Sefarim – Part II

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Sefarim should be displayed in an honorable place in one’s home.[1] Be sure to keep your sefarim and sefarim shelves clean, neat, and tidy,[2] and only handle them with clean hands.[3] It is considered a show of honor to return sefarim to their designated place on the shelf after use and not to simply leave them lying meaninglessly around.[4] Sefarim which one inherits should not be sold unless it is to purchase newer sefarim in their place.[5]

It is customary to kiss a sefer before and after making use of it[6] as well as when picking up a sefer that has fallen to the floor.[7] If one has dropped more then one sefer, all the sefarim should first be picked up prior to kissing any of them. Kissing sefarim is cited as a segula for remembering one’s studies as well as a remedy for forbidden speech.[8] Sefarim should not be placed face down and if we find sefarim lying in this way we should be sure to promptly correct it.[9] One should not sit on a couch or bench that has a sefer upon it in a way which would have one sitting parallel to the sefer. If the sefer is somewhat elevated however, it is permitted.[10] There have been documented cases of tragedies that have befallen those who had treated their sefarim disrespectfully.[11] Some have the custom to request forgiveness from one’s sefarim prior to Yom Kippur for possibly having treated them disrespectfully sometime during the year.[12]

One should be sure to always close a sefer, or to at least cover it, when pausing from one’s studies.[13] It is permitted, however, to leave sefarim open when engaged in other maters which are related to one’s studies, when pausing to relieve oneself, or other brief recess.[14] So too, if closing sefarim would cause unnecessary delays when resuming one’s studies, then it would be permissible to leave them open.[15] We are taught that one who needlessly leaves sefarim open runs the risk of forgetting one’s Torah studies.[16] There is a peculiar custom to place one’s fallen beard hairs between the pages of a sefer. This practice, however, is unbecoming and is discouraged.[17]

Even materials, such as pens and the like, that are used in the production of sefarim should be treated with respect.[18] If you drop both money and sefarim, pick the sefarim up first.[19] Similarly, if both your clothes and sefarim get dirty, clean the sefarim first.[20] Be sure to use a relatively clean cloth or towel when cleaning sefarim.[21] Never carry sefarim together with liquids which may spill and ruin them.[22] Be careful when photocopying pages of a sefer that it not get damaged in the process.[23]One would be well advised to cover up God’s name(s) when photocopying holy books so as to avoid issues of improper disposal later on.[24] It is interesting to note that there have been great rabbis who were known for never writing words of Torah on a paper containing anything secular,[25] though the halacha is not like this view.[26]

Although all sefarim are to be treated with equal reverence, a Chumash however is to be awarded added distinction.[27] As such, it is proper not to place any sefer on top of a Chumash,[28] though some authorities are lenient.[29] It is also best to try to curb any flatulence in the presence of sefarim[30] and should one need to enter a bathroom with a sefer it must be enclosed with a double covering.[31] In fact, one should be sure that one’s sefarim shelves don’t face the washroom.[32] When in doubt on how to treat sefarim, just treat them as you would a best friend![33]


[1] Birchei Yosef Y.D. 277:2

[2] Pele Yoetz;Sefer

[3] Birchei Yosef Y.D. 277:2

[4] Minhag Yisrael Torah 246:44

[5] Sefer Chassidim 869

[6] Minhag Yisrael Torah 246:44

[7] Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 282:11

[8] Minhag Yisrael Torah 246:44

[9] Rema Y.D. 282:5, Aruch Hashulchan 282:11, Sefer Chassidim 943

[10] Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 282:12, see Shach Y.D. 282:9 for an alternative approach

[11] Sefer Chassidim 911, Biur Halacha 83:5

[12] Minhag Yisrael Torah 606:1

[13] Bach Y.D. 277, Aruch Hashulchan 277:2, Minhagei Yeshurun p.103

[14] Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 277:20

[15] Minhag Yisrael Torah 246:44

[16] Shach Y.D. 277:1

[17] Minhag Yisrael Torah O.C. 154:5

[18] Sefer Chassidim 892

[19] Sefer Chassidim 923

[20] Sefer Chassidim 896

[21] Sefer Chassidim 915

[22] Sefer Chassidim 891

[23] Sefer Chassidim 877

[24] Bnei Banim 3:20

[25] Avodat Hagershuni 17, Yehuda Yaaleh Y.D. 1:11

[26] Afraksta D’anya 1:2

[27] Sefer Chassidim 928,929

[28] Y.D. 282:19

[29] Rema Y.D. 282:1

[30] Sefer Chassidim 908

[31] Mishna Berura 40:4

[32] Sefer Chassidim 903

[33] Iggeret Hamussar of R. Yehudah Ibn Tibbon

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

47 comments

  1. I heard R’ Reisman quote R’ Pam that one should learn from a sefer that has been dropped, I’ve not seen this written.
    KT

  2. I remember the great revelation when my brother pointed out that those who learn seriously don’t really have the luxury of always kissing books.

    “There have been documented cases of tragedies that have befallen those who had treated their sefarim disrespectfully.”

    I’m second to none when it comes to treating sefarim respectfully, but “documented?” Really? I do not think it means what you think it means.

  3. Be careful when photocopying pages of a sefer that it not get damaged in the process.[23]
    [23] Sefer Chassidim 877

    – Really? Sefer Chassidim discusses photocopying sefarim?? Surely this is a mistaken reference.

  4. Nachum and Apio-

    The sources are legit and accurate, though they are ‘adapted’, Take a look.

    Ari Enkin

  5. I am sorry, you cant always cover yourself with a footnote.
    There is no way to “document” a causal relationship between sin a particular “misdeed” and subsequent suffering.

    Great care must be taken in citing sources such as these, for they regularly lead people to sins far far worse than mistreating seforim. eyen arachim: chavrei Iyov, onaat devarim and yoharah.

  6. Lawrence Kaplan

    Re “documented cases of tragedies”: Rabbi Enkin: I’m with Nachum and Moshe on this. Not every source, even if “legit,” has to be cited. Be a bit more selective and sensitive.

  7. Ok. Ok. Mussar accepted.

    Ari Enkin

  8. The requirement to keep sefarim face-up makes no sense; either way, half the pages are face down!

    (telling this to the “siddur flipper” in shul tends to provoke disbelief and/or rage. I do not advise it for the faint of heart.

  9. “The sources are legit and accurate, though they are ‘adapted’, Take a look”
    aren’t we supposed to be sensitive to historical anachronisms on this blog?

  10. apio: This isn’t an anachronism. R. Enkin should have phrased his footnote as “See Sefer Chasidim 877” rather than “Sefer Chasisim 877”. I, for one, can forgive him this minor transgression.

  11. Unresolved from Part 1: what is a Sefer. In my view, there is a 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.

    Chanokh on May 26, 2011 at 5:32 am, in that thread, suggested some alternative methodologies to distinguish those with “kedusha” that should be treated appropriately. Perhaps a Sefarim Part III post is needed?

  12. “Ok. Ok. Mussar accepted.”

    Evidently it was not really accepted with that kind of response.

  13. IH-

    Its a good topic. I just havent done the research and dont have the answers.

    Ari Enkin

  14. Hey, it would certainly be nice to have said “Sources stress the importance of this point by citing stories of those who suffered when neglecting it.” Nothing wrong, and a lot right, with that.

    Funny line about siddurim being half upside-down, etw. But resting them upside down kills the binding.

  15. R. Enkin,

    These sorts of cutesy lists of obscure comments of halachacists seem to me to represent what is wrong with halacha education today. Hiding behind footnotes without every explaining the key ideas at stake. Jumping to conclusions without understanding the process. Writing in a declarative style about issues which are subject to debate or perhaps aren’t nearly mainstream. I don’t mean to be too negative, but I think it would be interesting to hear your intellectual defense for the types of articles you write in the forum you post them. If we didn’t know you to be an upstanding person, I would assume you were committing halachic malpractice by simply shoveling all of these ideas together, as if they were equally important. Is there some value in recording a hodgepodge of unexplained, often misleadingly footnoted, obscure sources? The only one I can think of is entertainment, but then the joke is really at your expense, and I’m not sure that is befitting the respect we owe learned people like you, and the Torah in general.

  16. Even if one questions the footnotes cited, I have yet to see a concept that exists with how we are to treat books of a secular nature.

  17. Curious-

    Thanks for the feedback. I enjoy teaching general information, knowledge, concepts, factoids, interest, lesser-known, etc. which I think the “Sefarim” posts do nicely.

    I dont beleive that every post has to be halacha l’maaseh or is otherwise “malpractice”.

    Ari Enkin

  18. RE: Secular books

    …with respect, not reference.

    All knowledge is God’s.

    Ari Enkin

  19. Ari, Steve just sent a coded message. He says that line whenever he wants to attack R’ Lamm’s ideas.

  20. Cute. [gulp]I think.

    A

  21. RE: Secular books

    …with respect, not reference.

    All knowledge is God’s.

    Ari Enkin

    I assume that was a typo (reference for reverence) rather than a Freudian slip 🙂

  22. Following the link provided by ronnie312 one more level, yields this citation apropos to our discussion:

    the disapproval of R. Isserlein of the practice of “spoiled, rich kids” who used a revolving table to avoid having to get up and get a book. (vol. 2, p. 39). The passage reads in full:

    The Leket Yosher was compiled by R. Yosef ben Moshe (1423-c.1490), a student of R. Israel Isserlein (1390-1460), the author of the Terumat HaDeshen. The Leket Yosher records R. Isserlein’s customs and rulings.

    אותם הבחורים העשירים המפונקים שעשו להם שולחנות כשיושבין במקומן הופכין השולחן לאי זה צד שירצו ועליו הרבה ספרים לא טוב הם עושים אדרבה כשמבקש אחר הספר ובא לו בטורח גודל זכור באותו מעשה מה שרוצה ללמוד, כמדומה לי שמצאתי לו סמך ב[יורה דעה] בסימן ג’ (שפח) ‘ולא כאלו שלומדין מתוך עידון’ וכו

    “Those rich, spoiled students that had made a revolving table which allowed for them to turn the table to get which ever book they wanted [without having to get up] such behavior is inappropriate. Instead, one who gets up to get a book and exerts themselves will remember that they had to look for the book [and will remember what the book said]. It seems to me [R. Yosef] that support for this position [that frowns upon the turntable] can be found in Yoreh Deah where it says “one should not study in luxury.'”

    http://seforim.blogspot.com/2008/01/in-recent-discussion-in-journal-or.html

  23. Sorry. 2nd & 3rd paras transposed in my cutting-and-pasting.

  24. Are the little pamphlets or booklets handed out by Breslover Chassidim, in return for a charitable donation, which usually contain divrai brachah or segulot for mazel, health, parnasah, shidduch etc. considered sefarim? Or is that too much of a stretch?

  25. lawrence kaplan

    Curious: Actually I think this particular post of R. Enkin, with the exception of the very unfortunately worded sentence of “Documented cases of tragedies,” seems to be a reasonable collection of sources on how to properly take care of and respect sefarim.

  26. lawrence kaplan:

    Even though this post doesn’t quote as many obscure sources as others, the overall style is very troubling. “should be”, “is to be”, “is customary”, “be sure to” All of these words give no indication of subtlety or nuance, provide no insight into how the halacha or custom actually works, which communities practice it, etc. It’s almost as if it were written for little children who can’t handle any complexity. R. Schachter always emphasizes the importance of knowing what is d’oraiysa, what is d’rabbanan, what is a minhag and what type of minhag it is. He emphasizes this because the approach of just grouping everything together indiscriminately is pedagogically and theologically dangerous.

  27. Interesting and helpful comments about respecting seforim-but please leave the segulas out entirely -or place them in one parenthesized paragraph.

  28. Ditto to everyone above on the segulos/bad things happen stuff…

    Re: the point IH made – one of my Rebbeim in EY (Bais Yisroel if that’s relevant) would fold his gemaros like one might a paperback. When asked about that, he said (IIRC) they don’t have inherent kedusha, there’s no reason not to. I believe he differentiated seforim as those written as one might a sefer Torah.

  29. Sorry, but we’re probably not going to be able to excise segulos from our Jewish tradition. They’re too deeply woven into it. For example (Shab. 23B):

    אמר רב הונא הרגיל בנר הויין ליה בנים תלמידי חכמים הזהיר במזוזה זוכה לדירה נאה הזהיר בציצית זוכה לטלית נאה הזהיר בקידוש היום זוכה וממלא גרבי יין

    Perhaps one should distinguish between acts that would be meritorious even without the segulah attached, such as the above, and acts that are meaningful only as a segulah.

    If so, treating holy books with respect seems to fall into the former category.

  30. That is the point.It is meritorious wuthout the need for segulos.

  31. Affixing a mezuzah is a mitzvah in the Torah, but Rav Huna saw fit to add that if you’re careful about it, you’ll merit to have a nice home.

    That’s my point: statements of this type are part of our tradition. You’re not going to be able to “purify” Judaism from them.

  32. MiMedinat HaYam

    according to IH’s leket yosher, does the ramoh approve of http://www.hebrewbooks.org or bar ilan or any of the other databases? too easy?

    perhaps a new chumra?

    (of course, i (personally) would extend the disapproval to the “shtender” issue.)

  33. MiMedinat HaYam

    i’m sorry — i now see the article extends my words to the aetscroll issue.

    cant be a chumra — artscroll pay$ dearly (to appropriate yeshivish sources) for their “license”.

    but i always wondered in yeshiva why doesnt someone take all the (major) rishonim and achronim and reprint in a separate book. i see its now done for all the “yeshivish” masechtos. perhaps they should reprint this “leket yosher” in the front, right next to the r nechuniah ben hakanah?

  34. lawrence kaplan

    Rabbi Enkin in his one reference to segulot wrote “Kissing sefarim IS CITED as segulah for…” I think in his first posts he would have written “Kissing sefarim is a segulah for…” So, let’s give him credit for making progress–thanks to our criticisms.

  35. Footnote 29: Rema on 282:1. Should this be 282:2? Not sure if this says anything about placing sefarim on top of another. The sif seems to only address standing up for a sefer torah/chumash. Please advise.

  36. Menachem-

    Shkoyach!

    Footnote 29 should read: Rema, YD 283:1; Aruch Hashulchan, YD 282:22.

    Ari Enkin

  37. Affixing a mezuzah is a mitzvah in the Torah, but Rav Huna saw fit to add that if you’re careful about it, you’ll merit to have a nice home.

    That is nothing more than asserting mida keneged mida reward.

  38. yeah…I meant ‘reverence’..

    Ari Enkin

  39. Interesting how “Sefarim – Part II” got me in more “trouble” than Part I. On the whole, most of Part II is practical and followed widely with all sources cited from “normative” and “accessible” texts.

    Thank you to all supporters as well as constructive critisizers.

    Ari Enkin

  40. Ari Enkin:
    One final criticism: You misspelled “critisizers.” Correct spelling is “criticizers.” Forgive me for criticizing.

  41. R’ Enkin –

    What about the dreaded upside-down printed sefer? I have a few of these, and I’m never sure how to keep it in the shelf. I keep it upside down (with the binding right-side up) just so that people don’t constantly tell me that one of the sefarim is upside-down.

    Any ideas?

  42. Lawrence Kaplan

    The word is “critics.”

  43. Jenny-

    Good question. I have not seen a solution anywhere, but it makes sense to keep the sefer face up based on the inside pages even if the cover was put on upside down.

    Ari Enkin

  44. MiMedinat HaYam

    is your name really jenny? can i borrow an airplane stamp?

    i disagree with r ari. the cover decides, since thats the (overall) appearance.

  45. R. Gil,
    Using the print icon deletes about half the footnotes.
    Any ideas?
    Thanks

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