The source of the issur is the passuk in our parsha, "you shall destroy their names (of the pagan gods); you shall not do so to Hashem your G-d."
My son, a Rov and Rosh Kollel, mentioned that one of the members of his community is a jeweler who has for many years bought and sold scrap gold. Several years ago, he asked whether there was a problem melting down those pieces that have Hashem's name on them. My son told him doing so might be assur on the basis of our passuk. Since then, he has accumulated a significant amount of gold that he cannot melt down. On the one hand, it has quadrupled in value since he acquired it. On the other hand, if he cannot melt it down, it is of no value to him at all. Assuming these shaimos have kedusha, he does not have the option of recycling the pieces into new jewelry that incorporates the old pieces, because the Kedushas Hashem precludes such use. We don't use Hashem's name as an ornament. (I once saw a non-Jewish man- nice looking fellow, with a wife and two blond kids- at a highway rest stop in Kentucky, with a tattoo of the YKVK on his inner forearm in giant blue letters, from wrist to elbow. He didn't even know what the names of the letters were, only that this is how the Jews write G-d's name. It could have been worse.)
My son did not state for a fact that it was assur, only that it might be assur. He had not yet made a careful analysis of the sugya, and in any case such a question ought to be addressed by a widely recognized and experienced posek of the highest caliber. Under the circumstances of a possible issur de'oraysa, caution is not only prudent but legally required. (Note, also, that Reb Moshe says in a teshuva that this issur is uniquely strict in that it is not mitigated by a countervailing Assei: we do not say Assei docheh lo saaseh by lo saasun kein.)
This question raises three issues that need to be examined sequentially.
1. Assuming that erasing is assur, is Grama (indirect destruction) muttar.
2. If the person who made the name was unaware of its meaning, is it assur to erase it.
3. Assuming that a name written without awareness is muttar to erase, and assuming that most are written by non-speakers of Hebrew and are therefore muttar to melt down, but some were written knowingly, do we go bassar Rove, do we rely on the majority to allow melting all of them.
Issue one: Grama
Assuming it is assur to erase the word, is it muttar to do so indirectly, by means of a Grama? The Aruch Hashulchan decides that Gramma is not an option. The following is the relevant section of the Aruch Hashulchan (276:36-7):
(I want to point out that this mehalach of the Aruch Hashulchan forms the basis of Reb Moshe's teshuva, which was argued against by many, in OC 4 8:2. Not that Reb Moshe needs support against the individuals that argued with him, but there it is anyway.)
- ספר תורה שבלה – נותנין אותה בכלי חרס, וקוברין אותו אצל תלמיד חכם.
See the comments regarding the teshuva he brings from the Noda B'Yehuda's son and the numerous problems with that teshuva. My dear friend and Rebbi, Rabbi Moshe Brown, in his sefer Maadanei Moshe, on page 263, also distinguishes, as does Eli in the comments, between a Sefer Torah and other sheimos.
Issue Two: What makes a name a Name?
Certainly, if a Jeweler had hand-made this jewelry, and he knew what he was writing, there would be an insuperable problem. The question is in a case where the jewelry was stamped out or otherwise fabricated by a person that had no idea what the letters mean, and for whom the jewelry had no more significance than a random design. I don't know this for a fact, but I am assuming that the final step of the manufacture of most jewelry of this sort is done in China or India, or in any case by people who have no idea at all what they are doing.
There is a Tashbeitz brought by the Beis Yosef that indicates we are meikil in such a case. תשב"ץ ח"א קעז; סמ"ק ק"ס, הובאו בב"י בד"ה רעו, ט
However, the Shach in 276:12 says that one may only apply this hetter when doing so enables you to fix a sefer torah (under the logic of net benefit, that mekalkel al menas l'saken is called a tikun), implying that it would be assur for mere monetary benefit. (I believe that this logic underlies the Aruch Hashulchan's argument as brought above.)
But I found that the Noda B'Yehuda YD II 180 is mattir be'feirush in precisely such a case, because the person who did the stamping knew nothing about what the letters meant. Also, the Chazon Ish (YD 162:3) says that where the person did not even know that he was writing a name, and certainly did not know he was writing Hashem's name, it is muttar to erase it. The Satmerer Rov was also mattir in a pre-war letter printed in the Satmerer journal Olas Hachodesh of Chodesh Av Tof Shim Mem beginning on page 529.
Yes, some poskim disagree with the Noda B'Yehuda, but since I'm not paskening for anyone here, I can tell you that in my opinion they don't really matter. The svara is pashut- it's no different than the letters אל; if you wrote it to mean "to," you certainly can erase it. Harav Chaim Medini didn't have any problem with the שדי in his שדי חמד. (A lamden might argue that those cases are different because they gave the words a different meaning, whereas in our case, it was Stam, neutral, and maybe neutral is more of a problem. I don't agree with that, and why I don't agree is a whole different discussion, involving the Machane Efraim's hagahos on the Tur about how a Sheim acquires kedusha- awareness or intent, and the Raavad brought in the Ran in Nedarim that says that the Kedusha of a Sheim is a davar hanadur, and the Kli Chemda in this week's parsha that says that according to the Raavad, you can be shoeil on the Kedusha of a Sheim, but the teshuvos at the end of the Avnei Miluim #18 says that being shoeil on the kedusha of a sheimis just as bad as mechikah, and the Asvan De'Oraysa #15 (P 27b) that argues on the Avnei Miluim. In any case, if you say that according to the Raavad you can be sho'eil, that means that Stam is zero, because she'eila won't make it kavana misnagedes.)
Also, I happened to speak to Reb Shmuel Kaminetsky about this the other day, and he stated his strong agreement with the Chazon Ish, although he said the hetter would not apply by pesukim from Tanach (like the hundred Shekel note). This was before I saw the Noda B'Yehuda, and I thought the Chazon Ish was a sole mattir.
I later saw that Reb Shmuel's distinction was made by Reb Moshe in OC 4 8:1, by the Achiezer 2 48:2, and others, as I mention in the comments.
Issue Three: Rove
Assuming that an unwittingly written Sheim is not Sheimos, what if some of these pieces of jewelry were made by individuals who knew they were writing G-d's name, but most were written without knowledge? Can we rely on the Rove and melt the whole bunch down? Although in general we go bassar rove, that may not be the case by a davar chashuv or by issurei hanaah.
I would respond that while this would be a problem in Taaroves, it is not a problem in cases of Kol Deparish. My son said even a better reason it's not a problem: because a Sheim is not assur b'hanaah. I had postulated it was assur b'hanaa because the Gemara says that a utensil that has Hashem's name on it is assur to use, which , to me, sounded like issur hanaah. But he said that It's just assur to use it because of zilzul. That is not the same as something which is inherently assur b'hanaah, and there's no reason to think it's not batteil b'rov.
I know that this too brief. If I have time I'll expand it. But the bottom line is that if it's unwittin', it can be unwritten.
Dear Eli has sent me a very valuable mar'eh makom, as follows:
Following the footsteps of R. Akiva (Kerisus 15):
Circumstances under which Mechika would be allowed.
The Chasam Sofer in the last volume of the Teshuvos (#8) was asked about a case where a Rasha attached a Sheim Hashem to a place where it would disgrace the sheim. He paskens that the issur is to cause disgrace by erasing; therefore, where erasing would prevent a greater disgrace, it is muttar to erase it. See here.
The awesome aspect of this teshuva is the very end, where he says that you can't have a child do it, because without intent to prevent disgrace, the act of erasure is inherently disgraceful. Since the intent of a child is not recognized by the halacha, his erasure would be an erasure without intent of preventing disgrace, which would be an issur de'oraysa.