New American Reform Responsa
22. Aliyah with the Hebrew or English Name
QUESTION: In my congregation we have recently decided to invite individuals to participate in the Torah service by their Hebrew name. This has caused embarrassment among those who do not know their Hebrew name or were never given a Hebrew name. I have hesitated about assigning a name just for the occasion. Should the English name be used if the Hebrew name cannot be remembered or should English names always be used for the sake of consistency? (Norbert Katz, London, England)
ANSWER: When the tradition discussed Torah honors and the names of individuals asked to participate, it was principally concerned with the dignity of the individual. If there was a blemish connected with his father, then the shame was avoided by simply mentioning his name alone, or designating him as X, who is the grandson of Z (Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 139.3; Isserles and commentaries). If the father was unknown or he was a foundling, then the person was designated as the son of Abraham. These discussions inform us that Hebrew names were regularly used in the traditional service, and that the individuals invited to the Torah were not to be embarrassed in any way.
The introduction of Hebrew names for Torah honors in our Reform services represents a reemphasis on Hebrew names. It creates an additional bond with the Hebrew language. It is, therefore, good and useful. We, however, should also follow the inclination of the Shulhan Arukh and earlier sources and not shame the individuals who are going to be honored. It would probably be best to continue the use of Hebrew names for those who know their Hebrew names, and English names for those who do not. As Torah honors are often assigned some days before the service, it may be possible for individuals to rediscover their Hebrew name or if they have none to ask for a Hebrew name. Slowly over the years the use of Hebrew names will become more common and that is a direction in which we should proceed.
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