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Friday, February 9

The Weekly Shtikle - Mishpatim

This coming Tuesday, 28 Shevat, marks the yahrtzeit of my wife's grandfather, R' Yitzchak Yeres, for whom our baby boy is named. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Yitzchak Chaim ben Moshe Yosef.

Among the plethora of commandments in this week's parsha (53 to be exact), we are told (23:13) "You shall not mention the names of other gods, they shall not be heard on your mouth." This prohibition is expounded upon in the gemara (Sanhedrin 63b). It is forbidden to say to someone "wait for me beside such-and-such idol." The only exception to this prohibition, as explained in the gemara, is an avodah zarah that is mentioned in Tanach. Therefore, there is no prohibition against saying the name "Ba'al Pe'or," for example.

Hagahos Maimonios (to Rambam Hilchos Avodah Zarah 5:3) writes that this prohibition is also limited to a name used to honour the avodah zarah. But a common name of something or someone which was made into an avodah zarah is not subject to this prohibition. Thus, if a group of people started worshipping some guy named Joe, there would be no prohibition to refer to Joe. This nuance may be relevant to the possible prohibition against reciting the name of the one that most of the Modern World considers, mistakenly, to be the messiah. Hagahos Maimonios actually derives his ruling from the fact that the gemara freely refers to Yeshu. The common English name beginning with a J is possibly an Anglicized version thereof. However, some believe it to be an anglicized version of the word yeshuah, salvation, for obvious misguided reasons. Nevertheless, if this is a name used to refer to the person, it is possible that it would not fall under this category. The two-word name that is used to refer to him, JC, however, is certainly prohibited for the second word means messiah and this is certainly a name used in his honour.

What bothered me, however, is that it seems that many people, based on the aforementioned gemara, specifically abstain from using a church as landmark when giving directions. At first glance, this might seem to be the case discussed in the gemara. However, a more careful analysis of the gemara, and the pesukim involved, show that the prohibition is to say the actual name of an avodah zarah. The word "church," on its own, is not the name of an avodah zarah and the prohibition should not apply to this word. I heard, however, that Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, concurred with this very point but added that it seems that Jews have customarily accepted upon themselves to be extra stringent in this matter and that is why they are careful to avoid using a church as a landmark.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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