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Judaism considers some names of God so holy that, once written, they should not be erased: יהוה (YHWH), אֲדֹנָי (Adonai), אֵל (El transl. God), אֱלֹהִים (Elohim transl. God, a plural noun),[n 1] אֵל שַׁדַּי (El Shaddai transl. God Almighty), שַׁדַּי (Shaddai transl. Almighty), יְהֹוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת (Adonai Tzevaoth transl. Lord of Hosts) and צְבָאֽוֹת (Tzevaoth transl. [of] Hosts); some also include I Am that I Am. Early authorities considered other Hebrew names mere epithets or descriptions of God, and wrote that they and names in other languages may be written and erased freely. Some moderns advise special care even in these cases, and many Orthodox Jews have adopted the chumras of writing "G-d" instead of "God" in English or saying Ṭēt-Vav (טו, lit. "9-6") instead of Yōd-Hē (יה, lit. "10-5" but also "Jah") for the number fifteen or Ṭēt-Zayin (טז, lit. "9-7") instead of Yōd-Vav (יו, lit. "10-6") for the Hebrew number sixteen.
The names of God that, once written, cannot be erased because of their holiness are the Tetragrammaton, Adonai, El, Elohim,[n 1] Shaddai, Tzevaot; some also include I Am that I Am. In addition, the name Jah—because it forms part of the Tetragrammaton—is similarly protected. The tanna Jose ben Halafta considered "Tzevaot" a common name in the second century and Rabbi Ishmael considered "Elohim" to be one. All other names, such as "Merciful", "Gracious" and "Faithful", merely represent attributes that are also common to human beings.
Also abbreviated Jah, the most common name of God in the Hebrew Bible is the Tetragrammaton, יהוה, that is usually transcribed as YHWH. Hebrew script is an abjad, so that the letters in the name are normally consonants, usually expanded as Yahweh in English.
Modern Rabbinical Jewish culture judges it forbidden to pronounce this name. In prayers it is replaced by the word אֲדֹנָי (Adonai, Hebrew pronunciation: [ʾăḏōnāy], lit. transl. My Lords, Pluralis majestatis taken as singular), and in discussion by HaShem "The Name". Nothing in the Torah explicitly prohibits speaking the name and the Book of Ruth shows it was being pronounced as late as the fifth century BCE.[n 2] Mark Sameth argues that only a pseudo name was pronounced, the four letters YHWH being a cryptogram which the priests of ancient Israel read in reverse as huhi, "heshe", signifying a dual-gendered deity, as earlier theorized by Guillaume Postel (16th century) and Michelangelo Lanci (19th century). It had ceased to be spoken aloud by at least the 3rd century BCE, during Second Temple Judaism. The Talmud relates, perhaps anecdotally, this began with the death of Simeon the Just. Vowel points began to be added to the Hebrew text only in the early medieval period. The Masoretic Text adds to the Tetragrammaton the vowel points of Adonai or Elohim (depending on the context), indicating that these are the words to be pronounced in place of the Tetragrammaton (see Qere and Ketiv), as shown also by the subtle pronunciation changes when combined with a preposition or a conjunction. This is in contrast to Karaite Jews, who traditionally viewed pronouncing the Tetragrammaton as a mitzvah because the name appears some 6800 times throughout the Tanakh; though most modern Karaites, under pressure and seeking acceptance from mainstream Rabbinical Jews, now also use the term Adonai instead, and the Beta Israel, who pronounce the Tetragrammaton as "Yahu", but also use the Geʽez term Igziabeher.
The Tetragrammaton appears in Genesis and occurs 6,828 times in total in the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia edition of the Masoretic Text. It is thought to be an archaic third-person singular of the imperfective aspect[n 3] of the verb "to be" (i.e., "[He] is/was/will be"). This agrees with the passage in Exodus where God names himself as "I Will Be What I Will Be" using the first-person singular imperfective aspect, open to interpretation as present tense ("I am what I am"), future ("I shall be what I shall be"), or imperfect ("I used to be what I used to be").
Rabbinic Judaism teaches that the name is forbidden to all except the High Priest of Israel, who should only speak it in the Holy of Holies of the Temple in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur. He then pronounces the name "just as it is written." As each blessing was made, the people in the courtyard were to prostrate themselves completely as they heard it spoken aloud. As the Temple has not been rebuilt since its destruction in 70CE, most modern Jews never pronounce YHWH but instead read אֲדֹנָי (Adonai, Hebrew pronunciation: [ʾăḏōnāy], lit. transl. My Lords, Pluralis majestatis taken as singular) during prayer and while reading the Torah and as HaShem ("The Name") at other times. Similarly, the Vulgate used Dominus ("The Lord") and most English translations of the Bible write "the Lord" for YHWH and "the Lord God", "the Lord God" or "the Sovereign Lord" for Adonai YHWH instead of transcribing the name. The Septuagint may have originally used the Hebrew letters themselves amid its Greek text, but there is no scholarly consensus on this point. All surviving Christian-era manuscripts use Kyrios (Κυριος, "Lord") or very occasionally Theos (Θεος, "God") to translate the many thousand occurrences of the Name. However, given the great preponderance of the anarthrous Kyrios solution for translating YHWH in the Septuagint and some disambiguation efforts by Christian-era copyists involving Kyrios (see especially scribal activity in Acts), Theos should probably not be considered historically as a serious early contender substitute for the divine Name.[improper synthesis?]
אֲדֹנָי (Adonai, Hebrew pronunciation: [ʾăḏōnāy], lit. transl. My Lords, Pluralis majestatis taken as singular) is the possessive form of adon ("Lord"), along with the first-person singular pronoun enclitic.[n 4] As with Elohim, Adonai's grammatical form is usually explained as a plural of majesty. In the Hebrew Bible, it is nearly always used to refer to God (approximately 450 occurrences). As pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton came to be avoided in the Hellenistic period, Jews may have begun to drop the Tetragrammaton when presented alongside Adonai and subsequently expand it to cover for the Tetragrammaton in the forms of spoken prayer and written scripture. Owing to the expansion of chumra (the idea of "building a fence around the Torah"), the word "Adonai" itself has come to be too holy to say for Orthodox Jews outside of prayer, leading to its replacement by HaShem ("The Name").
The singular forms adon and adoni ("my lord") are used in the Hebrew Bible as royal titles, as in the First Book of Samuel, and for distinguished persons. The Phoenicians used it as a title of Tammuz, the origin of the Greek Adonis. It is also used very occasionally in Hebrew texts to refer to God (e.g. Psalm 136:3.) Deuteronomy 10:17 has the proper name Yahweh alongside the superlative constructions "God of gods" (elōhê ha-elōhîm, literally, "the gods of gods") and "Lord of lords" (adōnê ha-adōnîm, "the lords of lords": כִּי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הוּא אֱלֹהֵי הָאֱלֹהִים וַאֲדֹנֵי הָאֲדֹנִים; KJV: "For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords").
The final syllable of Adonai uses the vowel kamatz, rather than patach which would be expected from the Hebrew for "my lord(s)". Professor Yoel Elitzur explains this as a normal transformation when a Hebrew word becomes a name, giving as other examples Nathan, Yitzchak, and Yigal. As Adonai became the most common reverent substitute for the Tetragrammaton, it too became considered un-erasable due to its holiness. As such, most prayer books avoid spelling out the word Adonai, and instead write two yodhs (יְיָ) in its place.
See also: El (deity) § Hebrew Bible
El appears in Ugaritic, Phoenician and other 2nd and 1st millennium BCE texts both as generic "god" and as the head of the divine pantheon. In the Hebrew Bible, El (אל, ʾel) appears very occasionally alone (e.g. Genesis 33:20, el elohe yisrael, "Mighty God of Israel", and Genesis 46:3, ha'el elohe abika, "El the God of thy father"), but usually with some epithet or attribute attached (e.g. El Elyon, "Most High El", El Shaddai, "El of Shaddai", El 'Olam "Everlasting El", El Hai, "Living El", El Ro'i "El my Shepherd", and El Gibbor "El of Strength"), in which cases it can be understood as the generic "god". In theophoric names such as Gabriel ("Strength of God"), Michael ("Who is like God?"), Raphael ("God's medicine"), Ariel ("God's lion"), Daniel ("God's Judgment"), Israel ("one who has struggled with God"), Immanuel ("God is with us"), and Ishmael ("God hears"/"God listens") it is usually interpreted and translated as "God", but it is not clear whether these "el"s refer to the deity in general or to the god El in particular.
Main article: Elohim
A common name of God in the Hebrew Bible is Elohim (אלהים, ʾĕlōhīm), the plural of אֱלוֹהַּ (Eloah). When Elohim refers to God in the Hebrew Bible, singular verbs are used. The word is identical to elohim meaning gods or magistrates, and is cognate to the 'lhm found in Ugaritic, where it is used for the pantheon of Canaanite gods, the children of El and conventionally vocalized as "Elohim" although the original Ugaritic vowels are unknown. When the Hebrew Bible uses elohim not in reference to God, it is plural (for example, Exodus 20:2). There are a few other such uses in Hebrew, for example Behemoth. In Modern Hebrew, the singular word ba'alim ("owner") looks plural, but likewise takes a singular verb.
A number of scholars have traced the etymology to the Semitic root *yl, "to be first, powerful", despite some difficulties with this view. Elohim is thus the plural construct "powers". Hebrew grammar allows for this form to mean "He is the Power (singular) over powers (plural)", just as the word Ba'alim means "owner" (see above). "He is lord (singular) even over any of those things that he owns that are lordly (plural)."
Theologians who dispute this claim cite the hypothesis that plurals of majesty came about in more modern times. Richard Toporoski, a classics scholar, asserts that plurals of majesty first appeared in the reign of Diocletian (CE 284–305). Indeed, Gesenius states in his book Hebrew Grammar the following:
The Jewish grammarians call such plurals ... plur. virium or virtutum; later grammarians call them plur. excellentiae, magnitudinis, or plur. maiestaticus. This last name may have been suggested by the we used by kings when speaking of themselves (compare 1 Maccabees 10:19 and 11:31); and the plural used by God in Genesis 1:26 and 11:7; Isaiah 6:8 has been incorrectly explained in this way. It is, however, either communicative (including the attendant angels: so at all events in Isaiah 6:8 and Genesis 3:22), or according to others, an indication of the fullness of power and might implied. It is best explained as a plural of self-deliberation. The use of the plural as a form of respectful address is quite foreign to Hebrew.
Mark S. Smith has cited the use of plural as possible evidence to suggest an evolution in the formation of early Jewish conceptions of monotheism, wherein references to "the gods" (plural) in earlier accounts of verbal tradition became either interpreted as multiple aspects of a single monotheistic God at the time of writing, or subsumed under a form of monolatry, wherein the god(s) of a certain city would be accepted after the fact as a reference to the God of Israel and the plural deliberately dropped.
The plural form ending in -im can also be understood as denoting abstraction, as in the Hebrew words chayyim ("life") or betulim ("virginity"). If understood this way, Elohim means "divinity" or "deity". The word chayyim is similarly syntactically singular when used as a name but syntactically plural otherwise. In many of the passages in which elohim occurs in the Bible, it refers to non-Israelite deities, or in some instances to powerful men or judges, and even angels (Exodus 21:6, Psalms 8:5) as a simple plural in those instances.
Main article: El Shaddai
El Shaddai (אל שדי, ʾel šaday, pronounced [ʃaˈdaj]) is one of the names of God in Judaism, with its etymology coming from the influence of the Ugaritic religion on modern Judaism. El Shaddai is conventionally translated as "God Almighty". While the translation of El as "god" in Ugaritic/Canaanite languages is straightforward, the literal meaning of Shaddai is the subject of debate.
Tzevaot, Tsebaoth or Sabaoth (צבאות, ṣəḇāʾōṯ, [tsvaot] (listen), lit. "Armies"), usually translated "Hosts", appears in reference to armies or armed hosts of men but is not used as a divine epithet in the Torah, Joshua, or Judges. Starting in the Books of Samuel, the term "Lord of Hosts" appears hundreds of times throughout the Prophetic books, in Psalms, and in Chronicles.
The Hebrew word Sabaoth was also absorbed in Ancient Greek (σαβαωθ, sabaōth) and Latin (Sabaoth, with no declension). Tertullian and other patristics used it with the meaning of "Army of angels of God".
Main article: I Am that I Am
Ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה) is the first of three responses given to Moses when he asks for God's name in the Book of Exodus. The King James Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew as "I Am that I Am" and uses it as a proper name for God.
The word ehyeh is the first-person singular imperfect form of hayah, "to be". Biblical Hebrew does not distinguish between grammatical tenses. It has instead an aspectual system in which the imperfect denotes any actions that are not yet completed, Accordingly, Ehyeh asher ehyeh can be rendered in English not only as "I am that I am" but also as "I will be what I will be" or "I will be who I will be", or "I shall prove to be whatsoever I shall prove to be" or even "I will be because I will be". Other renderings include: Leeser, "I Will Be that I Will Be"; Rotherham, "I Will Become whatsoever I please", Greek, Ego eimi ho on (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν), "I am The Being" in the Septuagint, and Philo, and Revelation or, "I am The Existing One"; Latin, ego sum qui sum, "I am Who I am."
The word asher is a relative pronoun whose meaning depends on the immediate context, so that "that", "who", "which", or "where" are all possible translations of that word.
Main article: Baal
Baal meant "owner" and, by extension, "lord", "master", and "husband" in Hebrew and the other Northwest Semitic languages. In some early contexts and theophoric names, it and Baali (//; "My Lord") were treated as synonyms of Adon and Adonai. After the time of Solomon and particularly after Jezebel's attempt to promote the worship of the Lord of Tyre Melqart, however, the name became particularly associated with the Canaanite storm god Baʿal Haddu and was gradually avoided as a title for Yahweh. Several names that included it were rewritten as bosheth ("shame"). The prophet Hosea in particular reproached the Israelites for continuing to use the term:
"It will come about in that day," declares the Lord, "That you will call Me Ishi[n 5] And will no longer call Me Baali."
Elah (אֱלָה, pl. Elim or Elohim; Imperial Aramaic: אלהא) is the Aramaic word for God and the absolute singular form of אלהא, ʾilāhā. The origin of the word is from Proto-Semitic ʔil and is thus cognate to the Hebrew, Arabic, Akkadian, and other Semitic languages' words for god. Elah is found in the Tanakh in the books of Ezra, Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:11, the only verse in the entire book written in Aramaic), and Daniel. Elah is used to describe both pagan gods and the Abrahamic God.
Main article: El Roi
In the Book of Genesis, Hagar uses this name for the God who spoke to her through his angel. In Hebrew, her phrase "El Roi", literally, "God of Seeing Me", is translated in the King James Version as "Thou God seest me."
Main article: Elyon
The name Elyon (עליון) occurs in combination with El, YHWH, Elohim and alone. It appears chiefly in poetic and later Biblical passages. The modern Hebrew adjective 'Elyon means "supreme" (as in "Supreme Court") or "Most High". El Elyon has been traditionally translated into English as 'God Most High'. The Phoenicians used what appears to be a similar name for God, one that the Greeks wrote as Έλιονα.
"The Eternal One" or "The Eternal" is increasingly used, particularly in Reform and Reconstructionist communities seeking to use gender-neutral language. In the Torah, YHWH El Olam ("the Everlasting God") is used at Genesis 21:33 to refer to God.
"HaShem" redirects here. For people with similar names, see Hashem.
It is common Jewish practice to restrict the use of the names of God to a liturgical context. In casual conversation some Jews, even when not speaking Hebrew, will call God HaShem (השם), which is Hebrew for "the Name" (cf. Leviticus 24:11 and Deuteronomy 28:58). When written, it is often abbreviated to ה׳. Likewise, when quoting from the Tanakh or prayers, some pious Jews will replace 'Adonai' with 'HaShem'. For example, when making audio recordings of prayer services, 'HaShem' will generally be substituted for 'Adonai'.
A popular expression containing this phrase is Baruch HaShem, meaning "Thank God" (literally, "Blessed be the Name").
Samaritans use the Aramaic equivalent Shema (שמא, "the name") in much the same situations as Jews use HaShem.
Main article: Shalom
Talmudic authors, ruling on the basis of Gideon's name for an altar ("YHVH-Shalom", according to Judges 6:24), write that "the name of God is 'Peace'" (Pereq ha-Shalom, Shabbat 10b); consequently, a Talmudic opinion (Shabbat, 10b) asserts that one would greet another with the word shalom in order for the word not to be forgotten in the exile. But one is not permitted to greet another with the word Shalom in unholy places such as a bathroom, because of the holiness of the name.
Main article: Shekhinah
Shekhinah (שכינה) is the presence or manifestation of God which has descended to "dwell" among humanity. The term never appears in the Hebrew Bible; later rabbis used the word when speaking of God dwelling either in the Tabernacle or amongst the people of Israel. The root of the word means "dwelling". Of the principal names of God, it is the only one that is of the feminine gender in Hebrew grammar. Some believe that this was the name of a female counterpart of God, but this is unlikely as the name is always mentioned in conjunction with an article (e.g.: "the Shekhina descended and dwelt among them" or "He removed Himself and His Shekhina from their midst"). This kind of usage does not occur in Semitic languages in conjunction with proper names. The term, however, may not be a name, as it may merely describe the presence of God, and not God Himself.
In Jewish tradition the sacredness of the divine name or titles must be recognized by the professional sofer (scribe) who writes Torah scrolls, or tefillin and mezuzah. Before transcribing any of the divine titles or name, they prepare mentally to sanctify them. Once they begin a name, they do not stop until it is finished, and they must not be interrupted while writing it, even to greet a king. If an error is made in writing it may not be erased, but a line must be drawn round it to show that it is canceled, and the whole page must be put in a genizah (burial place for scripture) and a new page begun.
One of the most important names is that of the Ein Sof (אין סוף "Endless"), which first came into use after 1300 CE. Another name is derived from the names אהיה יהוה אדוני הויה. By spelling these four names out with the names of the Hebrew letters (אלף, הא, ואו, יוד, דלת and נון)[clarification needed] this new forty-five letter long name is produced. Spelling the letters in יהוה (YHWH) by itself gives יוד הא ואו הא. Each letter in Hebrew is given a value, according to gematria, and the value of יוד הא ואו הא is also 45.
The seventy-two-fold name is derived from three verses in Exodus 14:19–21. Each of the verses contains 72 letters. When the verses are read boustrophedonically 72 names, three letters each, are produced (the niqqud of the source verses is disregarded in respect to pronunciation). Some regard this name as the Shem HaMephorash. The Proto-Kabbalistic book Sefer Yetzirah describes how the creation of the world was achieved by manipulation of these 216 sacred letters that form the names of God.
3 And ye shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and burn their Asherim with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods; and ye shall destroy their name out of that place. 4 Ye shall not do so unto the LORD your God.— Deuteronomy 12:3–4
From this it is understood by the rabbis that one should not erase or blot out the name of God. The general halachic opinion is that this only applies to the sacred Hebrew names of God, not to other euphemistic references; there is a dispute as to whether the word "God" in English or other languages may be erased or whether Jewish law and/or Jewish custom forbids doing so, directly or as a precautionary "fence" about the law.
The words "God" and "Lord" are written by some Jews as "G-d" and "L-rd" as a way of avoiding writing any name of God out in full. The hyphenated version of the English name ("G-d") can be destroyed, so by writing that form, religious Jews prevent documents in their possession with the unhyphenated form from being destroyed later. Alternatively, a euphemistic reference such as Hashem (literally, "the Name") may be substituted, or an abbreviation thereof, such as in B''H (בְּעֶזרַת הַשֵׁם B'ezrat Hashem "with the help of the Name").