By Rabbi Yechezkel Feinhandler
Israel Bookshop / 340 pp
Review by: Rabbi Ari Enkin
The reality is that the laws of geniza and proper treatment and disposal of sefarim is a topic that has never been properly or thoroughly treated. This is because the relevant halachot of geniza are essentially scattered across generations of years of responsa literature and have generally never been properly gathered into a single comprehensive work. Until now.
Rabbi Yechezkel Feinhandler, son of the late, great, posek Rabbi Yisroel Pesach Feinhandler (author of Shu”t Avnei Yashfei), has performed the tremendous service of gathering and organizing all the relevant halachot of geniza and the proper treatment of sefarim, spanning scores of poskim and hundreds of years, into a single volume. Furthermore, the value of such a sefer is made exponentially greater due to the many modern-day questions that are simply not dealt with by the poskim of yesteryear. Indeed, they couldn’t have been dealt with, as such questions simply did not exist! The author skillfully finds precedents in ancient rulings to modern-day questions and “plugs them in” to address the realities of today. So too, the footnotes are filled with rulings of modern day authorities such as Rav Elyashiv, Rav Wosner, Rav Kaniesky, and Rav Karelitz. There are also countless situations (as this writer has now been further educated after reading this sefer) in which people do not even realize that they may have a serious geniza shayla on their hands regarding a certain text, object, or even food packaging. This volume is a very crisp and clear translation of the Hebrew original.
While most of the rulings in the sefer are normative, there are areas and situations where I felt that the author was unnecessarily strict. The environment, landfill space, and burial costs most be taken into consideration when deciding what truly needs geniza, and what truly doesnt. I have yet to see such considerations cited in the works of poskim. (Though Rav Carmi Wiseman of “Seviva Israel” tells me that Rav Yaakov Ariel has such a teshuva. I hope to get my hands on it shortly) More on this issue in a not-too-distant post. That being said, however, the author always cites alternative and even opposing views in his footnotes – something which is becoming less and less common in contemporary English halacha sefarim today. To me, citing alternative opinions demonstrates an author’s sincerity and “l’shem shamayim” in his efforts to educate the public on this or any other important and practical (often daily!) issues. For this reason alone, (though there are many others!) Ginzei Hakodesh has won itself the credibility, dignity, and authority of a competent halachic work.
The handsome and attractive volume is divided into three parts. The first section deals specifically with sefarim, how they are to be respected, treated and disposed of. The second section covers the laws and categories of “kedusha” and “tashmishei kedusha”. The third section deals with the treatment of “tashmishei mitzvah” such as tzitzit strings, lulavim and etrogim, and tefillin cases.
Readers will cover topics such as: the different levels of kedusha, sitting on a bed or bench that has a sefer on it, saving sefarim from a fire on Shabbat, proper care, treatment, and disposal of items such as sefarim, tefillin, mezuzot, Torah scrolls, lulavin, etrogim, tzitzit, sukka boards, and shofars, how to treat routine and mundane documents that contain Torah thoughts or the name of Hashem, the holiness of a synagogue and its accessories, candles used for mitzva purposes, and much more. Each of the twenty chapters opens with an inspiration story or teaching from our sages about the importance of the issue being dealt with in the upcoming chapter.
This is a job well done. These are halachot that everyone must be familiar with, or to at least to have such a sefer in one’s home for easy reference and access to these halachot. Indeed, between the Table of Contents and the detailed Index, all of one’s geniza shaylas can be easily accessed for practical guidance on how to conduct oneself. And one thing is for sure: this sefer is sure to change the way one treats sefarim and other ritual items, and by extension, increase one’s yirat shamayim.
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 Halacha Series” (5 Vol.) and the General Editor and Halacha columnist at Torahmusings.com. He welcomes books for review on the Torah Musings website. [email protected]