This post is longer than usual. The length results from dialogue with readers that I incorporated into the post. As far as basic structure, it is very simple, as follows:
1. Are modern Hebrew names acceptable to our Gedolim. (It goes without saying that Modern Orthodox authorities are in favor of these names. I am focusing the group I consider myself part of, the Old world Yeshiva Orthodox, or what the booboisie calls Hareidim or Ultra-Orthodox.)
2. The difference between modern Hebrew names and non-Jewish names.
3. Harav Kanievsky's opinion
a. Three explanations for this opinion
4. Rav Moshe Feinstein's opinion
5. English and Hebrew lists of Hebrew names, both traditional and modern.
May a parent give a child a modern Hebrew name, a name that has not been used before? Or are we obliged to choose a name from Tanach or other long standing tradition?
This post does not address non-Hebrew names. We discussed that here, where we reproduced and commented upon an article written by Dr. Steven Oppenheimer. There is an obvious difference between modern Hebrew names which are clearly associated with the Jewish people, and non-Jewish names, which might be a sign of assimilation. Right now we're focusing on non-traditional Hebrew names.
I titled this piece "Modern names for children" because I'm thinking of the name parents give a child- the name you use when you get an aliyah or the first name with which you identify yourself in a document. Of course one can choose for himself a different name for other purposes. Many people acquire or give themselves a name that is entirely unrelated to the name they were given at the bris/aliyah, even Jewish names that are different than their given name. As the Medrash (קהלת רבה פ"ז) says, every person has three names; one that his parents give him, one that his associates give him, and one that is written in Heaven in his book of creation.
"שלשה שמות נקראו לאדם. אחד שיקראו לו אביו ואמו אחד שקראו לו אחרים ואחד שקרוי לו בספר תולדות ברייתו".
But I am talking about what we think of as the "official" name.
Harav Chaim Kanievsky's opinion
Rav Chaim Kanievsky famously refuses to give a bracha to a person with a non-traditional name. His adamant and strongly expressed opinion is documented in several books, including ויקרא שמו בישראל, and שמות בארץ, and שמא גרים. One very well known example of his position is his reaction to the name Shira. When asked to give a bracha to a person with that name, his reaction is always the same- Shira is not a name, and the real name is Sarah. Not only does he deny the validity of such names, but he says that names of modern coinage are null and void, and don't need to be changed to a proper name. They don't exist. All you need to do it choose an appropriate name. He has told Shiras that their name is Sarah, he has told an Eliran that his name is Elchanan Eliahu, and he told a Zohar that his name is Meir.
This is how the author of Sheimos Ba'aretz quotes Reb Chaim.
Rav Chaim holds that the only names that are valid are the names in Tanach or in Even Ezer siman 129.
Again from Reb Chaim: the gist of it is, as he is quoted saying, ' "והנה שמות שהמשוגעים המציאו, יש לבטלם לגמרי" which means that he disapproves of neologisms and wishes they would be completely eliminated.
שאלו את הגר"ח מהו ההבדל בין השמות המודרניים, מכל השמות של האמוראים שנקראו בארמית, וכל נשות ישראל בכל הדורות נקראו בשמות באידיש, ומה ההבדל בין אידיש לעברית? וזאת ועוד, שהגמרא (יומא יא, ב) אומרת ששמותיהם של רוב היהודים בחו"ל הם משמות גויים, ורק על שמו של רשע מצאנו בגמרא (יומא לח, ב) שאין ראוי לקרוא על שמו? והשיב ע"כ הגר"ח קניבסקי: "שמות שמצאנו שכתוב בגמרא, שהתנאים והאמוראים נקראו בהם, אפשר לקוראם. אבל להוציא שמות חדשים, כמו שיש היום זה לא ראוי", והגר"ח הצביע על דברי המדרש שהבאנו לעיל. ועדיין דעתם של השואלים לא היתה נוחה מהענין והצביעו על כך שבדורות התנאים והאמוראים התחדשו כל הזמן שמות חדשים ובערי אשכנז היו קוראים תמיד בשמות חדשים, לפי השפה המדוברת, וגם בערי ארצות המזרח קראו היהודים לילדיהם בשמות מקומיים. ועל כך השיב הגר"ח שליט"א: "מה שמצינו בדורות הקודמים שקראו מדעת עצמם, כנראה היה להם סיבות שקראו, ועל זה אין קושיה. אבל מה שבזמנינו קוראים שמות מדעת עצמם, אין לה ראוי לעשות. חז"ל אומרים לקרוא על שם אבותינו, ומה שהם קראו שמות אחרים, היתה להם סיבה אחרת. אבל סתם להמציא שמות, זה לא היה אף פעם ותמיד היה טעם לזה. כל השמות היו מאבותינו או מאבות אבותיהם, אבל לא מהגויים. היו שמות שהתחלפו מהגויים, אבל חלילה להמציא שמות".
Reb Chaim was asked this question, and he answered that we find this name in a Teimani Medrash. כמדומה באיזה ממדרשי תימן הקטנים .
However, we don't really know anything about the provenance of these Teimani Medrashim. As Eli put it,
.....some of these Midrashim are actually compilations, ~1000 or less years old, so this could be as old as R. Chayim the Tosafist, or maybe even Rabbeinu Vidal of Toulouse (a.k.a. מגיד משנה).Eli mentioned Rabbeinu Vidal and, lehavdil, Saint Vivian, because the names Vidal and Vivian both mean life, as does Chaim. There are many names for Life- for women, this includes Chaya, Chava, Vita, Vida, and Zoe.
Saint Vivian was a French bishop who lived during the Visigoth invasion of the 5th century. Around the same time, Flavius Vivianus was a consul of the Eastern Roman Empire.
But Eli later wrote that he found a reliable source for the name "Chaim."
I found an earlier use of Chayim: the Sura Gaon Rav Tzamach bar Rav Chayim (d. 895 approx), probably pre-dates the unnamed midrash from Teiman.
I don't know for a fact why Rav Kanievsky feels so strongly about this issue. When a parent names a child, the name is the product of love and deep emotion (especially the mother's,) and if he denies a parent's right to give voice to such intimate and deep feelings, I am sure that he has a good reason. Nothing in this article should be misconstrued as disrespectful to Harav Kanievsky. Anything he says would be at home in the Beis Medrash of Ravina and Rav Ashi. I can only speculate and suggest possible explanations.
1. The Medrash (Breishis 37:7) says that those generations that had Ruach HaKodesh would give their child a name that was informed by their destiny. We, that do not have Ruach HaKodesh, just give names of our ancestors to our children.
"ולעבר יולד שני בנים שם האחד פלג כי בימיו נפלגה הארץ" רבי יוסי ורשב"ג רבי יוסי אומר הראשונים על ידי שהיו מכירים את ייחוסיהם היו מוציאין שמן לשם המאורע אבל אנו שאין אנו מכירים את ייחוסינו אנו מוציאין לשם אבותינו רשב"ג אומר הראשונים על ידי שהיו משתמשין ברוח הקודש היו מוציאין לשם המאורע אבל אנו שאין אנו משתמשין ברוח הקודש אנו מוציאין לשם אבותינו א"ר יוסי בן חלפתא נביא גדול היה עבר שהוציא לשם המאורע הה"ד ולעבר יולד שני בנים וגו'
3. Perhaps HaRav Kanievsky holds like that because he feels that such names are a symptom of cultural anomie, like Latisha and Shaniqua and Shonda, and that he holds that the symptom aggravates the underlying problem, and that fighting the symptom will mitigate the problem.
1. I don't think the late 9th century Chayim is much more of a source than the 12th century R. Chayim. It only pre-dates the invention of the name (actually, the adoption of a Goyische name).Regarding Eli's point 2, I should mention that Rabbi Meir Peikus just told me that when his son got married, the mesader kiddushin was Rav Aharon Shechter of Chaim Berlin. They sat down to write the tna'im, and his mechutan told Rav Shechter that the Kallah's name was Ilana Rus. Rav Shechter gave him a really hard time- Ilana is not a name! What kind of name is Ilana? Rabbi Peikus said that even if it is a taina, it's a taina that is twenty one years late. They finally got Rav Shechter to move on by noting that at least her second name was Rus.
2. R.Ch.K saying modern coinages are null and void, and don't need to be changed is really nothing but strong rhetoric, as there is no formal process for changing a name, proper or not. The real test for his position would be if he would ignore a Get with a "null and void" name, or better, approve a Get with the "correct" Sara instead of the "null and void" Shira, before waiting 30 days as one should do for a regular name change.
3. R. Yossi in Medrash cannot be used to support R.Ch.K. position, as we know for a fact names were invented much after R. Yossi's generation. All the sources for names affecting destiny are not strong enough against our Mesorah to invent names, and adopt Goyische names if they sound right. Ask Rabbi Bon.
4. Naming your son Shakil is not the same, in terms of Jewish identity, as naming him Tal or Zohar. I can see reasons to oppose the latter names, but based solely on לא שינו את שמם, using Zohar is much more distinctive than Yaacov (to be changed to Jacob in the workplace).
Regarding his fourth point, of course he's right. A distinctive Hebrew name separates and identifies us as Jewish more than the common biblical names which are just as often used by non-Jews. I would say that Reb Chaim views them as a product of Am Yisrael, not of Mesoras Yisrael- nationalistic rather than religious. More importantly, and I think this is undeniably true, is that the tremendous increase in this kind of neologism since the advent of Zionism can be reasonably interpreted- in most cases- as a rejection of the Galus identity and an emphatic declaration (I would say asseveration) of the identity of "The New Jew."
I understand one can oppose modern names as a way to separate from modern Jews (religious and non-religious alike), or as demonstration of embracing the old-world as a reaction to the idea of the New Jew. לא שינו את שמם cannot be used as a source for that, only an inspiration.
Lest you, the reader, go away thinking that we're grasping at straws in suggesting a "movement" that wishes to recast Jewish identity, here are two illustrations of the idea of the creation of the "New Jew." Against this background, Harav Kanievsky's opinion becomes more understandable.
For some Zionists, especially the East European Jewish intellectuals, Zionism was not only a national movement committed to the establishment of a Jewish homeland. It also wished to create a modern, secular Jewish identity. According to this formulation it was not religion that was to provide the basis for Jewish identity but ethnicity and nationalism. The Hebrew language, the land of Israel, Jewish history, literature, customs, folklore and their interplay were to provide a new more open-ended paradigm for Jewish identity.
The key factor which shaped their [secular Zionist thinkers] worldview was a nationalism based not only on the notion of creating a physical Jewish homeland, but also of creating a new kind of Jew to build and maintain this homeland. Many of these early Zionist thinkers felt that centuries of ghettoization and persecution had robbed the Jews of their pride and strength. To build a homeland required a proud, self-sufficient Jew: a Jew who could farm, defend himself, and build the land.The pious, poor, ghettoized Jew—who presented a pathetic image of a man stooped-over and always at the mercy of his persecutors—had to be done away with. To build a state required something all-together different—a “Hebrew.” The early Zionists called themselves “Hebrews” and not Jews, and deliberately changed their German or Russian or Yiddish names to sound more Hebraic and nationalistic (for example, David Gruen became David Ben-Gurion. Shimon Persky became Shimon Perez). It was a deliberate attempt to create a totally new Jewish identity and rid themselves of any aspect of the religious, Diaspora Jewish identity…These early Zionist leaders knew of course that religion had preserved Jewish identity in the ghettos and shtetls of Europe, but in the modern Jewish state, they felt there would be no need for it. Of course the Bible would be used as a source of Jewish history and culture but there was no room for religion or ritual in the modern Jewish state.
I would only add that not everyone that names their daughter Shira intends a militant rejection of tradition. One of my daughters in law is a Shira, and her parents are fine upstanding Lakewood people. My niece's name is Yonit and her fathers for at least four generations back have been roshei yeshiva. Rav Gifter named his daughter Shlomis to celebrate the end of WW II, and not after Ms. Divri. I think this is an Eretz Yisrael thing, a land where everything becomes political and polarized. If you need a bracha for someone that has a modern name, go to someone other than HaRav Kanievsky.
And let us emphasize
Reb Moshe Feinstein's opinion
Although we began with Harav Kanievsky's opinion, most communities follow Reb Moshe Feinstein's much milder approach.
His Teshuvos on this issue are in EH 3:35. OC 4:66, and OC 5:10. The gist of what he says is that lechatchila, a name should reflect our Jewish heritage. Non-Jewish names are very inappropriate and would never be approved of by Gedolei Yisrael.
He proposes that the value of לא שינו was only when that was the only flag of identity, which wouldn't apply after Mattan Torah, because now the Taryag mitzvos adequately distinguish us, but he says he is not sure that this rationale is reliable le'halacha. He therefore strongly discourages giving names that are not part of the Jewish heritage.
Reb Moshe does not even address modern Hebrew names. He only talks about the legitimacy and appropriateness of non-Jewish names, but his criticisms of non-Jewish names would not apply to modern Hebrew names.
On the other hand, when Reb Moshe's daughter in law wanted to name her daughter Aviva, after an Avraham, Reb Moshe said that Aviva doesn't make any sense. It's not a word- it's either Aviv or it doesn't mean anything. So he said that if you want to name a girl after an Avraham, you should name her Ahuva, because the Hei is the most important letter.
Along those lines, I also would add that, as I mention in the comments, I have a very hard time with feminized theophoric names. For example: Gavriel is a compound word comprising Gevura and El, Strength and God. El is God. God is expressed in the male gender. To call someone Gavrielah is a gender change which , in my opinion, is bizarre and grotesque. I don't buy the explanation that the name is given to remember a person named Gavriel. One must remember the original source of the name, and not do violence to its meaning.
Finally, I want to put in a comment that someone wrote in when I posted this in an earlier form. I'm putting it in here mostly because I like the forthright manner and the tone of his comment. I don't necessarily agree that his point applies to all of our sub-groups, but it's a shrewd observation.
shimonmatisyahu said...Look, as per some of the past comments, I don't know when the name Shira began being used. But what I do know, such as with my ancestry, while the boys were given regular one or two Hebrew names, the girls were thrown some Yiddish sounding word as a name that really had no meaning to it. Another difference of naming between genders that I have seen is that tons of girls are named Chava, but it is rare to find a guy in the frum world with the name Odom, because "it is not a name of a Yid". So another words, since females aren't looked upon as holy as males, it is OK to call them Chava even if the first Chava wasn't Jewish, but a "Ben Torah" should not be given the "goyishe" name Odom.Basically, what he saying is that while a boy's name is given serious thought, because he embodies the family's honor and he needs to present a public image of authority and strength, some people name daughters like they name their pets.
Lists of Modern Hebrew Names