Tuesday, January 03, 2012

On the "source of merit" of reciting verses corresponding to Hebrew names.

On pg. 118 of The Artscroll Weekday Siddur, at the end of Shemoneh Esrei, we read
"Some recite verses pertaining to their names at this point. See page 400."
On page 400-02 we see a list of such verses (102 in total), and the explanation that
"Kitzur Shelah teaches that it is a source of merit to recite a scriptural verse symbolizing one's name before יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן at the end of Shemoneh Esrei. The verse should either contain the person's name or else begin and end with the first and last letters of the name."
Many people who may not know the precise sort of "merit" this is a source of, might have heard that something more is going on; that a person will be asked their name by an angel after they die, and saying these verses every day helps them remember it. Some may have even heard more, but the preceding was as far as it went in my childhood, and I don't think it was ever revisited.

On pp. 33-34 of the 4th edition of The Obligations of Christians to Attempt the Conversion of the Jews (London 1813) we read:

As you can see, this says that an angel is supposed to come and knock upon the coffin, crying at the dead 'Wicked! Wicked! What is thy name? Where is thy name recorded in the scriptures?" If the deceased cannot recite his verse, the angel beats him with a hot iron, breaking his bones. The writer of this passage tries to show that Jews believe that women have no souls, and as proof, that there are no verses for their name - even though the Jews deny that they believe that women have no souls. Actually, some old machzorim do have verses for women's names - but the one's I've seen are probably 75-100 years later than this.

Elsewhere in this very book, the author writes "It is supposed that above 400 Jewish females are the victims of ignorance and vice, wandering about the streets of London to gain a precarious and miserable livelihood by the wages of prostitution." He footnotes that the blame for this must surely be "that the Rabbies teach, that previous to marriage, females have nothing to do with religion or the observation of any of the commandments; and after marriage, have only to observe three. viz. first, her purification; second, to bless the sabbath bread, viz. to take a small piece of dough, repeat a prayer over it, and throw it into the fire; and, third, to light the candles on the eve of the sabbath, or of any holiday, and repeat a prayer whilst doing it, duly observing these three, she is in a state of safety." He then quotes the Mishnah "Shelosha mitvot nashim metzuvim" and "al shalosh averot nashim metot beshe'at ledatan."

Getting back to the iron rods, this is more than a source of merit. What is he talking about? Since Artscroll refers to the Kitzur Shelah - which may or may not be the actual first source for these name verses - let us look at the Kitzur Shelah. The edition this is from is Amsterdam 1701, which is the second or third:

At the very end, in the section called Tikkun Chibut Hakever, Rabbi Mikhl Epstein writes: "It is known what is written above in Massekhet Gehennom, and also in the Sefer Kavvanot, regarding Chibut Hakever; the wicked do not know their name in the grave, and are subjected to cruel beatings. Whoever recites, while alive, every day a verse that begins with the letter of his own name, and ends with the letter by which his name ends, specifically regarding the name which he is called to the Torah, his Shem Kodesh. In other words, one who is known as Isaac, but is called to the Torah as Yitzhak, needs to begin with a verse starting with yud and ending with quf. Certainly one whose name is contained in a verse, such as Shalom or Dan or Reuven, doesn't need a verse which ends as his name does. Whoever recites a verse like this, it is a segulah that he not forget his name. In Sefer Ben Zion is printed the names of people, so I said to myself, I'll print it here to benefit the public. One should say it in the Shemoneh Esrei prior to Yihyu Le-ratzon, at the end of the prayer.

As you can see, he actually gives his own source, the Sefer Ben Zion. Thus, the Kitzur Shelah, while much more influential than the Sefer Ben Zion, is perhaps the source for the custom gaining such traction, but is not the source at all. Before I get to Ben Zion, here is something concerning this Massekhet Gehennom, and Chibut Hakever. There are numerous sources, but the one I'd like to show is from the Tishbi of Elijah Bachur:

Chibut Hakever. It is is written in the midrash of Rabbi Isaac ben Parnach that students of Rabbi Eliezer asked him regarding the judgment of Chibut Hakever. Said he to them, when a person is removed from the world, and angel comes and sits on his grave. Immediately his soul reenters his body and he stands upon his feet. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi added, and in his hand is a chain, half fire and half ice, and he is hit; the first time, his limbs are broken. The second time, his bones are broken. Angels come and gather and beat him a third time, until he is pulverized to dust, and then he is returned to the grave, etc. Rabbi Meir added, the judgment of Chibut Hakever is worse than the judgment of Gehennom, for even complete Zaddikim, and nursing babies, and even stillbirths, are judged - apart for one who died on Erev Shabbath, or one who is buried in the land of Israel.
This is actually excerpted from the much longer Massekhet Gehennom, which happens to mention the angel's request for the name, but gives no solution. "A source of merit" is quite the understatement!

The Sefer Ben Zion, mentioned by the Kitzur Shelah, was published in Amsterdam in 1690, and it has the following:

As you can see, the author cites Sefer Kavvanat ha-Ari, quoting the Zohar, that everyone ought to honor their name, and recall it every day by reciting a verse that is appropriate for it, a verse corresponding to the beginning and end of the name. I am somewhat sure that no one has succeeded in locating what he refers to. He gives the explanation about Chibut Hakever, and explains that a person's name, while given by their parents, actually corresponds to a heavenly name, inscribed on God's throne, and it is God who inspires the parents to name their child. It is for this reason that a person's name, which is known and used in heaven, is so important.

He continues, citing a siddur by a R. Hirz, that gives a verse in this manner, for his name Naftali. Therefore, writes the author, he selected verses from the Bible for a selection of Jewish names, and printed them here. A facsimile of the R. Hirz siddur's title page can be found in this very good article on the subject by Shmuel Krauss (link).

I've heard some rumblings about whether or not the Kitzur Shelah was first published in 1683 or 1693; the issue focuses on how to add up the chronogram on the title page. The correct date is 1693, and here is proof: the Kitzur Shelah himself cited a book printed in 1690. In any case, you can see that the lists are not identical. For your edification, I have compared them.

Sefer Ben Zion has Elyakim, Gavriel, Mahshava, Amram, Azariah, Shneor and Shabbetai, which the Kitzur Shelah do not have. He also includes a verse for tet (but no name examples) which KS does not. Likewise, the Ben Zion also does not include the names Ithamar, Asher, Avigdor, Avner, Gad and perhaps a few more, which KS did list. Here is the KS's list:

Eliezer, Ithamar, Asher, Avigdor, Avner
Avi Ezri
Dan, Daniel
Yeshaya, Yirmiya
Yonatan, Yochanan
Yoel, Yekutiel, Yerachmiel, Yechiel
Moshe, Menashe
Nahman, Nissan, Natan
Shelomo, Simha, Shemaya, Shemarya


  1. This concept was just discussed in the Kolmus insert of the Mishpacha Magazine, Chanukah 5772, pp. 28-29.

  2. I snooze, I lose. I was planning this post for 2 years.

    Did they say all the stuff I did? Additional info?

  3. There is a minhag of certain Chevra Kadisha's (Chevrei Kadisha? -not sure what the plural is), that after the aron is placed int he ground and before it is covered, they call out the full hebrew name (ploni ben ploni) do not forget your name- three times in yiddish. It would be interesting to find out if this is just for men or for women as well.

  4. hevenly, versed
    heavenly verses
    Please correct then delete this.

  5. Three weeks ago I was at a women's funeral, she was buried by a chassidic Chevra Kadisha. Before the started covering the aron, the chevra-kadisha-man jumps in to pull out the bottom panel of the aron and then screams out loud: פלונית בת פלוני פארגעס נישט דיין נאמען, פלונית בת פלוני פארגעס נישט דיין נאמען. (Plonis bas Ploni, don't forget your name X2). Of course he doesn't say Plonis, but the actual name, I just subsituted the name with plonis.

  6. Yaak, was it the Hebrew Kulmus, or the English?

  7. Some of the same stuff. Some less. Some more.

    It was in the English Kolmus.

    If it's not copyright infringement (which I'm not sure about), I don't mind retyping the whole thing and posting it in a few comments. It isn't that long.

  8. Excerpts from books or magazines can be legally quoted under Fair Use http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use . I would say that a large bulk of blogging makes use of it.

  9. I think I got it at home, if I do I can spare you the effort. I'll scan it and upload it.

  10. the shmuel kraus link doesn't work

  11. Just throwing this out there: going with the convincing premise that the Kitzur Shelah is Sabbatean, what if anything does one make of his omission of the name Shabbetai from the list, which the Ben Zion included? Significant or a nitpick?

    Abba, thanks, I'll fix that link.

  12. I don't have a cite for the pasuk, but I suspect that מחשבה is just the first word of the pasuk for Moshe and Menashe, not a name.

  13. Ha, of course you are correct. I thought it was an odd name, to say the least. Since I didn't think there were too many Chisdas or Aviezris floating around late 17th century Amsterdam either, I didn't think to look close enough.

    Of course the real lists of odd names are in the Beis Shmuel and other works on names for Gittin.

  14. Miss Fred,

    Great post. I thought you were going to tie it into the inyana d'yoma with respect to hadarat nashim.

    One nit:
    "and in his hand is a chain, half fire and half ice, and he is hit; the first time, his limbs are broken"
    Why ice? Doesn't the hebrew say "hetzya shel barzel"? Also doesn't the latin say "ferrea"?

    Finally (continuing our comments from a few days ago) the proselytizing book is remarkable. Look at the list of works in the back of the book which they offer to "refute". I don't recall that this book is mentioned in Eisenstadt's "otzar havikuchim".

  15. I was comparing it to another version of the midrash that I found which has ice; I got confused. I'll correct it.

    As for that book, it is remarkable indeed.

  16. Fotheringay-Phipps6:02 PM, January 03, 2012

    My FIL is on a chevra kadisha and I've seen him do the "fargess nisht di numen" bit for a woman. (As I recall it, he only says it once, not three times.)

  17. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)10:44 PM, January 03, 2012

    I was once at a Shabbos meal where one of the hostess's friends was horrified that the hostess had never had a formal naming in shul (her parents weren't observant), and tried to convince her that she desperately needed her husband to get an aliya so they could "name" her so that her soul won't be destroyed when she dies.

  18. Sacks, by the way, mentions it not at all.

    My middle name is Elyakim; Artscroll, which gives the first and last letters and not names, supposes I should say the Avraham pasuk. Other siddurim give that pasuk only for Avraham (and Avram?) and give Elyakim, Ephraim, etc. a different one, which I say.

  19. BTW, the lists in this post and the Artscroll lists are not the same (not counting ones that are simply absent)--there are some different pesukim.

    I'm sure Artscroll is not the source for Artscroll, and they must have got it from somewhere.

  20. Certainly. It's like the game of telephone. If someone wants to have fun, they should trace the history of these lists.

  21. The list of names in the Belza siddur (Avodas Hashem) is very interesting. It doesn't have names, instead it only has letters, like this: א..........א and a passuk that begins with א and ends with א. It sounds like it was computer generated. I've seen somehwere that if there are several psukim that match the name, one should pick the 'best' one (in terms of content). there's also a story about R. Zelig Reuvan Bengis asking R. Simcha Zelig Riger which passuk to say, as there's no pasuk that begins with a ז and ends with a ג.

  22. Artscroll's also doesn't list names, but only beginning and end letters.

    As for R. Simcha Zelig, if he had followed the old name practice, he never would have been called to the Torah by Zelig, but only Simcha, and following the Kitzur Shelah, he'd have no problem.

  23. Maybe Belza took the idea from Artscroll.

    In one version of the story, R. Simcha Zelig answered that if there's no passuk for it, the mal'ach won't ask for that name. I don't think this version is true.

  24. An extension to the minhag. in chabad we say the Rebbe's pesukim as well, which means that I say the same pesukim twice. The Chabad Chevra Kadisha (used to?) say by the kevurah zolst beten dem Rebin (i.e. demand that anything done should be according to the rebbe's instructions).

  25. I like the "Eben Ezra", "Eben Tuvon". The "Abarbnel" gets second place.

    ווען עס איזט נור  געוועזען א שפריטץ איז דאס פלייש כשר
    Lit. Trans.: When it was only a spurt, is the meat kosher.

    And the names in the get seem pretty generic.

  26. oops, my previous comment refers to a different post. Consider it void.

  27. Interesting (to me) is that some of the pesukim have been changed from the KS. E.g., for Yerucham (one of my name) every siddur I have looked in has "Ya'alzu chassidim bachavod, yeranenu al mishkevosam", yet the KS has a perfectly nice, well known, but different passuk.

  28. The teaching of the Zohar that the Sefer Ben Zion is referring to might be from Zohar Chadash, Midrash Rus, (paragraph beginning with the words "Rabbi Rechumai posach"):
    אדמיך, וחמא בחלמא ההוא גברא. א"ל מאן את. א"ל ידאי חייבא אנא, דלא שבקנא בישין וחטאין בעלמא דלא עבדנא. א"ל בגו חלמא, מה שמך. א"ל, לא ידענא, דחייבי גיהנם לא דכרין שמייה



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