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Q & A: What Constitutes Shemot (Part I)


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) states: “It is forbidden to erase even one letter of the seven [Holy] Names that are never to be erased. And one may not erase one of the letters that follow them – for example the final chaf of Elokecha and the chaf and final mem of Elokeichem. And these are the seven Names: The name of Hava’yah, the name of Adnut, Kel, Elokah, Elokim, Sha-dai, Tzevakot, and some include also Eh-yeh asher Eh-yeh. If one wrote Kel from Elokim, Kah from the Name [of Havayah] or he wrote the Name Kah, they are not to be erased. However, as regards shin daled [without the yud] of Sha-dai or tzadi bet of Tzevakot they may be erased.”

The Rema (ad loc.) notes: “The same applies if one wrote alef daled of Adnut or alef heh of Eh-yeh. There are those who are stringent in this matter. However, as regards to the Name comprised of two yuds joined together, [it] may be erased if the need arises.”

The above halachot are mentioned in the context of Hilchot Sefer Torah regarding writing or repairing Sifrei Kodesh. Yet, as we will see, these are the basic halachot regarding any writing of Divine Names.

You asked about G-d’s name written in abbreviated form. My uncle, Harav Sholom Klass, zt”l, was the one of the first people to popularize writing G-d’s name in this way, doing so in The Jewish Press from its very inception (in the winter of 1960). Thus let us cite from his Responsa of Modern Judaism II, where he discussed this matter in detail in two related responses.

We first quote from one of them (p. 535): “Usually, if the name G-d is written in English, it is not considered holy and may be discarded [my uncle he is referring to secular, non-Jewish texts]. Only if written in Hebrew is it not permitted to be discarded.

“The Mishna and Gemara Sotah 38, states the following: In the Beth Hamikdosh the name of G-d was pronounced as it is written, Jeho-a (Yud Kay Vav Kay) but throughout the land it was pronounced (as we do today) Ahdo.

“The Gemara Yoma 39b, then continues with this subject by saying that when Shimon Hatzadik died, his brother Kohanim refused to say the Shem Hameforash (Holy Name) even in the Beth Hamikdosh.

“The Gemara Menachos 109b explains that after the death of Shimon Hatzadik, the Kohanim began to fight and jealousy arose. Tosafos in Sotah 38a explain further that the Shechina (Holy Spirit) departed from the Beth Hamikdosh and therefore the Kohanim weren’t allowed to use the Holy Name.

“The Rambam (Hilchos Tfilos chap. 14:10) explains that they stopped using the Holy Name so that disrespectful and unruly people would not learn it.

“The Maharsha in Kidushin 71a considers G-d’s name, Adoshem, as pertaining to the ‘Middas Hadin’ attribute of judgment which is applicable to this world, while the name Jeho-a is the ‘Middas Harachamim,’ the attribute of mercy which pertains to the other world. Only in the next world, which is all good and compassionate, will we be able to pronounce his name the way it is written.

“The Gemara Kiddushin 71a narrates: G-d says, ‘I am not pronounced as I am written. I am spelled “Yud Kay…” and I am pronounced “Ado…” (Alef Daled…)’

“Our Rabbis taught: At first G-d’s twelve-lettered name used to be entrusted to all the people. When unruly men increased, it was confided to the pious of the priesthood and they swallowed it (pronounced it indistinctly) during their chanting of their brother priests.

“Rabbi Judah said in Rab’s name: ‘The forty-two-lettered name of G-d is entrusted only to him who is pious, meek, middle-aged, free from bad temper, sober and not insistent on his rights…’ [Rashi ad loc. s.v. “v’eino ma’amid al midotav,” explains we are concerned that someone who lacks the latter attribute might use that name to exact retribution against an adversary.]

“The Midrash Rabah explains that the Holy Name of 12 letters represents the letters of Alef, Daled, Nun, Yud, Kay, Vav, Yud, Kay, Alef, Kay, Yud, Kay, which totals twelve letters. The Holy Name of 42 letters is the spelling out of each letter of the above words (such as the letter of Alef) which then total 42.

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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