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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q9.10 TOC Q9.12 >

Question 9.11:
What is the name of the Jewish God?


In Judaism God has several names. The most important name of God is the Tetragrammaton, YHVH. Because Jews considered it sinful to pronounce, the correct pronunciation of this name was forgotten — the original Hebrew texts only included consonants. Some conjecture that it was pronounced "Yahweh". The Hebrew letters are named Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh.

Jews also call God Adonai, or "my Lord." Since pronouncing YHVH is considered sinful, Jews would use Adonai instead in prayers. When the Masoretes added vowel pointings to the text of the Tanach in the first century CE they gave the word YHVH the vowels of Adonai, to remind the reader to say Adonai instead. Many Christian bible translators misinterpreted this to mean that God's name was Jehovah, which is the result of combining Adonai's vowels with YHVH's consonants, written using Latin orthography in which "J" is prnounced as the English "Y."

All denominations of Judaism teach that the four letter name of God, YHVH, is forbidden to be uttered except by the High Priest, in the Temple. Since the Temple in Jerusalem is no longer extant, this name is never pronounced in religious rituals by Jews. Orthodox Jews never pronounce it for any reason. Some non-Orthodox Jews are willing to pronounce it, but for educational purposes only, and never in causal conversation or in prayer. Instead of pronouncing YHVH during prayer, Jews say "Adonai". Note that, in Israel, observant Jews would also often use the word "shmo" ("shem shelo", His name, literally the name that is of Him) during conversations for similar purpose.

Jews often build "fences" around the basic laws, so that there is no chance that the main law will ever be broken. As such, it is common Jewish practice among to restrict the use of the word "Adonai" to prayer only. In conversation many Jewish people will call God "HaShem", which is Hebrew for "the Name". Many Jews also write "G-d" instead of "God". While these substitutions are by no means required by Judaism (only the Hebrew name, not the English, is holy), they do it to remind themselves of the holiness attached to God's name.

English translations of the Bible generally render YHVH as "LORD" (in small capitals), and Adonai as "Lord" (in normal case). Scholars disagree as to the meaning of the name Yahweh - many believe it means something like "I am the One Who Is," or "I am that I am, and I cause what is."

Other Jewish names of God include:

There is more information in answer 12.24

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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