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Teshuva MeiAhavah: Jewish Names Print E-mail

TeshuvosThe 17th of Sivan is the Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Eleazar ben David Fleckles, the author of “Teshuva meiAhavah,” a collection of responsa. He died on June 22, 1826. The following responsum addresses the tendency we have of changing Jewish first names to more fashionable ones. A pupil asked Rabbi Fleckles a question about Jewish first names; he heard that it is wrong for Jews to name a child for any biblical character earlier than Abraham. Rav Fleckles gives the origin of the belief and assures the questioner that the earlier names are proper, an important fact to know when people are changing their names to more modern ones. (Volume I, #35):


As for your question whether there is any objection to calling a child by any of the names that preceded Abraham the Patriarch, of blessed memory, you have heard some people objecting to it. I will, therefore, record for you the words of the sacred man of God, the author of Birkhei Yosef (Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai, “The Chidah”) to Yoreh Deah (265 & 266). These are his words: “It is not proper to call a child by the name of Adam or Noah or Shem or Ever, for we should not take any names except from Abraham onward. Whoever is called by the name Yafet and the like, of those biblical characters who preceded Abraham, does not belong with those who toil in the Torah and do the will of God. These are the words of Rabbi Yosef Trani (Volume I #276). But the author of Knesset haGedolah (Rabbi Chaim Benevisti) wonders at this statement, for indeed, we do find the name Rabbi Benjamin ben Yafet in the Talmud (Berachot 33a). God forbid that the father of Rabbi Benjamin broke the fence of the law. Similarly, we can call attention to Rabbi Akavyah son of Mehalalel (Mehalalel also appearing in the bible before Abraham). The fact is, people are not particularly careful about this and call their children by the names of Adam, Noah, etc.”

I can also mention that Reuven called his first son Chanoch and yet there was a Chanoch before Abraham. Now, for our many sins, people call their children names similar to the names of the Ishmaelites. In Egypt, our ancestors were redeemed because they did not change their names (Bamidbar Rabbah 20:22).

Because of my many burdens I have shortened this.

I seek your welfare, always. The young one,

Elazar Fleckles.

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