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About Writing the Names of God

Rabbinical Halakhah -

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Regarding writing the Hebrew Names of God

Just as Jews are taught to revere God Himself, so they are taught to revere His Name, especially when speaking or writing one of the "seven Names of God":

Seven Biblical Names of God

Note: The rules here apply to any of the "construct" or derived form of these Names as well, e.g., Yah for Y-H-V-H, or Adonai Tzeva'ot, El Shaddai, etc. In general, if it is a Hebrew Name of God found in the Tanakh, these rules will apply.

The idea that writing the Names of God warrants special consideration derives from Rabbinical interpretation of Deuteronomy 12:3 where the commandment to destroy idols is given. Immediately following this mitzvah, however, it is the qualification: "You must never do anything like this to the (sacred objects of the) LORD your God:

Deuteronomy 12:4

Based on careful discussion of these verses, the rabbis decreed that is forbidden to efface a divine Name written on parchment (or paper), unravel a Name embroidered in cloth, or melt down a piece of metal or a seal upon which a divine Name is engraved or impressed. Note that this rule does not come from the commandment not to take the Lord's Name in vain (i.e., the Third Commandment), but rather from the inference that Jews should not destroy or efface any holy thing.

Consequently, observant Jews avoid writing any Name or Title of God because of the risk that the written Name might later be defaced, obliterated or accidentally destroyed.

Writing the Name

Jewish law (halakhah) against writing a Name of God applies only to Names that are written in some kind of permanent form. On the computer screen you may see the Names of God; but if you print a page containing a Name, you need to show proper respect since this is considered a "permanent form" (this is also why some Jews avoid writing a Name of God on a web site or in emails, since there is a risk that someone else might print the page and deface it).

Circumlocution of the Names

Since halakhah states that it is only forbidden to erase a divine Name that is written in a "normal" fashion (i.e., in the standard Hebrew spelling (or transliteration) of the Name), a common practice to avoid writing the Names of God is to substitute letters or syllables within the Name. For example, you might see "Elokim" (for Elohim), "G-d" (for God), and "L-rd" (for Lord). This roundabout way of writing a Name is sometimes called "circumlocution."

In most Siddurim (prayerbooks) and other Jewish religious literature, you will often see the Sacred Name written in an abbreviated manner as Yod-Yod:

Abbreviated

This is done to avoid casually reading, writing or saying the sacred Name of God.

Note: Ultra-Orthodox Jews will not even pronounce a name of God unless it is said in prayer or religious study. The Sacred Name, Y-H-V-H (sometimes called the Tetragrammaton) is NEVER pronounced by these Jews but is read as "Adonai," "HaShem," or sometimes "AdoShem."

Other Customs

In the upper right hand corner of letters it is customary to write Bet-Hey as an abbreviation of Baruch HaShem ("Thank God") or Bet-Ayin-Hey as an abbreviation of Be'ezrat HaShem ("With the Help of the Name"). However, some people prefer the abbreviation Bet-Samekh-Dalet (BeSiyatta DeShamaiya, Aramaic for "With the Help of Heaven") in order to avoid writing any allusion to God's name in a letter that might later be discarded.

It is permitted to erase names like Jeremiah, Isaiah, or Zechariah, even though the last letters of such names spell out the Name YAH, since the entire name is considered a single word. Nevertheless, it is customary to abbreviate such names, leaving out the final Hey, to avoid the chance that a divine Name may be desecrated:




Likewise it is customary to write Yehudah (Judah) with a final Aleph rather than a final Hey, lest the Dalet is left out and the Name Y-H-V-H is inadvertently written:




It is customary to write the Hebrew number 15 as Tet-Vav rather than Yod-Hey, which is the divine Name YAH. Similarly, 16 is written as Tet-Zayin rather than as Yod-Vav, which resembles a divine name (e.g., YOchanan).



Note that these changes are made even when they are part of a larger number such as 115, 416, etc.

There is also a rather superstitious custom of transposing the letters of numbers which might otherwise spell out a word with a negative connotation, such as in the case of 270 (Resh-Ayin, which means "evil") or 304 (Shin-Dalet, which spells the word for "demon"):




Finally, since holy books containing the Name(s) of God are not to be destroyed, discarded books or scrolls that contain any of the Names of God are put in a genizah, or "cemetery" for sacred writings (usually a storeroom in a synagogue).

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