he does not use it for anything else, it is mutar.
Entering a Bathroom with a Sefer
One Case or Two?
- Leather case. One may bring a sefer in a leather case into a bathroom even if it is only in a single case (שו”ע יו”ד סי’ רפ”ב ס”ו).
- Some Acharonim write one may be meikel to enter a modern-day bathroom with sefarim or divrei Torah inside one cover (משנ”ב סי’ מ”ג ס”ק כ”ה בשם המג”א), but they write that lechatchila one should only enter a bathroom if they are in a double cover (משנ”ב שם, שו”ת מנח”י ח”א סי’ י”ז).
- Shirt or pants pocket. Some poskim say a shirt/pants pocket or the like has the status of a leather cover and two covers are not necessary even if it is not tight and the kisvei kodesh are visible (הגר”נ קרליץ גנזי הקודש פ”ד הערה ב’). Others say two covers are necessary (הגריש”א, אהל יעקב פ”ד הערה ט’). If one is wearing an overgarment, e.g., a jacket, above the shirt or pants, it is as if the sefer is in a container within a container (פסקי הגרי”ש או”ח הל’ תפילין סעיף ס”ב, הגר”ח קניבסקי דעת נוטה הל’ תפילין תשובה תתפ”א).
- Transparent cover. Strictly speaking, a transparent cover made of plastic etc. works as a cover for the purposes of the kedushah of sefarim and divrei Torah. Some say it is improper to use a transparent cover if the sefer is visible from the outside, but all poskim agree that a small siddur in a plastic bag that is in a pants pocket or the like is considered to be in a double cover since it is not visible from the outside (מו”ר בעל שבט הקהתי, ס’ אהל יעקב פ”ד הע’ יא).
- Cover specifically for a sefer. A cover specifically meant for a sefer is not considered a cover. Thus, if one attaches a cover to a sefer, it is not considered a cover since it is part of the sefer. Similarly, the plastic many talmidim wrap their sefarim in is considered part of the sefer, not a cover (משמעות משנ”ב או”ח סי מ’ ס”ק ז’, מו”ר בעל שבט הקהתי אהל יעקב שם הערה י”ב).
- Binding. A sefer’s binding is not considered a cover since it is like part of the sefer (משנ”ב סי’ מ’ ס”ק ד’). Similarly, laminate plastic is not considered a cover (הגריש”א הגר”נ קרליץ בס’ יקרא דאורייתא עמוד מ”ו).
- Forgot and entered the bathroom. It sometimes happens that a person enters the bathroom and remembers that there is a sefer or divrei Torah in his pocket, in one covering, and he is able to take it out and put it into a double covering. Some poskim say it is better to take it out in the bathroom to put it into a double covering even though it will be exposed for a moment (הגר”ע אוירבאך, ס’ אהל יעקב פ”ד הערה י”ח). Others say it is better not to take it out (מו”ר שו”ת שבט הקהתי ח”א סי’ נ”ח).
Sitting with Sefarim
- On a bed. One may not sit on a bed that a sefer Torah is on (שו”ע סי’ רפ”ב סעיף ז’). The same is true of other sefarim (רמ”א שם).
Sefarim on a Bench
- One should make sure not to sit on a bench that has sefarim on it (ע”פ הרמ”א שם) unless they are on top of something else (ש”ך סק”ט). Some require that object to be a tefach high (דעת קדושים סק”ד), but the poskim say that strictly speaking it does not need to be a tefach. However, a thin paper is not enough either; it should be something that is visibly raised somewhat (הגריש”א והגר”נ קרליץ, אהל יעקב פ”ה הערה ד’).
- In a bag. Some say a sefer in a plastic bag on a bench is considered to be on top of something, even if the bag is transparent, and one may sit on the bench (בעל אבני ישפה, אהל יעקב פ”ה הערה ו’). Others are machmir even if the sefer is in a bag. Some say it is better to put the sefer upright on the bench rather than lying down (הגר”ח קנייבסקי אהל יעקב שם הערה ז’).
- Separate seats. If a bench has multiple seats connected by an iron bar, the seats are considered separate chairs even though they are connected. Thus, one may sit on one seat even if there are sefarim on the seat next to him (שו”ת שבט הלוי ח”ג סי’ י”א).
- On an empty bench. One may place sefarim on an empty bench or bed; doing so is not degrading (הגר”ח קנייבסקי אהל יעקב שם הערה י”ד).
Sefarim on a Bed
- If one is lying on a bed and wants to learn from a sefer, he may be meikel to put the sefer on a pillow or the like. But he should not put the sefer directly on the bed he is lying on, as that is degrading to the sefer (הגר”נ קרליץ בשם החזו”א, ס’ גנזי בקודש פ”ב הע’ כ’, חוט שני הל’ ריבית ע’ קסח).
- Sleeping on a sefer. One may not sleep on a sefer (ספר חסידים הקטן). Some say that if one sees someone sleeping on a sefer, he should slide the sefer out from underneath him without waking him up. If there is a possibility he will wake up, he should not take away the sefer (גנזי הקודש בשם הגר”נ קרליץ).
- Noam Elimelech for an easy birth. Some people put the sefer Noam Elimelech or Razi’el Hamalach under a woman’s head during childbirth as a segulah for an easy birth (וכך ייעץ פעם גם רבי ברוך בער). The poskim discuss whether this is degrading, as well as if it is a problem of “healing” through divrei Torah (שו”ת שבט הלוי ח”ו סי’ קס”ב אות ב’, שו”ת באר משה חלק ג’ סי קע”ז). However, some write one may put the sefer under a pillow or mattress (שו”ת דברי מלכיאל ח”ה סי קס”ו). If it is placed in a designated cover, there is certainly basis to be meikel, and this is what people rely on.
- Changing a diaper. One may not change a child’s diaper in front of sefarim (שו”ת מחזה אליהו סי’ ו’), but some allow it in a very pressing situation (הגריש”א גנזי הקודש פ”ד הערה כ”א). Some say one may change a diaper in front of a bookshelf with a glass cover. Even though there are sefarim in the room and excrement is exposed in front of them, the glass partition is considered a barrier (ט”ז יור”ד סי’ רפ”ו ס”ק ה’). Similarly, children should not be allowed to go around unclothed in front of sefarim (כף החיים סי’ מ”ה ס”ק ח’ ספר חסידים סי’ תתקי”ט).
- Bedroom. When installing a bookshelf in a bedroom etc., make sure it has doors so that the sefarim will never be degraded.
Putting One Sefer on Another
- One may put one sefer Torah on another sefer Torah or chumashim on chumashim, nevi’im, and kesuvim. However, nevi’im and kesuvim may not be placed on chumashim, nor may chumashim be placed on a sefer Torah (שו”ע יור”ד סי’ רפ”ב סעיף י”ט). These halachos apply to our sefarim as well since at the end of the day, a printed chumash has more kedushah than a printed Tanach (שיעורי שבט הלוי).
- Siddur. Even though there is Tehillim and/or Krias haTorah at the end of a siddur, it is treated for these purposes as a siddur and other sefarim may be placed on it since its main function is as a siddur (הגריש”א והגרשז”א, שו”ת שבט הקהתי ח”ב סי’ רצ”ט).
- Mikra’os Gedolos chumash. If a chumash has pages that are mostly filled with mefarshim but there are some pesukim on each page, it still has the kedushah of a chumash, and other sefarim should not be placed on it (מו”ר בשו”ת שבט הקהתי שם).
- A gemara should not be placed on a chumash even though the gemara is a peirush on the Torah Shebichsav. Similarly, a gemara should not be placed on nevi’im or kesuvim (שו”ת הר”י מיגש סי’ צ”ב).
- One may put sefarim of Torah Sheba’al Peh on top of other sefarim of Torah Sheba’al Peh. Thus, one may place Acharonim, e.g., a Kovetz Mefarshim, on a gemara (הגר”נ קרליץ ובשם החזו”א, ס’ גנזי הקודש).
Using a Sefer for Various Purposes
Keeping Things in a Sefer
- Mundane. One should be careful not to use sefarim for any mundane purpose. One should also not keep things other than Torah writings inside sefarim. Blank pages, tissues, etc., should not be kept in a sefer even if they will be used for learning since that is a degrading use of the sefer.
- Beard hairs. There is an old Chassidishe minhag to keep detached beard hairs in a sefer because of the kedushah in them. Still, we may not do this due to the kedushah of the sefer, as it is degrading to the sefer (ספר תורה לשמה ש”ו, תשובות והנהגות ח”ב סי’ תנ”ט). [One certainly may not put hairs in a beis medrash’s sefer because of בל תשקצו to others, as it is disgusting to other people.]
- Reserving a spot with a sefer. It would seem one should not leave a sefer by a spot in the beis medrash for a few minutes to save the spot unless he needs to learn from the sefer. Lechatchilah it is best to learn a bit from it and then he can leave it there (הגריש”א והגר”נ קרליץ ס’ גנזי הקודש פ”ג סעיף ט’).
- Bosis on Shabbos. One may place sifrei kodesh on a table to prevent it from becoming a bosis on Shabbos since it is not apparent that it is being used for the table’s status. If he learns something from it before setting it down, all poskim agree it is mutar (הגר”נ קרליץ, יקרא דאורייתא).
- Leaving a sefer open. One should not leave a sefer open when he exits; he should first cover it. It is advisable to have a cloth handy for this purpose (ב”ח, ש”ך יור”ד סי’ רע”ז סק”א).
- One should not use another sefer to cover his sefer since that is degrading. However, one may be meikel if the sefer was next to him to begin with and he is only lifting it onto his sefer.
- One may use another sefer to keep his sefer open in the wind or if his sefer is bound tightly. This is use in the course of learning and therefore mutar (ספר גנגי קודש פ”ג סי”ב).