Question: Is it permissible to delete computer files which contain the name of Hashem in them, for instance, a Siddur application and the like?
Answer: We must first discuss whether or not one may turn off a computer or transfer to a different window when the current screen contains the name of Hashem on it, for this may be tantamount to erasing Hashem’s name. The Rambam (Chapter 6 of Hilchot Yesodei Ha’Torah) writes: “One who erases one of Hashem’s holy names transgresses a negative commandment as the verse states regarding idol worship, ‘And you shall eradicate their name from that place; you shall not do so to Hashem your G-d.’” The Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah Chapter 276, Section 9) rule accordingly. A similar question may be asked whether or not it is permissible to erase the name of Hashem recorded onto a recordable cassette tape (or any other recordable electronic device for that matter).
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l in his Responsa Yechave Da’at (Volume 4, Chapter 50) discusses this matter and after quoting the words of the above Rambam, he writes that it seems that since in a tape there is no form of the letters of Hashem’s name at all, rather, the sound waves are recorded onto the tape in an electronic manner indiscernible by the human eye, there is no prohibition to record over this recording (thereby erasing it) even though the name of Hashem can be heard on it clearly through an electronic device.
Maran zt”l brings several proofs to his opinion including the fact that the Gemara in Masechet Gittin (19b) states that a Get (bill of divorce) written with galnut juice (a type of ink that disappears after a short period of time and only reappears when the liquid found in a pomegranate’s rind is sprayed onto it; this is how the Tosafot explain this passage in the name of Rabbeinu Chananel) is not a valid Get at all for although the writing will be discernible by spraying the juice of pomegranate rind on it later, as long as the writing cannot be seen, it is not considered the form of “writing” that would validate a Get. If so, writing Hashem’s name in this method cannot be considered “writing” that would be forbidden to erase.
Similarly, regarding recording Hashem’s name onto a cassette tape, although it will be possible to hear it through the use of an electronic device, it still cannot be considered “writing” that will be prohibited to erase. We can also derive from here regarding a name of Hashem which is saved in a file onto a disk that it will be completely permitted to erase it since it cannot be seen at all by the human eye.
On the other hand, this reasoning would not suffice to permit erasing the name of Hashem which appears on one’s current computer screen for Maran zt”l’s leniency to erase Hashem’s name seemingly only applies to where Hashem’s name is indiscernible; however, if it can presently be seen, one must be stringent.
Nevertheless, there is an additional prospective leniency here based on what Maran zt”l writes that there is a dispute among the Poskim whether or not one is permitted to erase the name of Hashem which was not written for the sake of the sanctity of Hashem’s name (when the name of Hashem is written in a Sefer Torah, the Sofer (scribe) must declare that he is writing this name for the sake of the sanctity of Hashem’s Name; however, when a regular person writes the name of Hashem, he does not have this intention to sanctify The Name) and many Poskim maintain that one may in fact erase a name of Hashem that was written without intention of sanctifying it.
This is especially true with regards to Hashem’s name appearing on a computer screen which is not actual writing; rather, it is only a combination of various lights and the like on which sanctity cannot take effect. Thus, the “erasing” of Hashem’s name caused by shutting down the computer or transferring to a different window and the like is not prohibited at all. We posed this question to Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l and he replied that there is no prohibition involved here and one may in fact delete a file containing the name of Hashem in it or shut down a computer when the name of Hashem appears on the current screen.
Summary: There is no prohibition involved in erasing the name of Hashem written on a computer for this prohibition only applies to actual writing.