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Ganizah: Ceremony for Burial of Prayer Books and Other Jewish Artifacts
Hebrew Literacy / Ritual Literacy
Genizah ceremony which takes place at a Jewish cemetery when a community or congregation (or even a family) has accumulated a “critical mass” of holy texts and particular ritual objects that can no longer be used. In this particular case, a critical mass is a quantity sufficient to fill a standard burial plot. While there is no casket per se, books and other materials that are to be buried are packed into cardboard boxes or clean pillowcases or even into a shroud before being put into the grave. [Strictly speaking, “genizah” refers to a place set aside in a synagogue to collect holy texts and objects which have become ‘pasul’ or unfit for use. Siddurim, Tanakhim, copies of the Mishnah or Talmud, or a Tikkun qualify for this kind of special treatment. Obvious inclusion goes to a sefer Torah, a Megillah, a mezuzah parchment, and tefillin. Kippot or yarmulkes are definitely not considered holy objects even if yours is very special to you. A genizah ceremony takes place only when needed and at a Jewish cemetery. A grave (or more) is opened and the objects needing burial are carefully placed inside. Once full, the grave is covered just as it would be if a person had just been buried. There are no clearly defined elements or prayers required; those performing the burial create their own ceremony. Following the burial, one would wash one’s hands as usual for having been in a cemetery. A simple marker is placed at the grave though without the unveiling ceremony that is customarily performed for a person.
This program took six months to plan. We gathered up all old prayer books, Old and worn Tallits and Tefillin. I had to search for two graves at a local cemetery and a funeral home to assist with the burial of the items. This had to be coordinated with the superintendent of the Cemeteries to get a permit to have this done. A family donated the graves and a local funeral home donated all of their services. This was in our monthly bulletin as well as our men's club weekly emails. Members of the Sunday School and their families participated and we had newspaper coverage as well as TV coverage. Some of our men climbed down the ladder into the two graves and stacked the boxes of prayer books in rows so we could get all of the boxes in the grave before the tractors dropped the tons of dirt in the grave. The ceremony took about one hour and then we stood by and watched as the tractors filled the graves with dirt and smoothed the dirt over. Then we all left knowing, we had completed a beautiful mitzvah, from beginning to end.