observe two separate prohibition
s relating to the name of God
- The second of the ten commandments: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain" (Exodus 20:7).
- "And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their Asherot with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 12:3-4).
The first of these forbids invoking God as a witness
when discussing your eating habits
, for conversational emphasis
, etc. Many of our not-really obscenities
are right out
you assume that a name for God still applies, whatever language
it is spoken in.
The second of the above prohibitions is the one that results in Jews not writing down God's name, in order to prevent its accidentally being erased. In fact, if God's name has been written, such as in a Torah
scroll or siddur
, then Orthodox Jew
s customarily will never discard or burn the item on which the name is written. Instead, the now sanctified papers are buried in a cemetery
or are stored permanently in a box called a geniza
. Orthodoxy is currently divided as to whether typing
God's name into a word processor
or posting it on a web page
is equivalent to writing it down. The closest thing there is to a consensus
holds that it is not forbidden to erase God's name by changing pixel
s on a screen, such as in opening a new web page. However, it is forbidden to enable others to destroy or discard a print
ed manifestation of God's name. As such, one may not post God's name on a website, because this would allow the site viewers to print the name out and desecrate
In the Tanach
and the Mishna
, God is referred to by a number of proper name
s and titles
- The Tetragrammaton, spelled Yud-Hei-Vav-Hei, and its permutations Yud-Hei and Yud-Vav. The former is used as a suffix in words such as Hallelujah ("praise God"), and the latter is used as a prefix in names such as Yonatan ("God has given").
- El, Lord, Elohim, Lords, and Eloheinu, Our Lord. (Let no one tell you that the Ancient Hebrews were monotheistic.)
- Shadai, spelled Shin-Daled-Yud. This name is of unknown etymology but may be an abbreviation for "Sheh Dai", meaning "He who said 'enough'", therefore completing the process of creating the universe.
- Adonai, My Master
There are a number of convolution
s which the above are subjected to before they are written down or spoken by Orthodox Jews. These include:
- Referring to God, in writing and in speech, merely as Hashem (spelled Hei-Shin-Mem Sofit), The Name
- Referring to God, in writing and in speech, merely by the Kaballistic formula Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe
- Referring to God, in writing and in speech, merely by the Kaballistic formula HaKadosh Barush Hu, The Holy One Blessed Be He
- Replacing the name Shadai with the letter Daled followed by an apostrophe
- Replacing the tetragrammaton with the letter Hei following by an apostrophe
- Replacing the number Yud-Hei, a formula whose letters have the numerological value of 10 + 5, with the equivalent Tet-Vav, whose numerological value is 9 + 6.
- Replacing the number Yud-Vav, a formula whose letters have the numerological value of 10 + 6, with the equivalent Tet-Zayin, whose numerological value is 9 + 7.
- Truncating all words that end in the suffix Yud-Hei by hacking off their Hei and replaced it with an apostrophe.
- Reading the names Elohim as Elokim, Eloheinu as Elokeinu, and Adonai as Adoshem.
- Mutilating non-Hebrew titles for the deity under consideration, so that God becomes G-d or Gd. This one is a bit extreme, and is not undertaken by all or even most Orthodox Jews.
And now, my commentary
It's clear that the dual prohibitions above are intended to impart two things: 1) A reverence
for God. 2) A sanctification
of daily life and speech- people should
invoke God, but should make sure their situations
are perfectly and constantly holy first. Instead, the prohibitions have merely caused observant Jews to rename God, and then proceed to toss the new
names around like trivialities.
Say I write you a letter, and in it write "Thank G-d, Moishie is doing well in cheder
and little Rocheleh recovered from her flu". In this case, I have neither sincerely invoked God so as to thank him, or completely purged him from my prosaic
recounting of everyday events. It's as if I've created an intermediary
God through the more accessible G-d.
Incidentally, this, according to the Maimonedes
was the way that polytheism
originated. He writes in the first chapter of Hilchot Avodat Kochavim
that the generation of Enosh
's grandson) reasoned that they were not holy enough to relate to God directly, so they began instead to worship his servants, the star
s. Use of the spelling "G-d" implies an inferiority complex so pervasive it makes honest worship impossible.