Ask the Rabbi: Name of G‑d: Its Sanctity

“Ask the Rabbi” column, reprinted with permission of Texas Jewish Post.
By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, DATA Rosh Kollel

Dear Rabbi,

I noticed that you often use “G‑d” to refer to the Almighty instead of God. I am a Christian and have been reading the TJP at my workplace, borrowing it from a coworker. I have never seen our clergy write God’s name this way, could you please explain why you do so?

Sean

Dear Sean,

One of the holiest, if not the holiest, concepts in Judaism is the Name of G-d. The first of the 10 commandments is simply introducing His Name.

For this reason, the Jewish religion forbids erasing, destroying or otherwise defiling G‑d’s name. (Deut. 12:4, see Targum Yonasan and Rashi loc cit). This applies only to the actual Names of G-d, not to adjectives by which we use to describe Him, such as The Merciful One, Powerful One, etc.

The prohibition clearly applies when the Name is written in Hebrew.

 There are diverse opinions among the classical Jewish authorities as to whether or not this prohibition applies to G‑d’s name even when it is written in other languages. I try my best to uphold the stringent opinion and write the Name hyphenated, so as not to be the actual Name, even in English.

Since a newspaper is something which normally gets thrown away. I prefer not to write out the name of G‑d fully, as this would constitute a desecration of G-d’s Name when thrown into the trash – according to the stringent opinion concerning the Name in English.  

For the same reason – the opinion that G-d’s Name in English is also considered a Name – many Jews are careful not to utter G‑d’s name, even in English, in vain. This is common as an exclamation like “Oh my G‑d,” which many people change to say, “Oh my gosh.” This practice, though not strictly commanded by Jewish law when not in Hebrew, has been adopted by many based on the Torah attitude towards the usage of G‑d’s name.

The Talmud goes to great length to describe how it is a tragedy of great dimensions when G‑d’s name is uttered in vain. (See Ramban, Nachmanides, commentary to Tractate Shavuos Ch. 2).  

Jews of old would rent their garments if they would hear G‑d’s name desecrated.

As Jews, our obligation is to bring honor and glory to the name of G‑d in all that we do. This applies, in a small way, to the written Name of G‑d as well.

In a greater sense it applies to the concept of G‑d in the world. We are commanded, above all, to sanctify the name of the Al-mighty in all that we do.

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Ask the Rabbi: Name of G‑d: Its Sanctity 1

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