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The Holy Name of Shalom

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May 12, 2005
The maintenance of harmony is recognized as a paramount value; consequently, conflicts with other halakhic values will at times be decided in favor of shalom. The most well-known of these instances is found in the Talmud,( Shabbat 116a, Sukkah 53b, Nedarim 66b, Makkot 11a, and Chulin 141a) where we are told that God Himself allowed His Name to be erased (as part of the procedure in which the guilt or innocence of a possibly adulterous wife is determined) in order to advance the cause of peace. The extrapolation of this passage to wider application depends on an accurate delineation of the nature of the prohibition being overridden. On the surface, erasing God’s Name appears to be an outright biblical prohibition. After discussing the destruction of idolatry, the Torah warns, “You shall not do so unto the Lord your God.” (Devarim 12:4) The Talmud (Makkot 22a.) understands this to be an explicit prohibition against the erasing of the Divine Name. Thus, it may be assumed that the aforementioned erasure proves that the pursuit of harmony justifies the violation of Torah prohibitions. In addition, it is the position of R. Shneur Zalman of Lublin (Responsa Torat Chesed, Orach Chaim 4) and others that positive commandments are operative as well, further affecting the range of the dispensation. However, the Rama, in his responsa (#100), slows this procedure somewhat in ruling that the injunction is only transgressed when destructive intent is present; erasure with a constructive purpose does not constitute a violation of a prohibition (See Responsa Chesed L’Avraham, Mahadurah Tinyana, Yoreh Deah 43; Responsa Beit Yitzchak, Orach Chaim 10:5; and Shearim Metzuyanim B’Halakhah, Nedarim 66b and Chulin 141a.; Shut Divrei Yatziv (Yoreh Deah, 177). Along these lines, the Responsa Avnei Nezer, (Orach Chaim 35) and the Responsa Noda B’Yehudah (Mahadurah Tinyana, Yoreh Deah 181) allow erasing that serves the purpose of any mitzvah. (Note, however, R. Aryeh Pomerantzik’s Emek Brakhah, Issur Mechikat HaShem 1, citing Gittin l9b, HaGahot Maimoniot, Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah, ch. 6, in the name of the Re’em; Beit Yosef Yoreh Deah 276 in Bedek HaBayit, and Turei Zahav and Siftei Kohen, ibid.). The Maharal of Prague Netivot Olam, Netiv HaShalom, ch. 1.), makes an observation that provides a more self-contained purpose to the Rama’s reasoning. The word shalom designates not only “peace,” but also itself serves as a form of God’s Name (Shabbat 10a.). The Maharal understands the relationship to be not only semantic but conceptual as well. Thus, the advancement of peace is itself a perpetuation of God’s Name; in a very direct sense, this deletion was an “erasing for the purpose of correcting,” not merely constructive in general, but conducive to the local concept of preserving God’s Name. R. Yitzchak Sternhill (Kokhvei Yitzchak 1:16) observes that this is indeed the position of the Maharal elsewhere in his halakhic writings, that such erasing is permissible (Note, however, his comments in Gur Aryeh, Devarim.).
Nonetheless, despite his delimited reading of the talmudic passage, the Rama earlier in his response (#11; see also his words in Yoreh Deah 228:21.) does allow the violation of certain prohibitions for the sake of peace. The Responsa Mitzpeh Aryeh (Even HaEzer 50) suggests that all violations are permitted for the sake of shalom with the exception of those that impact on marital status. The Pri Chadash, (Orach Chaim 496:7) however, limits these leniencies to issues of convention, forbidding the abrogation of even rabbinical laws. Rashi (Berakhot 54a, s.v. V’Omer) implies that that which may be done in the service of peace is that which “appears prohibited.” The Radbaz (Responsa, IV,1368), adds that one who acts stringently in a matter of undetermined permissibility, where the general practice is to be lenient, may not do so in any public manner for fear of sowing discord. However, HaTashbetz (Responsa, 1:2) was of the opinion that the instance in the Talmud of erasing God’s Name is a unique one, biblically ordained (gezerat hakatuv) and particular to its own concerns; thus, no wider application may be derived, not for the laws of preserving peace nor for the laws of obliterating the Divine Name. Centuries later, this claim was echoed by R. Aryeh Pomerantzik (Emek Brakhah, Issur Mechikat HaShem 4) who explicitly disputes the words of the Rama in his earlier responsum.
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