Infinite loop for rewriting God’s name

Siddur Barchu Koren

The prohibition against blotting out the name of God is concerned only with the four letter personal name, Yud Hey Vav Hey, the tetragrammaton. Its transliterated in English as Y-H-V-H.

The original law was that one should not take this name in a vain oath; this there was prohibition against writing it. Later we developed a rule against writing any Hebrew name of God. Much later, a rule against writing any English name of God.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik disagreed with this. His lesson on this subject is well known: He walked into a classroom, wrote the name “God” on the blackboard, and then erased it.

How, then, could so many feel that we should not write “God”, but rather “G-d”? The very idea is self-defeating: Most Jews never write the tetragrammaton; they use the Hebrew word “Adonai” (Lord) instead. But then people stopped using this word, and instead began substituting HaShem (“The name”) or “God”. Later, these were replaced with “G-d” and “H-Shem”.

Yet each of these letter combinations means exactly the same thing! YHVH means Adonai, means God, means G-d, means HaShem, means H-Shem.

We get an infinite loop that never ends.

What next? HaShem, to H-Shem, to H-Sh-m?

One cannot talk about God unless one has some kind of noun. Once you decide on some new way to type the name (i.e. G-d, HaShem, H-Shem, Ad-nai, etc.), that new way of typing becomes a *new* name of God. So the practice of repeatedly changing characters is a recursion loop; people feel pious, yet its just not a rational practice.

This topic has been the subject of a teshuvah (respona) by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly.

The rabbis, basing themselves on Deut. 12:3-4 deduced that it is forbidden to erase the name of God from a written document. Since any paper upon which God’s name was written might be discarded and thus “erased”, the Rabbis forbade explicitly writing the name of God, except in Holy Books. And provisions were made for the proper disposal of such books.

However, it is clear from the Talmud, (Shevuot 35a-b) that the prohibition applies only to seven Biblical names of God and not to other names or attributes of God which may be freely written. The prohibition was later codified by Maimonides (see Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 6:1-2).

Shabbeti b. Meir Hakohen states that the prohibition of erasure of the Divine names applies only to the names in Hebrew but not in the vernacular (see Siftei Kohen to Sh. Ar, YD 179:8, and Pithei Teshuvah to YD 276:9).

However, Yehiel Michael Epstein, in his Arukh Hashulhan (HM 27:3), opposes the practice of writing the Divine Name even in the vernacular in correspondence. As a result the custom has grown among some ritually strict Jews not to write the word God or any other name of God in full, even in the vernacular. The practice of using circumlocutions or hyphenations in the vernacular is not universal even among the most observant Jews.

Conclusion: The practice of writing in the vernacular the full word God and other names of God has clear precedent and justification in the Halakha.

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