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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

What is a Man?

I was born and raised on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean. It appears that in the Western world, a "man" is expected to be macho, keep up with the latest fashion, smoke, drink alcohol, be a womanizer, etc. But experience has shown me that there is something wrong with this definition.

Could you please give me a Jewish definition of what it means to be a "man"?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In Hebrew, one of the words for "man" is "gever."

"Gever" comes from the same root as "gavar," which means to overcome or conquer. (Similarly, the Hebrew word for hero is "gibor.")

So a true man is one who overcomes. But overcomes what?

The Talmud (Avot 4:1) says: "Who is a 'gibor,' a mighty man? He who conquers his evil inclination."

To explain: The evil inclination is the desire within each human being to follow physical passions. In other words, the desire to smoke, drink, eat and "be a womanizer" (as you put it).

Life is full of challenges in these areas. No matter what level we're on, there is always a new test awaiting us. Because the reason for our being here in the first place is to grow by overcoming these challenges.

Of course, we need to engage in the physical world. But we should not do so for its own sake; rather we infuse our physical experiences with an eye toward a higher, spiritual goal.

Ironically, one who overcomes the temptation to "be a man" according to Western standards, is the true man according to Jewish standards!

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)

Most Important Prayer

I have heard many different opinions and would like to know which prayer is the most fundamental to Jews, the Amidah or the Shema?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It is impossible to compare, because the Shema is not really a "prayer" at all, while the Amidah is the optimum prayer.

The Shema is not a "prayer" in the ordinary sense of the word, even though it is an integral part of the prayer service. The Shema is a declaration of faith, a pledge of allegiance to One God, an affirmation of Judaism. It is the first "prayer" that Jewish children are taught to say. It is said on arising in the morning and on going to sleep at night. It is said when one is praising God and when one is beseeching Him. It is the last words a Jew says prior to death. It is the expression of Jewish conviction, the historic proclamation of Judaism's central creed.

On the other hand, the Shemona Esrei (a.k.a. the Amidah) is the heart of every prayer service. It contains the basic components of prayer: praising God, petitioning Him, and thanking Him. Whenever the Talmud refers to "Tefilah" (the Hebrew word for "prayer") it means the Shemona Esrei, and not any other blessing or supplication. The obligation to pray three times a day is fulfilled only by reciting the Shemona Esrei three times a day.

So you see, the Shema and the Amidah fulfill completely different purposes.

To learn more, read "To Pray As A Jew" by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, from which this answer was derived.