Sefarim – Part I of II

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

There is a mitzva[1] to write or at least participate[2] in the writing of a Torah scroll. While everyone should strive to fulfill this mitzva in this way at least once in their life, one is also considered to have fulfilled this mitzva by purchasing “sefarim”, holy books, from which to study Torah from.[3] Sefarim are so called from their root “sippur” which means “to relate” or “to tell”, referring to the role of sefarim in relating to us the greatness of God and how to serve Him.[4] One who does not purchase sefarim is deemed a wicked person.[5]

Sefarim are said to represent God’s clothing as they “clothe” His Torah, and should be treated accordingly.[6] We should be familiar with the contents of all our sefarim as well as of those we choose to purchase, rather then to simply buy sefarim indiscriminately.[7] It is also recommended to periodically take an inventory of one’s sefarim including those which may have been lent out. Never stand on a table or other surface used primarily for sefarim.[8] Some have the custom to place many sefarim on one’s table in honor of Yom Kippur in place of the challot and other foods which normally grace the Shabbat and Holiday table.[9] One is permitted to open a sefer which contains lettering on its pages on Shabbat as the letters were intended to be opened and closed, [10]though some authorities recommend not using such sefarim on Shabbat.[11]

One should make sure that all one’s sefarim are neat and organized so that they will be easy to find. One should happily[12] lend sefarim to others, even one’s enemies,[13] in order to contribute to the proliferation of Torah knowledge.[14] Indeed, in the buying and selling of sefarim we are to afford priority treatment to those who are known for lending sefarim.[15] Nevertheless, it is best[16] to never borrow or even read another person’s sefer without permission.[17] A Siddur, however, is different and may be used without permission.[18] A person should write his name in all his sefarim.[19]

One who borrows a sefer and ruins it or wears it out due only to extensive usage is exempt from paying any damages.[20] It goes without saying that one may not remove a sefer from a synagogue or Beit Midrash without permission.[21] Some authorities forbid one to browse through a sefer being sold in a sefarim store in fear that one may ruin it or spoil the newness of the pages,[22] though common custom is to be lenient and allow shoppers to browse sefarim.[23] That being said however, one is obligated to pay for a sefer that one has clearly ruined in the course of browsing it, such as if it falls from one’s hands to the floor and gets torn.[24]

It is even permitted to use one’s designated charity monies for the purchase of sefarim if one will lend them out or otherwise make them available for public use.[25] Sefarim should never be used as security or collateral in any business transaction.[26] Expect to pay more for rare and original sefarim.[27]

We should be sure to show great honor[28] and reverence to sefarim, similar to that accorded to Tefillin.[29] One should shake sefarim from their case or bag in order to retrieve them – always remove them gently, preferably with one’s right[30] hand.[31] It is not permitted to write anything on the pages of a sefer unrelated to one’s Torah studies nor may one use a sefer for storing loose notes and the like.[32] We should not lean upon sefarim or otherwise use them to further personal comfort.[33] It goes without saying that sefarim should never be placed on the ground,[34] on a surface where they are likely to fall,[35] nor tossed from one person to another.[36] However they may be placed in a box that is sitting on the ground.[37]

One is even permitted to interrupt the Shemone Esrei prayer to pick up a sefer that has fallen on the floor should one feel the urge to do so.[38] Similarly, one may also interrupt the wrapping of the Tefillin to pick up a sefer that has fallen.[39] One may use the surface of a sefer to assist one in writing Torah related notes,[40] but not for anything else.[41] It is not permitted to engage in marital relations in the presence of uncovered sefarim.[42]


[1] Devarim 31:19

[2] Rambam Sefer Torah 7:1

[3] Tur Y.D. 270;Prisha

[4] Ta’amei Haminhagim Likutim 131

[5] Sefer Chassidim 873

[6] Pele Yoetz;Sefer

[7] Iggeret Hamussar of Rabbi Yehuda Ibn Tibbon

[8] Sefer Chassidim 920

[9] Minhag Yisrael Torah 610:3

[10] Shut Harema 119, Taz O.C. 340, Aruch Hashulchan 340:23

[11] Mishna Berura 340:17

[12] Sefer Chassidim 470

[13] Sefer Chassidim 471

[14] Ibid., Ketubot 50a

[15] Sefer Chassidim 927

[16] Some authorities contend that it was only in the olden days when sefarim were rare and costly that one was required to secure permission before using a sefer. In our day, however, people are less particular. Minhag Yisrael Torah 14:2

[17] Rema O.C. 14:4, Be’er Heitev 14:9, Shulchan Aruch Harav O.C. 14:3

[18] Mishna Berura 14:16

[19] Beit Lechem Yehuda Y.D. 179

[20] Minchat Elazar 4:70 cited in Minhag Yisrael Torah 14:2

[21] Rema C.M. 163:6

[22] Sha’arei Halacha 3:pages 20-21, cited in an issue of the “Halachically Speaking” email by Rabbi Moishe Dovid Lebovits

[23] Rivevot Efraim 4:221, cited in an issue of the “Halachically Speaking” email by Rabbi Moishe Dovid Lebovits

[24] Shraga Hameir 8:133

[25] Shach Y.D. 249:3, Chafetz Chaim 19:2

[26] Sefer Chassidim 914

[27] Sefer Chassidim 926

[28] Sefer Chassidim 917

[29] Beit Yosef O.C. 240:6

[30] Minhag Yisrael Torah 246:44

[31] Sefer Chassidim 273

[32] Mishna Berura 154:31, Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 282:23, Piskei Teshuvot 154:24, Sefer Chassidim 899

[33] Sefer Chassidim 904

[34] Pele Yoetz;Sefer, Rema Y.D. 282:7

[35] Sefer Chassidim 922

[36] Y.D. 282:5

[37] Magen Avraham 40:13

[38] Sefer Chassidim 777, Mishna Berura 96:7

[39] Shraga Hameir 6:51

[40] Mishna Berura 154:31

[41] Sefer Chassidim 898

[42] Kaf Hachaim 40:14

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

80 comments

  1. Has one fulfilled the mitzva if he acquired sefarim not by purchase, but by downloading them free off the web?

  2. I would think so.

    Ari Enkin

  3. shaagas aryeh writes that we are patur from the mitzva of writing a sefer torah because we have mistakes with malei and chaser and thus can’t fulfill the mitzvah.

    “It is not permitted to engage in marital relations in the presence of uncovered sefarim.”

    i definately recall being taught the opposite before i got married.

  4. Abba-

    Thanks for the Shagas Aryeh. There is no heter to have relations in the presence of sefarim. You cant even be unclothed around them. If you see anything othewise, please let me know.

    Ari Enkin

  5. 1) you should get Fritz Bamberger’s “Book Are the Best Things” (society of jewish bibliophies, 1962). unfortunately he doesn’t provide the source citations, but it is a great collection of quotes illustrating our relation to books through the generations.

    2) also see sefer chasidim (sec. 275, 923) that books must be rescued before other valuable in case of fire

    likutei maharil sec 118: when 2 people approach a doorway, the one carrying a book enters first, regardless of any other reason why deference should normally be given to the other person.

    other sources too give books almost a human quality

    3) the tur you cite refers of course to manuscript codices rather than printed books. do you think there is any halakhic distinction?

  6. Abba-

    1. I will look for this!
    2. Wait till you see Part II next week. 😉
    3. The only one to clearly make a distinction is the Aruch Hashulchan. All others seem to say that today’s printed sefarim should be treated like manuscripts.

    Ari Enkin

  7. For those not privileged to have attended the showing of The Valmadonna Collection in New York a couple of years ago, the video can be seen at: http://www.sothebys.com/video/movies/index_valmadonna.html

  8. R. Enkin:

    “If you see anything othewise, please let me know.”

    i specifically asked my “choson teacher” about this. i don’t recall what his source was or if he even cited one, but he definately told me it’s not a problem (and that he has the same issue because he has so many seforim they took over his house)

    also, you wrote, “It is not permitted to engage in marital relations in the presence of uncovered sefarim.” seforim are “covered” in the sense that they have boards and bindings that are not integral to the text block itself and thus can be considered a covering. perhaps?

  9. Abba-

    There’s no chance.

    Re: Binding-

    There is discussion in the poskim on this issue but I remember the conclusion and consensus being that the cover is batel to the sefer and is not considered an independant entity or covering.

    Ari Enkin

  10. IH:

    a potential sale of the valmadonna recently fell through. would you like to chip in with me and split it?

    r. enkin:

    “not considered an independant entity”

    so implications for disposal? if a book is rebound, may the original binding simply be discarded or used for a profane book or profane purpose?

    (similarly, it was common practice to crop wide margins and sometimes this paper/parchment would be “recycled.” is this a problem?)

    “There’s no chance.”

    my instinct is to think that it’s a problem (and thus i had asked the question). but now that i’m thinking about it, why is it a problem? sex is not the same as going to the bathroom, where i understand one should not bring a sefer. sex is a private act, not something dirty, disrespectful, etc. could you please clarify what the problem is.

  11. Abba-

    If the binidng isnt batel it has the status of a sefer tiself and should be placed in geniza. Cropping the paper before the sefer is ever used is not a problem and these pages have no kedusha. Can even be put in the garbage.

    Re: Sex and Sefarim. Take my word for it. It is assur. I’d prefer not to discuss sex here. 😉

    Ari Enkin

  12. Abba,
    I’m in.

  13. R. Enkin,
    what is the source for you implicit claim that a binding needs to be put in geniza. It’s enough of a question whether printed materials really need to go in, but “printed materials with no shem hashem, no words, and perhaps which bound a book that had no shem hashem?
    Perhaps you should do a post on geniza, but I’m not sure this throwaway point is so poshut.

  14. You’re right. There are those who allow recycling such items.

    I have a geniza paper in the freezer somewhere. Maybe Ill take it out for a future post.

    Ari Enkin

  15. with reference to the valmadonna that IH mentioned, a book “Treasures of the Valmadonna” was just published with essays on hebrew printing on parchment and colored paper and with colored ink. the essays don’t discuss anything from a halachik perspective,* but they’re a good introduction to appreciating jewish bibliophilism. (*brad sabin hill does conjecture in passing that jews in europe avoided red ink and jews in the orient green ink because these colors were associated with, respectively, christianity and islam)

    R. ENKIN:

    i would also point out that these halachos were irrelevant for many (most) people through most of jewish history, as book ownersip was prohibitively expensive.

    if i can be permitted one personal memory: in 8th grade i was on the fire squad. during fire drills (and if there were ever a fire) we had to carry the sifre torah.

  16. So, what’s a sefer?

  17. I’ve seen Rebbeim repeatedly slam the seforim with their hand during shiur. Is this allowed or is there some custom for this? I’ve always been put off by the act.

  18. Also a problem of leaning one’s elbows on a sefer.

    I second Reb Ari with respect to tashmish hamitah/nakedness in front of printed seforim. I was also taught not allowed.

    However, one can learn Torah by hirhur while naked or duing tashmish hamitah (Avodas HaYom cited by CC in Biur Halachoh – I cannot recall which siman its in right now)

  19. Sorry, should be “during”, not “duing”.

  20. What about using a sefer to prop up another sefer that you are learning from?

  21. To take this post seriously, I think S.’s question really does need to be answered: what is a sefer.

    A serious discussion of this should also correlate the dates for the sources cited with what a sefer (or whatever word is used in that particular text) really meant at the time.

    Very roughly speaking, any source prior to the mid-late 19th century is not talking about “sefarim” the way we think of them today.

  22. was thinking the same thing as S and IH.

    DANIEL SHAIN:

    megillah 27: we don’t place a book of lesser holiness on top of one with greater holiness

  23. RE: Slamming sefarim and leaning on sefarim-

    I saw this in Sefer Chassidim as forbidden. I have seen opinions both ways regarding using a sefer to prop up another sefer.

    Ari Enkin

  24. Thanks. I was thinking, recently I posted about the Maaseh Buch, which is entirely stories from Chazal, Midrash and later sources like Sefer Chasidim. It is in Yiddish. Is it a sefer? Let’s say it is. What about the Kau Buch, which the first edition of the Maaseh Buch denounces on its title page, hoping that people will read the Story Book instead of the Cow Book? But then I saw that in Seder Hadoros it mentions the Kau Buch as full of mesholim and certainly he seems to consider it a piece of mussar literature.

    How about the traditional genre of secular wisdom literature, admixtured with Torah? (Contrary to the view today, the real traditional view is that secular wisdom is supposed to be saturated with Torah, rather than separated.)

    Is Yashar of Candia’s Sefer Elim a “sefer”? How about Maaseh Tuviya or Sefer Habris?

    So what’s a sefer?

  25. A sefer is any book about Judaism that does not violate any of the 13 ikkarim.

    Ari Enkin

  26. Thanks. I was thinking, recently I posted about the Maaseh Buch, which is entirely stories from Chazal, Midrash and later sources like Sefer Chasidim. It is in Yiddish. Is it a sefer? Let’s say it is. What about the Kau Buch, which the first edition of the Maaseh Buch denounces on its title page, hoping that people will now read the Story Book instead of the Cow Book? But then I saw that in Seder Hadoros it mentions the Kau Buch as full of mesholim and certainly he seems to consider it a piece of mussar literature.

    How about the traditional genre of secular wisdom, admixtured with Torah? (Contrary to the view today, the real traditional view apparently is that secular wisdom is supposed to be saturated with Torah, rather than separated.)

    Is Yashar of Candia’s Sefer Elim a “sefer”? How about Maaseh Tuviya or Sefer Habris?

    So what’s a sefer?

  27. “I saw this in Sefer Chassidim as forbidden.”

    Do you mean the Sefer Chassidim written at the turn of the 13th century? The first printed books (incunabula) would not have been printed for another 200+ years!

  28. >A sefer is any book about Judaism that does not violate any of the 13 ikkarim.

    Thanks. What’s a book about Judaism? Is Elisheva Carlebach’s really great new history book about Sifrei Evronot a sefer? I have it in my bedroom. Is that inappropriate?

  29. For those not familiar, the YU Museum has a wonderful site: http://www.printingthetalmud.org/home.html to parallel their 2005 exhibition. Click on the Objects tab to get some sense of chronology.

  30. -Iggeret Hamussar of Rabbi Yehuda Ibn Tibbon where is this sefer located?

    -A sefer is any book about Judaism that does not violate any of the 13 ikkarim
    see shapiro’s book you just said a bunch of rishonim arent sefarim…
    -i think s. has a valid question sefarim chitzonim are they “sefarim”?

  31. Great post-I would add one caveat that I heard from RHS years ago-it is great to have a nice library of sefarim, but it is even greater to have sefarim that show indicia of being used by the owner, as opposed to collecting dust on a bookshelf.

  32. “A sefer is any book about Judaism that does not violate any of the 13 ikkarim.”

    Ari — I’m sorry, but this anachronism is preposterous.

  33. >A sefer is any book about Judaism that does not violate any of the 13 ikkarim.

    Also, is content the only criteria? What about a newspaper that includes Divrei Torah in English? Can I keep a Jerusalem Post in my bedroom?

  34. IH wrote in part:
    “For those not privileged to have attended the showing of The Valmadonna Collection in New York a couple of years ago…”

    The collection was awesome, but I think that Sotheby could have done a far better job in putting together a booklet on the contents than the rather small and uninformative pamphlet that visitors received or purchased thereat.

  35. IH wrote in response:

    ““A sefer is any book about Judaism that does not violate any of the 13 ikkarim.”

    Ari — I’m sorry, but this anachronism is preposterous”

    IH-If we understand that the purpose of writing Sefarim is very similar if not identical to the Mitzvah of Ksivas Sefer Torah ( see Minchas Chinuch ) then a sefer in its purest sense cannot be written by someone with a lack of awareness or who denies the Kedushah of a Sefer Torah. It may very well be that such an author has written a fascinating book, but I would argue that the same lacks the requisite intent of Lishmah. I would argue that even books by historians such as Professor Carlebach, a great historian, cannot be considered to be “sefarim” in the same sense as a classical Jewish text such as a Tanach, Mishnayos, Talmud, Rishonim , Mfarshim and Poskim.

    I would also note the amazing respect with which we must treat Seforim. Can anyone find a parallel with secular books? I would argue that there is none-regardless of the great knowledge contained therein.

    R Ari-what about old editions of Sefarim that, due to the great amount of better quality editions such as in the case of many Rishonim, simply are not used anymore? What kind of Kedusha would be appropriate for such works, other than the analogy of Shivrei Luchos ShebeAron?

  36. I learned years ago that newspapers with any Torah content such as a Dvar Torah on the Parsha should not be read in the bathroom, and that one should certainly neither engage in marital relations or walk around undressed in the presence of sefarim. OTOH, I have heard that a Posek in Lakewood permits the reading of the Yated in the bathroom.

  37. S-Perhaps, one can equate Maaseh Buch with Tzeenah Renah-which also is viewed as a sefer-to the point-where even ArtScroll published an edition of Tzeenah Renah.

  38. I would suggest that regardless of how a sefer is published today or since the 19th Century, or how works were printed prior thereto, a “sefer” in its purest sense, is nothing less than a Kiyum of the Mitzvas Ksivas Sefer Torah. In that sense, when the Baalei HaTosfos refer to Perush HaKuntres-Rashi’s commentary on Shas is a sefer, as are the commentaries of Rashi and Ibn Ezra on Chumash, which Ramban refers to extensively in his own commentary. I think that any printed work which is in the canon of accepted commentary on a Biblical, Talmudic or Halachic work, regardless of the means of publication, is a “sefer”, regardless of the technological means to disseminate the same.

  39. One more observation-if you want to understand what is a “sefer” and what is a waste of ink and paper-go to any serious seforim store such as Biegeleisen or the equivalent.

  40. STEVE:

    “Sotheby could have done a far better job in putting together a booklet on the contents than the rather small and uninformative pamphlet that visitors received or purchased thereat.”

    sotheby is not a museum. it’s a business. and they know you and i are not going to buy the collection. so they don’t need to print anything for us. perhaps your contention is with lunzer himself, in which case you are welcome to purcahse any of the various valmadonna publications that have been issued, including the “Treasures from the Valmadonna” i mentioned above.

    IH:

    “The first printed books (incunabula) would not have been printed for another 200+ years!”

    “sefer” was used in hebrew to connote both printed and manuscripts (indeed, sometimes it isn’t entirely clear whether a reference in older literature to a sefer is to an unpublished manuscript or to a printed book that has been lost to the posterity). and especially since r. enkin noted that there in the litarture there is no distinction between manuscript and printed book (except for the arukh hashulhan), i don’t think there is anything wrong with him referring to a 13th c. book, especially in a colloquial sense.

  41. Abba wrote:

    ““Sotheby could have done a far better job in putting together a booklet on the contents than the rather small and uninformative pamphlet that visitors received or purchased thereat.”

    sotheby is not a museum. it’s a business. and they know you and i are not going to buy the collection. so they don’t need to print anything for us. perhaps your contention is with lunzer himself, in which case you are welcome to purcahse any of the various valmadonna publications that have been issued, including the “Treasures from the Valmadonna” i mentioned above”

    IIRC, did not some prominent experts assist Lunzer and Sotheby in terms of the contents that were on display?

  42. STEVE:

    sotheby has a judaica expert on staff and they have outside consultants that they use as well. but what’s your point? sotheby’s is a business. they want to sell books. they publish catalogues in order to sell books. none of us is buying the valmadonna so they didn’t need to publish a catalogue for amcha.

  43. STEVE:

    when IH, MDJ and myself save up enough pennies to buy the valmadonna, we’ll be more than happy to accept your subvention for a nice glossy catalogue 🙂

  44. >Can anyone find a parallel with secular books?

    The question is can anyone find a parallel with religious books, since we’re talking about religious devotion. There are a lot of other religions, you know.

    >S-Perhaps, one can equate Maaseh Buch with Tzeenah Renah-which also is viewed as a sefer-to the point-where even ArtScroll published an edition of Tzeenah Renah.

    I’m not sure we can bring raayos from Artscroll. Or to put it another way, I’m not sure what the raayah is.

    Anyway, my question wasn’t really about the Maaseh Buch, but about the Koy Buch. On the one hand the Maaseh Buch considers it secular, on the other hand the Seder Hadoros seems to consider it like a sefer mussar.

    >One more observation-if you want to understand what is a “sefer” and what is a waste of ink and paper-go to any serious seforim store such as Biegeleisen or the equivalent.

    What do you mean by this?

    By the way, I’ll add to the Valmadonna pool. I want a piece too. What are we up to now, like $500?

  45. Abba-Ain Haci Nami,

  46. S-If Tzeenah Renah is a Sefer, why not the Koy Buch?

    The owner of Biegeleisen (or any other seforim store of similar quality and expertise) has a good sense of what is a good sefer and what is not.

  47. >S-If Tzeenah Renah is a Sefer, why not the Koy Buch?

    Because Tzeenah Renah (if it is a sefer) is like a The Misrash Says type of book, albeit in Yiddish, while the Koy Buch is a bunch of animal fables. Is Aesop a “sefer” too?

  48. S-Does the Koy Buch use animal fables in a Midrash Says style?

  49. S-If the Koy Buch is viewed as a sefer musar, it should be considered no less Kadosh than Tzeenah Renah.

  50. Abba — sorry if I was not clear, I was referring to the questions posed about “slamming sefarim and leaning on sefarim” to which Ari’s response was ““I saw this in Sefer Chassidim as forbidden.”

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with referring to a 13th century book, as long as one understands the frame of reference.

    How many sefarim do you reckon that Rabbi Yehudah ha’Chasid owned whose covers could have been slammed? Or leaned on?

  51. >S-Does the Koy Buch use animal fables in a Midrash Says style?

    Not exactly, it’s a story book. It has nothing to do with Torah per se. It’s a 500 year old Yiddish story book. Like Aesop, it’s purpose is moralistic, but also entertainment.

    If anyone wants to read it, here it is

    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/45950

  52. Steve – you missed the point on the 13 Ikkarim as anachronism. I refer you to RNS, or Prof. Shapiro or Prof. Kellner regarding the significant Rabbis who did not accept all 13 and whose books I am sure you would consider sefarim.

    “One more observation-if you want to understand what is a “sefer” and what is a waste of ink and paper-go to any serious seforim store such as Biegeleisen or the equivalent.”

    As a kid, I spent at least one Sunday a month in the sefarim stores on the Lower East Side that no longer exist while my father hunted. Nothing against Biegeleisen, but they don’t make ‘em like they used to…

  53. IH-I am well aware of the issue surrounding the 13 Ikarim as raised by RNS, Professor Shapiro or Professor Kellner. I would suggest that their works suggest alternatives, as opposed to a wholesale dispensation with the necessity in belief-which R D Berger has pointed out in his critical review of Professor Kellner’s book.

  54. IH wrote in part:

    “As a kid, I spent at least one Sunday a month in the sefarim stores on the Lower East Side that no longer exist while my father hunted. Nothing against Biegeleisen, but they don’t make ‘em like they used to”

    I remember many of those stores as well-S Goldman, Rabinowitz, H & M, etc. Biegeleisen is the last remnant of the “sefarim only” store, as opposed to chachkes and Judaica with some sefarim.

  55. It should be noted we are going through another transformation.

    I am lucky to have inherited a facsimle set of the Bomberg Shas and Midrashim, but even these were unreachable to most Jews when they were published 40-odd years ago. The Shas states it was issued as a limited set of 200 in 1968.

    The digital revolution has radically democratized this. We have Hebrewbooks.org et al. And many libraries have been making rare editions of important sefarim available on the Internet, particularly Kitvei Yad. See, for example, the Kaufmann Mishna at: http://kaufmann.mtak.hu/en/study04.htm.

  56. IH-IIRC, there is a critique/review of Professor Shapiro’s work on the 13 Ikarim in one of the early issues of the TuM Journal by R Yitzchak Blau-who raises methodological issues re the use of sources that were previously not vetted or considered as part of the Mesorah of Machsheves Yisrael. FWIW, I like Professor Shapiro’s writings, especially his bio of the SE and his work on RSL ZL and the Orthodox, and his articles elsewhere on the web, but I think that one can detect a certain POV towards the Orthodoxy of the 1950s ala “the good old days”, which anyone who is familiar with the time period was a time when Orthodoxy, both MO and the Charedi worlds, were losing a war with CJ.

    In a certain way, such a historiographical POV is akin to viewing the Confederacy as “the cause” or Communism as correct in theory, but flawed in application.

  57. MiMedinat HaYam

    cropping bindings, etc — the cropped klaf designated for a sefer torah cannot be used for tfillin / mezuzah. (whatever “designated” means.)

    2. extensive discussion in kitzur re: tashmish if sefer torah in room (must be double boxed, the actual “teva” doesnt count, etc.) gotta check re: other sfarim.

    3. on subject of teva — cannot be used for lesser purpose. thus, covers / box (unique box for sefer; “slipcover” is i believe the term used) cannot be used for lesser purpose (i guess lesser means chumash cover cannot be used for nach, etc. i wont get into gemara, so as not to offend charedi teachers, who (usually) barely know chumash, let alone nach.) in a shul i daven in often, the old “teva” stands empty in the ezrat nashim.

    4. spain (a few years ago) found bindings on many legal / historical documents dating back to 1400s and later used used pieces of sefer torah (and other) parchment, and allowed (proper) orthodox authorities to handle the repair.

    5. besides biegelesen (a “niche” market) there is no hope of business success for stores that dont sell chachkes. you cant make money on the once a year gemara purchaes of yeshiva students either.

  58. Steve — C’mon. Ravad’s sefarim are “sefarim” written by someone who did not accept the 13 Ikkarim as written by Rambam. Next topic, please.

  59. IH-IIRC- did not Raavad question Rambam’s views on incorporeality in a comment on Hilcos Teshuvah? Such a comment is very old news to anyone who has ever looked at that source. Please show me where Raavad’s writings , on Talmud, Halacha, or Machshavah, were ever deemed out of the mainstream.

  60. IH-FWIW I would suggest that you see R Blau’s review of Professor Shapiro’s book.

  61. Steve — one last time. Ari Enkin on May 24, 2011 at 1:57 pm:

    “A sefer is any book about Judaism that does not violate any of the 13 ikkarim.”

    Ravad proves this statement is false (which I politely stated as an anachronism).

  62. One need not have read the works of RNS, or Professors Shapiro or Kellner to realize that there is a broad horizontal, not vertical, nature to Machshavah, just as there is the same pattern to Parshanut, all of which are well within the Mesorah.

    In this regard, there is a superb article in one of the early issues of Chakirah which demonstrates the radical POV of Maharal on Midrash and Aggados Chazal, which runs clearly against Rashi and Ramban, at least, in their analysis and rejection of many Midrashim and Aggadic statements. Since the days of Maharal, as well as in many Chasidishe and Musar Sefarim, we see much evidence of what wrought the Maharal in Machshavah.

    The real fault line IMO lies in works by authors who either deny Torah Min HaShamayim, Torah MiSinai or relying on a Mchalel Shabbos as a witness-IIRC, one of the reasons for such a Psul is that the person is a Kofer B’Ikar in Brias HaOlam. I would contend that such a POV is far more radical and of halachically problematic consequences than Raavad’s POV on incorporeality.

  63. IH-I set forth where IMO Raavad disagreed with Rambam-which IIRC is a purely hashkafic dispute, as opposed to leading to any Nafkeh Minah LHalacha LMaaseh. I suspect that we could easily find Midrashic and Aggadic statements about HaShem or Biblical personalities or passages in Tanach that Rambam would dismiss for the same reasons-yet noone would question that such views or that of the Raavad constitute a Cheftzah Shel Torah.

    I would suggest that R Ari consider using the well known concept of a Cheftzah Shel Torah Lishmah, as opposed to the Rambam’s Ikarim as one, but not the exclusive means, of defining what is a sefer and what is not.

  64. For myself, I know sefer when I see one.

    I consider Tanach, Talmud or Midrash including translations — irrespective of who authored or glossed them — to be a sefer (that e.g. I would not dream of taking into the bathroom.

    Whereas a book or article that is primarily homiletics or historicity is not a sefer.

    The attribute of the book has nothing to do with the beliefs of the person who wrote it, assuming I even know what they are.

  65. Steve — you are picking a debate that is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. The topic is sefarim not hashkafa.

  66. on the topic of the ra’avad, without discussing the point as a whole, the ra’avad never claimed that hkb’h is corporeal, he simply said that profession of such a belief, due to its seeming evidence in jewish literature, does not classify someone as a kofer. Thus his work does not technically violate any of the 13, as much as it may reject one of them as not being obligatory, despite its correctness. Similar distinctions are made by Rav Yosef Albo, who rejects much of the 13 ikkarim’s indespensibility, without generally rejecting their truth.

  67. STEVE:

    regarding biegeleisen and the judaica stores you knock:

    a) have you stopped to consider why biegeleisen is one of the last seforim-only stores? presumably in a time when the seforim-buying market is larger than ever, shouldn’t we expect many more seforim-only stores?

    from what i understand the books are the least profitable of judaica stores’ wares. (a friend who works in a store once told me that for this reason they don’t take as much of a hit from the YU seforim sale as we might think.) thus the only reason that you can even go into a store like eichlers (should you so choose) is because your seforim purchases are effectively being subsidized by the chachkes consumers.

    2) i’m surprised that you wouldn’t have greater appreciation for the chachkes. not everyone can be an intellectual. what wrong if amcha’s derech to hakadosh barcuh hu is through good ol’ folk piety chachkes? (just for the record, i can’t stand the typical judaica store’s wares either, but they have their market.)

  68. IH-why would you not hesitate about taking a book of homiletics, which I would understand as being Drush, Musar or Chasidus into bathroom? I would maintain that the same is also a Cheftzah Shel Torah

    Abba-I have spent more than a few dollars in Eichlers and other stores that sell chachkes, but which have decent selections. Es Chatai Ani Mazkir to being a purist.

  69. Steve — when one broadens definitions too widely, the concept being defined loses its meaning.

  70. Steve and others-

    Ok. Maybe my definition of what a sefer is needs tweaking, but I still remain that it is a good “ball-park” definition.

    Regarding the value, holinees, and halachic weight of real Torah in a publication like the Jerusalem Post — I am undecided.

    Ari Enkin

  71. Steve-

    Why would a sefer that is not used anymore loose its inherent kedusha? I dont get it.

    Ari Enkin

  72. Lawrence Kaplan

    A well documented post.

    As to the defnition of a sefer: Tough question. I think a sefer is any book that is considered to be a sefer by the halakhic community.

    One thing is clear. To be a sefer, the book has to be about Jewish belief and practice from a traditional halakhic INSIDE view. Thus academic works, even by frum Jews like Elisheva Carlbach, don’t make the cut.

    Then, again, what about “critical” commentaries on Gemara, like those of Shamma Friedman and Steven Wald?

    And what about Jewish philosophy: the Guide, the 19 Letters, Halakhic Man. etc.? They meet Rabbi Enkin’s criteria. But can they be viewed as, are they viewed as sefarim? I’m not sure. Perhaps only certain genres make the cut. Again, I think it is matter of perception.

  73. Maybe we should be making a distinction between what qualifies as a sefer and what, without being a sefer, has some of its stringencies. For example, a history book that includes quotes from Tanach of Chazal is not a sefer, but I wouldn’t bring it in the bathroom because it contains parts that have kedushat sefer. A “Torah” book written by an apikoros? Since it should share the din of a sefer written by a min and you should burn it, maybe you can take it to the bathroom.
    On the other hand, a sefer in the fullest sense is a book I would without hesitation put next to a Chumash or a Shas in my bookshelf; or, more precisely, that I wouldn’t mind putting on top of another sefer. This, to my mind, excludes biographies, however “Torah-dik” or ‘Mussardik” or “frum” it might be; it might also exclude translated works. Then you have classical history sefarim: would you put Sefer ha-Dorot on top of a masechta?

  74. >One thing is clear. To be a sefer, the book has to be about Jewish belief and practice from a traditional halakhic INSIDE view. Thus academic works, even by frum Jews like Elisheva Carlbach, don’t make the cut.

    Yes, I know. I was trying to get R. Enkin to sharpen his definition (about Judaism, doesn’t violate the 13 ikarim – which I did not take literally, and felt the subsequent discussion about that angle was unnecessary).

    There are many gray areas. What about sifri dikduk? If memory serves R. Yaakov Emden held they may be read in the privy. By contrast, R. Nosson Kamenetzky reports that his father held that one may (should?) recite birkhas hatorah before reading sifrei dikduk.

    But even putting aside the obvious, that we simply have two different perspectives, even according to R. Yaakov Kamenetzky, did he mean only canonical works like the Mikhlol? What about non-canonical, late works, but traditionalist ones?

    There is a lot of gray.

    Chanoch may be on the right track as to how to approach it – although I disagree that a history book which quotes Tanach should not be brought into a bathroom. I suppose I lean toward R Emden’s view – sifrei dikduk, Jewish or Christian, were suffused with quotes from Tanach.

    In terms of things like putting biographies and such on top – what about semi-canonical works like the Masaaos of R. Binyanim of Tudela, which I think it is plain was considered once upon a time to be a standard work to be known by all erudite talmidei chachomim, and so forth?

  75. Since we’re restating, what I’ve been trying to get at is the difference between “sefarim” in the colloquial sense and “sefarim” that have, for lack of a better term, kedusha in the sense of a sefer torah.

    To pick 2 examples of gray items: I treat R. Freundel’s “Why we Pray What we Pray” the same was as I treat a Siddur; whereas R. Telushkin’s “Hillel” I do not treat the samee way I would treat a Talmud.

    And I treat Alter’s “Five Books of Moses” the same way I treat my JPS Tanach, the same way I treat my old Sinai Tanach or Mikraot Gedolot.

  76. Regarding quotes: is the kedusha of a pasuk dependent on: 1. the ktav itself (some will say that ktav ashuri has inherent kedusha); 2. the words and sentences; 3. the context (in the most litteral sense); 4. the thoughts it induces (sefer as sippur)? If you hold (1), even divrei chol printed in ktav ashuri should not be brought in the bathroom (remember how people, in North Africa for example, in the 50’s, would sometimes put Israeli food wrapping in the geniza, because it was “lashon ha-kodesh”); but a translated Tanach would be fine. If you hold (2), actual quotes of divrei Torah prevent any book containing them to be brought, or at least opened, in the bathroom. If you hold (3), it means the kedusha of a book is dependent on the intent of the author (was he writing from an “inside” perspective, as has been said) and on its recognition by the kahal (which can be historically fluctuating). If you hold (4), any book about Judaism is a lifnei iver in the bathroom…

  77. Steve: Have you actually been to Boro Park to look for books? Biegeleisen’s isn’t the “last” such store, although it may be the last to mostly stock new stuff. There are also Pinter’s on 14th Ave between 44th and 45th, and Seforim World, 3 doors down from Biegeleisen. Then there’s Z. Berman, which has, I think, two stores, one in Boro Park (17th Av and 50th St) and one in Flatbush (Coney Is Av between L and M), which is mostly new seforim – the one in Flatbush is set up as the Chaim Berlin bookstore, more or less.

  78. Panbo-I have been to BP more than a few times. I generally patronize Biegheleisen and Eichlers, as opposed to the stores you mentioned, but Biegeleisen hardly stocks mostly new stuff. Just take a look at the back of the store-where the treasures are kept.

  79. One should ___ shake sefarim from their case or bag in order to retrieve them

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