Question: May one write and then erase the letters alef and daled of Hashem’s name (sheim “adnus” – i.e., alef, daled, nun, yud)?
Short Answer: If one intends to write Hashem’s name but only writes the first letters (alef and daled), there is a machlokes in the Rama whether it is permitted to erase these letters. If it is forbidden to erase them, you also may not throw them into the garbage.
I. Erasing the Names of Hashem
The Gemara (Makos 22a) rules that it is forbidden to erase the name of Hashem. The Gemara sources this prohibition from the pasuk: “v’ibadtem es sh’mam...lo saasun kein laShem...” – that we must destroy idols, but not the name of Hashem. One who erases the name of Hashem receives lashes as a punishment.
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 276:9) codifies this halachah, ruling that one may not erase even one letter from the seven names of Hashem. These names (written here permissibly) are (i) shem Havayah; (ii) shem Adnus; (iii) Elokim; (iv) Keil; (v) Elokah; (vi) Shakai; and (vii) Tz’vakos. The Shulchan Aruch notes that some have an additional forbidden name (written here permissibly): “Ekyeh Asher Ekyeh.”
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 276:10) further clarifies that it is also forbidden to write and erase the letters yud and hei of shem Havayah or the letters alef and lamed of Elokim. However, it is permitted to write and erase the letters shin and daled of the word Shakai. The reason for this distinction is that the letters yud and hei together spell out Hashem’s name, as opposed to the shin and daled which do not.
II. The Rama’s Two Opinions
The Rama (ibid) cites two opinions whether the letters alef and daled of shem Adnus or the letters alef and hei of Ekyeh are more similar to the Elokim example, and thus forbidden to write and erase or more similar to the shin and daled example and thus permitted to write and erase. The Yerushalmi rules that it is permitted because, according to the Taz (8), the letters alef and daled or alef and hei by themselves do not spell out a name of Hashem. On the other hand, Tosafos (Sh’vuos 35a) in the name of Rabbeinu Chananel forbids erasing these letters because these are from the Shem HaM’yuchad and thus stricter than simply the letters shin and daled of Shakai.
The Taz (9) elaborates that the strict opinion of the Rama is unclear. Is the Rama forbidding erasing alef and hei or alef and daled or only forbidding a case of erasing alef and hei? The Taz explains that from the language of Tosafos, it appears as if the Rama would forbid erasing either combination, as Tosafos explains the reason to be strict is because both are letters in a Shem HaM’yuchad. [As an aside, this author is confused by this reasoning: First, how is alef and hei part of the Shem HaM’yuchad? Second, our text of Tosafos only has Tosafos discussing alef and daled.]
The Taz cites the Levush who is strict for alef and hei because of a different reason than Tosafos: because alef and hei could be confused with yud and hei. Accordingly, we would only be strict by these letters and not by alef and daled.
III. Without Intention
Despite the Taz’s stringency that it is forbidden to write and erase the letters alef and daled or alef and hei, the Maharsham (Yoreh Dei’ah 187) clarifies that this prohibition only exists where the person wrote these letters with the intent for them to be the Shem of Hashem. If these letters are written as part of a different word, such as “adon” (master), then it is permitted to erase these letters according to all opinions in the Rama.
IV. Throwing Out
As we will develop further in future articles, but as stated clearly in the sefer Ginzei HaKodesh (Rav Yechezkel Feinhandler, 7:1:1) any name/pasuk that is forbidden to be erased may not be thrown into the garbage and must instead be buried (i.e., “sheimos” as we colloquially refer to it). He sources this rule as “obvious and as found in all poskim.” In other words, it is obvious that throwing out the name of Hashem is tantamount to erasing the name of Hashem and thus forbidden.
Next Week’s Topic: May one erase or throw out a paper that contains a name of Hashem (other than the seven main names)?