The Disappearing Doctor of Iyyar: Virtual Vanishing of a Venerable Minhog – הרופא הנעדר של חודש אייר: מנהג ותיק בכתיבת שם ה’, שהולך ונתמעט

There is a popular vort that some people like to say over, especially around this time of the year, which interprets the letters of אייר, the month we are now in midst of, as standing for אני ה’ רופאך, I am Hashem your healer (‘doctor’). The aleph stands for אני, the two yuds for הקב”ה, and the ר for רופאך. The month is thereby depicted as a month of healing. The vort seemingly is based on an old minhog of many generations among Yidden, in which the letters י-י  (sans hyphen) are used to represent the venerated name of Hashem (in particular the שם הוי-ה), in place of the spelling out of it with the letters Yud-Kay-Vov-Kay (י, followed by ה, followed by ו, followed by ה).

Writing the Shem Hashem – background, past, and present practices

Jewish custom is that the Shem Hashem is treated with special respect. When people write, they do not write the Holy Name as it appears in a sefer Torah, for example. Rather they write ה’, ה’ יתברך, or similar. This was followed not only in private writing, but even in the printing of סידורים, where in the past, Shem Hashem was not written out explicitly, based on venerable, old practice. In other words, the spelling out of the letters, Yud – Kay – Vov – Kay in the past was done in Biblical texts, such as ספרי תורה וספרי נ”ך. In texts of תפלות, however, it was not done. Instead, Yud – Yud was substituted. The reason for this, was as part of the great veneration and respect Jews had for the great and awesome name. Just as people don’t enunciate it when they speak, rather they say instead ‘Hashem’ (the name), הקדוש ברוך הוא, etc., so too, they were careful not to spell out the name in writing as well. Recently, however, almost all נוסח אשכנז siddurim have abandoned this ancient practice (with the notable exception of some Yekke ones, whose circulation and numbers are quite limited at this time though) and started to write out the sheimos explicitly, with the letters ‘Yud – Kay – Vov – Kay’. It has gotten to the point, that one is hard pressed to find a siddur which follows that venerable minhog in many nusach Ashkenaz Shuls.

To better bring out the above, one can take a look at pages from a variety of נוסח אשכנז siddurim over the centuries, by clicking on the links below, thanks to Hebrewbooks.org.

1. The kabbalistic סידור שער השמים of the famous Kabbalist, the של”ה, from approximately three hundred years ago, here.

2. The famous סידור בית יעקב (also strongly Kabbalah influenced), of the great Rav Yaakov Emden,  here.

3. A siddur from one of the גדולי ירושלים, ר’ זונדעל קרויזער, from a few short years ago, here.

Note the difference between how the Shem is written in the first two and how it is seen in the third.

Why should this be cause for wonder and concern, לעניות דעתי, as it seems from this vantage point?

For a number of reasons. If this was the minhog of the gedolim and masses of the past, how can people later, who are presumed to be on a lesser level, make such a change, on such a broad scale, to the extent that the old tradition is threatened with disappearance ח”ו? Do they think we know better than so many previous generations, and their leaders, the gedolim? How can such an old tradition be so easily abandoned? It should be stated that the question is more for people involved in putting together סידורים than the masses who daven from them, who are likely not aware of the issues involved, to be fair.

Kabbalistic siddurim have previously followed such a path, of printing out sheimos explicitly, and in Sepharadic/ Eidos Hamizrach siddurim one sees many varied sheimos spelled out. But the minhog among Ashkenazim was not so.

הרב יעקב לויפר, who wrote about this recently, feels that Kabbalistic influence is involved in the shift. He also mentions a responsum of Rav Moshe Sternbuch שליט”א, who/which advocates as much, as well as a claim that the Brisker Rav held so as well (which he states requires investigation), but feels that R. Sternbuch is in the minority.

It still surprises me, however, as this is not a small, minor matter, but a venerable old minhog that was kept for centuries.

The extent of the strength of the minhog can be seen from strongly worded declarations from very prominent Rabbonim in support of it over a century ago, which can be seen online, once again thanks to hebrewbooks.org, two examples being

1) ר’ אלעזר הכהן, son in law of ר’ יעקב מליסא, the famed Nesivos Hamishpot (בעמח”ס נתיבות המשפט), wrote strongly about this inyan over a hundred years ago, with his message entitled אזהרה למדפיסים.

and

2) A few years later, a קונטרוס came out in support of the same, entitled הסכמות הרבנים, with statements of a group of renowned Rabbonim, including R. Chaim Berlin, and R. Eliyohu Boruch Kamai of Mir.

Rav Sternbuch, in his reponsum where he discusses the matter, from circa thirty years ago, states that most siddurim do not spell out the sheimos, but rather use י-י instead. But if that was true at that time, it definitely is not so now, as the tide has swung dramatically, to the point where I think the old minhag can be placed in our ‘endangered minhogim‘ category. The fact that it has reached such a situation, hopefully will spur people to give it more thought and consideration.

In the zechus of התבוננות in, and hopefully, at some point, החזרת עטרה ליושנה in this inyan, may we be zoche to אני ה’ רופאך, בב”א.

Note: (The info in the above is primarily based on an excellent מאמר in קובץ חצי גבורים פליטת סופרים ז, אלול התשע”ד by הרב יעקב לויפר, ירושלים, עמודים שמז-שסה)

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2 Responses to “The Disappearing Doctor of Iyyar: Virtual Vanishing of a Venerable Minhog – הרופא הנעדר של חודש אייר: מנהג ותיק בכתיבת שם ה’, שהולך ונתמעט”

  1. noachav Says:

    I have heard that the reason why proper shemot were omitted in the siddurim of our ancestors was due to the perceived impermanence of the books of that era (which I should say is not completely accurate, the seforim of the past were of much better quality until around 150 years ago). On the other hand, I have heard that the shift was due to the poskim for the modern publishers, who held that due to the increase in the quality of our books, we should print the shemot in full, even in those tefillot which are not quoted from Tana”ch. I am presently in the process of composing a siddur based on the nushchaot mentioned in the madrich from Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz, and I did include the the shem הוי–ה, as it also seems that most individuals with whom I have conversed to use that shem.

    כל טוב

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Thanks for the comment.

      The matter is complex. While the idea that you allude to is raised in some discussions (a חשש, fear, that sheimos might come to בזיון, ח”ו), there is more to the matter than that. As stated above, there is an idea ליראה את השם הגדול והנורא, to fear, be in awe, relate in that way to Shem Hashem, the great name of ה’ יתברך, especially the Shem Havayah. Just as it is not read as Shem Havayah in speech, so too, it is not written that way. To get a better understanding, you might want to take a look at the piece of רב יעקב לויפר.

      I asked רבש”ה about the inyan a while back and he said that has many ראיות that the old way (two yuds) is the way to follow.

      הצלחה in your work.

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