Introduction to Holy Written Objects
Introduction to Holy Written Objects
By surrounding ourselves with reminders of the commandments and with objects for observing the various Jewish rituals, we can be constantly aware of what we should be doing to live our lives as Jews.
There are two categories of items used for mitzvot:
  • Holy items (tashmishei kedusha), such as tefilin and its boxes, Torah books and commentaries, and Torah scrolls and covers
  • Items used for mitzvot (tashmishei mitzva), such as lulav, etrog, and talit/tzitzit.
Sacred scrolls (Torah, mezuza, tefilin) may not be written by women for sacred purposes. However, if they were written by a woman, you may study from them. You may not use them for public Torah reading, putting on tefilin, or affixing to doorposts (for mezuza).

Both tashmishei kedusha and tashmishei mitzva should be disposed of in a respectful manner. Tashmishei kedusha should ideally be buried. Newspapers with Torah or Torah commentary must be double-wrapped and then may be put in the trash, since they contain material that should not be buried with holy writings (only a newspaper's Torah or Torah commentary contain inherent holiness).
To dispose of tashmishei mitzva, you may wrap in one layer of plastic and throw it in normal garbage.
Sheimot: What Are Sheimot
Sheimot: Definition
Sheimot/sheimos are written items with:
  • God's name in Hebrew or even in other languages;
  • Three consecutive words of Torah in Hebrew (or commentaries on the Torah in any language); or
  • Halacha in any language.
Sheimot: Illegible
If a normal person is not able to read your handwriting, then even if you wrote holy words, Torah, or halacha, they are not considered sheimot.
Sheimot: Treatment
Sheimot: How To Treat
Sheimot: Summary of Treatment
Sheimot must be treated carefully, protected from unclean places, and buried or—in
some cases—double-wrapped rather than trashed. See individual listings below for details.
Sheimot: How To Dispose of
Sheimot: Disposal
These holy writings (tashmishei kedusha) may not be thrown directly into the trash, but should ideally be buried with like items (sheimot):
  • Holy writings that contain God's name.
  • Parts of Tanach (24-book Jewish Bible).
  • Explanations of the Torah or commandments.
However, if a printed or written page (in contrast to parchment scrolls such as tefilin, Torahs, or mezuzas) contains God's name plus secular content, it must be double wrapped in plastic before being thrown in the trash.
Reason It would be a disgrace to bury Torah words with secular content.
Note You may find collection boxes (marked “sheimot/sheimos” or “geniza”) at a local Jewish school or synagogue into which you can deposit your sheimot items.
Note Tashmishei mitzva—items used to do a mitzva (such as talit or tzitzit)—must be wrapped in:
  • One layer of plastic if they will be thrown away in dry trash, or
  • Double layer of plastic if they will be thrown away into wet garbage.
Do not throw into trash, even if double wrapped:
  • Handwritten scrolls of Torah, tefilin, mezuza.
  • Printed Torah, Talmud, siddur, books of halacha, or Torah commentaries.
Rather, put them into a sheimot collection box or wrap in plastic and bury in a place where they will not be dug up. It does not need to be a cemetery.

Double Wrap and Throw into Trash
Double wrap and throw into trash:
  • Newspapers and flyers that have Torah psukim or Torah commentaries and also have non-Torah content.
    Reason Non-Torah material should not be buried as sheimot
  • Children's school handouts with psukim from the Torah or halachot that also contain non-Torah content (if they ONLY contain words of Torah, they should be buried as sheimot).
Single Wrap and Throw into Trash
For disposal of items used for mitzvot (tashmishei mitzva), you may wrap in one layer of plastic and throw it in normal garbage:
  • Lulav,
  • Etrog, or
  • Talit/tzitzit (but NOT tefilin!)
Holy Books
Holy Books: Definition
Holy Books: Definition
A Jewish holy book is any book that contains:
  • God's name in any language, not just Hebrew,
  • Any lines (psukim) of Torah,
  • Midrashim,
  • Halacha in any language, or
  • Mishna/Talmud and their commentaries.
Holy Books: Placement
Holy Books: Orientation
Holy Books: Correct Orientation
Put holy books in their correct location:
  • Remove a holy book from an inappropriate place to a place suitable for holy books. 
  • Turn right-side up a holy book that is upside down or backside up.
  • Do not use any holy book--even of lower priority or holiness--to prop up or raise the top of a non-holy or less-holy book (for example, so you can read it better).
Reason It is disrespectful to use a holy book as a book holder.
Holy Books: On Seat
Holy Book: Raise from Seat
You may place a siddur or chumash flat on chair seat or bench on which no one is sitting, but it is an act of piety to stand it up on its edge. 
To sit on a bench or other seat where a holy book rests, raise the book up at least a little; a single piece of paper is sufficient elevation.
NOTE If you are sitting on a bench and someone puts a holy book on the bench, you must stand up or raise the book off the bench. You may not stand a siddur, chumash, or other holy book up on its edge on a bench or pew in order to be allowed to sit on that bench.
Holy Books: Stacking Order
Holy Books: Stacking Order
When piling up several holy books, put them in this order (top to bottom):
  • Torah (Jewish Bible) 
  • Nach/Prophets
  • Talmud, siddur, and any other holy books.
Holy Books: Carrying Order
When carrying holy books, you may put a Torah or Talmud below other books to prevent their falling or to make them easier to carry.  For piling books on top of each other, see Holy Books: Stacking Order.
Holy Books: Modest Dress
Holy Books: Being Undressed
You should not be naked or have intercourse in a room with holy books, unless:
  1. There is a wall or divider between yourself and the holy books within 10.5 inches of the ground and at least 40 inches tall (or as tall as needed to block a line of sight between yourself and the book), or
  2. You cover the books with two layers of paper or some other material.
Reason It is not proper respect to the holy books.
Note This is true even if the couple is covered, as is the proper practice, and even if they are more than 4 amot/7 feet away, since the entire room is considered to be one domain.
Holy Books: Disposal
Holy Books: Disposal
For holy book disposal, see Sheimot: Disposal.
Introduction to Mezuza
Introduction to Mezuza
A mezuza (pl., mezuzot) is a small, sofer-inscribed parchment scroll containing the two Torah paragraphs commanding us to put mezuzot on our doorposts and gates: Deuteronomy/Devarim 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 (these are the first two paragraphs of the shema prayer.)  Each doorway that is related to where people live must have a mezuza.

Mezuzot are placed on the right side of doorways as you enter in apartments, buildings, or even recreational vehicles that you rent for 30 days or more (or that you purchase/own), in which you sleep.

A mezuza has protective value in that it reminds us to think about God each time we walk past a doorway or gateway, and so the particular name of God written on the mezuza (shin-daled-yud) likewise can serve as an acronym for God's role as “Shomer dirot Yisrael”—Watcher over the dwelling places of Israel.  
Mezuza: Parts
Mezuza: God's Name on Outside
A mezuza scroll should be rolled from left to right so that God's name appears on the outside.
Mezuza: Covers
Mezuzot are not required by halacha to have covers (sheitels). Covers are only for decorating and protecting the parchment; their use is recommended in the Shulchan Aruch.
Note Covers may be necessary to protect the mezuzot where the weather is humid, hot, or rainy.
Mezuza: Which Buildings Require
Mezuza: Where People Live
Only buildings in which people live need a mezuza, so you do not need to put them on offices, synagogues, or stores (unless people also live there). No mezuza is needed on an eruv.
Mezuza: Buildings Regularly Used with a Person's Home
Mezuzot must be placed on any buildings used with a person's home.
  • A barn with animals that is near a house, if you use their milk or meat for food.
  • A coop with birds that is near a house if you eat their meat or eggs.
  • A shed for firewood.
Note There may be exceptions due to size or other factors--consult a rabbi.
Note A structure that only stores items not used regularly, such as a shed for storing a sukka--even if attached to a house--does not need a mezuza.
NoteDo not put mezuzas on a sukka or any other temporary structure. If you have a pergola or gazebo that is at least 50 sq. ft. of area inside and that you use during much of the year, consult a rabbi.

Mezuza: Hotel Rooms
We do not normally affix mezuzot to hotel rooms, even when we would be required to (as when staying for more than 30 days).
Reason To do so might damage the hotel property.
What To Do Do not affix a mezuza even with long-lasting tape.
Note You may not affix a mezuza if you will not be allowed to remove it when you leave.
Mezuza: Which Doors
Mezuza: Which Doors: All Doors Except...
Each door needs a mezuza except for a:
  • Bathroom, or a
  • Room less than 50 square feet.
Note Do not affix a mezuza to a door that is sealed closed.
Mezuza: Which Doors: Balcony
Any covered balcony over 50 square feet requires a mezuza.
Mezuza: Which Doors: Arches
Place a mezuza on doors or gates, even if they have an arch on top instead of a straight lintel.
Mezuza: Placement
Mezuza: Placement: Right Side of Doorway
Attach a mezuza to the right side of the doorway as you follow the main traffic through the house. If there is one continuous path to go further into the house, place all of the mezuzot on the right side as you go further into the house.
Mezuza: Placement: Balcony
Place a balcony door mezuza on the right side of the doorway as you enter the house from the balcony, if the balcony has an outside entrance. If the balcony does not have an outside entrance, put the mezuza on the right side as you exit the house.
Note If the balcony has a roof, you may be able to put it on the right side as you go out. Consult a rabbi.
Mezuza: Placement
Mezuza: Placement: Door Frame
Place the mezuza outside the door but within the door frame. If not possible, you may place the mezuza inside the door frame. 
NOte You may recess a mezuza into the door frame.
Note If the doorframe is wider than 4” (10 cm), place the mezuza toward the outer edge of the frame, not centered in the middle.
Note You may attach a mezuza to a piece of wood that extends the doorway.

Mezuza: Placement: Height
Place the mezuza at shoulder height for the average person. Leave at least one tefach (4”, or 10 cm) between mezuza and lintel.
If possible, affix a mezuza just above where the top 1/3 of the doorpost meets the middle 1/3.
Note This rule is superseded by the rule that the mezuza must be near shoulder height.

Mezuza: Placement: Angle
Place the mezuza on a 45-degree angle from the vertical, with the top of the mezuza toward the inside of the main room. If you cannot, any angle toward the entrance is OK.

Mezuza: When To Affix
Mezuza: When To Affix in Eretz Yisrael
Mezuza: When To Affix in Eretz Yisrael
In Eretz Yisrael, whether you buy or rent, you must affix mezuzot immediately upon moving in.
Mezuza: When To Affix Outside Eretz Yisrael
Mezuza: When To Affix Outside Eretz Yisrael: Buying (or Renting for More Than 30 Days)
Outside of Eretz Yisrael, you must affix a mezuza immediately once you begin "living" in your house--determined by the first time you eat or sleep in the house. If you buy a house but do not move in immediately (for any reason--repairs, you are still in your previous house, etc.), you should affix a mezuza but do not say the blessing. Then, when you do move in, remove the mezuza and re-affix it and say the blessing.
You need not affix a mezuza if you will be renting for less than 30 days, and you may delay putting up a mezuza until the 30th day if you will be renting longer than that. Here are the types of rentals that will require a mezuza by the 30th day:
  • A home,
  • An apartment, or
  • Other accommodation--such as a camper, trailer, recreational vehicle (RV), etc.--in which you will live at some time.

NoteIf you are renting a vehicle/trailer that you will live in but might not keep it for 30 days, put on mezuzas as needed immediately but do not say a blessing (this is the same for in Eretz Yisrael or outside). Then, even if you keep it for more than 30 days, do not do anything additional (don't remove them and replace; don't say a blessing).

If you live in a vehicle for more than 30 days, you must affix mezuzas next to each of the doors.
If you live in a vehicle for more than 30 days, you must affix mezuzas next to each of the doors.
Mezuza: When To Affix Outside Eretz Yisrael: Renting for Fewer Than 30 Days
Outside of Eretz Yisrael, you do not need to affix a mezuza (even without a blessing) to an apartment, house, or other accommodation that you rent for less than 30 days.
Determining 30-Day Mezuza-Affixing Period
If you are living in a rented house, apartment, RV, etc., and remove all of your possessions used for living (such as clothing, bedding, and toiletries) at some time before 30 days have elapsed, the place is not considered to be your domicile. You restart counting the 30 days from the day you move the personal items back inside. 
Situation You rent a vehicle for 30 or more days but live and sleep there only five days a week (and remove all your personal items to spend Fridays and Shabbats with a family or in a hotel)
What to Do You will not be considered to be living there; you must affix a mezuza only if you leave some personal effects in the vehicle continuously for at least 30 days.
Mezuza: Blessing
Mezuza: Blessing
When you attach a mezuza to the correct doorpost, affix it at the bottom first and then say the blessing likbo'a mezuza.
Note Do not say the blessing if there is no door in the doorway
Mezuza: Blessing If Mezuza Falls Off
Say the blessing again when you replace a mezuza that falls off.
Mezuza: Blessing If You Removed Mezuza
Don't say a new blessing when you replace a mezuza that you took off (for example, to have it checked).


Mezuza: Kissing
Mezuza: Kissing: Custom
Kissing a mezuza (and tefilin) is not halacha but rather a custom to show our love for those mitzvot.
Mezuza: Kissing: Which To Kiss
If your custom is to kiss mezuzot, only kiss them when entering or leaving a house.  Do not kiss the mezuzot on the interior room doorways.
Mezuza: Checking
Mezuza: Checking: How Often
Have your mezuzot checked twice every seven years.
Mezuza: Bedroom
Mezuza: Bedroom

You may not be naked or have intercourse in a room with a mezuza inside the room, unless:

  1. There is a wall or divider  within 10.5 inches of the ground and at least 40 inches tall between yourself and the mezuza, or
  2. The mezuza is covered by two layers (kis b'toch kis) of paper or other material.
Note This is true even if the couple is covered, as is the proper practice, and even if they are more than 4 amot/7 feet away, since the entire room is considered to be one domain.
Mezuza: Removal
Mezuza: Removal: Do Not Remove When...
Do not remove your mezuzot if you:
  • Leave your house, even for a long period such as a year.
  • Sell your house to a Jew.
Tefilin: Mitzva
Tefilin: Torah Mitzva
Have in mind that you are doing a mitzva of the Torah while putting on tefilin.
Tefilin: Holiness
Tefilin: Holiness: Tefilin Straps
When Tefilin Straps Become Holy
The straps on tefilin become holy objects once they have been used.
Tefilin: Holiness: Tefilin Boxes
Tefilin: Holiness: Head and Arm Tefilin Boxes
The box for holding the head tefila (tefila shel rosh) has a higher level of holiness than does the box for holding the arm tefila (tefila shel yad). You may not intentionally switch the boxes.
Tefilin: Holiness: Switching Boxes by Mistake
If you inadvertently put the arm tefila (tefila shel yad) into the box for the tefila shel rosh, take it out and put it into its proper box.
Tefilin: How To Put On
Arm Tefila: How To Put On
  1. Place arm tefila box (bayit) on center of bicep of whichever arm you do not write with (knot on the arm tefila should touch the side of the box). If you are ambidextrous, put the tefila on your left arm.
  2. Say the first blessing, “lehaniach tefilin.
  3. Tighten the strap.
  4. Wrap the strap around your arm seven times between your cubit (inside of your arm, opposite the elbow) and your wrist.
    Note If you wrap more times, it is OK.
    Note You may wrap the tefilin strap over a wristwatch or put a watch on top of the tefilin strap.
    Note Tefilin straps should not overlap with each other and should not be wrapped on top of the ulna protuberance, but if they do--it is permitted.
  5. Wrap the excess around the palm of your hand (tuck in the end to keep it tight and out of the way).
Head Tefila: How To Put On
  1. Place the tefila on your head tightly enough so it does not slip off under normal motion.
  2. Center the head tefila box on your forehead (as it appears to an average person. There is no need to look in a mirror.)
  3. Place the head tefila box with its front edge above your hairline (or where your hairline was when you were 13!), not further back than half-way on your skull from front to back.
  4. Ideally, place the knot at the back on your occipital bone (base of your skull), but you may place it lower as long as it is still on top of your hair.
  5. Say the second blessing, al mitzvat tefilin.
  6. Tighten the tefila on your head and say, Baruch shem kevod malchuto l'olam va'ed
    Reason Al mitzvat tefilin” is a questionable blessing (safek bracha).
    Note Tefilin head straps should reach at least to your navel (left strap) and mila (right strap).
Arm Tefila: How To Finish
  • Unwrap the excess strap from your palm and wrap it three times around your middle finger while saying the three v'eirastich li” phrases, one for each wrap.
  • Wrap the strap around your palm in the shape of the Hebrew letter “shin.”
  • Wrap the excess around your palm and tuck in the end of the strap to keep it tight and out of your way.
Note You may not say amen or reply to kaddish or kedusha if you have said the blessing on your arm tefila but have not yet said the blessing on your head tefila.
Tefilin: Left-Handed Men
Left-handed men must put tefilin on their right arm.
Tefilin: Broken Arm
Even with a broken arm, do not switch the arm on which you wrap your tefilin.
Note If your (normally) weaker arm becomes permanently stronger than the other arm, switch to wearing tefilin on the newly weaker arm.
Tefilin: Fallen
Tefilin: Fallen: Fast
If tefilin without their covers on fall onto the ground, the custom is to fast for one day. If the covers are on the tefilin, there is no custom to fast.
Tefilin: Adjusting or Replacing
Tefilin: Adjusting
Tefilin: Adjusting: Saying Blessing
If you adjust your tefilin, do not say the blessing again.
Tefilin: Replacing
Tefilin: Replacing: Tefilin You Had To Take Off or That Fell Off
If you take off your tefilin because you have to, such as to go to the bathroom, or if one or both of the tefilin fall or slide off your arm or head, say: 
  • Both blessings again when you replace the head tefila (tefila shel rosh) on your head.
  • Only the first blessing when replacing the arm tefila (tefila shel yad) on your arm.
  • Each blessing in its correct place if you took off both.
Reason We say the blessing again for tefilin that fell off because there was discontinuity in thought (hesech da'at) when they fell off.
Note If you took the tefilin off between bar'chu and the end of amida and replaced them without saying the blessings:
  • Wait until after you have finished the amida, and then
  • Move each of the tefilin slightly, first the arm tefila and then the head tefila, and
  • Say the appropriate blessings.

Tefilin: Replacing: Tefilin You Took Off by Choice
If you take off your tefilin without being required to do so and with the intention of replacing them, do not say the blessings when you replace them on your head and arm. 
Note If you took the tefilin off between bar'chu and the end of amida, see the note to Tefilin: Replacing: Tefilin You Had To Take Off or That Fell Off.
Tefilin: Removing
Tefilin: Removing: Earliest Time
The earliest time to remove tefilin on normal weekdays is after saying u'va l'tzion.
Exception If you wear tefilin on chol ha'moed, remove them after the amida in shacharit.
Tefilin: Storing
Tefilin: Storing: How To Put Away
Put tefilin into its bag so that the knot on the arm tefila (tefila shel yad) faces away from the head tefila (tefila shel rosh).
Reason So that the arm tefila does not abrade the head tefila.
Note This is not a halacha, just good advice.
Tefilin: Care
Where Tefilin Must Be Black
Tefilin must be black as follows:
  • Tefilin must be black on all of the exposed surfaces, but not on the bases/bottoms.
  • Tefilin straps must be completely black on one surface.
Tefilin: Checking
Tefilin: Checking: When
It is customary to check tefilin twice in each seven year period. Tefilin do not usually require checking, but you should periodically check:
  • Tefilin of the type that can become pasul (due to white-washed parchment).
  • Tefilin that are moved a lot, such as from place to place where there are large changes in temperature.
  • Tefilin in humid climates, such as Florida.
NOTE Ask a sofer for advice about any of these cases.
Tefilin: Kissing
Tefilin: Kissing
Kissing tefilin is not halacha but rather a custom to show our love for the mitzva.
Tefilin: When To Touch
Tefilin: When To Touch: Shacharit
When praying on weekday mornings, touch and “kiss” the tefilin at:
  • Places in the shema that mention tefilin, and
  • Potei'ach in ashrei.
Reason  When wearing tefilin, you should be constantly conscious that you are wearing them. One way of reminding ourselves that we are wearing tefilin is to touch them at these times.
Note To “kiss” tefilin, touch the box with one or more fingers and then kiss those fingers.
Tefilin: Activities While Wearing
Tefilin: Activities While Wearing: Distractions
You may not do any activities while wearing tefilin that would distract you (hesech da'at) from remembering that you are wearing tefilin.
Tefilin: Activities While Wearing: Eating
You may eat a snack while wearing tefilin, but you may not eat a full meal (with bread).
Tefilin: Rosh Chodesh and Chol HaMoed
Tefilin: Rosh Chodesh
Tefilin: Removing before Rosh Chodesh Musaf
Remove tefilin before musaf on Rosh Chodesh.
Tefilin: Chol HaMoed
Tefilin: Chol HaMoed: Remove before Hallel
Remove tefilin before hallel on chol ha'moed.
Exception On chol ha'moed Pesach, on the day when tefilin are read about (kadeish li…), many people keep tefilin on until after the Torah has been read.
Tefilin: Chol HaMoed: In Eretz Yisrael
If you move to Eretz Yisrael (where no one wearstefilin on chol ha'moed) to live there permanently, do not continue to wear tefilin on chol ha'moed (if that was your custom).
If you are only visiting Eretz Yisrael but not living there permanently, follow your custom.
SituationYour custom is to wear tefilin on chol ha'moed, You are in Israel during chol ha'moed.
What to DoYou still put on tefilin, but only in private, not in public.
Tefilin: Chol HaMoed: Blessing
If you wear tefilin on chol ha'moed (German and Lithuanian customs), do as follows:
  • Jews of German descent: Say the tefilin blessings, and
  • Jews of Lithuanian descent: Omit the tefilin blessings.
Torah Scroll (Sefer Torah)
Torah Scroll: Touching
Torah Scroll: Touching
Don't directly touch the parchment of a Torah scroll with your hand or other part of your body, unless there is no other way to handle the scroll.
Torah Scroll: Standing
Torah Scroll: Standing
Stand when a Torah is being moved.
Note When the ark is open, you do not need to stand if the Torah or Torahs are stationary, but the custom is to stand anyway.
Torah Scroll: Lifting
To Lift Up the Torah
To lift up the Torah:
  • Grip the handles close to the plate at the top of the lower handles.
  • Roll the Torah so that three columns are exposed and one of the seams is between the two rollers (this is a custom).
  • Lever up the Torah (you may slide the Torah down the table toward yourself if that makes it easier).
  • Show the Torah to people on your right and then on your left.
If you want to turn in a circle, turn to counter-clockwise as seen from above.
  • At the end of rolling (glila) closed the Torah, there should be a seam between the two rods on which the Torah is rolled (such that if it were to tear, it would likely tear at the seam and no words of Torah would be torn).
Torah Scroll (Sefer Torah): Writing
Torah Scroll (Sefer Torah): Priority for Writing
Writing a Torah scroll (sefer Torah) is a mitzva but is not a priority; there are other activities that have a higher priority for Jewish observance.
Note The commandment that each Jew write a sefer Torah is not fulfilled by paying someone else to write a few letters of the sefer Torah for you.
Note If you hire someone to write the entire sefer Torah for you, that fulfills your requirement.
Sofer: Woman
A woman may not be a sofer. Even though women are obligated in the commandments of megila, they may not be sofrot for megilot nor for the Prophets (nevi'im) section of the Torah.
Sofer: Non-Observant Jew
A non-shomer Shabbat Jew may not be a sofer.