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Can you open a book that has writing on the outer edge of the pages on Shabbat?

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Shabbat, Opening A Book With Writing On Edge Of Paper

George from Jerusalem wrote:

I have been to synagogues that have their names stamped on the outer edge of the pages. Can they be opened on Shabbat or is that considered erasing and thus forbidden?


Dear George,

The Talmud lists amongst those activities prohibited on Shabbat that of "Erasing for the purpose of writing two letters." Generally destruction is prohibited by the Torah only when it is part of a bigger program of creation. So erasing that is not for the purpose of writing in the future (such as in our case) would only be rabbinically prohibited. In the case of the writing on the siddur there is an additional factor, which might have effected the halacha which is that when he opens the siddur he doesn't mean to erase the letters. Even here there would be a rabbinic prohibition because there is no way to open the book without erasing the letters (Psik Reisha).

The halachic conclusion in our case is a matter of dispute. There are those who determined that it is rabbinically prohibited to open the siddur for the above mentioned reasons. The Mishna Brura cites the Rema and a majority of halachic authorities who decided that it is permitted and that the custom is to permit it because the book is made to be opened and thus the opening of it is no more an act of erasing than opening a door would be an act of tearing down a building. He goes on to say that if there is another book to use you should opt to use that one so that you can satisfy everyone's opinion. He also mentions that because there are people who forbid opening such books, you should not stamp words on the outer edge of the pages of books in the first place.

Sources:

  • The Talmud - Tractate Shabbat 73a
  • Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagen - The Mishna Brura, Orach Chaim, 340

 
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