Shabbat Parashat Toldot| 5766
Ask the Rabbi
Question: It has become popular to buy necklaces containing a passage from the Torah that is pertinent to the wearer. Does this cause problems and, if so, how does one solve them?
Answer: The Rambam (Shut 268) was asked about a tallit with p’sukim embroidered on it. The Rambam, whose ruling was accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 284:2), objected to the matter on two grounds (we are lenient on the first- Taz, YD 284:1; Shach ad loc.:3). His major issue is that we need to fear that one will enter the bathroom with the tallit, thus disgracing the p’sukim. One could use this source to prohibit the jewelry in question outright. However, there are poskim who have allowed people to wear scrolls hanging from their body (see some sources in Tzitz Eliezer XVI, 30). We should note that most of the poskim discussed people who wore p’sukim for the specific purpose of Divine protection, which is not usually the case these days. Also most people we have asked who wear this jewelry have admitted that they not infrequently enter the bathroom without taking the necessary steps (see below). Thus, this jewelry appears to be against the Rambam’s and poskim’s spirit, if not letter, of the law.
How should one who does wear it act? One cannot bring a sefer Torah into a bathroom even after covering it (Shulchan Aruch, YD 282:4). Under normal circumstances, one can take tefillin into a bathroom only with two coverings, one of which is not naturally used for them (Mishna Berura 43:24). However, the Magen Avraham (43:14) permits bringing Torah scrolls with a lower status than that of a sefer Torah or tefillin into a bathroom with one covering. The Radvaz (III, 513) shares this view, although he recommends relying on one covering only when the article was written in a script other than K’tav Ashurit (block, Hebrew characters used in a sefer Torah). The Shulchan Aruch (ibid.:6) also says that one may bring an amulet, which includes words of Torah and/or names of Hashem, into a bathroom in a leather covering. Most poskim assume that amulets and leather coverings are just common examples of a general rule (see Tzitz Eliezer XI, 5). The Mishna Berura (43:25) brings the Magen Avraham but mentions those who require two coverings.
All writings on Torah topics have kedusha and cannot be discarded disrespectfully (Shulchan Aruch, ibid.:5) or brought exposed into a bathroom. However, those that contain one of Hashem’s names are on a higher level. For example, teachers write and erase divrei Torah and p’sukim on boards, which they could not do if Hashem’s names appeared (Minchat Yitzchak I, 18, citing the Tashbetz). We also write divrei Torah in notes but only hint at His name for fear of what might become of it. Thus, leniency in the aforementioned issues is easier when His name doesn’t appear.
It is difficult to claim that the issues apply only to a full pasuk. Various laws of respect for Torah texts apply to even three or four words (see Shulchan Aruch, YD 283:3 & 284:2). If the words express a coherent Torah thought, it is no less than divrei Torah that are not p’sukim. There is one exception, which may apply in some cases at hand. If the words are borrowed from the Torah to be used as a catch phrase to describe a friend(ship) (e.g., ani l’dodi ...), they may have no restrictions (based on Shulchan Aruch, ibid.; some argue- see Shach, ad loc.). However, usually the phrase is intended to recall its Torah content (e.g., “im eshkacheich …”).
We often attempt to justify customs even when their correctness is questionable. However, not every practice is a custom, and the rabbinic reaction to a practice helps determine whether it becomes a custom. It is nice to see how popular Torah has become. However, our “vote” is that p’sukim are better in sefarim than on jewelry (or t-shirts). This fashion causes halachic problems for all and is forbidden for one who is not careful. If one does wear this jewelry, she can bring it into a bathroom covered by clothes or something else (two covers are preferable but not necessary). Hashem’s names should not be spelled out, and it is better if Torah letters are not used.
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