Changing Name

There are two places in halakhah where the criterion for whether something is significantly changed is whether there was a shinui sheim, a change in name. The first is in the laws of Shabbos, something is nolad (“born”, i.e. unusable because it did not exist when Shabbos began) if it underwent a change that changes what we call it. For this reason, one may not melt ice to produce water on Shabbos — “ice” and “water” are different names. (This is true for the few languages I could check. It would be interesting to see if anyone discusses the permissability of melting ice by someone whose first language does not use different words for them.) However, R’ SZ Aurbach is quoted (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchaso 10:5, fn 15) as limiting this gemara to water. Frozen orange juice is called “frozen orange juice”, and thus there is no shinui sheim.

The second case is in property law. Changing something is a form of qinyan, acquisition of the object. One kind of shinui could be a shinui reshus, moving the object from one person’s property to another. Another is changing the object itself to the extent that there is a shinui sheim. A theif who steals wood and makes a hole in the wood, is obligated to return the wood (and the difference in value). If, however, the owner gave up on reclaiming the object (thus giving up ownership) and the thief made something out of the wood (thus acquiring ownership), the thief would have to repay the value, not return the wood.

This could be understood in terms of applying halakhah to the world as experienced. See (“The Nature of Reality” for an explanation, and other possible cases in “The Unobservable, the Unobserved, and the Observed“.) Word give us labels, but by giving groups of things shared labels, they color our world by defining which set of pigeonholes we use to group things as being essentially the same, and assign new things.

For example, in English speaking countries it’s common to ponder if Judaism is a race or a religion. On the one hand, it is racial in that once someone is born a Jew, they are always a Jew, regardless of belief. On the other hand, someone can join the fold through geirus. But the question isn’t one of Judaism, it’s one of English. These are the kinds of peoplehood we assume exist because these are the words the language gives us. The language was primarily shaped by Christians, though. Therefore there is no guarantee that there exists exactly the right pigeonhole to place Jewish peoplehood.

Returning to the subject of shinui sheim, this is a change defined in human perception terms. We’re saying the minimum unit of change is from one conceptual category to another. The physical magnitude of the change is irrelevant — look back to our contrast between melting ice and melting frozen orange juice. It is measured in terms of change in human conception.

6 thoughts on “Changing Name

  1. The key to Shinui Hasheim is as explained in the second paragraph, …”changing the object itself to the extent that there is a…” Shinui HaSheim is an extension of Shinui Ma’aseh, albeit in a smaller scale, in both cases the current object is “not” the object as it was at the time of robbery, and restitution -by way of returning the object as stolen- is impossible, thus requiring the thief to pay in lieu of returning the stolen object, and by default he is the “owner” of the current object. In other words, the Qinyan of Gezeilah is one that establishes a monetary obligation of v’heishiv [es haGezeilah], versus other forms of Qinyan that are beneficial to the person who acquired the object. This is a Qinyan that is to the detriment of the thief.

    Nevertheless, there are parameters to Shinui Hasheim. Unlike Shinui Ma’aseh, Shinui Hasheim does not affect a Qinyan on its own, requiring Yi’ush or other factors with which to combine.

    The Halakhah of (actively) melting ice on Shabbos vs. actively melting frozen juice is not merely a matter of linguistics. Ice is a generic product, used for chilling anything and everything. Taking such a product and converting to water is more than just a mere state change, it is as if (some Rishonim are specific that it only appears to be Nolad, and thus prohibited) you created a new product altogether, subject to the Halakhos of Nolad on Shabbos.

    Fruit juice, milk, or other frozen beverages, are mere state changes. That ice and water have different names altogether, highlights the difference in function, but is not the “reason,” per se, that Nolad should or shouldn’t apply.

  2. My point was looking at why is name a criterion for “smaller scale” shinui ma’aseh. My argument is that labels shape perceptions, and thus the experienced reality.

    You may question whether melting ice is only a shinui sheim, but it the term used to describe why it’s prohibited. The criterion isn’t given as change in function. (In practice, there will be a greater frequency of name changes that align with functional ones anyway.)

    Of course, even by notions of experienced reality, shinui ma’aseh is a more meaningful change. Which is why one needn’t expect identical rules.

  3. My point is that your argument suggests a false cause, in that ‘change of name’ is an entity that has ramifications.

    The way I view it, is that name change is a mere indicator that whatever change occurred, however minor, even in a scenario that does not meet the criteria for ‘change in act,’ is a sufficient change prerequisite, for certain acquisitions, inasmuch that a thief is thus financially obligated to the original owner.

    I wouldn’t conclude from the din in Hilkhos Shabbos that change of name affects Halakhic status, as the difference between ice and frozen juice is actually functional. I wouldn’t be M’dayeik from language written to describe a P’saq heard from RSZA.

  4. My diyuq is in the gemara’s lashon “shinui sheim”. You’re saying it’s prescriptive rather than descriptive, a “mere indicator”. I do not know how the gemara can give a rule like that without knowing the future name for every object.

    For example, is a fax received on Shabbos “nolad”? We call it a “fax”, so there was a shinui sheim. Calling it “shinui sheim” would be misleading in these new cases if it weren’t really about sheim.

  5. It is no more an indicator than Shinui Ma’aseh, which is a Qinyan Gezeilah because the “new” object is different from the old object, and thus money is the only form of restitution acceptable. Shinui HaSheim does the same, it renders the object to be different from the original object. This change of name happens because something occured to the object, something that is not as significant as change of act, but something large enough to warrant change of name.

    Faxes on Shabbos is an entirely different Sugya. i don’t understand the relationship of Nolad though, but I have heard of some Posqim using that logic, but I doubt it had to do with the name change of plain paper to fax, but rather because of function, blank slate to readable material.

  6. Agreed that “It is no more an indicator than Shinui Ma’aseh.” Even in the phenomenological universe, shinui ma’aseh is more real than shinui sheim.

    However, the gemara called it shinui sheim — that the definition of the distinction is nomic. My point isn’t whether or not faxes are nolad. My question was not rhetorical. My point was that labeling the kind of change “shinui sheim” isn’t something Chazal could or would do lightly, as it has impact in future cases. When they say it’s a change because the name changes, I would assume that’s exactly what they mean.

    Another example — the shift from aravah to hoshanah (which in gemara-speak is the one with your lulav) is given as a shinui sheim. (Not that it makes a stolen aravah usable, but that’s because of mitzvah haba’ah ba’aveirah.) Nothing physical happened to the aravah — it was simply tied to the lulav.

And your thoughts...?