We all accumulate these kinds of holy objects, mementos of weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, funerals and more, and we face the problem of how to dispose of them in a way that appropriately acknowledges their holiness. This question is addressed at length by the Responsa Committee of the Central Conference of Reform Rabbis (5762.1 - Proper Disposal Of Religious Texts - http://data.ccarnet.org/cgi-bin/respdisp.pl?file=1&year=5762). While their question addresses the broader issue of whether recycling is an approipriate way to dispose of these texts, it offers clear guidelines that are helpful for answering our question.
Different objects possess different levels of holiness, and that affects the way we dispose of them. While we use a kippah (yarmulke) in the holy setting of prayer or study, it is not considered a holy object and requires no special care before being put in the garbage. A Tallit possesses a greater degree of holiness because the fringes are mandated by the Torah (Numbers 15:38-40). When a tallit is no longer serviceable the tzitzit, fringes, are cut off and set aside for a proper burial. The tallit itself can then be placed in a plastic bag (to separate it from other trash) and placed in the garbage.
Printed material which includes the name of God is generally buried in the ground or placed in a geniza, a storage room. The Responsa cited above contemplates the difference between prayerbooks, haggadot, chumashim and Bibles, on the one hand, and photocopied study guides on the other.
While photocopies of study guides facilitate our observance of the mitzvot of study and prayer, they also accumulate quickly and pose a problem for storage. There is a risk that these single sheets may be left in a place where they will be treated with disrespect. In such a case the authors of this Responsa allow these ephemeral papers to be destroyed by recycling, “since in doing so we act to fulfill the mitzvah of environmental responsibility.” They base their opinion on earlier decisions issued by the eighteenth-century sage R. Ya`akov Reischer and others who allowed unusable texts to be burned to spare them from being shoved into filthy places or trampled underfoot.
By contrast prayerbooks, haggadot, booklets of memorial prayers, and other sacred texts intended for long term use require the more respectful care of a proper burial or storage in a secure geniza. The authors of the Responsa explain the difference:
"They symbolize in physical form the very message that their words would teach us: namely, the enduring values of human and Jewish life, that which is eternal and lasting over against that which is temporary and evanescent. Given what these books mean to us as individuals and as communities, it is inappropriate to dispose of them in the same way that we permit ourselves to dispose of more ephemeral texts."
When we treat these objects with holiness we affirm their lasting value for us and for our community and bring increased holiness into our world.
The question of how to handle printed matter that has the name of God in it has gotten more complicated as the number of such materials has exploded over the past few years. Traditionally, anything which has the name of God on it, handwritten or printed, was considered sheimos (meaning: containing Names (the Hebrew for names is sheimos in Ashkenazic pronunciation) of God), and was buried. Synagogues and study halls had a sheimos box or area (famously, a Cairo synagogue had a huge area for such writings, which at the end of the 1800s became a treasure trove for historians when Solomon Schechter discovered it and realized its uses) where people would bring their materials.
In the age of photocopying and home printers, the sheimos problem has become more acute (many people giving Torah classes now print up source sheets for everyone attending; if all of those are sheimos, we will soon be buried under the weight of all of them). Some authorities therefore think that photocopied matter, never bound into a book, does not have to be treated as sheimos but others are more stringent on the matter. In the case of booklets from undertakers, if the prayers have the name of God, it would seem that they would have to be treated as sheimos and disposed of respectfully and properly (usually burial-- often, shuls or cemeteries will take such materials and bury them along with deceased members of the synagogue).
As for yarmalkas, those are what is called tashmishei mitzvah, appurtenances of mitzvah and do not require burial for disposal. While we tend not to simply toss them in the garbage, they need only be disposed of in some kind of respectful fashion (wrapped in protective casing of some sort, e.g., and then left to be taken away).
It is a Halakhic (Jewish legal) requirement to dispose of sacred scrolls, books, pages from such items or other sacred printed or written documents – especially those that contain any of God’s sacred names – in a Genizah, a space (a room, an attic, an underground storage area, a grave so designated, a grave of distinguished Jewish person into which sacred objects may be placed at the time of the person’s burial, etc.) set aside specifically for the purpose of such storage to ensure that the documents are not destroyed but are kept in perpetuity out of respect for their holiness and that of God and God’s name.Other ritual objects that are deemed especially sacred, including tefillin, tallitot with their tzitziot (fringes) attached or tzitziot that have been removed from a tallit are also placed in a Genizah.So the old haggadahs and booklets from undertakers with prayers must go into a Genizah.The yarmukahs or kippot, however, have no sanctity associated with them, even though they are used for ritual purposes, and may be disposed of as you would any other article of clothing.
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