21 Aug Swear to G-d
Jews are averse to swearing–taking oaths–for two reasons. One is the
severity of the prohibition against violating an oath. Another is the prohibition,
listed among the so-called Ten Commandments, against using
G-d’s name in vain. If you swear to G-d falsely, you not only violate an
oath but also use the divine name improperly. The next question is what constitutes
G-d’s name. The Holy Language is Biblical Hebrew. What if you use Gd’s
name in another language in vain? What if you swear to G-tt or to G-d?
The answer to this question can potentially affect a number of related laws.
1. Cursing: We are biblically prohibited
from cursing someone
with G-d’s name. What if we
curse someone in English? Does
that fall under the prohibition?
2. Prayer: We are allowed to pray
in any language. If we pray in
English and use G-d’s name
translates into English, do we
fulfill our obligation for prayer?
3. Erasure: We may not erase Gd’s
name. What if we write it in
English. Can we erase it? Or do
we have to write “G-d” to avoid
the potential problem?
4. Blessings: We are obligated to
recite a blessing before and after
eating food. If, for any number
of reasons, we are unsure whether
we need to recite a blessing,
we generally do not recite it out
of doubt because doing so constitutes
as forbidden unnecessary
blessing. Can we recite the
blessing in another language?
An important source in this discussion is the Shach (Yoreh De’ah
179:11) in the laws of forbidden pagan practices. The Rema (ad loc., 8)
writes that the prohibition against chanting a verse to heal a wound is
only in Hebrew. The Shach quotes the Bach who disagrees, since we may
not recite a verse in another language while in a bathroom. The Shach argues
that the bathroom is different because you may not study any Torah
there. But G-d’s name in other languages is not holy and may even
be erased. Others note that Rashbatz (Responsa 1:2) had already also ruled
that you may erase G-d’s name in another language.
The Gilyon Maharsha (ad loc.) quotes the Chavos Yair (no. 106) who rules
that if you transliterate G-d’s name in another language into Hebrew letters,
then you may not erase it. Presumably, he would also be careful about
saying G-d’s name in another language.
II. IN VAIN
Rav Akiva Eiger (Responsa, no. 5) rules that G-d’s name in other languages
is a kinuy, a nickname or idiomatic reference. Therefore, it may be
erased and said in vain without any prohibition. However, he adds that
reciting a blessing is a stricter issue and forbidden. Elsewhere (Commentary
to Megillah 17), he points out the difficulty in translating G-d’s name.
Rav Akiva Eiger quotes Moses Mendelssohn, who translated it as “Der
Evigger, the Eternal.” While this captures the time element of G-d’s fourletter
name, it lacks the implication of mastery, adnus. Therefore, translations
of G-d’s name are not really the name.
Rav Ya’akov Ettlinger (Binyan Tziyon, no. 68) differentiates between
erasing a name and saying it. While the Shach is correct that we may erase
G-d’s name in other languages, that does not mean we may say the name
in vain. We can pray in other languages and we may not curse someone
with G-d’s name in a different language. Therefore it must also be prohibited
to say it in vain. The Chayei Adam (5:1) rules likewise.
However, others disagree. For example, Aruch
Ha-Shulchan (Orach Chaim 202:3) rules that there is no prohibition to
say G-d’s name in other languages. Therefore when you have a doubt
whether to recite a blessing, you may do it in other languages. He says that
he personally does it frequently.
Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski
(Achiezer, vol. 3 no. 32) follows
Rav Akiva Eiger
but adds, based
on Rosh Hashanah
one should prevent
G-d’s name in any language from
being treated disrespectfully, even
when no other formal prohibition is
violated. Therefore, he recommends
writing “G-d” (really “ ג–ט†”) so that
G-d’s name in another language is
not mistreated. He also quotes Rav
Yonasan Eybeschutz (Tumim 25)
who rails against people who write
“adieu” in letters, which are thrown
in the garbage. That is disrespectful
treatment to G-d’s name (although
Rav Grodzenski adds that “adieu” has
evolved into an independent, mundane
Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik (quoted
in Nefesh Ha-Rav, pp. 160-161) follows
Rav Akiva Eiger’s view. He
used to say that writing “G-d” is am
haratzus, ignorant,” because G-d is
also an idiomatic reference to G-d.
He added that the Geonim (quoted
in commentaries to Nedarim7) have
a chumra (stringency) to refrain
from even saying a divine nickname
in vain. However, that position is not
normative. Similarly, the Mishnah
Berurah (85:10) writes that you may
erase G-d’s name in any other language.
Authorities debate whether you
may say G-d’s name in languages
other than Hebrew in vain. According
to the Binyan Tziyon and Chayei
Adam, it is a problem. According to
Rav Akiva Eiger, Rav Chaim Ozer
Grodzenski and Rav Soloveitchik,
it is not. All
of those quoted above
(except the Bach) agree
that you may erase G-d’s
name in other languages.
However, Rav Eybeschutz
and Rav Grodzenski rule
that you should prevent
these names in other
languages from being
treated disrespectfully by writing, for
example, G-d. Of course, if you are
writing a book that you do not expect
will be treated disrespectfully, there is
no reason to write G-d against any of