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Why Don’t Jews Say G‑d’s Name?

Why Don’t Jews Say G‑d’s Name?

On the use of the word “Hashem”

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Question:

I’ve recently been reading through the Bible, and it seems that the Jewish people have been grossly neglecting their mission. Throughout the Bible, the L‑rd is instructing the people to “proclaim His name” (Isaiah 12:4, Psalms 105:1) and “chant praises to His Name” (Psalms 68:5), speaks highly of one who “knows My name” (Psalms 91:14), and there are countless other references to His name.

Yet, in all my encounters with Jews, they seem to make a point of not mentioning His name. Instead, they vaguely refer to Him as “the Almighty,” “the One Above,” or as Hashem,” which I understand to be Hebrew for “the name.”

Why don’t the Jewish people obey Him and “proclaim and praise His name” instead of beating around the bush?

Answer:

You really called us out on this one. We Jews have an absolute obsession with avoiding uttering G‑d’s name. (Notice that we don’t even spell it out fully when writing the English word for G‑d. See: Why Don’t You Spell G‑d’s Name?) Actually, we are careful not to pronounce G‑d’s names except when reading the Torah or prayers.

Our caution is founded on an understanding of the third of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not take His name in vain.” Although this verse is classically interpreted as referring to a senseless oath using G‑d’s name, the avoidance of saying G‑d’s name extends to all expressions, except prayer and Torah study. In the words of Maimonides, the great Jewish codifier:

It is not only a false oath that is forbidden. Instead, it is forbidden to mention even one of the names designated for G‑d in vain, although one does not take an oath. For the verse commands us, saying: “To fear the glorious and awesome name.”1 Included in fearing it is not to mention it in vain.

Therefore if because of a slip of the tongue, one mentions [G‑d’s] name in vain, he should immediately hurry to praise, glorify and venerate it, so that it will not have been mentioned in vain. What is implied? If he mentions G‑d’s name, he should say: “Blessed be He for all eternity,” “He is great and exceedingly praiseworthy,” or the like, so that it will not have been [mentioned entirely] in vain.2

Considering the awe with which we are meant to approach G‑d and His names, the verses in the Prophets which speak of making G‑d’s name known are not referring to His actual name. Rather, the prophet is saying that the Jewish people should let the world know about G‑d’s existence, how He is Creator of the world and constantly supervising and recreating every living thing.

Similarly, when the Psalmist regularly refers to praising G‑d’s name, he refers to praising G‑d’s wondrous deeds.

This brings us to the obvious question: If the Psalmist means to say that we should be praising G‑d Himself, without mentioning His name, why not just say “praise Him,” instead of the constant use of the phrase “praise His name”?

This question is addressed by the great chassidic master, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. In very short, he explains3 that praise, by definition, is the expression of some degree of appreciation—either emotional or intellectual—for the greatness or beauty of the object of praise. The greatness of G‑d Himself, however, entirely transcends anything comprehensible to the human mind.

Our praise of G‑d is generated by the emotional or intellectual appreciation of His greatness, but only as He makes Himself known to us through His various manifestations—embodied and described in the various names that the Torah calls Him. Hence, the expression “Praise His name.”

Please see our additional articles on Divine Names.

Please let me know if this helps.

Best regards,

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson
Ask the Rabbi @ Chabad.org

Footnotes
2.

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Oaths 12:11.

3.

Likkutei Torah, Behar 41a, et al.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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andrew lee singapore June 24, 2017

But didn't the prohibition of Jews actually. Using the name of God, on penalty of death after the Bar Kovah revolt? Reply

Anonymous January 15, 2017

what is the Creator's name? does our creator even have a name? is that why you guys call him Hakadosh baruch hu, Hashem, and Adonay? because those aren't names. Reply

Anonymous January 13, 2017

Still no answer or explanation The question is :
Do Jews today know how to utter that four letters (Tetragramatton) but they don't want to utter it because it is forbidden ? Reply

Ben Webb San Jose December 20, 2016

Why Don’t Jews Say G‑d’s Name? Interesting read. What's in a name? But I am wondering why you still use nicknames in the article above instead of the name? I found the article below. Can you speak to it? True or false?
"If you spend time around observant Jews, you probably know that Hashem, literally “The Name,” is a common way to refer to God. Why do people use this appellation?

True, on one hand it is forbidden to pronounce the actual four-letter name of God (Yud Heh Vav Hey). But a deeper reason for saying “Hashem” is because that is the essence of our relationship with God." Reply

Audy September 6, 2016

Confused Today at a Jewish temple the people kept saying oh my god. That really confused me. They were leaders Reply

Raimundas August 6, 2016

So, Why Don’t Jews Say G‑d’s Name? For His Name Is 'Instinct' Reply

SB Britain May 25, 2016

Passing By Thank you very much for the thorough explanation. I was googling this topic as I am curious about this element of the Jewish faith. Now that I've read your article, however, I feel much more enlightened.

I hope that you have a wonderful week. Reply

Anonymous Nigeria February 13, 2016

Why,will the king of the entire universe give his name if, he wanted to hide it from mankind in the first place. Or is it man that is trying to protect the king that needs no protection from mankind. Or their is more to it. Reply

Anonymous Indonesia January 18, 2016

Which one is the great answer? My answer or my friend's answer ?

You wrote: "the most important reason is showing respect to His name"

But there are many of His Name, and all are to be respected and all are not to be uttered/written in vain.

What I mean here is that until now the Jews (at least some Jews, maybe from the descendant of High Priest) know how to utter each of the Names (included the Tetragrammaton, the 4 words as it is written).

If my friend was correct, then the Jews know all but one how to utter every G-d's Name. This particular one is the Tetragrammaton. Which leads to conclusion that today the Jews don't utter this specific God's Name (the Tetragrammaton, the four words as it is written) because they don't know anymore how to utter the Tetragrammaton. From here, a question rise : when and why they don't know how to utter the Tetragrammaton anymore ? Reply

Anonymous January 14, 2016

Great answers! But the most important reason is showing respect to His name and not yelling it out for every whatever reason and written on every dirty place.

Thank you!
Reply

Anonymous Indonesia January 12, 2016

"We Jews have an absolute obsession with avoiding uttering G‑d’s name".

I told my Christian friend that from the sentence above means : at least some Jews know how to utter the Tetragrammaton (the 4 words as it is written) even until today. Because it's too sacred to be uttered, they decided to alternatively utter something else. But still they pass their knowledge on how to utter the Tetragrammaton to whom they think is liable (worthy) ---> this act (passing their knowledge on how to utter the Tetragrammaton) doesn't mean that they utter the Tetragrammaton in vain.

On the contrary, the Christian friend told me that no one knows how to utter that [4 words as it is written] long time ago. He continue, that in the era of Moses - yes, they know how to utter and they did utter that 4 words. Even Eve uttered that also.

My question is : am I correct that you know how to utter the Tetragrammaton? Or it is my friend who is correct that nobody knows how to utter the Tetragrammaton anymore? Reply

Anonymous August 10, 2015

No not really. What is the answer not the reasoning. Should we or should we not say His Name.? And is your answer backed by Biblical dc err ipture? If so, what scripture? Reply

Anonymous August 6, 2015

His Child My own birth Father OBM taught me a very important lesson when I was a child and I did forget about it until later. I really wanted to know one day why do we not use Hashem's Holy name when the Tanach is clear we did? But as soon as I asked I remembered a incident that happened with my own birth Father. One of my siblings tried to call our Father by his first name thinking he was being cute. My Father said clearly and loudly that a child of his will not call him by his first name because we are his children and that it was only the neighbor's kids that will call him by his name because they are not his children. So being that we the Jewish people are Hashem's chosen people His Children then it makes sense why we do not call Him by name. We only do this in Prayer and Torah. so the question become are you His child or are you the Neighbor's kid? I'm so thankful for my Earthly Father OBM teaching me a lesson about our Heavenly Father! Reply

Wisdomcalls Mi November 9, 2013

Confused So I understand revering haShem and attempting not to use His Name in vain, but all of my Jewish friends and family use "G-d" as an expletive every day and frequently in violation of the commandments, which disturbs be greatly, and yet they cannot use His Name in a holy context because of tradition. I would prefer if they would follow King David's example and extol Him with their lips in a holy way while refraining from the common use of "oh g-d". Reply

Sandra L. Johnson Highland, Indiana March 31, 2011

Praising his name I believe it means we who proclaim to love God are expected to exhibit codes of behavior that even those who may doubt his existance are drawn to him. Reply

sue Kanata, ON March 27, 2011

hello? If the Psalmist means to say that we should be praising G-d Himself, without mentioning His name, why not just say "praise Him,"


She might be offended? Reply

Dora San Nicolas de los Garza, NL March 26, 2011

G-d's name With all due respect. I don't understand that. Before I write or speak, I think, and there's no way I cannot think the complete word, and I do believe He hears my thoughts. So what you are trying to do, even though I understand it comes out of great respect, cannot be humanly accomplished. When I read your article, I heard the complete word in my mind many times. I also believe G-d is not His name. So I really believe we have to make a constant effort to think praise of Him without cease. Many blessings to you. Reply

maurice huntingdon valley, pa via jewishabington.com March 25, 2011

G_d's name Yes, Rabbi, it is an excellent question. But note that none of the references to praise His name are in Torah. They are in prophets and writings. They are human ways to attempt to communicate with the Unknowable, Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.
Our longstanding theological principle of avoiding speaking It's name is more consistent with praising It by name. But the prophets either sought a more personal relationship or presented a more palatable, understandable way to communicate with the Divine. It should be understood in that context.
But Torah doesn't require it. G_d is what G-d is and doesn't need our praise. Reply

Elisabeth Chambers Biglerville, PA March 24, 2011

G-d's Name I agree with Mr. Davidson. We Jews neglect to share G-d with those around us. Many jews become uncomfortable when I say I thank or I praise Him. It seems to be even worse when I mention I pray other than the normal prayers. To me I feel we need to share G-d and let people see how our lives are effected. G-d is living - not just a tradition.By mentioning Him in our daily lives He becomes alive to others who need to see His Glory AND reminds us constantly of our relationship to Him. Mentioning G-d is a wonderful privilege. Reply

Josh Brenner Sharon, MA March 24, 2011

Thank you - name of G-d Wow, simply amazing.
The explanation given is very helpful.
Thanks! Reply

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