On Deleting Digital Hashem

This presents a challenge for Jewish law to come to grips with the increasing centrality of digital text. It is a longstanding prohibition that one cannot erase Shem Hashem, the holy names of God (or G-d, for those who feel the prohibition extends beyond Hebrew). Writings containing the names cannot be destroyed or mutilated—or taken into the bathroom, for that matter—but must be stored in a geniza for later burial. This restriction has had the happy side effect of giving us archival treasures like the Cairo geniza, whose hundreds of thousands of manuscript fragments fueled the histories of S. D. Goitein and others. But what are we do to with monitors, hard drives, and Kindles? Bury them all? Halachic consensus has tended to be pragmatically permissive, ruling that there is no prohibition on the erasure of God’s names on a screen, on a disk, or in some other digital form. But there has been little agreement on exactly why there is no prohibition.

David Auerbach, "Deleting the Digital Name of God." - tabletmag.com/scroll/269413/deleting-the-digital-name-of-god. Interesting brief summary of debates about disposal of sacred digital texts in Jewish thought. Hashem is the Hebrew term which literally translates as "the name" and is typically read in place of the tetragrammaton or other name for God in a given text. Much depends on how the technology displays the name it seems. An unmentioned complication is that parts of the Cairo geniza cited above have been digitized. For instance, scholars at the University of Manchester recently collaborated with the Rylands Library collections. Details on the project and many of its 15,000 fragments can be viewed here. The Rylands library museum also displays a number of Torah scrolls where the name of God has been carefully cut out of the text in order to desacralize them. For those interested in the wider practice of ritual disposal across religious traditions, a helpful monograph on the subject can be found here: The Death of Sacred Texts: Ritual Disposal and Renovation of Texts in World Religions

 Reading Room of the John Rylands Library

Reading Room of the John Rylands Library

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