By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
aftR I finishD learning d Daf Yomi on mon I realized dat OMG I had Nuttin 2 wrte bout. Nuttin jumped out @ me. I wz turniN things Ovr n my hed wen d ideas of acronyms hit me. ppl uz dem whIl txtN. wot iz txtN w/o acronyms? IANAE bt i mAk do LOL. Acronyms R Nuttin nu of corS. d 1st recorded acronyms R problE found n d bible BYKT. IMS if yur BTD.
After I finished learning the daf yomi on Monday, I realized that oh my gosh! I had nothing to write about. Nothing jumped out at me. I was turning things over in my head when the ideas of acronyms hit me. People use them while texting. What is texting without acronyms? I am not an expert but I make do… laugh out loud. Acronyms are nothing new of course. The first recorded acronyms are probably found in the bible but you knew that. I am sorry if you’re bored to death. Smile.
What in the world do acronyms have to do with the laws of Shabbos? One of the forbidden labors on Shabbos is writing. The halacha is that if someone forgot it was Shabbos and wrote a minimum of two letters, in the times of the Beis HaMikdash he would bring a korban chatas as an atonement. The Mishnah Berurah writes that writing even one letter on Shabbos is biblically prohibited, but it is a less severe violation and one would not be required to bring a korban to atone for his inadvertent sin. Even though there is sadly no Beis Hamidash today, knowing which prohibitions are more severe is still relevant.
HaRav Dovid Weinberger, shlita, writes the following in Madrich L’Chevrah Hatzolah: Ha-kal Ha-Kal Techilah—Selecting the lesser violation is a halachic process whereby in non-life-threatening situations only, one must attempt to minimize the extent and severity of the melachos performed. This selection process is not intended to be utilized in life-threatening emergencies, where any unnecessary delay might jeopardize a life.
There is a dispute in the Mishnah between Rebbe Yehoshua ben Besaira and the chachamim (Shabbos 104b) whether writing one representative letter violates the more severe form of kesivah. For example, if someone wrote the letter mem to represent the number 40, is that considered as significant as writing two letters? The chachamim rule that it is not. The Mishnah Berurah rules in accordance with the chachamim.
It is interesting to note that Tosfos (top of 103b) seems to say that the chachamim would even exempt a person who wrote three letters that form an acronym from bringing a sacrifice. According to Tosfos, writing IDK would be less severe than writing the word cat. (Tosfos as understood by Rav Elazar Moshe Horowitz, zt’l) Apparently, Tosfos considers using acronyms to be a non-standard form of writing. However, it is quite possible that even Tosfos would concede that nowadays writing IDK is a normative practice and is not any less severe. Regardless, Tosfos’s opinion is not halachically accepted. The other Rishonim understand that a two letter acronym is the same as writing two regular letters. The only dispute in the Mishnah was regarding writing one letter that represented more than one letter.
Whether or not typing a text message on a phone on Shabbos involves the most severe form of kesivah is an interesting topic for discussion. HaRav Shlomo Zalman, zt’l, ruled that it certainly doesn’t. He says that writing on a computer like device would only be forbidden rabbinically. The Shevet HaLevi disagrees and says that even writing on a computer can be considered the most severe form of kesivah. However, with the advent of screen savers, it’s possible that all would agree that texting would only be forbidden rabbinically. One major requirement of kesivah is that the writing be a lasting writing. A scenario mentioned in the Gemara is writing with fruit juice. One is not allowed to write with fruit juice on Shabbos. However, since the writing is not a lasting form of writing, it is only forbidden rabbinically. All our electronic devices automatically clear the screen after a few minutes. The text on the screen will automatically disappear after a few minutes. Hence the text is not a lasting writing. When awakened, the device reprints the characters that were on the screen previously but that could be considered writing anew. Even if someone set his screen saver for four hours, the Minchas Yitzchok seems to say that writing must last until the end of Shabbos to be considered real writing. So perhaps even the Shevet HaLevi would agree that texting is only forbidden rabbinically.
However, one could argue and say that even with screensavers the writing can still be considered bona fide lasting writing. The halacha is that writing on skin on Shabbos is considered a violation of the melachah. Yet, sweat generally would cause the writing to fade. However, this is considered an external issue, and not an innate problem with the writing. Therefore, even if the writing on the skin certainly fades away, the melachah was still violated. This is in contradistinction to writing with fruit juice where the problem is with the “ink” itself. Perhaps likewise the screensaver can be considered an external factor.
I mentioned in the beginning that the first acronyms were probably found in the Torah. To demonstrate but one example, the Torah writes twice that Avraham Avinu will be an “Av Hamon.” One mention of the phrase is extra and is therefore meant to be interpreted as an acronym. Those two words are comprised of six Hebrew letters. According to the Gemara they are to be interpreted as aleph-av. You will be a father to the nations. The Chinuch takes this to mean that anyone who converts will be considered a son of Avraham Avinu. Beis-bachur. I made you young. The Ben Yehoyada says this refers to the fact that Avraham Avinu had a son at the age of 100. Hey-chaviv. Ches and hey are sometimes interchangeable. Avraham was the most beloved among the nations. Mem-melech. Avraham was considered a king among the nations. Vav-vasik. Avraham was humble and loved the mitzvos. Nun-neman. Hashem found Avraham Avinu to be faithful and trustworthy.
I hOp U rly enjoyed DIS RtikL & R abL 2 transl8 dEz fInL lines. hav a gud Shabbos! v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and offers a program to help children with ADD increase focus and concentration. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.