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Q & A: What Constitutes Shemot? (Part III)

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Question: Since my daughter in high school started researching the topic of shemot for her school newspaper, I have become more and more confused. Does shemot only include items, such as books and sheets of papers, with Hashem’s name on them? Or does it even include items containing Torah concepts or even just Hebrew letters? For example, how do you advise I dispose of The Jewish Press? Finally, concerning Hashem’s name, must the name be spelled out fully in Hebrew to constitute shemot? What if it is in English in abbreviated form – “G-d,” for example?

Shlomo Newfield
(Via E-Mail)


Answer: The Mechaber (Yoreh De’ah 276:9-10), referring to writing and repairing a Sefer Torah, specifies certain names of G-d that may not be erased once written: Kel from Elo-kim and Kah (which is either a name in itself or part of the name of Hava’yah. The Rema (ad loc.) includes alef-daled from Adnut and alef-heh from Eh-yeh. These halachot extend to any writing, but authorities differ on whether they apply to languages other than Hebrew.

My uncle, Harav Sholom Klass, zt”l, helped popularize the accepted style of omitting a letter in the English words “G-d” and “L-rd” in The Jewish Press from its very inception in 1960. In “Responsa of Modern Judaism II,” two of his responses address this issue. The first (Book II, p. 535) stresses that the holiness of G-d’s name is related to it being written in Hebrew. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefilla 14:10) writes, based on various statements in the Gemara, that when Shimon Hatzaddik died, his fellow kohanim stopped using the Holy Name (Shem Hameforash) so that disrespectful and unruly people would not learn it, since the Holy Spirit departed from the Temple.

Many discussions appear in halacha regarding versions of G-d’s names that imply specific characteristics of G-d and whether they may be erased once written. The Shach (Yoreh De’ah 179:11) writes that while the name of G-d is holy only in Hebrew and may be erased – since the word “G-d” in a secular language is not His true name – it is still preferable to be as careful as possible. The Beth Yosef (Tur, Yoreh De’ah 276) quotes the Rashbatz’s opinion that G-d’s name is not holy and may be erased – whether written in Hebrew or any other language – if it was written without any intent of holiness. The Beth Lechem Yehuda (Yoreh De’ah 276:10) agrees with the intention requirement, especially in a secular language, and stresses that if the name was intended for a holy purpose, we are not to erase or discard it.

The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh De’ah 276:24) quotes the Rema and other poskim to explain that the name of G-d which appears in our siddurim (the letter “yud” twice) may be erased if necessary. He also quotes the Tashbatz who warns that while the name of G-d in different languages may be erased, we still avoid writing it because it may be discarded into a trash basket and will put the Holy Name to shame. In Choshen Mishpat 27:3, the Aruch HaShulchan decries the custom of writing letters in any language using the name of G-d since they are discarded, and when G-d’s name is put to shame, respect for G-d erodes and poverty descends on the world.

In the second related responsum by Rabbi Sholom Klass (Book II, p. 533), he suggests passing the result of his labor, The Jewish Press, along to others after one is done reading it and explains printing the word “G-d” with a hyphen as a method to avoid profaning the Holy Name. He cites Rosh Hashana 18b regarding a feast the sages instituted to celebrate the day Israelites corrected the way they worded notes and bonds so as to avoid mentioning G-d’s name since these documents are ultimately discarded.

My uncle quotes some halachic authorities who allow writing G-d’s name and even erasing it in a secular context (such as on making and destroying coins). The Beth Yosef (on Tur to Yoreh De’ah 276), Rashbatz (ad loc.), and Shach (Yoreh De’ah 179:11) agree that without the writer’s intent to imbue holiness (especially if writing in a language other than Hebrew) G-d’s name may be erased or disposed of.

* * * *

We have received numerous inquiries regarding disposing The Jewish Press after one is finished reading it. One must understand the thought and effort that is involved in the production of a quality publication such as The Jewish Press, especially in our time when newer technology allows us to download complete texts which arrive from various worthy sources and authors. Many of these texts contain G-d’s name (in English) spelled out in various ways, which, in a Torah column, is obviously there for holy purposes.

Some authors ask that G-d’s name not be written out in full; they prefer that their text be edited to consistently read “G-d or L-rd” as the case may be. This practice is in line with the view of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l (Iggrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah, 1:172).

In fact, Rabbi Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah, 2:135) and Rabbi Menashe Klein, zt”l (Mishneh Halachot 7:183) decry the practice of quoting whole pesukim in Hebrew, even if they do not contain G-d’s name. Rabbi Klein explains that many sefarim nowadays do not use a ktav Ashurit (the script of Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzot) for that very reason. Instead they use ktav Rashi, which does not possess the same level of holiness.

Some of our Torah columnists, however, do not refrain from spelling G-d’s name in their articles. They follow the practice of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchick, zt”l, who argued that erasing (or disposing of) G-d’s name in any other language than Hebrew does not constitute a profanation of the Holy Name. As we noted above, he is far from the only authority who maintains this view.

It is told that Rabbi Soloveitchik would sometimes write G-d’s name in English on the blackboard and then later erase it. Some observers believe he did so to make a point – that erasing G-d’s name in English does not constitute a profanation of the Divine Name.

Even if, as my uncle suggests, one should not discard The Jewish Press (or any other periodical containing the Divine Name) but should rather pass it on to a friend, the question will still arise at some point. Someone down the line will be faced with the dilemma of how to properly discard it. Some have suggested double wrapping the paper before throwing it away.

Notes from Judaic studies lectures, certain books from Jewish publishers that have Torah references, and printouts of Torah information downloaded from the Internet require thoughtful handling as well.

Also, it is best to avoid the common practice of writing “bet heh” (meaning baruch Hashem, G-d is the source of all blessings) as an opening greeting at the top of documents if these documents will eventually be discarded. It is preferable to write “bet samach daled” (meaning besiyata d’shmaya – with the help of Heaven), thereby avoiding mentioning G-d’s name even in an abbreviated manner. However, if one did not take this precaution, or has the items mentioned above, one should dispose of them in a respectful manner. One should double wrap them and throw them into the paper recycling bin (as opposed to the garbage).

What about the proliferation of pocket-sized soft cover Birkat Hamazon books, as well as Tehillim, minchah and maariv prayer books or other kitvei kodesh that are printed in Hebrew and given out at weddings, bar mitzvahs and dinners? Very often these are left behind on tables by the dinner guests, and without proper planning, may end up being thrown out with the trash by catering staff. Perhaps publishers of these small soft cover books would be best advised not to print G-d’s name. Indeed, some publishers have already adopted this practice and they are to be commended.

Those of us living in major Jewish population centers benefit from shemot l’geniza/kevurah trucks which abound around Pesach. We thus have the option of giving these materials to others to dispose of properly, which may include being buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Another note, which should be obvious: Any printed matter that contains Torah thoughts should be treated with respect when it is being read and stored and surely should not to be brought into a rest room or any other place where kevod shamayim will be compromised.

May we – in the merit of respecting all aspects of the Torah – greet Moshiach imminently and luxuriate in the heightened Torah study his arrival will effect.

Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

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