Shabbat Parashat Miketz| 5767
Ask the Rabbi
Question: Can you pronounce the Names of Hashem in their “unedited” form (in Hebrew) when learning texts or singing zemirot (songs of praise) that include His Names?
Answer: The Rambam (Sh’vuot 12:9) rules that one who uses Hashem’s Name in a shevuat shav (meaningless oath) or a beracha l’vatala (an unwarranted blessing) violates the Torah prohibition to use His Name in vain. One who utters His Name without a purpose transgresses the lower level, Torah commandment to fear His Name (ibid.:11). In the latter case, the Rambam instructs one to rectify an improper utterance of the Name by adding words of praise of Hashem.
The gemara (Berachot 22a) discusses what matters of holiness a ba’al keri (a man with a certain type of impurity, regarding which we are now lenient) may recite. One opinion allows him to engage in normal Talmudic study, as long as he does not utter Hashem’s Names in the process. Rav Yaakov Emden (Sh’eilat Ya’avetz I, 81) proves from here that people other than a ba’al keri do pronounce the Names normally. He related that his father (the Chacham Tzvi) scolded teachers who refrained from the real pronunciation of the Names during learning. (We are referring to the standard reading of A-D-O… for Hashem’s main Name, not the reading of the letters.)
There are some attempts to deflect Rav Yaakov Emden’s proof; however, they are not convincing (see Yabia Omer III, OC 14). The Mishna Berura (215:14) indeed rules that one may pronounce in the normal manner the Names that are found in the p’sukim one reads from the gemara. However, the Igrot Moshe (OC II, 56) points out that although one may pronounce the Names, there is little indication that he must do so. He argues that the only reason to mandate proper pronunciation is that it is improper to end a pasuk in the middle, and effectively omitting a Name from the pasuk (by altering it) may be the equivalent. (We are unable to develop that topic in our present scope). However, if one is anyway not reciting an entire pasuk (as is common when learning), he may replace the main Name with “Hashem” (which means, the Name) and change other Names (for example, to “Elokeinu”).
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 215:3) says that children may accurately recite berachot they are learning even when it is not time to recite them. The Magen Avraham (ad loc.:4) infers that when an adult learns a text that contains a beracha (which is more problematic than a pasuk), he may not mention the Names. What about tefillot (prayers) that are not in the form of a formal blessing? The Rama (OC 188:7) says that if one omitted Ya’aleh V’yavoh in Birkat Hamazone,the correct practice is to not recite it later because it contains Hashem’s Names. The Magen Avraham (ad loc.:11) argues, pointing out that we use His Name in personal prayers even when not obligated. The Biur Halacha (ad loc.) reconciles the apparently contradictory practices. One may, on his own, invoke Hashem’s Name in prayer when he does so voluntarily. One may not recite a set, obligatory tefilla like Ya’aleh V’Yavoh when it is unwarranted.
As the aforementioned Rambam hinted, it is likewise permissible to use Hashem’s Name to praise Him, including in Shabbat zemirot and other liturgy. Indeed, some (including Rav Sh. Z. Orbach) pronounce the Names normally. (The rhyming in some zemirot indicates that the liturgist also did so.) However, many have the custom to alter the Names (Nefesh Harav, pg. 160 reports that Rav Soloveitchik did not utter the Names in zemirot). The explanation of this custom is apparently that we are concerned that we will not be in the proper frame of mind (B’tzel Hachuchma IV, 52) or may stop in the middle of a phrase (see Igrot Moshe, ibid.) or otherwise disgrace the Name.
In practice, one can choose either to pronounce normally or change Hashem’s Names when reading Torah texts, saying informal prayers, or singing zemirot. When studying berachot,he must change the Names; when reading a whole pasuk, it is proper to pronounce the Names accurately.
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