A reader recently asked: “Why do some Jews type ‘G-d’ when they are writing about God? And why don’t you type it that way, Rabbi Adar?”
Jews traditionally hold the name of God, yud-hey-vav-hey in great reverence. We do not ever pronounce it (in fact, it’s been so long we don’t even remember how to pronounce it correctly) and if we write it, we treat the material it was written on with reverence. Here’s what it looks like in Hebrew letters:
Part of our story is that God revealed this Name, God’s personal Name, to Moses at Sinai.
When I met the President of the United States, I did not say, “Hey, Barack!” I addressed him with his title: “Hello, Mr. President.” Had I met Mr. Bush or Mr. Clinton when they were President, I would have addressed them the same way, with the same respect.
So it is our tradition as Jews to address God by way of titles, rather than to be too familiar. When we see the name above in Scripture, we say, “Adonai” (My Lord) or “Hashem” (the Name), or “the Eternal.” We are aware that other people might say “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” (two attempts at pronouncing the name) but we don’t go there. God is too holy for us to presume to be on a first name basis. I do not ever use those words that attempt to pronounce the name except when I’m teaching about it.
In Hebrew, we often use an abbreviation to stand in for the Name:
That’s two yuds: “yud, yud.” Hebrew readers know that that stands in for the four letter Name, and so we substitute whatever title is appropriate instead of saying the Name.
Some English speakers and writers have extended the abbreviation to the word “God,” which then looks like “G-d.” It’s a form of reverence, and perhaps a way of remembering the holy four-letter Name without mentioning it.
I don’t choose that particular form for three reasons:
- “God” is a title, not the Name. Only the Name is the Name.
- “G-d” looks too much like the way people abbreviate profanity, and I don’t want to associate the Holy One (there’s another title) with profanity.
- My grandmother, of blessed memory, did not like profanity, but when she had to quote someone else who had said, “God damn” she would abbreviate it “G-D.” So, again, profanity. Yikes.
Piety is individual. I am pretty fussy about saying and writing the Name. If it is meaningful to someone else to abbreviate the word “God,” it isn’t my business. It doesn’t work for me, so I don’t do it.
Is there a name or title of God that you particularly like? One you really don’t like to use, ever? Why?