Friday, November 13, 2009

G-O-D

God is probably one of the most powerful nouns in the dictionary. In the Torah and other holy writings, God’s name is usually spelled out “yud-hey-vav-hey” (the four letter name of God that is never pronounced but rather read “Ah’doh’nai” - my Master, often translated as “the Lord”). Otherwise, God is referred to by a number of other names, such as Eh’lohim.

Because the name of God is holy, it is customary to avoid pronouncing it unless one is studying Torah or praying. Therefore, God is most often referred to as Hashem, which means “the Name.”

The question, however, often arises about writing God’s name. Deuteronomy 12:3-4 states: “[In the land of Israel] you shall break down their [the idolaters’] altars, smash their pillars...you shall cut down the graven images of their gods, and you shall erase their [the idols’] names from that place. You shall not do so to Hashem your God.” It is derived from this verse that one should not erase the name of God.

When writing Hebrew, an abbreviation (often a hey with an apostrophe or two yuds) or a substitution (such as the letter kuf in the place of the letter hey in Eh’lohim) is used in order to avoid the issue of eventual erasure. But how should one approach this question when writing in a different language? Just as substitutions are made in Hebrew, many people will write the word God or Lord with a hyphen (G-d, L-rd). And while most Jewish legal authorities agree that the English words for God do not have the same innate holiness as Hebrew and therefore can be erased even if written out completely, nevertheless, it is common practice to show respect by using the aforementioned abbreviations.

2 comments:

ed said...

very interesting! Thanks so much! I've always written "G-d" but never knew the EXACT reason why that was. I love your site and following you on Twitter :)

Rivster said...

Thanks for writing this. I prefer God, knowing that English (my native language) is not Lashon HaKodesh (holy language). Therefore, God does not hold the same sanctity as God's actual name. In fact, one might even think of the term "God" as a job title rather than a proper name.

That being said, I do believe that we ought not use the term lightly. Saying "Oh My God!" in the course of ordinary conversation desensitizes us to concept, name, job title, what have you.