Friday, March 2, 2012

Retiring holy books

Recent news prompts me to research the recommended ways to dispose of worn or damaged sacred texts:

"The Quran does not include instructions for its own disposal, and Mohammed never appears to have addressed the issue," but Islamic scholars suggest that the Qur'an should be buried or stored indefinitely, and burned only as a last resort. If the Muslim holy book (also spelled Koran) is only slightly damaged or can be repaired, it may be donated, for instance to religious schools. Storing the disused text indefinitely in a safe place has been practiced since at least the 7th c. Today, old copies of the Qu'ran can be wrapped and deposited - like 65,000 others - in one of 12 underground tunnels at the Jabal-E-Noorulquran museum in Quetta, Balochistan Province, Pakistan (image above, more photos here). Another widely accepted practice is wrapping in cloth - preferably in linen - and performing a ritual burial in a holy place (on the grounds of a mosque or in a Muslim cemetery), where the book won’t be trampled upon. The less common practice of depositing a Qur'an in a moving body of water, weighted down with a stone, is intended to symbolically achieve the same effect as physically removing the text from its pages. Some scholars sanction burning of damaged Qur'ans, even though fire is traditionally associated with the devil, as long as it is carried out with ceremony on a sacred site; others suggest burning only when the book is in danger of being defiled. If burned, the ashes should be buried or scattered over water.

There is no Christian ceremony or procedure for the disposal of old, worn Bibles. Although everyone agrees that if a book is worn and no longer usable, it should be discarded; discarding a Bible is a difficult act for many people....It would be a good thing to make it useful, and one way to do that is to recycle it. Recycling is an honorable act and that is fitting for a book such as a Bible,”suggests Jacquelyn Sapiie, Library Services Supervisor at the American Bible Society. If the book has historical or genealogical significance, it may be worth retaining even if it cannot be repaired. Different faiths (Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Protestant, etc.) may offer varying recommendations, and seeking the advice of church officials is recommended. In general, it is the content of the words that is considered holy, and not the pages, bindings, and ink of the book itself, which is thought of as a vessel. Respectful methods for disposing of the Christian holy book include burying and burning. Burial, with a formal or informal ceremony, might be done after wrapping the Bible (possibly along with others) in a clean, white cloth or small wooden casket. Burning could be accomplished in a reverent, somber fashion by allowing the Bible to be completely consumed by the flames of a small bonfire so that the ashes will be scattered naturally.

Without touching the parchment, the Torah should be wrapped in its mantle or a prayer shawl and taken to a sofer, who will assess whether it can be repaired. If it can't, it should no longer be used for prayer services. Sefer Torah scrolls (and objects like tefellin) should be buried in a cemetery, but no ceremony is necessary. Until then, they should be stored on a clean and secure shelf or in a cabinet. "These items must be encased and sealed in an earthenware or durable hard plastic casing and buried in a Jewish cemetery, preferably together with or in the vicinity of a grave of a Torah scholar or in a specially designated section of the cemetery."

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