Ami Eden Ben Sales addresses a question that has always bedeviled us at the NJJN: If a newspaper photograph contains the four-letter Hebrew word for God, must the paper only be disposed of in a a genizah, a special storage space for such holy discards? (Or, as Ami puts it, “Throwing God’s name in the trash is a no-no.”)
The Wall Street Journal ran a photograph of a Torah scroll last week (“and if you look closely at the blurry text, you can make out God’s name”). Ami asks two rabbis, an Orthodox and a Reform, for their opinion:
“It was not put there for any purpose of kedusha, of holiness,” said Rabbi Allen Schwartz of New York’s Orthodox Congregation Ohab Zedek. Schwartz explained that in order to require placement in a genizah, God’s name “has to be four clear letters” –meaning that blurriness disqualifies the Journal picture. He added that variations on the four-letter Tetragrammaton such as a single hey or yod also don’t require burial.
In a rare case of Jewish interdenominational agreement, Rabbi Kenneth Kanter, the director of the rabbinical school at the Reform Hebrew Union College, seconded Schwartz’s opinion.
“We see pages of Torah or other sacred books reproduced in so many ways on TV or in the print media,” he said. “Jewish law would urge us to treat Torah scrolls with respect. Sometimes they are reproduced upside-down, which is certainly for me a bigger problem.”
I don’t find either of these answers satisfying. Is it the intent or blurriness that decides the case? Does Rabbi Kanter (a delightful name, by the way) come to any conclusion at all?