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Can I delete G‑d’s name on a computer screen?

Can I delete G‑d’s name on a computer screen?

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Question:

I’ve recently stumbled upon a Q&A on your site that explains the reason why many Orthodox Jews write “G‑d” (with a hyphen), as opposed to “God.” I was wondering, does this rule apply across the board—whether writing by hand or typing on a computer?

Answer:

Thanks for contacting us.

As explained in the article you reference, it is considered disrespectful, and hence forbidden, to erase the name of G‑d.

Regarding computer screens, however, most halachic authorities deem a computer screen and its contents—even names of G‑d or words of Torah—to have no sanctity. As opposed to handwriting or the printed word, which are intended to be permanent, there is no intention for words typed on a computer screen to be permanent; as soon as you finish your work you close the screen and everything there is “erased.” (The encrypted data on the hard drive has no halachic significance.) It’s not a medium intended to support anything of permanence, as the pixels which make up the letters on a computer screen are constantly being refreshed and are considered to be more virtual than they are real.

Moreover, even as we type and move the cursor on a screen, the letters and their positions are constantly moving on the screen—erasing them from one area on the screen and recreating them elsewhere—making erasing a constant act.

One can therefore erase the name of G‑d or words of Torah from a computer screen. It follows, therefore, that there’s also no need to type a hyphenated “G‑d.”

Practically speaking, however, I’d advise you to accustom yourself to always write “G‑d” with a hyphen, apostrophe, underscore, etc., even when typing on a computer. It's a good habit to adopt, and furthermore, there’s always the concern that you or someone else will print out the text typed on the computer.

I hope this helps, and feel free to explore further on our site.

Rabbi Vidal Bekerman
for Ask the Rabbi @ chabad.org


Sources:
Talmud, Shabbat 120b; Maimonides, Laws of the Foundations of the Torah 6:1; Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 2:142; Nishmat Avraham quoting Rabbi S.Z. Auerbach.
Rabbi Vidal Bekerman and his wife Chanah Leah are Co-Directors of the Chabad Center at their alma mater—York University in Toronto, Ontario.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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ruth elise housman marshfield hills, ma August 20, 2014

Computer vs Print I am writing a totally synchronous story, an ongoing Diary on my Face Book Page. When I share a picture it always goes into synch. In fact everything in my life is Visibly Synchronous and astounding does not begin to cover this. The proof is via an electronic Diary that can certainly be downloaded as I have not one drop of doubt it's All G-d. You cannot delete Divinity. If you take a Divine Name in vain this is wrong but the codicil, since all is Divine leads you then directly into the most difficult paradox of all, free will vs determinism. If as I see it and as many Orthodox Jews also see it, everything happens for a Divine Reason, there is a paradox inherent in all this. The answer: an inbuilt learning curve that opens up ethical consciousness on that climb we call Jacob 's Ladder. Reply

kyle August 14, 2014

G-d's name contained in other words Is one permitted to erase or white out names which contain G-d's name within them such as eliyahu? Reply

Josh Australia November 4, 2013

re. Oh my G-d "Are there not more important things in life to worry about", evidently not enough to occupy your interest away from this article! I hope you've invested your time more fruitfully since Anonymous, UK.

Thank you for the insight Rabbi, anything that encourages Torah debate and interest is of inspiration and value. Kedusha is found in the bytes of a hard drive when it becomes the medium for Kedusha in the world, which is permanent; despite the inherent impermanence of the images on the screen. Reply

David C. Vienna, VA June 4, 2011

Absolutely correct I discussed this at length.

Bytes on a hard drive can not have kedusha. The fact that certain patterns of bytes may be rendered into one of God's names via one or more encodings (e.g. Unicode or an 8-bit ISO standard, etc.), that doesn't mean those bits are actually a divine name. Those bits can just as easily be rendered through other encodings to produce other images, or could be numbers or software or anything else.

If you want to prohibit all bit-patterns that could conceivably be rendered into a divine name, then you effectively must prohibit all electronic communication, because you can never be sure that there isn't some code somewhere that will produce some name from what's on your computer. Reply

Anonymous London, UK June 3, 2011

OH MY GOD Are there not more important things in life to worry about?
Some of you guys must really have too much time on your hands!!! Reply

Anonymous New York June 3, 2011

Along similar lines:

It is forbidden to take a holy book into a bathroom.

I often pray and study using my smartphone (thank you chabad.org). Could it then be forbidden to take my phone into a bathroom?

So I wondered.

I concluded, that the prohibition of erasing G-d's name has limitations, such as which actual names it applies to, whether in Hebrew or translated etc.

Such as was done with the Tetragrammaton, that it was reserved only for scribal use, so too i think should be done with all names of G-d for which this prohibition applied, that they be replaced with their less restrictive counterparts, or otherwise hyphenated etc.

While there may be sufficient Halachic basis for the english word G-d to need no hyphenation, I always do so anyway, as it is one more opportunity to express respect of G-d. Reply

Yosi Mor Kiryat Ata, ISRAEL June 2, 2011

an attempt to provide more clarity I think that the following two points should be kept in mind:
[1] What is prohibited is the "erasing of the written name of HaShem."
[2] Judaism is, in general, very "legalistic" in defining its terms.

So, in our specific case, "written" has an official Halachic definition that is based upon the "traditional" definition of writing -- i.e., a graphical representation of the symbols, in a physical and relatively-"permanent" method on some physical medium. This could mean physical ink on physical paper, or a physical engaving in physical rock, or even the physical trace that results when writing using a finger on a foggy window.

So, "permanance" is necessary but not sufficient subset of the criteria.

On the other hand, it is true that the "bits" encoded in a flash memory or magnetic disk are both "physical" and "permanent," but Halachically they are not considered "writing." Reply

Moshe Bat Ayin, Israel via chabadwestmichigan.com June 2, 2011

H BS"D
This is exactly how Chabad hold as you've written. Someone asked me why I use the hyphen and write "G-D". It's easier by hand and on a pc you must shift for G let loose for - and again shift for D, Why they asked di I go to the trouble on pc with most Rabbanim holding as you wrote? There are hundreds of thousands of pc experts who have dealt with this very question. Why do I insist to do this in and writing but also on the PC? For my own constant need of reminder, it's belief 'Emuna' as mentioned in The Book of Tanya that "Craftmanship" or craft is Umanut,the same word as belief. To get your profession well done you must hone your skills, and the same with belief in H". Each hyphen reminds me so. Reply

Leah Lipszyc Simferopol, Ukraine via chabadcrimea.org June 2, 2011

G-d's Name on the Computer I think we should also bear in mind that when we write something on our computer or as an article on the internet, it may be printed, possibly by others, who do not realize the sanctity involved. Therefore, I would think it would be better to stick to usuing a hyphenated form. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma June 1, 2011

the computer "screen" Words are words, wherever and however written. I download much of what I write on the computer as part of an ongoing manuscript. I do believe it is intent in life that counts and not what we delete or leave in.

I think there are actually too many rules that circum SCRIBE our lives, and that in all things, use intelligence tempered with love in figuring out for yourself, your relationship to what is Divine,. We have the word divine, to figure out, for this reason.

As to the holiness or non holiness of computers. Who really invented computers? If ALL is G_d?

I once tried to download a poem for a poetry reading and it simply would NOT print. I finally gave up. When I got home, and I had done nothing to my printer. I decided to try again, IT printed.

So I feel, often, that there is a sensate universe, including the universe of computers and other "things".

I was on a web site reading about a powerful energy source on the island of Malta. All electrical systems blew. Yes, really! Reply

aky13 olney, md June 1, 2011

writing out the "name" of God Interesting that you should raise this question. For approximately 55 years, I had been writing G-d. Then I had a long chat with a Torah studies teacher about the issue.

He convinced me that since we do NOT know God's name, we cannot write it. "God" is an English language SURROGATE, and ONLY a surrogate. Therefore, you can write the word, erase the word, discard the word, shred the word.

I contend that this is NOT disrespectful to God as God understands what we do and the intention in our hearts. God is well aware of any intended respect or disrespect. Reply

Alexandra Denver, Co USA May 31, 2011

ERASING GOD'S NAME FROM A COMPUTER SCREEN This quiery is reminds me of something I readl, (I THINK it was in the book, "What Is A Jew?"), many years ago. Jews wanted to shave their beards so they wouldn't be so conspicuous. Learned rabbis were consulted, and it was decided that, since most Jews use ELECTRIC razors, that this is not the same thing as using a knife or blade to cut one's beard -- hence this is now permissable. The text went on, "Except in rare cases, therefore, the prohibiton against shaving has mostly been re-intepreted out of existance." It seems to me that when it suits Judaism's purpose, a person is allowed to do things. When it doesn't suit Judaism's purpose, a person is NOT allowed to do things. I hope I may be excused for thinking this, but I am a FREE person, and I think for MYSELF! I consider myself not God's child, but God's TEENAGER. God gave me a brain, and I am thankful to Him for it. I intend to use it to the best of MY ability. I need no one's permission when I hurt n one!
God gave me a Reply

Gil Thornhill, Canada August 24, 2009

E-books What about e-books such as the Kindle that use "e-ink"? Although the words are not permanent, they don't erase when you turn the power off. The effect is sort of like an "etch a sketch". Can you erase G-d's name from these devices? Reply

Anonymous July 21, 2009

Someone misinterpreted my comment The business comment was meant to show that things _do_ happen that are _real_ over the internet. Not to invalidate commerce on the internet. If someone wrote G-d's name in pencil and then erased it... that would be bad right? Well also INK degrades over time. I think the _purposely_ deleting G-d's name on the internet should be against Halacha. Reply

Alex Toronto, ON via chabadflamingo.com July 21, 2009

more on permanence Sarah,

The thing is that the information is encoded into binary digits, much like it is written in the Torah. So it is actually stored in physical form, just not on paper but on silicon wafers. I still don't understand the difference and it seems quite contradictory.

In point of fact it may be ok to erase from a screen because all words are stored somewhere anyways. For example, you erase a word on the screen but you can Undo and get it back right?

That means that word was inscribed somewhere even though it is not on your screen.

Some more clarity is needed here. Reply

Sarah July 20, 2009

"permanence" of electronic information It is very true that the information on a computer's hard drive could end up being more permanent than paper. However, the halacha is dealing with the physical shape of the letters of G-d's name. In the case of a computer, this physical shape only exists for the short time that the letters are in one place on the screen. Then, once it is closed, although it may still be saved somewhere, it is saved as bits of information, not in its physical form. So in the respect that we are dealing with here, namely, erasing the physical form of G-d's name, the letters are indeed only temporary. Reply

ingride lewis kfar saba, israel July 20, 2009

G-d's name on the computer screen. Dear rabbi,
Thank you for answering a question i had asked myself. And thank you to the person who asked it.

Sincerely, Reply

Rebecca Shreveport, LA July 18, 2009

there has to be a practicality too While I agree with the previous commenter that there is a lot of Torah and business done over the internet there is no practical way to forbid this. When online to study, there is no way of knowing whether or not a site will have followed this guideline, and once you opened the site, you could then never scroll the screen, go to another page or reboot the computer. Then all study (Torah and not) on the computer would be halted. The only way for it to be feasible would be to forbid Jewish study over the internet preventing people that live away from the Jewish community or have schedules that prevent them from in-person study from study. Reply

Alex Sirota Toronto, ON via chabadflamingo.com July 17, 2009

I tend to disagree need clarification These days when words are written on a computer in some ways they are more permanent than paper which can age and be misplaced. The Internet is backed up and caches in many places online and not just on your computer.

Nor sure I really understand this perspective on Halacha. Reply

Anonymous New York July 17, 2009

The halacha ought to be changed Good response, thorough, and articulate.

I think that It should be halachically forbidden to erase the name of Hashem from a computer screen. So much data is transmitted via computer, if there's no halachic significance to it, then what about all the business deals going on? Something is amiss here and need addressing. Reply

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