Are Paper Books Kosher?

Is owning dead-tree real-paper books kosher in this age of e-books? Some say no. Some say yes.

Andrew Couts does not exactly ask that question. But he does raise the issue of whether a person can defend his decision to amass what he calls a "book collection." I suppose a collection is less than a library.

As a professor of the humanities I accumulated a substantial library over the years. And I thought that action was defensible, even necessary. I "needed" to have all those books. Even though I wasn't living in the sticks and I had a major research library on my Big Ten campus, I needed to own eighteen bookcases worth of books. Those were my professional tools, and like a tradesman I could not just go and borrow tools every time I needed to work on a project.

On the Digital Trends site Couts frames the question of why we need to own all those paper-books in the context of the digital age. Why own paper when you can own the digital impulses of a book?

Couts opines mainly against real-paper book in, "Is there any reason to own paper books beside showing off? Not really."
Like some kind of sadomasochistic twit, I’ve moved houses three times in the past three years. Each of these moves reintroduced me to the symptom of insanity commonly known as a large book collection. The bulk of my household’s possessions come in paperback and hardcover, you see – dozens of boxes and hundreds of pounds worth of pulp that take up more space in a moving truck than all of my furniture combined.

My book collection is a burden...
His points that follow are perceptive. Books are conspicuous egotistical objects, he says.
My book collection, I realized this weekend, is one of the few things in my home that makes me seem smart. Visitors step into my living room to see shelves and shelves of tomes – Hemingway, McCarthy, Kafka, Tolstoy, Franzen, Sedaris, Bukowski, Fitzgerald – each creased spine revealing more about my interests and intellect. At least, that’s what my subconscious likes to believe. Just as vacation photographs show off where we’ve been, books show where our minds have traveled. They have, in other words, become little more than an elaborate way to brag.
He also reviews the reasons that we might give in defense of owning real books, saying, "...there are good reasons to prefer the old medium..."

For Couts that does not include the Shabbat prohibition of electrical devices that some Orthodox Jews observe. [I say "some" because recent reports claim that something like 50% of Orthodox kids use their phones to text on Shabbat. It is fair to assume that some of those kids also read online sites and maybe even ebooks on the holy day.]

It's not reasonable to assume that Orthodox authorities will suddenly decide to permit the use of ebooks on the Sabbath. Orthodox practices change slowly, if at all. In the near term, if you are an observant Orthodox Jew who wants to read your "collection" on the Seventh Day, it will have to be a paper library, not a digital one.

Bottom line: If you are Orthodox (modest or egotistical), or if you are just plain egotistical and like to brag (Orthodox or not), you will want to have your paper books arrayed in book cases around your house, because they don't just make you look smart. They make you look pious too.

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