From Rabbi Birnholz – January 2016

You are invited to a Genizah Ceremony on Sunday, January 10, at 10:15 am at the Temple. Seeing such a ceremony is a treat and an experience every Jew should engage in at least once in a lifetime.

A Genizah, in its narrowest definition, is a depository in which worn-out Hebrew texts, prayer books, religious school books, talasim, yarmulkas, tephilin, and other Jewish ritual objects are placed once they can no longer be used. The meaning of the word “Genizah” depends on the way it is used. It can mean “preservation”, “treasury”, or “hidden.” “Hidden” referred to depositories where the rabbis hid books from the public they considered heretical.

Some Genizahs are special storage rooms housed in synagogues or buildings constructed for this purpose. Ours, like others, are below ground graves.

The Schaarai Zedek Genizah is located just south of our sukkah on Lincoln Ave. A marker notes its spot. There we will dig a large grave, and on that day students from the Flom Religious School will drop in items we have collected for the last 10 years. Please bring any used religious items you might want to deposit into the Genizah.

What makes this ceremony so rich and unique is that the ritual involves both wedding and funeral elements. A chupah (wedding canopy) is held over the grave to symbolize our love for and relationship with books and ritual objects. Yet Kaddish is said because we will miss having these companions with us. The ceremony starts in the sanctuary and continues with the blowing of the shofar as we proceed outside to the site. Several stops are made along the way to recite short psalms and to sing.

Judaism has always had a high regard for protecting the dignity of the dead and dying. Our ancestors chose to extend this honor even to inanimate objects that remind us of God and God’s instructions. The Genizah Ceremony allows us to preserve this sentiment in a meaningful way. I hope you will make the time to be a part of this age-old tradition.

From Rabbi Birnholz