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Q & A: What Constitutes Shemot (Part II)


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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.

We now continue with the second related responsum by Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l (Book II, p. 533):

*  *  *  *  * “No builder or manufacturer likes to see his products discarded. We put so much effort into [The Jewish Press] that we would hate to see it go to waste. Why not give the paper to a friend or neighbor and tell them to do the same when they finish reading it?

“It is for this reason (if the paper will be destroyed) that we abbreviate the name of G-d. For some maintain that the name of G-d may not be written if it is to be thrown away, for then His Name would be profaned.

“The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 18b) explains it this way:

“On the third day of Tishrei the mention of G-d in bonds and notes was abolished. For the Syrian government had forbidden the mention of G-d’s name by the Israelites and when the Hasmoneans became strong and defeated them, they ordained that they should mention the name of G-d even on bonds and notes, and they used to write thus: ‘In the year so-and-so of Johanan, High Priest to the Most High G-d.’ When the Sages heard it they said: ‘Tomorrow this man will pay his debt and the bond will be thrown into the dirt.’ (And the name of G-d will be profaned.)

“They stopped this practice and made that day a feast day.

“On the other hand, if the Name is not intended for holy purposes, we may write it in full or erase it (Tosafot, Shevuot 35a and Tosafot, Avoda Zara 18a, s.v. Hogeh Hashem). The Beth Lechem Yehuda (Yoreh De’ah 276:10) authorizes the usage of the name of G-d such as is inscribed on coins, if it was intended leshem chol, for secular purposes.”

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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