Question: May one delete divrei Torah or the name of Hashem on a computer screen?
Short Answer: One may delete divrei Torah or the name of Hashem on a computer screen, but it is preferable to have intent not to make the words kodesh when typing them.
I. Typing on Computers
With the many technological advances over the years, come additional halachic problems. While a detailed knowledge of computers is not necessary to address this issue, a basic overview of computer screens is helpful. Rav Yaakov Goldstein, on his website ShulchanAruchHaRav.com, provides the necessary background: “There exist several types of technologies of screens that can be used for a computer, television, smartphone, watch, and other digital technologies. Each screen type uses a different form of technology to display the words and images on the screen.” For example, LCD screens “display the words to you by dimming and brightening millions of pixels of colors red, blue, and green [RBG] that go through a lighting and dimming phase through the liquid crystals that sit behind the pixels. In CRTs, the letters are projected onto the screen using a light ray.” (See https://shulchanaruchharav.com/halacha/may-one-erase-the-name-of-hashem-that-is-on-a-screen-i-e-delete-the-name-close-the-file-or-computer-open-a-new-file/#_ftnref3.)
This begs the question: Is typing and displaying the words on a screen considered writing? May you erase divrei Torah? Many contemporary poskim address this issue.
II. Avnei Yashfe
The Avnei Yashfe (cited in Ginzei HaKodesh, p. 302) first notes how the words on a computer screen are triggered by sparks/lights inside the computer and obviously is not classical writing with paper and ink. The Shach (Yoreh Dei’ah 276:12) rules that there is no prohibition to erase Hashem’s name that was written intentionally NOT to be kodesh, as long as the erasing is in order to fix or better the paper. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (ibid) cites the P’ri M’gadim, who disagrees. It is never permissible to erase the name of Hashem.
However, writing on a computer is not “writing.” Typing is different from writing in sand or with liquids, which the Mishnah (Shabbos 104a) forbids on Shabbos because of the m’lachah of K’sivah. Typing is simply causing lights to appear as writing. Regardless, since there is no benefit (or usability) of the name of Hashem on a computer screen that is not on, there is no problem in turning off the computer to save its battery. This is like the Shach, as there is a beneficial purpose in “erasing” the name when turning off the computer.
Nevertheless, the Avnei Yashfe concludes that it is preferable to be machmir and to write a different symbol instead of the name of Hashem. This way, the name of Hashem is never erased when you turn off the computer. He cites Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv as having ruled similarly.
III. T’shuvos V’Hanhagos
The T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (3:326) likewise addresses this question. After first noting that he certainly does not understand everything about computers, Rav Sternbuch explains that he will try to find a leniency, as all modern-day s’farim are printed using computers. If it is forbidden to erase Hashem’s name on a computer, then all these s’farim are printed via isurim, as the computer is invariably turned off after the s’farim are printed!
Rav Sternbuch suggests a few leniencies. First, the letters on the screen are “ein bo mamash” – they have no substance. Since they are electronically generated, they have no substance and are not “writing.” Even if computer-knowledgeable individuals understand how the words are generated, the average person does not, and thus the words have no “mamashus” (substance).
Second, words on a computer screen are meant to be erased, and it is known to everyone that the words will disappear when turning off the computer. Even though this reasoning generally does not apply for the name of Hashem, we may be lenient here by typing, which is not classic writing.
Third, there is an extra reason why typing kodesh for s’farim is permitted: Here, there is a valid reason why it is being erased, as this is the process to create s’farim (or to check a sefer Torah).
Fourth, based on the Brisker Rav, who suggests that an entire vessel that has Hashem’s name written on it becomes kodesh, even if the name of Hashem is not written with the intent for k’dushah. The name of Hashem transforms the area into a makom kodesh. A computer, however, is not an area that can be infused with k’dushah like a vessel or parchment.
IV. Sheivet HaLevi
The Sheivet HaLevi (7:4), while ruling leniently that one may erase the name of Hashem if typed on a computer, suggests that the typist have intent NOT to make the letters kodesh. This opinion is likewise cited in the Piskei T’shuvos (Orach Chayim 154:19).
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