Erasing the Name of G-d, Part 2

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Readers,

In the previous column, we discussed the Torah’s prohibition of erasing or otherwise destroying the Name of G-d. We raised a question of one who is sick and quarantined in a section of the hospital where anything which enters that area must be incinerated to prevent spreading of that perilous infection.

The question was, if that person wants to have Tefillin brought to him to fulfill that mitzvah during his hospitalization, are we allowed to bring him the Tefillin, which contain the words of Torah and the Name of G-d, knowing that upon his release from the hospital the Tefillin would be incinerated.

The rationale of even raising this question is that the Jewish patient would not, himself, be involved in the burning of the Tefillin. It would not be a direct act — rather an indirect one. This type of action is defined by Jewish law as a “causative action,” rather than a direct one, and in many instances is not considered a transgression in Jewish law.

The Rabbis raising the question predicate it upon a ruling in the Talmud, that if one has the Name of G-d written upon their hand, they should not put the hand in the bath when bathing in order to not erase the Name. If, however, there is a mitzvah to bathe in water, such as one who needs to immerse in a mikvah, it is permissible. Since one is not directly erasing the Name, rather intending to immerse and inadvertently the Name will be erased, it is permitted. Perhaps this would serve as a precedent to allow the Tefillin to be brought to the hospital?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a leading sage, ruled that the Tefillin cannot be brought to the hospital. The case of the mikvah is different. There, the intent is solely to immerse and not to erase the Name or even bring it into the water. In the case of the Tefillin, however, the intention is to bring the Tefillin directly to that place, and since it’s known that whatever goes in will be incinerated, it’s tantamount to directly incinerating the Name of G-d.

Rabbi Feinstein adds a nuance to his analysis which sheds much light upon our discussion. He says that the question of erasing G-d’s Name is an issue which touches upon “chillul Hashem,” the desecration of the Name of G-d. Chillul Hashem is in the category of the three cardinal sins: murder, idol worship and forbidden relations. These three carry the distinction that, unlike any other mitzvah in the Torah, one must rather forfeit their life than transgress any of these sins. By R’ Feinstein included erasing the Name of G-d in this category, he has greatly increased the seriousness of this issue.

For this reason, R’ Feinstein maintains that the issue is serious enough for the patient to forego the great mitzvah of Tefillin for the duration of his stay.

On this backdrop we need to analyze a number of modern-day questions, such as erasing the Name when it is written digitally, on a computer screen. Since the prohibition also includes destroying words of Torah, it would include the question of permissibility of erasing a digital file of Torah thought, even when it doesn’t contain the Name of G-d.

Our discussion will need to include the necessity of writing the Name hyphenated, or perhaps not. Is the prohibition only when the actual name is written in Hebrew, or even in other languages such as English?

Hopefully we will cover these questions in next week’s column.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is the dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.

Leave a Reply