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Ask the Rabbi #22

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May 21, 1994; Issue #22

This issue is dedicated in memory of J. Joshua Goldberg Z'L

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  • Erasing Torah from computer software or screens
  • How is a person 'stoned to death'?
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  • Erasing Torah from computer software or screens

    Yoel Strimling of St. Louis wrote:

    Dear Rabbi,

    Is one allowed halachically to delete e-mail that includes Divrei Torah [Words of Torah]? Can one rely on the fact that since is has no physical being, it is not the same as a piece of paper that has [Words of] Torah written on it?

    Also, Shammai Linsky of Brooklyn wrote:

    Dear Rabbi,

    What is the halacha concerning Torah which is stored on devices such as disk drives, etc.? Is it permissible to erase at will?

    Dear Yoel and Shammai,

    The Talmud lists seven names of G-d that may not, under any circumstances be erased -- even if a scribe makes an error when writing a Sefer Torah. The Shulchan Aruch states that even *one letter* from these names may not be erased. Other Kitvei Kodesh [Holy Writings] have less stringent rules, but are generally forbidden to erase.

    An apparently similar question was posed to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt'l, regarding erasing blessings and Torah from audio cassettes. He wrote that since the words are not stored in the form of 'letters', he can find no clear prohibition against 'erasing' them. One might reason, however, that 'letters' are in fact present on a computer monitor.

    On the other hand, the letters are not directly written by human hand, and in fact are not written at all in the conventional sense. They are not a continuous form; rather they are comprised of flashing pixels of light as the screen is "refreshed" many times per second.

    We presented these questions about erasing and deleting Divrei Torah from computer screens and software to Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita. He ruled it is permitted to erase them and delete them in the normal manner.


    • Talmud - Tractate Shavuot, page 35a.
    • Shulchan Aruch - Yoreh Deah 276:9.
    • Pitchei Teshuva - Yoreh Deah 283, note Bet.

    How is a person 'stoned to death'?

    Andy from Milwaukee asked:

    Dear Rabbi,

    I was always under the impression that 'stoning' was done by a group of people who actually threw rocks at the victim until he was killed; and then someone told me that the victim is not actually stoned but is thrown off of a building (BTW, where did they find buildings in the desert?) Which is correct?

    Dear Andy,

    I don't know about a building in the desert, but I have heard of a hotel called 'The Sands' :-) .

    The Mishna in Tractate Sanhedrin teaches:

    "The stoning building is two stories. One of the witnesses pushes him [the victim off of the building] onto his back...."

    The Mishna goes on to teach that if the victim doesn't die from the fall, then the other witness throws a stone onto him, and if this doesn't do the trick, then all of Israel stone him.

    A poignant insight into the punishment of stoning is offered Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. He explains why it is quite fitting that the person receive punishment by the "hands of" the Earth (pushed to the ground and hit with stone):

    "The particular part of the Earth that carries out the sentence on its immoral inhabitant is the Land, the possession of which is attached to its inhabitants keeping the laws of morality...and which as repeatedly stated, rejects and expels immoral people...he is isolated, rejected, "thrust back" from the surface of the Earth which otherwise would bear him as she maternally bears all her creatures."


    • Tractate Sanhedrin, page 45a.
    • Rabbi S.R. Hirsch - Vayikra 20:2.

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