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Most people seem to be lenient about shemos on digital screens in general (though Bar-Ilan does avoid displaying the Tetragrammaton.) The letters on the screen are just light, there is nothing really written there. But what about on a E-reader, like a Kindle or a Nook? For those devices, actual particles form the words. Would one be allowed to erase shemos from them?

(Note: Currently, I don't think these devices display Hebrew text, so it's not yet a common issue.)

How the devices work: LCD Screens E-readers.

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Also see judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/1186/hashems-name-on-device . Even though at first glance it looks like a duplicate, this question focuses on the E-ink aspect of it. –  yydl May 11 '11 at 21:17
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There is a Hebrew E-Reader device, appropriately named Ivrit. It's been available for sale in Israel for a few months –  JohnoBoy May 12 '11 at 13:14
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Most (if not all) e-readers can display images or PDFs, which can contain Hebrew. –  SLaks May 12 '11 at 15:21
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@Shaul: There is a difference between arbitrary bits that happen to represent the Name in a specific encoding vs. actual ink on a screen. For one thing, any sequence of bytes can represent the name in a suitably wacky encoding, and there is nothing Halachically significant about UTF8. –  SLaks May 12 '11 at 17:27
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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/9000 –  msh210 Jul 20 '11 at 15:14

7 Answers 7

A Rabbi Akiva Dershowitz addresses this question here.

He permits it for two reasons. The first is that he says the necessity of power to maintain the writing doesn't impact the fact that it is not considered Halachic writing.

He then quotes a Teshuva from Rav Asher Weiss which permits the use of a sefer with Hashem's name written on the side (such that it is broken and reattached every time the book is opened and closed), which puts down the principle that the issur is not erasing, in the sense of the issue on Shabbos, but rather destroying. He applies this reasoning here.

Neither of those statements (especially the last one) make much sense to me, but he says it, so that is an answer.

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This answer to a related question argues that e-ink is writing, based on Mishnah Berurah. If that is true then it seems there is a problem with both writing and erasing a divine name.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

I asked a Posek from YU and he said it shouldn't be a problem to read seforim on an E-reader. He didn't explain why, but these are two reasons that one can perhaps be meikel:

  • Its not really a written text. Since its just particles floating in some sort of liquid, one can make an argument that it is not a real written word. Even though the text doesn't need continued electric power to stay there, it's still not a real form of writing.
  • It wasn't made to be holy, but just to be used temporarily. Some have used this argument to permit discarding printed Divrei Torah: since they were just meant to be used short-term, they may lose their holiness afterwards. R.M.Feinstein (Ig.Moshe OC IV.39) cites the halacha that requires the burning a "Sefer Torah sheKasav min" to show that intent is necessary to make something holy. This argument is much stronger when applied to an E-reader. The person has no intent to create a lasting holy text, just to read it for a minute. Therefore, there should not be a problem to turn the page.
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Did he say you shouldn't give his name? –  msh210 Aug 2 '11 at 5:27

Two possibilities I can think of:

  • The E-ink is not permanent stuff (it disappears as soon as the power is cut, for example). So it might be akin to writing Hashem's name in fruit juice or something similar. In the laws of Shabbos, that is not considered true "writing" (though it's still forbidden Rabbinically - see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 340:4 and Mishnah Berurah there :18 and :22), so possibly - though I haven't found any source to substantiate this - it may not be considered "writing" for this purpose either.

  • On these devices, as far as I know, you "erase" the words somewhat indirectly (by flipping to the next page, or turning them off, or whatever - but not by doing anything directly to the E-ink particles themselves). Indirect erasure of Hashem's name is not prohibited (Shabbos 120b, cited in Minchas Chinuch 437:14; there is an extensive discussion of the details of this law in the commentaries to Rambam, Hil. Yesodei Hatorah 6:6).

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I'm not sure the premise of your first point is correct. According to Wikipedia "power is only drawn when the display is updated." I think one of the major advantages is that the particles retain state permanently until electronically flipped. –  Isaac Moses May 12 '11 at 5:17
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"The E-ink is not permanent stuff" It is forbidden to write a passuk on a fruit, because it will inevitably rot. So that might not help things. –  Ariel K May 12 '11 at 14:55
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Isaac is correct. I've used these devices; the ink lasts forever (probably not literally). In practice, turning off the power causes it to change to a wallpaper, but if you leave it on until the battery dies, the image will remain until you charge it and do something else. –  SLaks May 12 '11 at 15:24
    
@Ariel: that's a little different, though. The ink there is permanent, it's the writing medium that's not. –  Alex May 12 '11 at 16:50
    
@Alex: e-Ink is permanent too. –  SLaks May 12 '11 at 17:29

I think this is a very good question; I'm not sure how much room there is to be lenient and permit erasure.

If e-Ink is considered Halachic writing, there shouldn't be any excuse to erase the Name once it's on the screen (nor would it be permissible to scroll or zoom, or move the cursor over the Name).

If so, it would probably also be prohibited to display the Name in the first place, unless you plan to let the device's battery drain afterwards and never touch it again (so that it's never erased).


One reason I can think of to say that e-Ink isn't considered writing is that there isn't a separate layer of ink on paper; rather, each dot of the "paper" is either black or white.
It's actually more similar to a mosaic in which each tile is substantially smaller than a letter.

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I don't know that that last point would be a mitigating factor, though. Would you be allowed to destroy a mosaic that included Hashem's name in the design? –  Alex May 12 '11 at 18:06
    
@Alex: I don't know; that's why I phrased that בתורת ספק. It would probably be determined by כותב in הלכות שבת. –  SLaks May 12 '11 at 18:20
    
About the CRT screens I've heard that because the name of G-d is actually constructed from set of dots (like a mosaic as you said) it is not a problem to erase it. The are more reasons to permit erasing on CRT screens, but this one applies also to E-ink. –  jutky May 12 '11 at 21:55
    
@jutky: The difference is that CRT "ink" isn't actual substance. –  SLaks May 12 '11 at 22:32
    
@SLaks: Sort of. CRT 'ink' is still small chemical dots adjacent to each other, it just requires extra energy as well. What about an LCD screen with the backlight off? There's a continuum here, with mosaic tiles at one end, e-ink in the middle and air-writing with sparklers at the other. –  Tynam May 14 '12 at 10:57

No, sorry. If you open your Kindle and see the name of G-d on your screen, even by accident, you have to bury it.

OK, I'm just kidding. But in all seriousness, I think the absurdity of the alternative already gives you the answer. The real question is: why? And for a good halachic justification, I shall leave the field open to others more learned than I... :)

EDIT: Some people have taken me to task on this answer and downvoted me for it, and I can really understand why. According to the pure bounds of truth, one has to be intellectually honest and accept the halacha, whatever it may be.

OTOH, I think it is very important to realize that this world was specifically not created with the pure middas hadin (attribute of judgment), but rather by and admixture of emes (truth) and shalom (peace). The role of a posek (Rabbi who makes halachic rulings) is not just to find the truth, but also to find a peaceable solution to the big picture. See, for example, the attitude of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin in the case of the Aguna of Vilna, quoted from here:

Regarding the case of the Aguna of Vilna I see you are leaning toward stringency. You feel the woman should not remarry.

The reason you are leaning this way is because you are not here. You do not hear the crying of this woman nor do you see her tears. If I would be where you are I too would be stringent, but I am here. I will rule leniently for her. May G-d save me from mistakes. (Rav Chaim of Volozhin in a letter to one of the great poskim of his generation. Quoted in Chut HaMeshulash 8)

Now maybe a Kindle is not as big a loss as a woman's ability to remarry, but I assure you that if ever this question came to discussion in front of a posek, his first, knee-jerk reaction would be, "Let's find a way to permit this, so that this poor guy doesn't have to lose his Kindle."

Agreed, I don't have the big shoulders of a posek like R' Chaim of Volozhin to make such a ruling, but I would be hugely shocked if nobody could find a solid heter (leniency) to permit you to keep on using your Kindle after a shem Hashem appeared on its display.

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Absurd? Not necessarily so. Without having a good reason (or source), I would stay away from drawing any conclusion... –  yydl May 12 '11 at 4:05
    
It's likely you wouldn't be allowed to put the name there in the first place, but b'dieved, there could be some solution (e.g wait for it to shut off). But that argument won't make something permissible. –  Ariel K May 12 '11 at 4:28
    
@yydl, @Ariel, see my edits... –  Shaul Behr May 12 '11 at 7:20
    
Still, it might be better to post such an answer as a comment on the original question. I was mainly focused on how you wrote "the absurdity of the alternative already gives you the answer," Halacha follows rules, not convenience. –  yydl May 12 '11 at 22:55

In order to answer your question we need to define the scope of the prohibition on erasing G-d's name. It's based on Deuteronomy 12:3-4 וְאִבַּדְתֶּם אֶת־שְׁמָ֔ם, "and you shall destroy [the idols'] names", 'לֹֽא־תַעֲשוּן כֵּ֔ן לַה, "you shall not do the same to G-d". The extent of the prohibition is discussed in commentators to Shulchan Aruch and Tur 276:9, and Ramba"m Yesodei haTorah 6, with very wide disagreement - see the Pitchei Teshuva for an analysis.

Basically, we can define a spectrum of "names". This certainly includes seven - the Tetragrammaton, E-l and so forth, but it may extend down to things like "shalom". Then we can define a spectrum of intent - was it written deliberately, erroneously, or absent-mindedly? Then there's a spectrum of contexts - in a sefer torah, in other parts of tanach, as a verse decorating (e.g.) a cup, or just randomly? The acharonim disagree on all of these.

Anyway, let's suppose that for whatever reason you choose to display a PDF on your Kindle that contains the Tetragrammaton. It's a deliberate act involving the most sacred of names; is there a basis for erasing it? The only relevant responsum I have found is from R' Ovadia Yosef shlit"a but this appears to assume the use of CRT or LED displays, which are "not actual writing, [...] only a combination of various lights and the like" and which stop displaying the image when the machine is turned off. Neither of these apply to the Kindle.

I think it would take a posek to give a definitive answer, but I suggest that one response might be that even a Kindle doesn't involve an actual change in the electronic ink; it's merely a rearrangement of the small particles within it. This isn't the classic form of writing (which has real ink laid down on a substrate, and which changes the paper or parchment it's written on) and it isn't even like engraving, as no material moves from its place. This being the case, perhaps one can safely rely on the acharonim who only prohibit the erasure of names written as part of a sefer torah and so forth.

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It seems pretty close to writing. Actual particles are laid down in a way that will remain there until the Kindle goes to sleep. But it makes sense that there can be more leniencies for pesukim and Torah that does not have the Name (e.g Bar-Ilan). –  Ariel K May 12 '11 at 15:00
    
Actually, its more like engraving than like writing, since the material DOES move from its place. It goes from the top of the cell, to the bottom of the cell. –  avi Aug 2 '11 at 5:34
    
Being that the individual e-ink particles (or pixels or whatever you want to call them) are never actually joined, nor can the ever be, but merely appear as such, I think that we can make a distinction between this and actual writing in which the particles are actually joined. Imagine a group of people standing in a field holding up individual colored pieces of paper to spell out words, although it appears to spell a word, the paper is not joined and therefore not actually established and written. –  Adam Simon Aug 2 '11 at 12:08
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Should I post the above as a separate answer? –  Adam Simon Aug 2 '11 at 12:09

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