Question: May one erase or throw out a paper that contains the English word “G-d” (with a hyphen)?
Short Answer: There is certainly room to be lenient and throw out a paper containing the English word “G-d” (with a hyphen).
I. Spitting and Chanting on a Wound
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 179:8), based on the Gemara (Sanhedrin 90b and 101a), states that a person who chants a pasuk and spits on a wound, in order to cure the wound, loses his olam ha’ba. The Shach (10) explains that the prohibition is based on the fact that the person is saying a pasuk that includes Hashem’s name and is thus defiling Hashem’s name by using it in this spitting cantation. The Rama (ibid), based on the “Rabbanim of Rashi,” adds that it is only prohibited when the pasuk is recited in Hebrew, and not when recited in other languages. In other words, it is permitted to read the English translation of a pasuk that includes the name of Hashem. For such a pasuk, the word Hashem would be read as “G-d.”
The Bach (Yoreh Dei’ah 179:8) disagrees with the Rama, ruling that even an English translation of the pasuk (with the word “G-d”) is prohibited. The Bach cites the Gemara in Shabbos (40a) as a proof, as the Gemara prohibits reciting “d’varim shel kodesh” (i.e., holy words) in a bathroom, even when these words are recited in a different language (i.e., in English). The Bach concludes that the “Rabbanim of Rashi” (who permit reciting the name “G-d” on a wound) are not cited or codified by any “poskim.”
The Shach (11) defends the ruling of the Rama. He distinguishes the Gemara in Shabbos as only discussing “d’varim shel kodesh,” i.e., divrei Torah. The Gemara is not discussing the name of Hashem, as one is permitted to erase a name of Hashem that is written in a different language, such as “gott” in “lashon Ashkenaz” (equivalent of “g-d” in English). However, since the Bach noted that many poskim do not codify the leniency of the “Rabbanim of Rashi,” the Shach concludes that it is preferable to be strict and not erase the name of Hashem when written in a different language. Nevertheless, if a person has no other choice (“lo efshar”), he may erase it.
II. The Stringency of the Mishnah B’rurah
The Mishnah B’rurah (Orach Chayim 85:10) notes this leniency of the Shach, that it is fundamentally permitted to write and erase the name of Hashem (written in a different language). Nevertheless, the Mishnah B’rurah adds that it is prohibited to bring a paper with this name of Hashem (written in a different language) into the bathroom. In this regard, the name of Hashem (written in a different language) is no different than the word “shalom,” which may be erased but still should not be brought into a bathroom.
Similarly, the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 276:24) writes that there is no k’dushah to the name of Hashem when written in a different language, but nevertheless, one should not write the name of Hashem this way in a regular letter, because it will lead to these letters being brought into a bathroom.
The sefer Ginzei Kodesh (7:12:24) adopts the ruling of the Mishnah B’rurah. Accordingly, he rules that a paper with the name of Hashem (written in a different language) must be buried (i.e., placed into sheimos) and may not be thrown into the garbage. He cites numerous Acharonim who concur with this ruling, including the Minchas Yitzchak (1:17:14). Indeed, the Minchas Yitzchak expressly agrees with the Shach that these names may be erased, but adds that if they are not erased, they must be treated properly.
III. Does a Hyphen Help?
What about when you add a hyphen to the name of Hashem in English? In other words, do the strict poskim above, including the Mishnah B’rurah and the Aruch HaShulchan, permit one to throw out the word “G-d” when spelled with a hyphen between the “G” and the “d”?
The Ginzei Kodesh (7:14:28-29) writes that, in general, there is a machlokes Acharonim whether a hyphen permits the name of Hashem (written in Hebrew!) to be thrown into the garbage. On one hand, the Avnei Neizer and the Salmas Chayim forbid, as the hyphen connects the letters (into Hashem’s name). On the other hand, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l permitted, as does the Achiezer. Indeed, the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (1:638) suggests that it is permitted to be thrown out, as he cites the Arizal, who ruled that it is permitted to read sheim Hashem in the forbidden manner (“hogeh b’osiosav”) when interrupting with trop (cantillation) in the middle.
However, the Ginzei Kodesh (ibid) also cites the Salmas Chayim (366) who notes that even though he forbids throwing out the name of Hashem with a hyphen when written in Hebrew, it would be permitted to throw out the name of Hashem with a hyphen when written in a different language. This ruling is based on the above Shach, that fundamentally the name of Hashem when written in a different language has no k’dushah.
Next Week’s Topic: May one erase or throw out a paper with the name of a person who has Hashem’s name (such as with “alef” and “lamed”) within the letters of his name (i.e., Shmuel, Yechezkel, etc.)?