Solution to the Shaimos Burial Problem

Solution to the Shaimos Burial Problem

By Morris Benjoe

Sheimos, also spelled “Shaimos,” is a fundamental concept in Judaism that pertains to the respectful disposal of sacred religious texts. The term “Sheimos” itself is derived from the Hebrew word “shem,” which means “name,” and it encompasses any text containing the name of G-d or other holy content. The proper handling and disposal of Sheimos materials are essential aspects of Jewish religious practice, emphasizing the reverence and sanctity attributed to written words and the divine name.

For years, local cemeteries provided space for burying these holy objects. More recently, as more Jewish texts are being printed, the cemeteries are being less accommodating. First the excuse was covid. Then they began charging per box, and now they want people to buy an entire grave to bury their few boxes, making it almost impossible for any individual to be able to properly care for Sheimos.

Synagogue are begging people not to bring their Sheimos, as it becomes very costly to handle and as of late, not even possible to deal with. Many people are notorious for dropping off bags of Sheimos at their local synagogue and just leaving it to the synagogues to figure it out, creating a clergy nightmare.

There’s got to be some type of solution!

The Significance of Sheimos

In Judaism, written materials that contain the name of G-d or other sacred content are considered holy. This includes Torah scrolls, prayer books, and any other documents or materials that feature divine names or verses from the Torah. The underlying principle is that the name of G-d is sacred and must be treated with the utmost respect. This belief is deeply rooted in the second of the Ten Commandments, which commands the people not to take the name of the Lord in vain (Exodus 20:7).

Types of Sheimos

Sheimos materials encompass a wide range of items, each of which must be handled and disposed of with care and reverence:

  1. Torah Scrolls: The most sacred of all Sheimos, Torah scrolls are meticulously written copies of the first five books of the Bible. When a Torah scroll becomes damaged or is no longer usable, it must be buried in a special ceremony.
  2. Prayer Books: Prayer books, or Siddurim, contain sacred prayers and verses from the Hebrew Bible. When they become worn out or damaged, they are also disposed of through burial.
  3. Tefillin and Mezuzahs: Tefillin are small black leather boxes containing passages from the Torah that are worn during morning prayers. Mezuzahs are parchment scrolls inscribed with specific biblical verses placed on the doorposts of Jewish homes. When these items are no longer serviceable, they are buried.
  4. Other Sacred Materials: Sheimos materials can also include any paper, books, or objects containing G-d’s name or verses from the Torah. This encompasses a wide array of items, from synagogue signage to religious pamphlets.

Disposal of Sheimos

The proper disposal of Sheimos materials is a significant religious obligation in Judaism. Here are the key steps involved:

  1. Genizah: Sheimos materials should not be thrown in the trash or discarded carelessly. Instead, they are placed in a designated storage area called a “Genizah,” often located in a synagogue. The Genizah is a temporary holding place until the items can be properly buried.
  2. Burial: Periodically, the contents of the Genizah are collected and buried in a Jewish cemetery or a designated Sheimos burial site. A special ceremony accompanies the burial, demonstrating respect for the sacred content being interred.

The concept of Sheimos underscores the profound respect and veneration that Judaism places on the written word and the name of G-d. It serves as a reminder of the importance of treating sacred materials with the utmost care and reverence throughout their lifecycle, from their creation to their eventual disposal. The practice of Sheimos preservation and burial reflects the enduring commitment of Jewish tradition to uphold the sanctity of the divine name and the written word.

Solution: Although Sheimos needs to be buried, unlike a person, it does not need to buried in a cemetery. Perhaps Synagogues and Jewish Schools being built or undergoing expansion can designate a space under their building to bury these holy objects. This will solve the Sheimos problem while building their structure on a holy foundation! I believe the community will be more than happy to support such a project!