A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
SELECTED HALACHOS RELATING TO PARSHAS BO
PROPER RESPECT FOR SEFORIM
Sifrei kodesh, sacred scriptures, vary in their degree of kedushah,
holiness, and consequently, one accords them varying degrees of honor. A
Sefer Torah is given the most honor,(1) followed closely by other Sifrei
Tanach written on parchment. All other seforim, including the Talmud, its
commentators and codifiers, do not have the level of kedushah that a Sefer
Torah does, but still they must be treated with respect and dignity. In many
cases, the Rishonim rule that seforim are to be accorded the same level of
respect and honor as Tefillin.(2)
With the advent of the printing press in the fifteenth century, the Torah
authorities of the time debated if printed seforim have the same level of
kedushah as handwritten works. The consensus of the poskim was that a
printed sefer is to be treated no differently from a handwritten one. The
Taz,(3) the leading Torah personality of the time, warned that one who
demeans the holiness of printed seforim will suffer the consequences in the
world to come. With few exceptions, this has become the accepted
In the following pages we will cover some of the halachos that pertain to
the proper treatment of seforim.
SEFORIM ARE TREATED WITH DIGNITY AND RESPECT. THUS:
A sefer should be handed from one person to the other; it may not be
thrown or tossed around.(5)
A sefer should not be placed face down. If it is found in this position it
must be turned face up.(6)
A sefer should not be stood upside down. If it is found in this position,
it must be stood right side up.(7)
A sefer may not be placed, either lying or standing, directly on the
A sefer that fell to the ground must be picked up immediately, even if one
will have to interrupt his Torah learning to do so.(9) If a sefer falls to
the floor during Shemoneh Esrei and that interferes with one's kavanah, he
may pick it up after finishing the blessing that he is reciting(10), even if
it entails taking a few steps(11). If, however, the fallen sefer does not
disturb his kavanah, then he may not pick up the sefer during Shemoneh
One may not sit or lie on a chair, bench, couch or bed if a sefer is lying
or standing(13) directly(14) on it.(15) If, however, the bench or coach is
made of "split (separate) seats" it is permitted to sit on any seat other
than the one which holds the sefer.(16)
Some poskim prohibt sitting on top of a bench, chest or chair that have
seforim stored underneath,(17) while other poskim permit it.(18) In order to
satisfy both opinions it is recommended that there should be at least a
tefach of space between the seat and the sefer.(19)
One should not place any other sefer on top of a chumash,(20) or any sefer
other than a chumash on top of a nach.(21) All other seforim and siddurim,
however, are permitted to be placed randomly.(22) Moreover, some poskim
maintain that this halachah pertains only to chumashim and neviim which are
on a scroll, not to printed and bound chumashim and nach'im.(23)
SEFORIM ARE TREATED WITH KEDUSHAH. THUS:
It is prohibited for men (over the age of nine) or women (over the age of
three) to be completely unclothed in the presence of a sefer.(24) But it is
permitted to learn from a sefer in a swimming pool area.(25)
It is prohibited to enter a rest-room or a washroom with a sefer in hand,
unless the sefer is concealed in at least one covering. Preferably, the
sefer should be inside two coverings, e.g. one bag encased in another bag,
or an envelope inside an attaché case.(26)
A child should not be diapered or toilet-trained in a room full of
seforim. But it is permitted to diaper or train a child in a room where
there is an occasional sefer or bencher, etc.(27)
SEFORIM ARE FOR THE PURPOSE OF LEARNING ONLY; THEY MAY NOT BE USED FOR OTHER
It is prohibited to place anything,(28) except Chidushei Torah, inside a
sefer(29) or on top of a sefer.(30)
When learning from a sefer, it is permitted to use another sefer to raise
the height of the sefer one is learning from.(31)
It is prohibited to use a sefer for personal protection, e.g., to shield
oneself from the sun's rays; to block another person's view.(32) But one is
permitted to cover his face with a sefer so as to block a forbidden sight
from his eyes.(33)
It is permitted, when no other item is available, to use another sefer to
block the sun from shining on a sefer from which one is learning.(34)
When needed, it is permitted to use a sefer as a hard surface for writing
One may not place a sefer on his lap and lean on it with his elbows.(36)
One should also not lean or sleep on top of a sefer.(37)
AFTER LEARNING IS OVER . . .
It is prohibited to use a sefer as a bookmark by placing it inside another
Some poskim permit folding a page-corner of a sefer so that it serves as a
bookmark(39), while other poskim prohibit doing so(40).
One should avoid leaving a sefer open if he is leaving the room for an
extended period of time(41) because it is considered degrading to the sefer.
In addition, the chachamim say that doing so may cause one to forget his
There is no source in the poskim for the custom of kissing a sefer after
learning from it.(43)
When a sefer ages and is no longer usable, it must be put aside in a safe
place or buried in the ground. It may not be burned or trashed.(44)
1 See The Monthly Halachah Discussion, pgs. 21-31, concerning the special
halachos of honor and respect for a Sefer Torah.
2 Tosfos and Rosh, Berachos 26a, quoted in Bais Yosef, O.C. 240:6.
3 Y.D. 271:8. See also Beiur Halachah 83:5 s.v. ein, where the Chafetz
Chayim tells of a severe punishment that befell a particular family because
they were not careful in the kedushah of their seforim.
4 Mishnah Berurah 40:4. A minority view, led by the Chavos Yair and Eliyahu
Rabba, disagrees and maintains that printed matter is on a lower level of
kedushah than handwritten material; ibid. In extenuating circumstances, we
take this opinion into consideration; see Kaf ha-Chayim 40:16 and Shevet
ha-Levi 2:143; 6:8. In addition, some authorities hold that seforim in
offset print are yet on an even lesser level of kedushah since offset is
merely a photograph of the print; see Mahrasham 3:357 and Sefer Shevilei
Taharah, pgs. 176-180.
5 Y.D. 282:5.
6 Rama Y.D. 282:5. See Shiyurei Berachah ibid. who bemoans the fact that
many people are not aware of this strict prohibition.
8 Rama Y.D. 282:7. Harav Y.S. Elyashiv and Harav C. Kanievsky are quoted
(Nekiyus Vekavod Batfillah, pg. 97 and pg. 187) as ruling that placing a bed
sheet or a newspaper on the floor is not sufficient. See also Orchos
Rabbeinu, vol. 3, pg. 163, who was careful not to place seforim within a
tefach of the ground.
9 Bais Lechem Yehudah Y.D. 282:7; Aruch ha-Shulchan 282:11. It is customary
to kiss a sefer after picking it up from the floor; ibid.
10 Mishnah Berurah 96:7.
11 Be'er Moshe 3:13.
12 Mishnah Berurah 96:7, based on Pri Megadim.
13 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (oral ruling quoted in Avnei Yashfei 1:16) and Harav
C. Kanievsky (written responsum published in Nekiyus Vekavod Batfillah, pg.
14 If the sefer is lying or standing on an object which is at least a tefach
high, it is no longer considered as if it is lying or standing on the bench
or chair; Shach 282:8 and Aruch ha-Shulchan 282:12.
15 Rama Y.D. 282:7. [In a crowded beis medrash where it may be difficult to
observe this halachah, some poskim permit sitting on a bench together with
the seforim; see Shach 282:9. A rabbi should be consulted.]
16 Shevet ha-Levi 3:11. Some poskim permit sitting on the same bench with
seforim so long as there is a barrier between them; Teshuras Shai 2:169,
quoted in Tzedakah U'mishpat 16, note 61.
17 Taz Y.D. 282:4. If the chest or bench is nailed to the wall, it is
26 Mishnah Berurah 40:4. Putting a sefer into one's pants pocket is
considered as one "cover." When the pocket is covered with a jacket or an
overcoat, it is considered as two coverings; Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Nekiyus
Vekavod Batfillah, pg. 94). [See Machazeh Eliyahu 8:30 who opines that a
pocket with a lining is considered a double covering.]
27 See Machazeh Eliyahu 5-8 for an entire review of this subject. See also
Teshuvos Vehanhagos 2:137.
28 One should not place parts of torn pages from one sefer in between the
pages of another sefer; Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Avnei Yashfei 1:202).
29 Pischei Teshuvah Y.D. 282:17; Mishnah Berurah 154:31; Aruch ha-Shulchan
Y.D. 282:23. This includes blank sheets of paper which will be used for
Chidushei Torah. See, however, Igros Moshe O.C. 4:72 who permits placing
blank paper intended for Chidushei Torah in a sefer.