Question: May one discard a paper that contains a pasuk into the garbage?
Short Answer: No, this paper must be placed into sheimos, unless it only has two words of the pasuk or another exception applies.
I. Writing on a Talis
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 283:4) writes that it is forbidden to sew p’sukim onto a talis. Both the Shach (6) and the Taz (3) explain that the source of the Shulchan Aruch, as detailed in the Beis Yosef, is from the T’shuvos HaRambam, who explains that since a talis is sometimes brought into a bathroom, one should not sew p’sukim onto the talis, lest you cause the p’sukim to be defiled. Likewise, the Mishnah B’rurah (Orach Chayim 24:9) rules it is forbidden to sew p’sukim onto a talis.
The Taz (ibid) concludes that, based on the T’shuvos HaRambam, it is forbidden to write p’sukim on a paper that will be defiled or destroyed. Based on the Taz, the sefer Ginzei HaKodesh (9:1) rules that it is forbidden to write p’sukim on a paper that will be discarded.
II. How Many Words?
The Gemara (Gittin 6b) writes that it is forbidden to write a pasuk (on parchment, see Maharam Schiff) without “sirtut” (making a groove or scratch under the word). The Gemara clarifies that even three words of a pasuk need sirtut. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 284:1) codifies this Gemara, ruling that three words of a pasuk require sirtut.
Ginzei HaKodesh (9:3:5) cites the Ramban, who adds an important detail in explaining the laws of sirtut. The reason why three words need sirtut is because the parchment is now infused with k’dushah. In other words, three words of a pasuk is the minimum amount to constitute a davar kodesh. Accordingly, Ginzei HaKodesh rules that any paper with three words needs to be placed in sheimos.
Nevertheless, the Pischei T’shuvah (284:1) cites the Rashbesh, who notes that there are certain times where three words do not become kodesh. Where the three words of the pasuk are not a complete thought, the words do not become kodesh. Moreover, the Rashbesh writes that two words never require sirtut, seemingly, even if a complete thought. However, the Ginzei HaKodesh (ibid) notes that he asked Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l and Rav Nissim Karelitz zt”l whether two words that form a directive, such as “v’dibarta bam,” become kodesh and thus require sheimos. They responded that they would require sheimos. Nevertheless, Rav Karelitz ruled that one word, such as “v’ahavta,” never becomes kodesh, even if it is clear what it means.
What about where four words are themselves not a complete thought? Ginzei HaKodesh (ibid) asked this question to Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l, who responded that these words ideally should be placed in sheimos.
III. Practical Applications
Wedding Invitations with P’sukim
Ginzei HaKodesh (9:5) rules that one should cut out the pasuk and place it into sheimos. The rest of the invitation may be discarded. Ginzei HaKodesh notes that this is the ruling of Rav Elyashiv and Rav Karelitz, but for different reasons. Rav Elyashiv allows you simply to cut out the pasuk and place it into sheimos (and does not require placing the entire invitation into sheimos) because it is not handwritten, and the pasuk is intermingled with non-Torah words. Rav Karelitz is lenient because, fundamentally, the invitation is a non-kodesh item, but since it contains a pasuk, just the pasuk must be placed into sheimos.
Notably, the Ginzei HaKodesh also cites the opinion of the Az Nidb’ru (7:65), who does not require that one place any part of the invitation into sheimos, but instead, after separately wrapping the invitation, one may throw it into the garbage. While the Az Nidb’ru does not provide his reasoning in that t’shuvah, he refers you to an earlier t’shuvah (2:64) where he allowed one to bring a paper with p’sukim into a bathroom because printing is not the same as handwriting and because it wasn’t written with intent to infuse it with k’dushah.
Children’s Homework Booklets or Parshah Sheets
Rav Moshe Dovid Lebovitz writes, in an article for Kaf-K, that Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l ruled that these sheets need to be placed in sheimos. He also cites the Shraga HaMeir (5:61:1) as being lenient and allowing one to place them separately in the garbage. This author respectfully disagrees with R’ Lebovitz’s extrapolation of the Shraga HaMeir, as the Shraga HaMeir appears to be limited to stencil paper or photographs, which have errors and were not used for Torah learning. It is not clear that the Shraga HaMeir would even allow throwing used homework sheets with p’sukim to be thrown into the garbage.
Next Week’s Topic: May one throw a newspaper that contains divrei Torah into the garbage?