Writing the Name "God"
When I was a young kid going to Hebrew school, I was taught that we never write the full name of God; that it should always be written with a dash in place of the "O". What's the reason for that? And why do I see it spelled out on Aish.com?
Also, I often see Jewish printed material that says: "This contains the Name of God - please dispose of reverently." I would be grateful if you could give me advice on how this is done.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
There are two separate issues here. One is the legal issue of erasing God's Name; the other is the emotional issue of treating the Name with proper respect.
First the legal side: Any Hebrew name of God is forbidden to erase. From the Torah's exhortation to destroy idolatry, we learn the injunction not to destroy the name of God. (see Deuteronomy 12:3-4; Talmud - Sanhedrin 56a)
The question is whether this applies only to Hebrew names of God, or to the English word "God" as well. The common rabbinic opinion is that "God" written in any language other than Hebrew, has no holiness and can be erased. (Shach Y.D. 179:11; Mishnah Berurah 85:10)
This explains why we are able to bring a U.S. dollar bill into the bathroom, even though it contains the words, “In God We Trust.”
There is still the other issue of giving the Name proper respect. This means not taking genuine Torah material into the bathroom, and not throwing it out with the rest of the garbage. Instead, you should bring the printed material to the synagogue and place it in a box called "Geniza" (a.k.a. "Sheimos"). This box is used to discard unusable holy objects - including Torah scrolls that have become old and invalid, old tefillin and tzitzit, and papers that contain words of Torah.
When the box is full, it is taken to be buried.
If this is not possible, as long as you do not treat a printout with disdain (such as throwing it directly into a garbage can), you may just put it into a separate bag, and then dispose of it. It may even be given for recycling. (Igrot Moshe O.C. 4:39)
Even in Hebrew, partial or altered verses, when not written in Torah script (Ktav Ashurit) and when printed on paper (not written by a scribe on parchment), are all mitigating factors for not considering the writing holy. (source: Pischei Teshuva Y.D. 276:11; Chavas Yair 109; Minchas Yitzchak 1:17)
Now what about spelling the English name "God"? Even though it does not technically have "holiness," some people go beyond the letter of the law and show extra respect, by spelling God with a dash.
Why doesn't Aish.com spell it with a dash? Because many of our readers have limited Jewish background, and spelling God with a dash might look strange and pose some block to learning the material. So in consultation with leading Torah scholars, we simply follow the halacha stated above, that non-Hebrew names do not technically have holiness.
An interesting extension of this topic is the issue of deleting God's name from a computer screen. It seems that nothing is being written or erased, except for electromagnetic impulses. Actually, any word displayed on a screen is erased and rewritten 50 or 60 times a second. So when you scroll down the screen, you're not doing anything worse than was just done thousand of times in the last few minutes.
And one more corollary: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes that although there does not appear to be anything wrong with erasing cassette tapes containing God's name, when possible one should refrain from doing so as a sign of reverence. (Igros Moshe - Y.D. 1:173)