Contemporary American Reform Responsa
108. Burial of Old Bibles and Prayerbooks
QUESTION: If a scholar dies, is it permissible to bury a worn Tanakh which had been part of her library along with the body? This would be done in keeping with the custom of burying old Bibles and prayerbooks (Rabbi L. Englander, Mississauga, ON).ANSWER: The custom of “hiding” or burying a worn Torah, Bible or prayerbook is, of course, connected with the basic prohibition against misusing or erasing the name of God (Deut. 12:3, 4; Sifre, ed. Friedman, p. 87b; Sefer Hahinukh #437). A Torah or other sacred book which was no longer fit to use was not to be kept (Rashi to Ket. 19b). It was to be buried in an earthen jar in the grave of a scholar (Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 154.5; Rashi to Ber. 47b explained that this meant a scholar who may only have studied Bible and Mishnah, not necessarily Gemarah). In other words, there is a well-established custom of burying a worn Torah or Hebrew book in the grave of a scholar. It has been mentioned in the Tur and earlier. I do not know whether the custom is Ashkenazic or Sephardic in origin, but I would suspect it to be Ashkenazic. One might ask the further question whether this custom could also be carried out for a scholarly woman. Certainly tradition would not permit it, but we as Reform Jews seek to treat men and women equally and would, of course, permit this practice for women as for men.May 1978
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