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P A R A S H A - P A G E
by Mordecai Kornfeld
of Har Nof, Jerusalem
Founder of the Dafyomi Advancement Forum

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Dedicated by Avraham Fleck of Sha'arei Chesed, Jerusalem, in memory of his father, Aaron Tzvi ben Simcha haLevi Fleck who passed away on 26 Menachem-Av, 5741 (1981).

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You shall destroy the altars of the idol-worshippers... and remove all trace of their idols from all of Israel. Do not do the same to Hashem, your Lord... (Devarim 12:3,4)

"Do not do the same to Hashem" -- this is a biblical injunction prohibiting the erasure of a Holy Name of Hashem (Rashi)

One is not permitted to erase any of the seven Holy Names of Hashem. One who does so despite being forewarned of the prohibition can be punished with Malkus (flogging), during the period when this punishment was administered in Israel. Although this biblical prohibition only applies to the erasure of the Tetragrammatton or one of the other six Holy Names which the Gemara specifies (Shavuot 36a), a rabbinic prohibition applies to the erasure of any text with Torah-related content (Rambam, Yesodei HaTorah 6:8; Sefer HaChinuch #437). A question that is often asked by those who have access to digital forms of Torah is whether these prohibitions apply to electronic versions of Holy Names or Torah-related material as well.

With reference to personal computers, our discussion may be divided into two parts: (1) May one erase a Torah-related text file or a Holy Name from disk? (2) May one display the Name of Hashem on a computer screen, only to be replaced momentarily by mundane, non-holy text?

Let us analyze the Halachic sources which discuss this issue.


In their responsa, two of the greatest Halachic authorities of this generation discuss whether it is permitted to erase Torah from audio cassettes. Both Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De'ah 1:173) and Chacham Ovadyah Yosef (Yabi'a Omer, 4:20) permit the erasure of Torah tapes on the grounds that the prohibition against erasing Torah only applies to *visible words* of Torah, and not to electric impressions or any other means of storing information. It is obvious that this ruling can be applied to computer files as well (even though they store information that will *eventually* be displayed visually). It should therefore be permitted to erase Torah from a file on disk.


Words that appear on a screen can actually be seen and read, and therefore the above ruling would not permit their erasure. However, the text on a computer screen can hardly be compared to written text. Text that appears on a computer console is not granted any permanence at all, and we are only bidden by the Torah not to erase *permanent* forms of the Holy Name. In fact, words on a consold cannot even be classified as non-permanent writing, which may not be erased due to rabbinic decree (Shabbat 120b); it is not considered writing at all. The letters that appear on a screen are not produced by physical changes in the light-reflecting properties of the screen (unlike ink that binds to the surface of a sheet of paper). Rather, light is produced by part of the screen while the rest remains dark, giving the appearance of written text. This can be compared to a group of flashlights that, when shined upon a surface, produce the letters of a Holy Name. We could hardly suggest that by turning off the lights one is erasing a Holy Name. In short, words etched with a light source may not be equated with written text, and therefore erasing them is not forbidden by the prohibition of erasing a Holy Name.

Furthermore, my father-in-law Rav Gedalyah Rabinowitz (presently living in the Ramat Shlomo section of Jerusalem) pointed out in Halachah Urefu'ah (vol. V) that words which appear on a computer screen are actually flickering many times a second. When one enters new text on the screen, the old text is not erased by the new. Rather, after the old text on the screen flickers out new text simply appears in its place.

Should we then rule that it is prohibited to put Torah text on a computer screen, for it will be erased many times a second? No, because the person using the computer is not actively erasing words of Torah -- rather, the words are being erased by default as a result of his act. It is not prohibited to cause a Holy Name to be erased by such indirect means (or "Gerama"), as the Gemara tells us (Shabbat 120b, recorded by Rambam Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 6:6).


It is interesting to note that Rav Feinstein concludes his responsa regarding erasing Holy Names from a cassette tape with a word of caution. Although there is no biblical or even rabbinic prohibition against erasing cassette tapes, Rav Feinstein asserts that one should nonetheless refrain from doing so because it *appears as if* one is erasing holy scripts.

However, it appears logical to me to add the following two qualifications to Rav Feinstein's statement of caution. First of all, as we explained at the start of our discussion there are two categories of holy texts: A paper bearing the Tetragramatton or one of the other six Holy Names may not be erased by biblical edict, while the erasure of other Torah-related material is only prohibited by rabbinic decree. It may therefore be argued that Rav Feinstein's word of caution may be applied only to a cassette tape or computer file containing one of the Holy Names (and not to other words of Torah such as those printed here).

Secondly, it would seem logical to limit Rav Feinstein's word of caution to cassette tapes and records, which represent a more permanent form of storage. Computer files, in contrast, are generally expected to be written, erased and rewritten on a regular basis. Therefore, Rav Feinstein's caution should not pertain to Holy Names which are recorded on disk, and this indeed appears to be the presently accepted practice.

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