Siman 154 What is Considered a "Tashmish Kedusha"

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #89: Siman 154


by Rav Asher Meir



89.  SIMAN 154 - SEIFIM 1-8




In the MB and BH on our siman, we find three distinct levels of sanctification or dedication:


1.  KEDUSHA: Sifrei Torah, tefillin, and mezuzuot are considered to have actual "kedusha" - holiness.  These are not profane items which were then dedicated to holy use but rather items whose very creation is predicated on an intention to invest them with sanctity.


The MB adds another member of this category in s.k.7.  According to the above definition, is this addition still relevant nowadays (for printed books)? The Mishna Berura (s.k.9) seems to imply that it is - but pay attention to the source (from a son of the Rosh, who lived about a hundred years before Gutenberg).  We discuss this issue in detail below.


2.  TASHMISHEI KEDUSHA - items which serve (mishamesh) objects of kedusha.  An example would be  a Torah cover. 


The MB in s.k.7 adds the pouch in which tefillin are held.  Nowadays almost everyone keeps his tefillin in special boxes (the MB calls this a "nartik" - see e.g. MB 42:2.) which cover the whole tefillin.  Is the pouch still considered a "tashmish kedusha?" According to s.k.14, it depends on whether we view the pouch as  HONORING the tefillin or as PROTECTING them.  (For the answer to the question, see Beur Halakha at the end of siman 34 - d.h.  "shtei zugot.")


3.  TASHMISHEI MITZVA - items which are set aside to be used for a mitzva.  In s.k.6 the MB refers us to siman 21; there he mentions the examples of succa, lulav, and shofar.  In siman 153 (s.k.37 and 48) the MB implies that a beit knesset also belongs in this category.


The fact that the second level is called a "TASHMISH kedusha" and the third doesn't have the word "kedusha" in its description at all does not mean that levels two and three do not have "kedusha." Of course they do, and the MB refers several times to "kedushat beit knesset." (Example in our siman: BH d.h. "aval aron.") Here are some of the differences.


1.  DIVREI KEDUSHA can certainly never be used for any other purpose.  Their sanctity can never be conditional.  Even preparing something (hazmana) for kedusha may sanctify it.  (SA Orach Chaim 42:3.)


2.  TASHMISHEI KEDUSHA even if sold in a permissible way retain their sanctity.  (MB 153:37.)  However, their sanctity CAN be originally conferred temporarily or conditionally.  (Rema on Orach Chaim 42:3).  The Beur Halakha in our siman (d.h.  tashmishei kedusha) discusses if it is ever possible for their sanctity to lapse barring an explicit condition.


3.  TASHMISHEI MITZVA if sold in a permissible way lose all of their sanctity - though under some conditions the proceeds may retain it.  (MB 153:37.)


In many places the MB refers to a fourth category "tashmish detashmish" - something which serves a "tashmish kedusha."  These have NO sanctity (MB 42:9) and the MB on our siman (s.k.6) indicates that at any time they may be diverted to secular purposes.




In s.k.31, the MB lists a number of restrictions which demonstrate our reverence for "sifrei kodesh" - holy books.  (Interestingly, one of them is discussed in hilkhot Shabbat - see SA Orach Chaim 315:7 and the MB there).  Are these restrictions due to the holiness of the OBJECT of the book?  If that is the case, we need to ask if the printing process is halakhically equivalent to writing, and is equally capable of investing an object with sanctity.  Or are they due to respect for the WORDS OF TORAH which we can learn from the books - in which case the restrictions should certainly  apply to printed books and perhaps even to magnetic media (audio and video cassettes, floppy disks) and optical media (CD-ROM's - like the ones I use in preparing these shiurim to provide them with the "virtual bekiut" their preparation demands)?




Some chronology is in order.  Moveable type was invented by Gutenberg around the year 5210, secular date 1450.  Within a generation Hebrew printing was widespread; for instance, I have found several responsa of the Re'em (Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi - passed away in 5258/1498 CE) which refer to books of "defus" - printing.  The Re'em often compares the printed books with manuscripts which constituted all sefarim until the advent of Hebrew printing.


This time period is just about the generation which separates Rishonim from Acharonim (Avraham Brauner's book classifies the Re'em as a Rishon and his student Maharam Alshaker, who was born about fifteen years later, as an Acharon) and we could even characterize the "Acharonim" as that generation of scholars who grew up with printed books.


One by-product of printing was a lot of Torah material which was discarded.  The printing process itself produced waste such as galleys, trial printings, pages which didn't turn out and so on.  In addition, the monumental decrease in the price of books meant that books would be considered worn-out at an earlier stage of their decline.


For centuries, the bindings of books were made by gluing together and pressing pages from discarded books, and among these discarded books were Hebrew holy books.  This problem is decried in the MB s.k.31.  Over three hundred years earlier this practice disturbed the Maharshdam (YD 184); and the claims of the binders that they had received a lenient ruling in the matter did not seem credible to him.


The Maharshdam suggests four possible reasons for leniency:


1.  Printing is not "writing" but rather "engraving" - "chakika."


2.  In printing, many letters are printed all at once - as opposed to writing in which each letter is written individually.


3.  Torah scroll, tefillin and mezuzot need to be written on parchment; books are printed on paper.


4.  Hand-written books are written with intention (lishma), unlike printed books which are created automatically.


Ultimately, he rejects all four candidates.


Regarding ENGRAVING, the Maharshdam cites a responsum of the Rambam (268) in which the Rambam explicitly rules that there is no difference between writing, engraving or even embroidering.  The Rambam proves this from Yoma 37b which indicates that the oath of the Sota was engraved on a metal tablet, and even so had to be written in a special shorthand so as to evade the prohibition of writing Torah verses other than in a chumash.


Regarding the simultaneous printing of the letters, as far as I can tell this is not discussed in the Maharshdam nor in the Rambam which he uses as a reference.  However, we could readily bring a proof from Yoma 38b.  The mishna relates that the Sages denounced Ben Kamtzar who refused to "teach writing." The gemara explains that he had the ability to take four quills between his five fingers and write a four-letter word all at once.  Since the Sages considered this a valuable skill which was worthy to be transmitted to others, it seems obvious that such writing is kosher.


Regarding paper, the responsum cites Shabbat 61b which requires geniza even for names which are written on the handle of a utensil or on furniture legs.


Regarding the problem of intention, the Maharshdam cites Shabbat 116a which teaches us that books written by non-Jews who are not "minim" - meaning that the books were not written with specific idolatrous intention - may be saved from the fire on Shabbat like other holy books.  It is clear to the Maharshdam that the intention of such a non-Jew has no special halakhic status, and he proves this from the inability of a non-Jew to write a get.  Furthermore, the Maharshdam claims that even some books which we do NOT save are still forbidden to discard and require geniza.


This means that printed books are considered "sifrei kodesh" LECHUMRA - they are subject to the STRICTURES of holy books.  What about LEKULA - do they qualify as sifrei kodesh when these leniency's are required?


The Magen Avraham at the beginning of OC 284 cites the Levush, who writes that it is improper to read the haftara from printed books, since these are not written like megillot or sifrei Torah.  It would be better, says the Levush, to write the books by hand on parchment even if only the haftarot are written, and not the entire books of Neviim.  The Magen Avraham takes the opposite approach.  Writing partial books is permissible only in "shaat hadechak" - when there is duress .  Since today we have ENTIRE printed books which are relatively inexpensive AND have the sanctity of sifrei kodesh, we MUST use these.

The Magen Avraham cites Rav Menachem Azaria (93) who rules that a get may be printed and that this is considered writing "lishma" - for the sake of a bill of divorce.  (This Magen Avraham is cited by the MB at the beginning of 284.)

The Taz on YD 271:8 also rules unequivocally that printing is considered writing, and that printed books have full kedusha.  The Taz asks, what difference does it make if I bring the ink to the paper (via a pen) or the paper to the ink (via a press)? (And in ink-jet printers, the ink is actually brought to the paper in a way which resembles writing even more).

Another seminal responsa on this question is the Masat Binyamin (a student of the Rema) siman 99-100, who also rules that printed books have kedusha.

We should point out that all of these responsa were written when printing presses were still run by hand.  With a machine press, we need to decide if doing something by machine can be considered "lishma."  This was discussed starting about 150 years ago around the question of whether machine-baked matzas are fit for "matzot mitzva." (Rav Shlomo Kluger author of "Chokhmat Shlomo" was among the first to rule stringently, Rav Yosef Shaul Natanzon author of "Shoel u-Meshiv" among the first to rule leniently - and the dispute continues to this day.) Since many authorities are lenient in that case, we certainly have reason to be stringent in our case. 

Of course, this assumes that in fact the machine is operated with an intention to create sifrei kodesh - just as the matza machine needs to be operated "leshem matzot mitzva." If the machine is operated by a non-Jew, then there is no "lishma." Likewise, it is possible to make a condition that the printing is not "leshem kitvei hakodesh" - for the sake of creating sifrei kodesh.  The Chazon Ish (end of YD 164:3) recommends making an explicit condition that the printing is for the sake of "a mere concatenation of letters" - "tzeiruf otiot bealma."

Scores of responsa have been written on related topics such as the requirement of geniza, the problem of melting down the plates (which are impressed in mirror image), the possibility of recycling the paper (this could be consistent with a requirement for geniza since the recycling bin itself is clean, since the person putting the paper in is not destroying it, and since the recycler may be able to rely on the fact that the vast majority of the paper is NOT geniza) and so on. 

However, as far as the specific rulings of our siman are concerned, it seems that the accepted view is that printed books should be considered to be "sifrei kodesh" and all of the customs of reverence should apply to them.


There is an entirely separate reason to respect these books.  Even if they do not have an intrinsic sanctity, they should be respected because they are a vehicle for learning Torah.  (See Avot 6:3.) For a parallel reason, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe YD I:173, YD II:142) rules that while erasing a tape recording of Hashem's name is not a transgression of the prohibition to erase a written name, it should preferably be avoided because it smacks of disrespect.


There is a famous piece of Yeshiva folklore about a certain member of the Soloveitchik family who was learning in a certain eminent yeshiva and finding the space available too small for his pile of books proceeded to stack them on the floor.  An unfortunate young bachur politely suggested that this could possibly be considered disrespectful, and found himself overcome by a withering barrage of Bavlis, Yerushalmis, Rishonim and Acharonim all proving that their could be no possible objection to this behavior.  Unfortunately, the folk story does not indicate the actual list of sources, and I can only rely on the sources which I was able to find - sources which seem to lead to a different conclusion.