Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach| 5764
Converting a Room for Geniza into a Bathroom
(based on B’Sha’arei Beit Hadin vol. I, pp. 143-150)
[This is the first time we will review a ruling taken from the relatively new series of books called “B’sha’arei Beit Hadin.” Like other piskei din we have seen in the past, the rulings come from the governmental rabbinical courts. This volume, published by Otzar Haposkim, contains a large number of mainly short rulings on matters having to do with public institutions such as yeshivot, shuls and charity organizations.]
Case: A room connected to a beit k’nesset and beit midrash was used for some time to store geniza (writings containing names of Hashem or other forms of holiness). The gabbaim wanted to convert that area into a bathroom for use of those who frequent the building. Is that permitted?
Majority opinion: The dayanim disputed whether an object that holds geniza has the holiness connected to things related to holiness (tashmishei kedusha). One dayan cited the Mordechai, quoted by the Rama (Orach Chayim 154:1) that an aron kodesh has the kedusha of tashmishei kedusha only when it is used to show respect for the sifrei Torah, not when it is used only to protect them. According to this categorization, an area for geniza, which is intended only to temporarily remove geniza from harm’s way does not have kedusha. Another dayan responded that the Kaf Hachayim (ad loc.:25) rules that if the holy object comes in direct contact with a receptacle, then it receives kedusha even if its presence there was for protection.
The lenient opinion also raised the fact that geniza contains certain newspapers and the like that are not holy. In order to use the area for such purposes, those who set it aside must have had in mind that the area would not be endowed with kedusha. However, his colleagues countered that since the area was clearly set aside for holy texts and anything else put there was out of fear that those texts might also be included, that area is considered set aside for the holy. In the final analysis, the majority opinion was that one could transform the areainto a bathroom, but only after taking steps to remove kedusha from that part of the structure. The dayanim assumed that the structure had a status of one which was set aside for the use of a local group (beit k’nesset shel kefarim). Therefore, the recognized authorities of the group (the equivalent of the talmudic, zayin tuvei ha’ir) with the agreement of the group could sell the area to someone else. When done in this way, the area can then be used even for uses that are “degrading” to the place, such as a bathroom. In the process, they transfer the kedusha from the area to the money paid for it. It is proper that a clear stipulation be made at the time of the sale that this transfer of kedusha is indeed occurring. Then the money received from the sale should be used to build an alternative site for the collection of geniza material.
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