By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Of late there has been a lot of tumult surrounding the validity of the name “Shira.” But is this the only halachically controversial name? Lest the Chavas, Ne’amahs, Adams, Seths, and Noachs feel left out, however, we dedicate this column to them.
Rabbi Moshe Ben Yoseph Di Trani (1505-1585) also known as the Mabit was a contemporary of Rav Yoseph Karo who lived in Salonica Greece, Tzvas, and in Ottoman era Yerushalayim in the sixteenth century. The Mabit is a well regarded Posaik that is cited authoritatively throughout the halachic literature.
The Mabit writes in a responsa (Vol. I #276) that one should only name a child with a name from the time of Avrohom Avinue and onward. However, names that pre-date Avrohom should not be used, such as Noach, Shaim and Aiver. The reason he provides is that one should not use a name that did not fully observe Torah and Mitzvos.
He further writes that one who names a child with such a name is not considered among those who are “mi sh’amailo baTorah v’oseh nachas ruach l’yotzrav gadel bshaim tov v’niftar b’shaim tov. The Midrash Lekach Tov parshas Mishpatim (24:18) remarks that since everyone is eventually destined to die, “praised is the one who works diligently in Torah and who brings pleasure to his Creator, raised in a good name and died in a good name.”
Rav Chaim Benveniste (1603-1673) one of the great luminaries of 17th century Turkey, in his Knesses HaGedolah asks on the Mabit that we find in the gemorah in Brachos (38b) that there was an Amorah named Rav Binyomin Bar Yafes. He writes, “Chas v’shalom to say that he or his grandfather was in violation of this dictum and had “breached the fence.”
The Chida in his Birchei Yoseph (YD 265:6) cites the responsa of the Mabit, the question of the Knesses HaGedolah, and adds another question: What about Akavia Ben Mehalalel? The Chida thus concludes that the world is not stringent in this and does not follow the opinion of the Mabit.
Others, however, explain that just as Rabbi Akiva came from a background that was not fully observant, it is possible that other great Rabbis also came from backgrounds that did not fully observe other halachos. Thus the questions of the Knesses HaGedolah and the Chida may not be as strong as they would first appear. As to the idea that their backgrounds would have been mentioned, as they were for Rabbi Akiva, one can respond that Rabbi Akiva was a first generation returnee. The other Rabbis could have been a second or third generation and therefore it would not warrant their mention. Also, perhaps Rabbi Akiva was specifically mentioned because he played a much more substantive role in furthering Torah than others.
Rav Moshe Shternbuch addresses this latter view and remarks that even according to the Mabit, iit is only an issue if one specifically names after a person that lived before Matan Torah. If, however, one is naming after a family member or other person who lived recently (and certainly after Matan Torah) there is no problem whatsoever.
Thus, the Chavas, and Noachs and Adams are all safe, if they were named after a recent individual.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman