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?
17 thoughts on “Why “G-d” instead of “God?””
Thank you, Rabbi Adar, for this informative essay. It reminded me of the time i wrote an essay exam for Prof. Alvin Reines, z’l. In one place I wrote God, and further on I wrote G-d. Rabbi Reines circled both and wrote on the side of my paper, “Make up your mind!”
Great story! Thank you!
I’ve always thought the same, Rabbi! Particularly about it looking like abbreviated profanity. And, it’s mildly annoying to read.
Also, the way some people do it, it seems like they’re… calling attention to themselves, “look how pious I am!” Which is just not correct about anybody’s god/dess.
(When did you meet the President?)
Well, I try to assume the best about everyone, and there are many people for whom it is a genuine act of piety.
When did I meet the President? During the 2012 campaign. I was pretty much speechless.
Gosh, I would be too!
I agree for many people, it’s pious — but I’ve also known several for whom it’s showing off. Particularly when they have no problems typing OMG or using foul language. And if you’re not Jewish, then it’s always holier-than-thou… yet some do it!!!
Muslims type out Allah, and they are not a people given to letting things slide as regards respect towards the creator of the universe.
Good point about Muslims and Allah!
I would say God, or, in my mind, Adon Olam. I like to translate that title as master of the Universe.
I love “Adon Olam” too! Olam is such an interesting word. Sometimes I translate it as “universe” and sometimes as “time and space.” I have also heard it translated as “all there is.”
G-d when I write, Adonai when I speak or sing. Not trying to show how pious I am….I dont regard myself as pious, in any case: I ‘do’ not an awful lot of things Jewishly…..not nearly as much as I would like, or am aiming for. Very much a work in progress, and sometimes my progress is backwards…regress? As in – had to go back to my battery tea lights, as candles still freak me out. And it doesn’t make me think of swearing; and I’m not sure how that would work out loud ? 🙂
The important thing is to know why you are doing something and to be consistent with it. Sounds like you are doing just that!
The swearing thing may just be me. I was explaining why I don’t use it, but I understand this is something that is meaningful to others.
Finding this a very interesting conversation. One thing Ive become aware of, and try to work on, about myself, is that I used to swear…a lot. I try not to, now. Not because it makes me seem better(Im seldom in the company of anyone except the cats, and they – as far as I know, though cats being cats, you can’t be sure – dont bother, or understand swear words) but because(for me)
G-d is with me at all times, and it just became something that I realised I wanted not to do, or at least, work at practising not doing. And I type OMC….Oh My Cat…..works for me, anyway! Again, Im trying/working at not taking the Name in vain. It might not sound much, but it’s important to me. And I do feel better about myself(I spent many years feeling very bad about myself, for reasons which were reasonable, but also a lifetime habit of giving myself a hard time, even – sometimes especially – when whatever it was, was not my fault and I was not to blame. So, all these little things help me, daily, build a bit of a better way of seeing myself, forgiving myself, and feeling closer to G-d. As you say, Rabbi Adar, what matters is that I know why Im doing it, and I try to be consistent.
Attaway, Alex! Sounds great!
I misunderstood the question. I would appreciate if you remove my comments. In the future I will be more careful.
Myra, I found your answer interesting and not at all as though you misunderstood; it helped me and thanks for writing.
Myra, I removed your comments because you requested it, but you are always welcome to ask questions. Sometimes questions that come from a misunderstanding are the best of all. So ask anything you like – and your comments are welcome, too.
I was told by a friend of mine (Conservative) that we wrote the name with a hyphen because we should never throw away a piece of paper on which His name appears. Is that a valid point of view?
It is a traditional point of view, but the word “God” is a title, not a name. My name is Ruth, my title is Rabbi. Sometimes (often) people call me “Rabbi” but it isn’t my name. The word that Jews treat with reverence is the yud-hey-vav-hey Name.