Why do they write “G-d”

In response to a comment on a recent post of mine, Obadia18 wrote:

LOL! You’re discussing censorship and you type God as the Jewish G-d. Now that’s what I call ironic.

Since I’ve been meaning to explain the origin of G-d to y’all for some time, I figured now is as good a time as any. Oh, and by the way:

HAPPY NEW YEAR AND A WONDERFUL 2013!!

Anyway, as I was saying, Jewish law requires Jews to treat the name of God with respect. For example, we’re not supposed to mention the name of God in a restroom or bathroom. We’re also not supposed to erase the written name of God. Since we’re not supposed to erase it, it follows that we’re careful when/where we write it. Since holy books are disposed of by burial (which is considered respectful), we use the name of God in such books without reservation. But newspapers, magazines and various scrapes of paper are typically thrown away. So we avoid writing the name of God on those.

But is “God” the name of God? According to Jewish law it clearly is not. There are seven names which Scripture uses to refer to God. All of them are Hebrew/Semitic words. A translation of the name of God into another language is not the name of God. My name is Hebrew for “behold a son”. But if somebody were to call me “beholdason”, I would not answer; it’s not my name.

While “The Lord” is a perfectly good translation of the Hebrew “Adonai”, it’s not “Adonai”. “God” is not the same as “Elohim”. “The Almighty” is a great translation of “Shaddai”, but it’s not the same thing. In short, Jewish law only prohibits disrespect toward the actual names of God (in Scripture), not their various translations.

Also, I wanted to point out that manipulating ones and zeros in computer code doesn’t necessarily equate with “erasing” the name of God. This is unknown territory in Jewish law and, like electricity, it’s been treated based solely on appearances (this paragraph was added 01/02/13).

But Jewish tradition is more than just Jewish law; it also includes a vast collection of voluntary practices (“minhagim”). There is a (very influential) school of thought that would have these traditions carry the same weight as Jewish law itself. The problem with this is the inevitable ratcheting up that occurs when people try to outdo each other in piety. What used to be considered voluntary is now considered obligatory. In this way, the Jewish religion becomes a prison for many people.

I’ll quote the late Mori Yosef Gaffih (who I met a few times). He noted that the letters of the Hebrew word “Minhag” (tradition) are the same letters as the Hebrew word “Gehinom” (hell). Note that Hebrew has no vowel letters.

I suppose, if it makes one feel all warm and fuzzy inside to write “G-d”, then there’s no harm in it. I just wanted to clarify the origins of this practice.

About jewamongyou

I am a paleolibertarian Jew who is also a race-realist. My opinions are often out of the mainstream and often considered "odd" but are they incorrect? Feel free to set me right if you believe so!
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7 Responses to Why do they write “G-d”

  1. countenance says:

    Thank G** for know-it-all troll commenters. It gives us a chance to go off on these interesting tangents. And I’m not being snarky.

  2. worx92 says:

    I always thought “God” was a title.

  3. Attila says:

    We are too small to know what His real name is. In the Kabbalah – the Arizal refers to him as the Ein Sof (No Limit).

  4. Attila says:

    I discovered this juicy explanation from Dr. Laitman’s Kabbalah page= a quote by Rav Yehuda Ashlag:

    In order to attain the depth of their above words, we must first understand what has been written many
    times in The Zohar and theTikkunim (Corrections of The Zohar), wisely and daintily: “The Torah, the
    Creator, and Israel, are one.” This seems very perplexing.
    Before I elucidate their words, I will notify you that our sages have defined a great rule for us, regarding
    all the holy names and appellations in the books. These are their golden words: “Anything that we do not
    attain, we do not define by a name.”
    Interpretation: It is known that there is no thought and perception in Him whatsoever, as it is written in the
    article “Elijah Started” in the beginning of the Tikkunim of The Zohar. For that reason, even the thought of
    the “Self” of the Creator is forbidden, much less the speech.
    All the names we call Him do not refer to His Self, but only to His Lights, expanding from Him to the lower
    ones. Even the holy name,Ein Sof (Infinity), presented in the Kabbalah books, is also regarded as Light
    that expands from His Essence.
    But since He determined that His Light, which expands from His Self, will be attained by the lower ones
    as Ein Sof , we shall therefore define it by that name. Yet, this does not refer to His Essence, since there
    is absolutely no perception or thought in Him. Thus, how shall we define Him by a name and a word,
    since all that we do not attain, we do not define by a name?

  5. Robert Marchenoir says:

    The problem with this is the inevitable ratcheting up that occurs when people try to outdo each other in piety. What used to be considered voluntary is now considered obligatory. In this way, the Jewish religion becomes a prison for many people.

    Isn’t there a similar phenomenon in Islam ?

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