Treatment and Disposal of Religious Articles

Many mitzvot demand the use of a specific item in order to fulfill that mitzvah.  When that item is used for a mitzvah it is given certain significance.  This article will discuss whether these items are suitable for non-mitzvah activities as well as the proper method of disposal of these items. 

Tashmishei Kedusha and Tashmishei Mitzvah

The Gemara, Megillah 26b, quotes a Beraita that states that in order to dispose of Tashmishei Kedusha, they must be buried, whereas tashmishei mitzvah may be disposed of in an ordinary manner.  The examples of tashmishei kedusha given by the Beraita are various cases and covers for sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot.  The examples of tashmishei mitzvah given by the Beraita are: sukkah, lulav, shofar and tzitzit.  Based on the examples given by the Beraita, the distinction between tashmishei kedusha and tashmishei mitzvah is evident.  Tashmishei kedusha are items that are accessories for articles of STaM (the acronym for Sefer Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzah).  Tashmishei mitzvah are items that are used to perform mitzvot not related to STaM.

The rule that tashmishei mitzvah may be disposed of implies that one is not required to treat tashmishei mitzvah with any sanctity.  Nevertheless, there may be a few limitations.  First, R. Achai Gaon, She'iltot D'Rav Achai Gaon no. 126, states that one may not use tashmishei mitzvah for any purpose other than performance of the mitzvah.  He explains that tashmishei mitzvah are sanctified while they are still designated for performance of the mitzvah.  If they are no longer designated for performance of the mitzvah, they no longer have sanctity and may be disposed of in an ordinary manner.  Tur, Orach Chaim 21, disagrees and maintains that tashmishei mitzvah have no sanctity and one may use them for any purpose.  [See Bach, ad loc., who notes that even Tur agrees that while the item is actively in use for the performance of the mitzvah, one may not use it for any other purpose.]  Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 21:1, rules in accordance with the opinion of R. Achai Gaon.  [Taz, Orach Chaim 21:3, notes that even R. Achai Gaon agrees that there is a special exception regarding a talit katan.  A talit katan is a garment that is worn constantly and the mitzvah of tzitzit already assumes that certain activities must be performed while wearing this garment.  For this reason it is permissible to enter the restroom wearing a talit katan and it is also permissible to sleep in a talit katan (see Shulchan Aruch and Rama, Orach Chaim 21:3).] 

Second, Ran, Shabbat 48b, s.v. Megufat, quotes the opinion of Ra'avad that even after one no longer plans on using tashmishei mitzvah, they may not be used in an irreverent manner.  When one no longer plans on using them, they should be disposed of.  Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 21:2, codifies the opinion Ra'avad. 

The Status of Religious Articles Prior to their Use

There is a dispute in the Gemara, Sanhedrin 47b-48a, regarding the method of initiation of tashmishei kedusha.  Abaye is of the opinion that an item is considered a tashmish kedusha from the moment that it is designated as an item that will serve as a tashmish kedusha.  Rava disagrees and maintains that an item is not considered a tashmish kedusha until it is actually used and designated for that purpose.  The case discussed by the Gemara is a bag that was made to hold tefillin and the tefillin were not yet placed in the bag.  According to Abaye, the bag is considered a tashmish kedusha and one may not use the bag for any other purpose.  According to Rava, since the bag was never used for the tefillin one may use the bag for a different purpose.  If one follows the opinion of R. Achai Gaon, the same rules would apply to tashmishei mitzvah (see Sefer HaItur, Hilchot Tzitzit 2:2).  Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 42:3, rules in accordance with the opinion of Rava.

R. Zerachia HaLevi, Ba'al HaMaor, Sukkah 4b, and Ran, Sanhedrin 15a, s.v. Itmar, note that the dispute between Abaye and Rava is limited to STaM accessories.  Regarding the actual STaM items, Ran claims that Rava agrees that the kedusha sets in at the time of its designation.  Therefore, Ran rules that if one prepares leather for a tefillin box or parchment for a sefer Torah, tefillin, or mezuzah, it cannot be used for any other purpose.  Ramban, Milchamot HaShem, Sukkah 4b, disagrees and claims that there is no distinction between the actual STaM items and their accessories.  Neither is considered sanctified until it is used.

There is no clear consensus among the Acharonim as to how to rule on this issue. Rama, Orach Chaim 42:3, follows the opinion of Ba'al HaMaor and Ran.  Magen Avraham 42:6, sides with the opinion of Ramban.  Mishna Berurah 42:23, rules that one should be stringent on the matter. 

Secondary Accessories

The Gemara, Megillah 26b, states that the rule of tashmishei kedusha only applies to items that are a primary accessory to the STaM item.  If something is a secondary accessory (tashmish d'tashmish - an accessory to an accessory), it not considered a tashmish kedusha.  There is, however, a question regarding the exact status of a secondary accessory.  R. Yosef Teomim, P'ri Megadim, Mishbetzot Zahav, Orach Chaim 153:15,  states that a secondary accessory has absolutely no sanctity and may be used for any purpose.  However, R. Teomim, in his commentary on the Talmud entitled "Rosh Yosef" (Megillah 26b) states that a secondary accessory has the status of tashmishei mitzvah and may not be used for other purposes while one still intends to use it as a secondary accessory.  Mishna Berurah (42:9 and 153:6) rules that a secondary accessory has absolutely no sanctity.  However, he does rule that if the secondary accessory is an item that is part of a synagogue one must treat it with the sanctity that a synagogue item deserves.

The Status of the Ark

The Gemara, Megillah 26b, quotes Rava as ruling that the cabinets that house the sifrei Torah are considered tashmishei kedusha.  The Gemara questions the need for such a ruling, since it is quite obvious that these cabinets are tashmishei kedusha.  The Gemara answers that one might have thought that these cabinets are not meant to honor the sifrei Torah but rather to protect them and therefore, they are not considered tashmishei kedusha.

Mordechai, Megillah no. 822, understands that the conclusion of the Gemara is that something that houses the sifrei Torah is only considered a tashmish kedusha if it is built to honor the sifrei Torah.  If it is built for the purpose of protecting the sifrei Torah, it is not considered a tashmish kedusha.  Mordechai states further that any ark that is permanently fixed to the building is considered to be built for the purpose of protecting the sifrei Torah.  Mordechai's ruling is codified by Rama, Orach Chaim 154:3.  R. Shmuel Wosner, Shevet HaLevi 7:23, adds that even if the ark is built in a glorious manner, if it is attached to the building, it is assumed to be primarily for the purpose of protecting the sifrei Torah.

Mishna Berurah, Biur Halacha 154:3, s.v. Aval, presents an alternative understanding of the Gemara.  The Gemara's premise is that cabinets that are only meant to protect the sifrei Torah are not considered tashmishei kedusha.  However, the conclusion is that even if they are only meant to protect the sifrei Torah, they are considered tashmishei kedushaMishna Berurah posits that Rif, Megillah 8b, and Rabbeinu Asher, Megillah 3:3, understood this to be the conclusion of the Gemara.

Determining the status of the ark is relevant to the discussion of what may be placed in the ark.  Bach, Orach Chaim  154, rules that one may not place mundane items into the ark.  Mishna Berurah 154:31, notes that if the ark is connected to the building it is permitted.  However, Mishna Berurah, Sha'ar HaTziun 154:22, adds that according to the aforementioned alternate understanding of the Gemara, there is no distinction between arks built for the purpose of honor and arks built for the purpose of protecting the sifrei Torah.  Therefore, it is preferable not to place mundane items into the ark.