1) ONE WHO WRITES TWO LETTERS IN ANY LANGUAGE ON SHABBOS
OPINIONS: The Mishnah states that one who writes two of the same letters or two different letters "in any language" is Chayav. Does this mean that one is Chayav if he writes two letters of literally any language?
(a) The OR ZARU'A (2:76, 85) cites in the name of the Yerushalmi that the two letters discussed in the Mishnah are letters such as "Alef" and "Alpha." The Or Zaru'a infers from this statement that one is Chayav only for writing two letters in either Hebrew or in Yevanis, Greek (the two languages in which a Sefer Torah may be written according to Raban Shimon ben Gamliel -- see Megilah 8b). If one writes two letters in any other language, he is not Chayav.
The REMA (OC 306:11) cites the ruling of the Or Zaru'a with regard to the Halachah of buying land in Eretz Yisrael from a Nochri on Shabbos. Because of the importance of settling the Eretz Yisrael, a person is permitted to buy land from a Nochri on Shabbos and have the Nochri write the contract (Gitin 8b). The Or Zaru'a states that the contract should not be written in Hebrew or Yevanis but in another language. Since writing in another language is prohibited only mid'Rabanan, and asking a Nochri to do a Melachah (writing) is also prohibited only mid'Rabanan, asking a Nochri to write in another language on Shabbos is a "Shevus d'Shevus" and is permitted for the sake of settling the land of Israel.
(b) The BI'UR HALACHAH discusses the ruling of the Or Zaru'a at length. He concludes that there is no basis for the Or Zaru'a's conclusion. The Bi'ur Halachah raises three basic objections. First, the Mishnah clearly says "in any language." Second, the Yerushalmi cannot mean that one is Chayav for writing only in two languages. When the Yerushalmi says that one is Chayav for writing "Alef Alpha," it is in the context of a discussion of the opinion of Rebbi Yosi, who maintains that one is Chayav even for Roshem (making any recognizable mark, and certainly for making letters of any language). Third, all of the Rishonim disagree with the Or Zaru'a and rule that writing two letters of any language is forbidden.
Therefore, the Bi'ur Halachah concludes that the explanation of the Yerushalmi is different than that proposed by the Or Zaru'a. Even the Rema, who cites the Or Zaru'a, cites him only as an added stringency, for he does not permit a contract to be written on Shabbos in Hebrew or Yevanis. However, with regard to a leniency, we do not rely on the minority opinion of the Or Zaru'a.
2) WRITING TWO MEANINGFUL LETTERS ON SHABBOS
QUESTION: The Gemara seems to conclude that in order to be Chayav for writing two letters on Shabbos, one must write two letters that spell out a word. If a person writes only two Alefs (from the word "A'azarcha"), he is not Chayav, because two Alefs do not comprise a word.
When the Mishnah earlier (103a) states that one who writes two letters is Chayav, Rashi explains, "For example, two Alefs." Why does Rashi explain that the Mishnah there refers to two letters that do not comprise a word? Rashi should explain that it refers to two letters like "Gimel Gimel" that make a word ("Gag," roof)! (TOSFOS REBBI AKIVA EIGER on the Mishnayos)
(a) The RASHASH explains that one Amora in the Gemara maintains that when the Mishnah says that one is Chayav for writing with either his right hand or his left hand, the Mishnah follows the opinion of Rebbi Yosi, who says that any two recognizable marks constitute "writing" (even if the marks are not letters, and certainly even if they do not spell out a word). Rashi explains the Mishnah earlier based on this interpretation of the Mishnah, and that is why he says that one would be Chayav for writing two Alefs.
(b) REBBI AKIVA EIGER answers that perhaps Rashi infers that when the Mishnah says that one is Chayav for writing "two letters," it implies any two letters, and they do not need to spell out a word. Rashi understands that the Mishnah teaches a new opinion, unparalleled in the Beraisa which the Gemara later cites (see Chart #18).
(c) The RASHASH and the BI'UR HALACHAH (OC 340) suggest another answer. Although the Tana'im maintain that one must write an actual word in order to be Chayav, their opinion applies only when one initially intended to write a complete word and ended up writing only two letters. Since there must be some similarity between what one intended to do and what he actually did (and he initially intended to write a complete word), the two letters that he writes must also be a complete word. However, when one's initial intention was to write only two letters, he is Chayav even though they do not spell out any word.