I sat in my office the other day, scanning the many volumes on my shelves. Most of these books have come into my possession since beginning rabbinical school some 33 years ago. A few of them date back even further. Books have been an integral part of life. As the son of a librarian, I was taught to value each one. In my house, while most often they were on loan from the library, there always was a sense of reverence and respect.
Now in this digital age where reading material is readily downloaded to various devices, although some still find comfort in printed copies, it seems like future generations will have no need for multiple shelves. I sometimes wonder what will happen to my books. Rabbinic colleagues who retire often try to find new homes for their books covering topics such as prayer, spirituality, history, and many more. In most cases, they end up in recycling bins or regular garbage bins.
Except for the holy books. There is a place for them always because, in Jewish tradition, holy books always maintain their holiness. As such, they have to be handled with care and respect. According to Jewish law, books considered holy, especially those with God’s name written within, must be placed in an area where they cannot be destroyed (referred to as a genizah, a Hebrew word meaning reserved or hidden). Since it happened so often that materials were burned, accidentally or otherwise intentionally (think pogroms), it was determined that burying them was the best option. That way, just as loved ones would be laid to rest in the ground at the end of their lives, the same would happen for these important books.
I know the question “What to do with books?” is not just in my thoughts. Over the years, many in this congregation have asked a similar question. Already, we have one closet at TBE that continues to be filled with the discarded and deteriorated Jewish books people have dropped off through the years. And I know there are so many more out there.
So, I invite all of you who have older books that might have reached the end of their lives to be a part of a Sacred Book Project. Comb through your shelves and find the books that might need to be laid to rest. Together as a community, we will have a chance to show the proper respect and love, ultimately helping them lay to rest in a local Jewish cemetery. Along the way, there will be chances to learn a bit more about the practice and the laws involved. Plus, those who wish to can be part of the process to help bury them. It will truly be holy work. Keep an eye out for this important project and know that there will be a place for those books to be, if not on our shelves at home.