Recycling "Sheimos" with G-d's name?

Sheimos "on one foot":

There are different ideas about when you have to bury something that has G-d's name written on it (called "Sheimos"). This source sheet looks at the different thouughts on the matter.

The Synagogue G'nizah and the Disposal of Sheimot

The synagogue has the unique opportunity to teach the sanctity and centrality of God's name in our tradition through the way in which it disposes of sheimot, books or pages that bear the name of God. The synagogue will often have a container or storeroom, called a g'nizah, in which these items can be deposited, along with other ritual articles whose sanctity merits respectful treatment at the end of their usefulness. When the depository is full, or when an appropriate occasion arises, the contents can be solemnly collected and buried on the synagogue grounds as part of a communal ceremony. While there is no set liturgical text for the burial ceremony for sheimot, the occasion presents an opportunity for the creation of a communal liturgy that can include prayers, texts, poetry, and song.

In all printed materials created by synagogues, including material mailed to congregants' home and materials distributed in the synagogue building, it is judicious to avoid printing God's Hebrew [emphasis added] name wherever possible so as to prevent inadvertent disposal of pages bearing the divine name by people not familiar with the issue.

- The Observant Life, 2012

Context: This is from The Observant Life, a 2012 publication of the Rabbinical Assembly to help 21st century English-speaking Jews figure out how to live a Jewish life.

How does burying "sheimos" (texts with the names / shemot of G-d) show respect to G-d?

כִּֽי־תָצ֣וּר אֶל־עִיר֩ יָמִ֨ים רַבִּ֜ים לְֽהִלָּחֵ֧ם עָלֶ֣יהָ לְתׇפְשָׂ֗הּ לֹֽא־תַשְׁחִ֤ית אֶת־עֵצָהּ֙ לִנְדֹּ֤חַ עָלָיו֙ גַּרְזֶ֔ן כִּ֚י מִמֶּ֣נּוּ תֹאכֵ֔ל וְאֹת֖וֹ לֹ֣א תִכְרֹ֑ת כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה לָבֹ֥א מִפָּנֶ֖יךָ בַּמָּצֽוֹר׃
When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Deuteronomy, from the chapter about war. It is the source text for the Jewish value of Ba'al Tashchit - not wasting.

What is the relevance of this text to the question of recycling printouts / copies of papers that have G-d's name on them?

Committee on Jewish Law and Standards Teshuvah

On the Exodus (and Genesis) of Shemot, by Rabbi Avram Israel Reisner (YD 276)

This paper was approved by the CJLS on December 5, 2003 by a vote of fourteen in favor, three opposed, and four abstaining. In favor: Rabbis Kassel Abelson, Pamela Barmash, Elliot Dorff, Paul Drazen, Jerome Epstein, Robert Fine, Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Aaron Macklemore, Daniel Nevis, Joseph Prouser, Mayer Rabinowitz, Avram Israel Reisner, Joel Rembaum, and Gordon Tucker. Those opposed: Rabbis Myron Geller, Hillel Norry, and Joel Roth. The abstaining: Rabbi Israel Francus, Vernon Kurtz, Paul Plotkin, and Elie Spitz.

שאלה Question

May photocopies which include God’s name be discarded or recycled? Does the same ruling apply to copies of sacred texts that do not contain God’s name, such as booklets of Megillah Esther, or which contain divine names reduced or deformed in some way? Does it apply to Latin lettered text which is a direct transliteration of the Hebrew? To Latin letter texts with a small part in Hebrew in which God’s name is included?

תשובה Response

[There is a 31-page response going through the relevant halachic history and issues to address this question. You can read it here:]


A) Handwritten, properly written appearances of the divine names must be buried. Care should be taken always to alter such names when writing or printing in an unbound, disposable text. Transliterations of God’s name or God’s name written in the vernacular do not constitute properly written appearances of God’s name.

B) Bound books of Bible, rabbinic texts or commentary, even the most modern, and in any language, similarly Jewish prayer books, and individual pages which are detached from them, are intended for long-term use. They should be protected from dishonor and destruction, and when worn or no longer to be used, should be buried.

C) Loose pages from the printer or photocopying machine, even those that are lightly held together, but not bound into a book, are intended to be temporary. They should also be protected from dishonor and destruction, but when worn or no longer used, these may be recycled. When originally creating such text on a computer, typewriter or in print, the divine names that are in them should be altered. When photocopying, while it would be laudable to employ post-it notes or other temporary measures to mask each appearance of God’s name, it is not necessary to go to such lengths since the photocopy is to be recycled.

D) If an item confounds categories, being bound but clearly temporary (such as a fancy annual planner might be), or unbound but clearly intended for long term use (such as a laminated Birkat HaMazon card), or if it is mixed in character (such as the United Synagogue Calendar Diary, including Mincha-Ma’ariv), it should be judged by the intent of its owner in use, whether temporary or long-term, and when worn or no longer to be used, should be disposed of in the appropriate way, as described above in sections B and C.

E) Steps should be taken to ensure that any recycling program for shemot is appropriate. They should be put in a container if necessary to separate the shemot from their environment.

F) Sacred books prepared by gentiles for Jewish or general use may be used by Jews for sacred use, therefore they are treated as sacred books and require burial. Books prepared by gentiles for gentile religious use (such as the King James Bible) are not sanctified, and may be discarded, despite the presence of Jewish material therein. Secular books having sacred text and divine names reproduced within them may be discarded normally, but it is an act of piety to tear out the pages containing the divine name. Those may be treated as loose pages and recycled.

G) Where a divine name appears as part of a secular name (such as the city of Beit El) it is considered fully secular in that context and may be discarded.


1. May photocopies which include God’s name be discarded or recycled? — They may be recycled or buried, but not discarded.

2. Does the same ruling apply to copies of sacred texts that do not contain God’s name, such as booklets of Megillah Esther, or which contain divine names reduced or deformed in some way? — Bound books and any pages that are torn from them must be buried; loose pages may be recycled. Booklets, such as Megillat Esther, which do not contain the divine name written in full are to be judged by the intent of their production and use. If it is for long term sacred use, it should be buried; if for temporary use, it may be recycled.

3. Does it apply to Latin lettered text which is a direct transliteration of the Hebrew? — Transliterated text is not sanctified and may be discarded, except where its use is in a sacred context. Then it must be recycled or buried.

4. To Latin letter texts with a small part in Hebrew in which God’s name is included? — If these are gentile religious texts, they are characterized by their foreign intent, and may be discarded. If they are simply secular texts, they are characterized by the preponderant secular majority of their text and may be discarded; though it is a gesture of piety to cut out the appearances of God’s name, which may then be recycled or buried.

Context: This is a 2003 responsa from the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement. It is addressing the question of when texts containing the name of God must be buried and when they can be recycled, an important question in an era of photocopied source sheets.

How do these conclusions sit with you?

Can Torah "Newspapers" be recycled?

[The Hebrew of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s answer can be found here:]

Authorities debated how to treat pre-publication proofs. Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor (19th cen., Russia; Ein Yitzchak 1:5) permitted the respectful disposal of these sheimos for three reasons. In particular, he points out that the proofs are printed to be used temporarily, for checking, and not for learning Torah. Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (Netziv, 19th cen., Russia; Meishiv Davar 2:80) argues that it is permissible to destroy or erase sacred objects that are sanctified with the intent to destroy them.

According to Netziv’s approach, you print proofs temporarily, with the intent to destroy them. We also publish weekly Torah material with the intent that they will be discarded shortly. According to Netziv, we should be allowed to discard or recycle Torah newspapers while according to Rav Spektor, we should not.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Orach Chaim, vol. 4, no. 39) follows Rav Spektor’s approach and allows discarding sacred texts (without G-d’s name) that are no longer usable. However, as long as they can be used, even if you do not want them, you must bury them. It seems that according to Rav Feinstein, when it comes to Torah newspapers, you may store them until they degrade and cannot be handled any more. Only then, you can discard or recycle them.

Rav Nachum Rabinovitch (Si’ach Nachum, no. 74) and Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos Ve-Hanhagos, vol. 1, no. 553) compare Torah newspapers and weekly readers to pre-publication proofs. They seem to follow Netziv’s approach, that publication with the intent to discard removes the prohibition. Additionally, they both argue that while the biblical prohibition is against erasing G-d’s name, the rabbinic prohibition is only against treating sacred books disrespectfully. If you can erase or destroy them respectfully, then you do not violate the rabbinic prohibition either. Therefore, they suggest you discard them in a garbage or recycling bin where there is no garbage, wrapped respectfully in other paper or a bag.

Context: This is from the online newspaper of the frum Jewish community in the Catskills. It connects the question of recycling newspapers to the question of how to deal with pre-publication gallery proofs that had G-d's name on them.

What are the ramifications of these stances on recycling copies of Jewish texts? Why might recycling Jewish texts be respectful to G-d?

A Ceremony for Recycling Texts with G-d's Name on Them

Rabbi or other Reader:

We have changed these services, these siddurim and machzorim, with our minds, our hands and our hearts.


We change tradition—even our own tradition—because we honor it.


If we honor it, we make it an example of a good deed.


What helps us make sense of the world and does not harm another, we may do.


Honoring our tradition of change comes from we who have made the tradition and changed it.


When a measure of learning is ended, a chapter, a division, we mark the ending.


Ending yields space for beginning.


When the leaf falls, the tree does not sigh.


Several past services and other material are part of this recycling. The last words of the Rosh Hashanah service taken out of the loose-leaf binder and replaced with the spiral-bound binder are these:

May we live in peace.

And may our words and actions bring peace to all the world.



We are going to mark the transition from older to newer by reciting a chatzi kaddish, the short, or half-kaddish, prayer used when one section of a service has been completed but the entire prayer service has not been completed.


We think Bnei Havurah will never complete our prayer service; we will be revisiting and revising—reconstructing—as long as we’re around. This chatzi kaddish in English is adapted from the Ed Towbin version:

All readers:

May the wellspring of life be blessed as life unfolds, forever

and ever.

May the source of life be blessed, and praised, and glorified, and

held in honor, viewed with awe, embellished, and

revered; peace is sanctified... it is blessed;

elevated higher than all the blessings, songs,

praises, and consolations that we utter in this


And we say: Amen

Context: This is from RitualWell, a collection of new rituals for Jewish actions.

What aspects of this ritual work for you?

With appreciation to Jewish Virtual Library, Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, Wikipedia, the CCAR, Noah E Abramowitz, Barry Gelman,