By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
Each week at most synagogues worldwide, especially those in major Jewish communities, dozens of “parsha sheets” are distributed. These parsha sheets are generally published by different yeshivot and community organizations.
Let’s face it, most such organizations only have one true goal in mind when producing these “parsha sheets”, and that is, to promote their cause, both financially and philosophically. Indeed, in most parsha sheets, the advertising –-usually not Shabbat compatible, by the way– comprises more than 40% of the space. Spreading Torah is not the primary goal or purpose in these sheets.
Make no mistake. I am not criticizing nor opposing these parsha sheets in any way. Most such sheets include wonderful and useful divrei Torah. But what I am ranting about is the geniza pandemonium that ensues after Shabbat: garbage, geniza, or recycling? Most of these parsha sheets do not contain one of God’s seven primary names nor do they even contain full pesukim. As such, I want to suggest that such sheets need not be placed in the geniza, but rather in a recycling bin, or even respectfully disposed of in the garbage. This is because it is generally agreed that printed material, whether in Hebrew or any other language, containing only references to God, such as the letters “bet-hei” at the top of a page, do not require geniza and may be placed in the trash. So too, most authorities rule that books and documents containing the word “God” do not require geniza.
It was the view of Rav Moshe Feinstein that sefarim of all kinds that have worn out and are no longer usable may be placed in a recycling bin. Although this ruling was not widely accepted, I would like to suggest, that perhaps we should apply it to the mass-produced parsha sheets that are distributed each week. Indeed, there are grounds, in general, for leniency regarding recycling printed Torah sheets that were never intended for long-term use or storage, such as these parsha sheets. It is interesting to note that the custom in Worms (“Vermaiza”) was to burn all the geniza material that accumulated during the year in a special Simchat Torah bonfire.
There also doesn’t seem to be many poskim who take the environment and land resources into consideration. Without getting into the halacha or politics, this reminds me of shemitta year when many feel more pious by rejecting any and all lenient considerations and arrangements for purchasing Jewish grown produce. Instead, such people purchase all their fruits and vegetables over the course of an entire year from our friends at Hamas in Gaza. Indeed, I remember reading an article in one of the Israeli newspapers on how Hamas looks forward to shemitta year, awaiting the extra income that “assists them in their cause”. It is too bad that supporting terrorism has yet to make it to the teshuvot of contemporary poskim for possible leniency in certain aspects of shemitta observance. Supporting Hamas is an issur d’oraita, while possibly eating the “wrong type” of fruit or vegetable in the shemitta year is at worst an issur d’rabanon.
The world of geniza is not much different. Being machmir on something that may not truly need geniza is being meikil on the environment, the landfill space, human and financial resources, and much more. Let’s not forget that in most cases these parsha sheets are brought into the synagogue without formal permission. Why should the gabbaim of the shul be forced to deal with these sheets after Shabbat each week?
And here’s something that REALLY really gets to me: Many people subscribe to the view that divrei Torah in newspapers must be put in geniza. Ok. I can accept that. But what drives me mad is that most such people are too lazy to cut out the Torah articles, and instead throw the *entire* newspaper into the geniza to accommodate their convenience! Have such people ever considered the land space, costs, time, and schlepping that they are placing on others because they are too lazy to cut out the divrei torah? Shame on them! Yatza secharam b’hefseidam.
In any event, while it might be ideal for one to cut out the Torah content from religious newspapers in order to place it in a geniza, many authorities allow one to simply place such content into a recycling bin or even to “respectfully dispose” of it in the regular trash. Under no circumstances, should one simply dump an entire newspaper into the geniza because one wishes to conduct oneself stringently with regard to the disposal of the Torah content, but is too lazy to remove the Torah articles individually.
Based on these and other considerations, I suggest that synagogue and school newsletters and other “parsha sheets” containing Torah thoughts may be respectfully discarded in the household trash bin or the recycling bin.This includes all English Torah materials, or even Hebrew materials that don’t quote entire Torah verses, or at least omit the name of God.
While preparing this essay I was told that this was the view of Rav Aharon Soloveitchik and it is the practice in the “Soloveitchik” shul in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Baruch Shekivanti.
For like-minded thinking see:
1 Igrot Moshe, YD 2:138; Rivevot Ephraim 3:609,4:203; Yechave Daat 3:78.
2 YD 179:11, Shach ad loc.; Mishna Berura 85:10.
3 Har Tzvi, YD 231, 233; Ein Yitzchak 5.
4 Nitei Gavriel, Sukkot, page 472.
5 Chazon Ish, YD 164:3; Minchat Yitzchak 1:17; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:553,554.
6 Shraga Hameir 5:61:1; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:553,554.
7 See Bnei Banim 3:20 on this issue including other solutions for the disposal of holy writings.