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Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 153:21:

אין לקנות מעילים שנשתמש בהם הדיוט לתשמיש קדושה

One must not purchase for holy use garments that a commoner used.

"Holy use" here includes use as the cloth cover of a sefer Tora (Rama OC 147:1). One cannot, therefore, buy someone's poncho for covering a sefer Tora.

Does this halacha (as is sort-of implied by its wording) apply only to an object that will be used long-term, or regularly, for a holy use? Or does it apply even to an object that will be used, say, once for a holy use: one should not take someone's poncho and use it even once to cover a sefer Tora? A sourced answer would be ideal.

Now, a cloth the sefer Tora rests on also is considered to have a holy use (Bavli, M'gila 26, "כיון דחזינא דעייפי ליה ומנחי סיפרא עלויה אמינא תשמיש קדושה הוא"). So, if the answer to my first question is "it applies even to something used once", then how do we take someone's talis and lay it out for a sefer Tora to be read on (as is frequently done on Simchas Tora and in a mourning house)?

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I don't see what the question is. The reason one may not use a commoner's clothing for holy use, is (as the Mishna Berura explains 147:12) because that is not considered respectful. Why would a tallis shel mitzvah fall into that category? –  Michoel Sep 13 '12 at 5:59
    
@Michoel, because it's not respectful to use something a commoner wore (even for a mitzva) for a holy use? (Note that a holy use is a 'higher' use than use for a mitzva is: see, e.g., MB 147:13.) –  msh210 Sep 13 '12 at 6:17
    
I would be inclined to think that something that was used for a mitzva does not fall under this category. On the contrary - "הואיל ואתעביד ביה מצוה חדא נעביד ביה מצוה אחריתי" –  Michoel Sep 13 '12 at 9:52
    
Is the following another valid translation? "Do not use for holy purposes garments that we use for common purposes." –  Charles Koppelman Sep 13 '12 at 15:12
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Your quoted text says "purchase", not "borrow" or "rent". How significant is that? (It implies longer-term/permanent use, versus a one-time thing, to me.) –  Monica Cellio Sep 13 '12 at 15:42
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