Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Respect

Because of  the centrality of the Torah in Jewish life, the Jewish people are known as “The People of the Book.” Perhaps the Jewish people could also be known as “The People of the Books,” for books, in general, are central to Jewish life.

It is not just that Jewish scholars have produced countless books - on Jewish law, midrash, traditions, biblical commentary and more - but it is also the way Judaism prescribes that books, particularly sefarim (holy volumes) be treated with utmost reverence. In traditional circles, the Hebrew word for book, sefer (sefarim in plural) is used to refer to religious works. In most traditional Jewish homes, a bookshelf filled with sefarim is situated in a central place in the house.

Traditionally, there are basic practices for how one should care for their sefarim. One of the most common and noticeable customs is that if a sefer falls on the floor, it should be picked up immediately, and many are in the habit of kissing it (as a sign of one’s love for the volume’s contents and for Judaism) before returning it to its proper place. Similarly, some people will lightly kiss a sefer before and after use. Placement of sefarim is also important. A sefer should not be left upside down either on a shelf (with the words reversed on the spine) or on a table (with the cover face down). Many people are also careful not to place a sefer down on the same surface (e.g. a chair or bench) on which a person is sitting.

Traditionally, one refrains from placing items or secular books on top of the holy sefarim. It is also interesting to note that there is a hierarchy in the placement of sefarim. Rabbinic writing, including Talmudic volumes, should not be placed on top of books of Tanaach (the 24 books of the Bible): Five Books of Moses, Books of Prophets, Books of Writing). If one makes a pile of books of Tanaach, the Five Books of Moses should be placed on top of Books of the Prophets or the Writings.

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