Monday, 17 February 2014

Throwing out God's Names

The subject of the blog this week is all about the significance of writing God's names in English. If those pages need to be put into geniza (colloquially known as shaimos or shemot) or whether they can be discarded in recycling. It actually touches on a much larger topic of what Torah sheets can and cannot be thrown out. What about Parasha sheets or handouts from a lecture or shiur?

Firstly I'd like to state there is no holiness in the English language. Therefore if I write Lord or any other of God's names there is no significance the only issue is when I write Hashem's name in Hebrew. 

Everyone agrees that old Sifrei Torah, mezuzot, tefillin and megillot all require proper burial but when it comes to hand outs which don't carry Hashem's name there are two main schools of thought.

Some take a very strict position on the matter and include almost everything that ever had a letter of Torah on it needs to go in geniza. Which would mean all the Jewish Studies materials at school or at a synagogue that were given out and learned would require geniza. This would lead to literally mountains of papers that would accumulate in every Jewish institution. See here for an answer that required all of a student's Jewish studies notes for a semester to be put in geniza. Basically his conclusion was anything that one learns Torah from requires being put into geniza.

Rabbi Riskin answers differently. "With the proliferation of weekly Parashat Hashavua pamphlets that are distributed, and so much material available in general relating to Jewish religious topics, we are at our wits end as to what to do with these divrei torah. What can we respectfully throw away, and what must we put into the geniza?

The only written material which must absolutely be kept or put into a proper geniza is material which has one of the seven names of God: YHVH, EL, ELOHIM, ELOAH, YH, SHADDAI , TZVAOT. These names cannot be erased when written out in their full Hebrew form and in Hebrew letters. 

Anything else may respectfully be disposed of. Other names in Hebrew - such as "Rahum" - are considered descriptive terms for God rather than Divine names; similarly, the English word "God" is at best a descriptive term, since it is based on an English rather than a Hebrew noun."
So anything written in English including God's 7 names can be placed in an envelope and put in recycling. Regular source sheets that do not have one of Hashem's names written in full and in Hebrew need to be respectfully wrapped up before being recycled. Any source sheets that I give out will not have Hashem's name in and so can be respectfully recycled.

Rabbi Michael J. Broyde writes on very similar lines and his longer answer is available for viewing here.

For practical geniza disposal. You can bring your geniza to SBH or contact a member of the Sephardic Brotherhood.

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