Rabbi Avi Shafran: Name Abuse


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editorial3.jpgThere is tragically much chilul Hashem in our world.  Whether murder and mayhem in the name of religion or misbehavior on the part of seemingly religious individuals, actions that push holiness away from a world that so direly needs it are considered by the Torah to constitute a singular sin.

Recently, though, a quite literal desecration of Hashem’s name unexpectedly came to my attention.  A cataloger at a law school library, Mrs. Elisheva Schwartz, called with a disturbing discovery.  She had come across an online vendor seeking to make a few dollars off the marketing of clothing and kitsch bearing the Sheim Hamefurosh.

An English dictionary will call the Sheim the Tetragrammaton, based on the Greek word tetra, meaning “four”; and grammat, meaning “letter.”  If it is a good dictionary it might also include the fact that Jewish law considers the Sheim so holy that it is forbidden today to pronounce or ever to treat in anything but a deeply honorable manner.  According to halacha, of course, a piece of parchment, paper, cloth or pottery bearing the Sheim must be carefully preserved or solemnly buried.  When it occurs in krias haTorah or tefilla, it is not read as written but rather as the less holy Sheim Adnus.

The vendor in question, for reasons unknown, had decided to print the holy Hebrew letters on an assortment of tee shirts, mugs, buttons and other articles, including underclothing and dog sweaters.

We live in a free society, of course, and nothing prevents anyone from exercising his or her right to personal expression, even if it may be offensive to others.  But nothing prevents anyone, either, from voicing pain born of such offense.  And so I contacted Café Press – a sort of online flea-market that the vendor was using to sell his or her wares – to register Agudath Israel’s chagrin at the commercialization and degradation of Hashem’s name.  Please consider making a decision, I wrote, that is “respectful of Jews and Judaism.”

Within hours, what seemed a stock reply arrived.  Café Press, it informed, provides its services to “a rich and vibrant community of individuals across the globe who differ in their views about what is considered offensive.”

Well, I’m sure it does and they do.  All the same, though, I’m also pretty sure that the site isn’t being used to peddle dog sweaters bearing, say, the Arabic word for Allah.

So I inquired about whether Café Press had any code of standards regarding offensiveness.   Again, a reply arrived quickly, directing me to where I could find the company’s standards.  To its credit, the code is a responsible and comprehensive document.  And one category of prohibited content was: “Material that is generally offensive or in bad taste, as determined by CafePress.com.”

And so I wrote again, reiterating that “from the perspective of all religious (and many less-than-religious) Jews, the placement of G-d’s holy Hebrew name on a piece of apparel, not to mention apparel like underwear or pet sweaters, is profoundly offensive.”

“Which leaves us,” I concluded, “with the ‘as determined by CafePress.com’ clause.

“And so I ask:  What is your determination?”

That was many days and two more inquiries ago.  Thus far, no reply.  Perhaps the administrators of the site are in the process of informing the vendor that his or her merchandise doesn’t meet their company’s standards.  Or perhaps they are not.

Either way, though, should any readers of these words happen to have access to e-mail and share Mrs. Schwartz’s and my feeling of offense at the commercial debasing of something deeply holy to Judaism, please consider making an inquiry of your own to Café Press.  The address for such communications is [email protected] .  Needless to say, inquiries should be polite and reasoned.  And if – as I hope – the company’s response is that the merchandise at issue has been removed from the site, then a sincere expression of hakoras hatov to the company is in order.

In that case, not only Café Press’ decision but our expressions of gratitude will constitute a kiddush Hashem.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]


  1. I think most of the t-shirts on this site are terribly offensive! Did not see this one so I do not know if they took it off but I think it is is wrong to publicize this site as they will now get tons of hits from curious people like me and the whole site is sick and offensive!!

  2. I have to wonder if the folks at cafe press will not get more business from folks trying to find the offensive items. the only one with a variant of the shem hameforush I found, out of tens of thousands of assorted sayings/items they sell, was already removed. they really have some cute stuff.

    think of it from their perspective. they must get many letters of annoyance given their merchandise; it probably takes them some time to investigate. most people who are annnoyed by their mercahndise are probably fundamentalists of every type who cannot be assumed to be accuarte.

    if and when they remove the items, they should get an equally public yasher koach.

  3. This is the comment i sent,
    It has come to my attention that your company is considering marketing a line with the Jewish holy name of G-D. (More so in Hebrew letters It is so holy that it is in the category of “He who may not be mentioned” out of holiness and reverence.
    I am informing you of this, so that you will have sufficient information, when considering if this is offensive to any particular community.
    This is the answer i received.
    Dear ,

    Thank you for contacting CafePress.com!

    As you may know, CafePress.com provides an automated service to a rich and vibrant community of international users. Unfortunately, because our service is automated, sometimes content that is not consistent with our Content Usage Policy is posted on CafePress.com. We appreciate that you have brought this content to our attention and in order to further look into this matter, please respond with a link to the content in question.
    So they are saying, What are you talking about.
    THERFOR please provide the link.

  4. i wrote to them

    this is part of their reply:
    Unfortunately, because our service is automated, sometimes content that is not consistent with our Content Usage Policy is posted on CafePress.com. We appreciate that you have brought this content to our attention and in order to further look into this matter, please respond with a link to the content in question.

    in other words, we need to send them a link to the products in question.
    i went to their site, there are tens of thousands of products, i cant find these.

    can anyone help??

    thank you

  5. There is a very easy way to resolve this:

    1) Open an account with Cafe Press and start a line of apparel with the word “Mohamed” as an emblem;

    2) Go to a few hard-line Arabic blogs and link to “Mohamed on your underwear”;

    3) After Cafe Press is forced to remove these “offensive” items from their site, kindly point out that they will be perceived as discriminatory if they don’t remove the items that Jews consider offensive.

    The fallacy, of course, is that they know the Jews will not be calling them with death threats, as the Muslims presumably will. But nobody is going to admit that!

  6. You must push for Aliyah to Israel from frum people. Why are you upset at the goyim do in America. Move as I am about to do and leave this Golus. This is what you should promote. The rest is preserving the Golus way of life. Our frum generation will be judged like the spies and those who wanted to return to Mitzraim remembering the cucumbers and the garlics. Here is the Gefilte Fish. Proclaim Aliyah.

  7. I just went to the website and the products are still there. They were also not difficult to find if you search the products by religion then select Jewish. There were several products with the Sheim on the them. I sent them an email but so far only recieved an automated response.

  8. I have nothing against Aliyah. In fact, it is a mitzvah b’feirush in the Torah to dwell in Eretz Yisroel. However in regard to the comment, by AVRUM,
    “Move as I am about to do and leave this Golus.” – Golus is not only in America, EY is just as much in Golus as we are in America.

  9. I just went on the site following the instructions of cg. In addition to various products bearing the sheim hameforash, there were also t-shirts being marketed with the slogan “boycott the terrorist state of Israel”.