Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Names of Shame

Your name shall no longer be said to be Yaakov. Henceforth, it shall be Yisrael, for you have struggled with angels and with men and you have prevailed. (Breishis 32:29)

Re: Jerusalem Post Article

The father of 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell, denied a birthday cake with the child's full name on it by one New Jersey supermarket, is asking for a little tolerance.

Heath Campbell and his wife, Deborah, are upset not only with the decision made by the nearby ShopRite, but also with an outpouring of angry Internet postings in response to a local newspaper article about the cake.


The Campbells' other two children also have unusual names: JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell turns 2 in a few months and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell will be 1 in April.

My daughter has a friend whose given name is Shlomit. While this friend was in the shidduch parsha somebody approached Rebitzen Kanievsky (Rav Elyashiv's daughter) with a list of names for shidduchim that included hers. The Rebitzen remarked, "My husband (R' Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita) doesn't like this name (Shlomit)."

Initially, the remark was not taken seriously but a short time later, on another occasion, her name was again given to Rebitzen Kanievsky and she repeated the same remark. The family asked a shaila to Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Shlita, and he concurred with this sentiment and advised them to change her name. They changed her name to Shulamit. She got engaged almost immediately thereafter.
(Note - She was at the time a young girl just starting in shidduchim so there is no "proof" from this story that one thing has anything to do with the other. You take it how you like.)

We Orthodox Jews take the issue of names very seriously. A name is not merely a monicker, it is a description of the very essence of the person who bears it. We see throughout the Torah and Chazal and Midrashim how names are analyzed for their meanings. It began with Adam HaRishon who first named his wife Isha and then named her Chava. Many people had multiple name to describe various aspects of their complex characters: Yisro had seven names and Moshe did as well. Sarah was Yiska, Shem was Malki Tzedek, Eisav was Edom, Hadassah was Esther, Mordechai was Petachya, Haman was Memuchan. Zimri ben Saleu had 5 names. And bear in mind that G-d Himself is "defined" by numerous names (most of which we cannot even pronounce!)

We chareidim are taught (I have no idea where to source this) that when Jewish parents give their children a name, it involves a temporary infusion of Ruach Hakodesh (perhaps, even if they do use the name Shlomit). This may not mean that the name is predistined from Heaven but more that it is "confirmed and signed and sealed" in Shamayim once it is given.

Does it follow that when atheistic non-Jewish parents give a name, that it involves an infusion of Ruach HaTumah? From this article, I would guess it does.

What about atheistic Jews?

I have a good friend who learned shechita and milah many years ago. For milah he was a student of a very prominent and respected (perhaps THE most prominent and sought out) mohel from Washington Heights. I will not name him just in case this story isn't accurate or true.

This prominent mohel was called to do a briss for the son of a non-observant Jew. This was not just a non-observant Jew but a rebel to observance who came from a religious background and went OTD amidst much rancor and discord between him and his father (the baby's grandfather).

As the briss progressed, it reached the point of naming the child. The mohel reaches the words, "V'Yikarei shmo b'Yisrael..." and glances at the baby's father. The baby's father glances at his own father with acid filled eyes and says, "Amalek!".

The mohel says, "What?"

"Amalek, go ahead and name him Amalek!"

The mohel put down the cup and told him, "Look, I don't know what's going on between your father and you, but there is no way that I am going to name this kid Amalek."

The father relented and picked out some proper name to name the baby (I didn't hear what it was).

There are parents and there are parents. Some have Ruach HaKodesh and some do not. In all cases, names are very important.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (4:13) says:

רבי שמעון אומר: שלשה כתרים הם: כתר תורה, וכתר כהנה, וכתר מלכות; וכתר שם טוב עולה על גביהן


Alex said...

I wonder about this, though.

First of all, there are other Shlomits in Tanach, including some very distinguished ones: a daughter of Zerubavel (Divrei Hayamim I 3:19), a treasurer of the Beis Hamikdash (ibid. 26:25-28), etc.

So to reject the name Shlomit because of its (in)famous bearer would be like rejecting the name Menachem because its only bearer in Tanach was a wicked king.

There would also be the question of whether indeed the parents had improper intentions, or whether they meant it simply as expressive of "shalom," peace. Granted that in your friend's story about "Amalek" the father was clearly being rebellious, and your friend was right to insist that the father pick some other name; but do we know this to have been the case with Shlomit? Absent such knowledge, shouldn't we assume that it was done in good faith, and that her parents - even if they were not shomrei Torah umitzvos - were indeed granted Ruach Hakodesh to name her?

G said...

"My husband (R' Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita) doesn't like this name (Shlomit)."

Good for him, and therefore?...nobody is asking him to use it

The family asked a shaila to Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Shlita, and he concurred with this sentiment and advised them to change her name.


Ari said...

Did Shlomit's parents have ruach ha-kodesh, or not?