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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?

I. WRITING

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.

III. G-D

Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski

(Achiezer, vol. 3 no. 32) follows

Rav Akiva Eiger

but adds, based

on Rosh Hashanah

(18b), that

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 “ גט†”) 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

word).

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.

IV. CONCLUSION

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

these authorities.