Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oh My Gosh: Saying God's Name In English

One of the ten commandments is to refrain from using God's name in vain. While that is generally taken to refer to swearing (taking an oath, not using profanity), the Gemara (Berakhos 33a) uses it as a source for a prohibition to recite an unnecessary blesing. Because a blessing contains the name of God, reciting it without proper cause involves saying God's name "in vain" (at least on a rabbinic level). The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Berakhos 1:15) also quotes this verse in reference to an unnecessary blessing. However, the Minchas Chinukh (30:8) points out that the real source of the prohibition is the obligation to fear God (Temurah 4a), which includes treating His name with proper respect.

The question I'd like to address is whether this obligation to treat God's name with respect, and therefore to refrain from saying it unnecessarily, applies to translations of God's Hebrew name into other languages. Can you say the word "God" or do you have to use substitutes like "Gosh" or "Goodness." (Side question: Once these substitutes become common, do they turn into translations and become equally prohibited?) As we discussed in a post about erasing God's name in English (link), the word "God" is generally considered to be a nickname (or as fancy people say, appellation) for God's name. It has the same status as words like "Chanun" and "Rachum".

Click here to read moreThe Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 219:4) writes that if someone recites the blessing of "Gomel" using God's name in Aramaic and you answer "amen", you have fulfilled your obligation even if he did not have an obligation. The Rema (ad loc.) points out that, by using a translation/nickname, the person who recited the blessing avoided the problem of an unnecessary blessing. This would seem to imply that there is no issue of saying God's name in vain with a translation. This is something that the Penei Yehoshua (Berakhos 12a sv. ve-yoser) states explicitly.

However, the Rema adds that you can only do this in certain very specific occasions, which might imply that in a general case of doubt you cannot recite a blessing in this way. As the Peri Megadim (219:MZ:3) points out, if it were that easy then we would not have a rule to omit blessings in cases of doubt. Just recite them with God's name in Aramaic. He suggests that when you add a description of "Ruler of the universe" after a translation of God's name, as we do in blessings, then you run into a problem of saying God's name in vain. Otherwise, it seems that it is perfectly permissible to do so.

As we saw in the earlier post, R. Akiva Eiger (Responsa, no. 25) rules that you may erase a translation of God's name. However, when it comes to saying that translation, he rules strictly. The She'arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah (Nedarim 7a sv. she-kol) quotes a responsum of the Mahari Weil (no. 192) who is strict on this. He also quotes a Nimukei Yosef (Nedarim 7b sv. hazkaras) who says that it is permissible but improper.

The Chayei Adam (5:1) rules strictly as well, explicitly differentiating between erasing God's name and saying it in vain. They do, after all, derive from different commandments. However, the Chavos Yair (109) seems to state the opposite logic -- erasing God's name is forbidden so certainly saying it in vain must be as well.

Interestingly, the Netziv (Ha'amek She'elah, Yisro no. 2) states that the Chasam Sofer would personally say a doubtful blessing with God's name in Aramaic, implying that there is no problem of saying God's name in translation. However, the She'arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah (Nedarim 2a sv. u-shevu'os) points out that the Chasam Sofer writes in his commentary there that it is forbidden to do that. He also quotes the Tashbetz (3:121) who says that the meturgeman, the simultaneous translator, should not translate the blessings of the haftarah because blessings are valid in any language.

On the other hand, he quotes the Derekh Pekudekha (aseh 4), Arukh Ha-Shulchan (Orach Chaim 202:3) and other authorities who rule that you can say doubtful blessings in Aramaic. See also the Pischei Teshuvah (Yoreh De'ah 328:1).

The bottom line is that this is a matter of debate so consult with your rabbi.

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