Chapter 11

The forbidden act of erasing the Name

1. It is written of idol-worshippers (Deut 12:3): “Destroy their names from that place,” and subsequently “You shall not do thus to the LORD your God.” From here our rabbis derived the prohibition on erasing the Name: if one erases even a single letter from one of the holy and pure Names by which the Holy One is called (which will be expounded in paragraph 5), he has transgressed a prohibition from the Torah, and he is liable for lashes. If part of the Name had been erased, of itself or by somebody, either deliberately or accidentally, it is still forbidden to erase the remainder (Benei Yonah).

2. Even a Name which was written accidentally, in a place where it should not have been, and even if it was not written for holiness (see Excursus 13), and even if it was made by ḥak tokhot (which is not considered writing in the context of sifrei Torah), tefillin and mezuzot. And even if it was not written in the square Hebrew script, but in a foreign script, even if it was made by sewing or weaving or with colours – no matter how it is made, or upon what, or in what place; anything which was made with the intent that it be the Name – that is to say, he wrote it or made it knowing that it was a Name of the Holy One – anyone who spoils one letter of it transgresses a prohibition, and is liable for lashes.

3. Even if one did not spoil the letter in the Name, but cut a full letter out of the Name, this is also counted as erasure, because the Name is diminished thereby.

4. Even one tiny little dot – it is forbidden to erase the slightest amount from the Name. Therefore, if a nun or khaph peshuta became stuck to a letter of a Name below it, one must take care when scraping the leg to separate them that the knife not touch the very last point of the place where it stuck – he should leave something, to make sure he will not scrape the Name (Rema’). And if wax or fat dripped onto the Name, one should not remove it with his fingernail, in case part of the Name should peel away with it. What should he do? He should heat the parchment from the other side, against the place where the drip is, and it will come off the Name without sticking (Sha’arei Ephraim).

5. There are ten holy Names: the Tetragrammaton, the name of lordship a-d-o-n, e-l, e-l-o-a-h, e-l-o-h-e-i, e-l-o-h-i-m, s-h-a-d-d-a-i, t-z-v-a-o-t, y-a-h, e-h-y-e-h – but all the other attributes with which the Holy One is praised, such as ‘the great, powerful, and awesome,’ ‘the faithful,’ ‘the mighty and powerful,’ ‘the strong,’ ‘the majestic,’ ‘graceful and merciful,’ ‘jealous,’ long-suffering and greatly benevolent,’ these are just like other holy writing, and may be erased for the purpose of fixing: they are not his Names, but describe his deeds.

6. If one wrote e-l of e-l-o-h-i-m, or y-h of yud – hey – vav – hey, he may not erase them, because they are Names in other places. But if he wrote s-h-a-d of s-h-a-d-d-a-i or t-z-a-v of t-z-a-v-a-o-t, he may erase them, and not just t-z-a-v, but he may erase everything before he had completed the Name (Ritva, and Masechet Sefer Torah says ‘t-z-a-v of t-z-a-v-a-o-t’ (4:2)). A-d of a-d-o-n-a-i and e-h of e-h-y-e-h: some say it may be erased and some say it may not; one should be stringent. The Name which is written in prayer books as two yuds and a vav over them may be erased if the need is great.

7. Letters which are prefixed to the Names, such as lamed before l-a-d-o-n-a-i and khaf before c-a-d-o-n-a-i may be erased, but letters which are suffixed, such as khaph peshuta in e-l-o-h-e-i-k-h-a and khaph-mem in e-l-o-h-e-i-k-h-e-m may not be erased, since the Name has sanctified them. Even if they were not supposed to be in that place, as if he was supposed to write e-l-o-h-i-m but wrote e-l-o-h-e-i-k-h-a or e-l-o-h-e-i-h-e-m but wrote e-l-o-h-e-i-k-h-e-m – even though they don’t belong in that place, since in other places they do have to do with the Name, the Name sanctifies them and they may not be erased (Avodat ha-Gershoni 35, Noda` b-Yehudah, Mahadura kamma, Yoreh De’ah 76). But if a letter which has nothing to do with the Name in any place were suffixed to it, such as kuf or peh and the like, it is not considered to be part of the Name and may be erased (Rema`) (and see below, 12:7).

8. To cut out (that is, to chop) the complete Name on the parchment from the sheet – the great rishonim forbade this, as not respectful to the Name. Nowadays, in many places, it is the custom of scribes who write an extra Name, whether they repeated a Name or wrote one where it was not meant to be, to cut it out of the sheet with some letters, or with the whole verse, put a patch under it, and write the missing part on the patch (see below, ch..18), and they have a valid basis for so doing. But if the Name was not surplus to requirement, but he wanted to remove it because of a different error, for example if he forgot some letters between two Names and wanted to insert them, and could not fit them in without cutting out the nearby names, this is most certainly forbidden (Yad Eliezer, Benei Yona). And in a place where it is not the custom to cut out even additional Names, one should not do it.

9. If one wrote a Name twice: where it is the custom to cut it out, one cuts out the second, because the first was written correctly. This is the case for any repeated word – the second is erased. If one transgressed and cut out the first, it seems to me that it is valid.

10. When we cut out a Name, we store it away in a safe place, so that it will not, heaven forbid, be defiled. One may store it away in a flask, but one may not do like those who affix it to the doors of the aaron ha-kodesh, which is not at all correct (Malechet Shlomo citing Rashba”sh).

11. Sciving out the Name is always forbidden, because of the possibility that it may break and (heaven forbid) thereby be erased. Even if one is an exacting master of his craft, he may not rely on his skill, because “there is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the Lord” [Prov. 21:30] in precautions against erasing his great and glorious Name. Further, sometimes the ink will soak into the entire depth of the parchment, and it will be a destruction of the Name of itself (Tashbe”tz). And if he transgressed and scived the Name such that the lower layer of parchment remained, he may not write a different word on the place, because the Name acquires the place, and the holiness is embedded in it all the way through (Tosafot, Eruchin 6a “Yagod ve-yishtamesh”).

12. To cut out or scive a few of the letters from the Name or its suffixes is obviously forbidden, since it is as if they were erased, as we have explained above in paragraph 3.

13. One may not write the Name on a patch, because of the possibility that it will eventually come loose and fall off, and the Name will be degraded (heaven forbid) – but some permit. In any case, one should be very careful not to write half the Name on the patch and half on the sheet, even if it would be permitted with other words, as we shall explain in para. 18.

14. One may not change a holy Name to an ordinary word, for example: if he was supposed to write “Yaakov said to [el] Yosef ‘El Shaddai’” and forgot to write the two words “el Yosef,” and began to write the holy Names “El Shaddai,” and then, after he had written El with the intent that it be holy, realised that he had skipped “el Yosef,” and now wants to write “Yosef,” adapting the Name “El” to that end (so that one would read it with segol instead of tzerei) – this is forbidden.

15. It once happened that a scribe was writing the verse “And the LORD E-l-o-h-i-m said to the serpent,” and skipped “E-l-o-h-i-m,” and afterwards could not remember what his intention had been when he wrote “E-l” – whether he had meant to write “el” and completely forgotten “e-l-o-h-i-m,” or perhaps he had intended to write “e-l-o-h-i-m,” written the first two letters, and then forgotten and wrote “the serpent” – and his teacher said that it was not appropriate to erase the “el,” in case it had been sanctified, but neither was it appropriate to erase “the serpent” and complete the Name with those letters, because they might not have been sanctified, and therefore he should cut out the word “el” and write the holy Name afresh.

16. We have already written (10:6) that it is forbidden to sanctify a Name which is not holy. If one transgressed and sanctified thus, whether accidentally or deliberately, it may not be erased, and he must cut it out of the sheet (see Excursus 12, also Excursus 13, for the case where it should read “to their gods,” which is not holy, but it is found to read “to God”).

17. It is forbidden to write the Name outside of a sefer intentionally, lest it be disgraced, and so too we are careful not to write the Name on papers. Some even take care not to complete the word “shalom,” but most people are not concerned with this.

18. If some utensil has a Name written on it or carved into it, one must chip out the part with the Name and store it away.

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