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Shabbat Parashat Yitro| 5764

Ask the Rabbi

Question: Is it a good idea to change the name of a person who is very sick, and how does one go about doing it? What are the long-term implications of this change?
Answer: The minhag to change the name of a very sick person is an old one, which is approved of by the Shulchan Aruch (Even Haezer 129:18) and Rama (Yoreh Deah 335:10). The rationale behind it is found in the gemara (Rosh Hashana 16b) that one of the things that can “rip up” the harsh decree of a person is changing his name.
However, the step of changing a name should not be taken lightly, as a person’s name could have not only psychological importance to him, but could actually be the source of spiritual strength and longevity for him, as well. Therefore, great rabbis who have a special expertise in and sensitivity to the more hidden world of the Torah should give approval to such a decision. For the reason we have mentioned, we also have the practice not to uproot the old name but to add on another name before the old one. (The practice of having double names is itself hundreds, not thousands of years old.)
The name is changed in a “ceremony” done with a minyan, which starts with the recitation of several perakim of Tehillim, and includes a special “Yehi Ratzon.”  This is found in some complete siddurim or Tehillim books. We have brought the order of the ceremony with the differences between the Ashkenazic and Sefardic communities in Bemareh Habazak IV, pg. 44.
The idea of the change is not to be ceremonial alone, but it is supposed to represent an actual change in the name. While it is not forbidden for a person to use a name other than the one he was given at his brit, the official name should be the new one. This has weighty consequences if the person gives a get (see Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer 129:18 and the responsa found in the Chelkat Mechokek, ad loc.). It also affects how the person is called to the Torah, how a “Mi Shebeirach” will be said on his behalf, and how he should be referred to in death, whether on a tombstone or in memorial services (Gesher Hachayim I, pg. 31).
The main requirement to make the change of name permanent is that the sick person becomes well. (Obviously, we cannot know if his improvement was a result of the name change, but that possibility was the rationale for making the change). He must recuperate to the point that there was an assumption held for at least 30 days that he recovered (ibid.). Otherwise the original name reverts back to use at death.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is
dedicated to the memory of R’ Meir  ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.

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