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Q&A

Disposing of a Christian bible written in Hebrew?

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While sorting through boxes of books in the attic, I came across a Christian bible written in Hebrew. (Some family member was apparently given it by a missionary when living in Israel and didn't dispose of it then.) The book is only their second volume; it doesn't include Tanakh.

If the book were written in English I would simply recycle (if possible) or discard (otherwise). But this is written in Hebrew, and I have no idea whether their books use the tetragramaton. I could try skimming through it looking for that name, but I could still miss it unless I spend a lot of time on the task. I could put it in the box for burial just in case, but that feels like I'm elevating their book in status.

How have others handled cases of uncertain sheimot in other religions' holy books? In the case of Christianity, are there specific passages to check? (If the book included their adaptation of the Tanakh that would be easy; I know plenty of places to look. But I don't know their works.) Is that nagging feeling I have about the genizah box misplaced, and it's perfectly fine to add anything doubtful regardless of its source?

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As noted in this answer, even a sefer torah, if written by a heretic, does not have holy status and needn't be buried. Further, Rambam (Laws of Tefilin, Mezuzah, and Sefer Torah 1:13) writes:

יג ספר תורה תפילין ומזוזות שכתבן מין, יישרפו. כתבן גוי, או ישראל משומד, או מוסר, או עבד, או אישה, או קטן--הרי אלו פסולין וייגנזו: שנאמר "וקשרתם . . . וכתבתם" (דברים ו,ח-ט; דברים יא,יח-כ)--כל שמוזהר על הקשירה ומאמין בה, הוא שכותב. נמצאו ביד מין ואין ידוע מי כתבן, ייגנזו; נמצאו ביד גוי, כשרים. ואין לוקחין ספרים תפילין ומזוזות מן הגויים ביתר על דמיהן, שלא להרגיל אותם לגונבם ולגוזלם.‏

A Torah scroll, Tefillin, or Mezuzah written by a heretic -- burn it!... If you find one in the possession of a heretic and don't know who wrote it, bury it; if in the possession of a non-Jew, assume it's kosher.

If we destroy even a sefer torah if written by a heretic, then it seems reasonable that at the very least we needn't bury lesser works using the divine name if written by a heretic (min, in the Rambam passage). Are there further rules about what to do with it?

If the book is written by a min we are to burn it. According to the talmud in various places, minim include those who deny God's unity or believe in an independent, divine evil being. Both of those are core tenets of Christianity. A book produced by Christians for missionary purposes seems to qualify the producer as a min, as argued in the answer I linked.[1]

This blog post provides further support:

I met with Rabbi Riskin last week (it was a good meeting), and he mentioned that several years ago the residents of Efrat received missionary bibles in the mail - as part of a campaign to convert Jews - and he poskened that people should burn them ( the missionary materials, not the missionaries).

The author of that post later reported:

The ruling was to burn the entire bible which included both the Hebrew and New Testament Bible. A Bible which is written on a heretical basis is not considered sacred. However, at the time I did not think to ask how Rabbi Riskin felt about burning the new testament exclusively or the exclusive new testament..

I don't know either how R' Riskin would rule on the means of destroying just the Christian additions ("new testament"). It seems clear that any uses of the divine name don't call for burial; according to him it's ok to burn them. I don't know if it is obligatory to burn them or if any means of disposal is fine for those books.


  1. I'm posting this answer to augment the other one, after it was pointed out to me that I compiled some of this information in the past and then forgot about it. ↩︎

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My understanding is that even an actual Sefer Torah - i.e., full text, written on parchment, etc. - written by an apostate (Jew or non-Jew with the "wrong" intentions) is not Sheimos. This would certainly include any printed Hebrew text that was printed by or on behalf of missionaries, so "given it by a missionary" is key information. See Ain't That a Sheimos? which doesn't spell out all of this but does say "Names written by non-Jews are to be "hidden away" (i.e., placed in sheimos), while those written by apostate Jews are actually to be burned as a move against heresy." I am pretty sure (just need to find a reference...) that this applies to (perhaps even more so) items written by non-Jews with the intent of misleading Jews.

As to whether this particular item was truly written for missionary purposes, keep in mind that these days the vast majority of Christians do not study original sources in Hebrew (or Greek or Latin). There are certainly scholars who do, but I suspect most of them would actually go to printed Jewish source texts directly. Far more likely, unfortunately, for a Hebrew text printed by Christians (not Bnei Noach) is some intent to mislead Jews.

Where it gets a bit trickier, and I don't know the answer, is if a non-Jew prints a Hebrew text that would normally be considered Sheimos and does so for non-Jews - as a textual reference for non-Jews (i.e., not to turn Jews away from traditional Judaism and not to explicitly deny traditional Judaism. My hunch (and it would be interesting to know more) is that if it is by someone who we would consider a "Ben Noach" then it would be Sheimos but that if it was by someone such as a typical Christian - e.g., someone who considers the Tanakh as "Old Testament" and who believes the Messiah has already been here - then it would also not be Sheimos.

On the other hand, reprints by non-Jews of actual Jewish texts in a non-religious context, such as pictures of a Sefer Torah or of a page from a Tanakh that happens to include Sheimos, such as occasionally happens in ordinary articles about Jewish holidays in secular newspapers, is Sheimos and that page should be removed and treated accordingly.

Personal note: When writing a little article for my Shul newsletter about the dedication of the renovated Aron at my Shul, I had a semi-pro take a top-quality digital picture and I adjusted it a bit so that the 10 Commandments at the top would not have Sheimos so that any copies would not be Sheimos.

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