Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

I don’t write G-d’s name—here’s why

In Judaism, G-d is an unknowable Entity; hence, the hyphen
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 03/14/2018 at 10:58 AM EDT

I don’t write the name of G-d. See how I did that? I use a hyphen instead of the “o”. Sometimes I just write “Gd.”

In Judaism we hold that G-d is an unknowable Entity. You can never truly grasp the complexity, infinite nature, and hugeness of G-d. But trying is the basis of Jewish mystical and religious connection: how do you get as close as you can to this Unknowable Oneness?

And so, traditionally observant Jews don’t write the Hebrew name of G-d, also called the tetragrammaton, or the ineffable name of G-d, or even by its letters YH-VH – unless it’s in a religious text or document, and even then, we cannot discard that written, holy Hebrew name. We must bury it. (Seriously. That’s a thing.) And many of us also extend that respect to the English representation of that name: hence my use of “G-d,” with its hyphen.

Star of David and text

The Jewish G-d has many Hebrew names, describing G-d’s different aspects, but they are all One. The Torah (Hebrew Bible) uses different names for G-d depending on the context. You can sometimes see what attributes G-d is imbuing based on the nomenclature: sometimes G-d is a mother or a father; sometimes G-d is a friend; sometimes G-d is a disciplinarian or a warrior. These are all different facets of the One G-d Jews have. We are permitted to write some of those. Like Shechina, for example, a name that describes the feminine manifestation of G-d’s presence. But some of these names do not get spelled out either.

The most common way we refer to G-d which does not need a “hyphen” is by the name HaShem which literally means, “The Name.” You can write this out with no hyphen because it’s a nickname of sorts. Whenever you come across G-d’s name in Hebrew and you are not in a prayer setting, you can substitute the word “HaShem” and you’re in the clear.

If you have ever seen a mezuzah hanging on the doorpost of a Jewish home (see my video about it here), you may have seen an image that looks like the capital letter “E” rotated 90 degrees. That’s actually the Hebrew letter “shin” which makes a “sh” sound. It’s the first letter of one of G-d’s names, Shadai, which is an acronym that means “Guardian of the Doors of Israel.”

Mayim's Jewish Star necklace
Mayim wearing a Jewish star necklace

You may have also noticed that whenever I refer to a noun in place of G-d, I capitalize it. So if I talk about “a Power in the universe,” I capitalize the “P” because it’s a way we show respect to G-d in our writing life. I do the same for when I refer to G-d as One. That “One” is different from the number “1” because it’s G-d. And I’ve heard that some people use an exclamation point instead of a hyphen (G!d), to indicate the enormity or exclamatory quality of the Deity.

All of this may seem really silly to many of you. Even a lot of my Jewish friends who are not very observant don’t understand why we make such an effort to make so many adjustments to our writing and speech surrounding G-d.

Well, first of all, nothing bad happens to you in any direct way if you write G-d’s name. There may be some people who comment below that G-d will strike you down or bring famine to your village or bad luck to your business, but for all intents and purposes, that’s not what motivates me to not write G-d’s name.

Judaism is a religious identity based on awareness of how we live. We focus most of our lives and our laws on the here and now, whereas Christianity has a strong emphasis on salvation and Heaven. Jews are all about infusing consciousness into our actions: what you eat, how you dress, how you treat one another, and how you live.

One way this is done is by praying three times a day, which traditional men have done for thousands of years. Women are starting to pick up on this tedious task, G-d bless them! There are a lot of prayers, rules and laws about being conscious all day of our place in the universe, in relation to G-d and to each other. This makes us a very old-fashioned people, as we have blessings for pretty much everything, from waking up to eating every kind of food; there are different blessings for grains versus liquids, and even distinctions between beverages with grapes and beverages without grapes, and there are blessings for going to the bathroom and for going to bed. (There is interestingly no blessing for sex. I know you were wondering; with sex, you’re on your own!)

Being conscious of how I “speak” about G-d makes me aware that G-d is all around us. Not watching and judging necessarily; but G-d exists in every atom of the universe. G-d is like the air. G-d is everywhere just like air is. (And yes, in a vacuum, G-d is there too.) So when I save G-d’s name for prayer spaces, I give it a sort of honor and respect. A conscious nod, as it were. This also satisfies my desire not to take G-d’s name in vain, one of the Ten Commandments.

I don’t really mind if other people don’t follow this tradition of not writing G-d’s name; I get to do my life and you get to do yours. But for me it’s humbling and it’s comforting to know that every time I think that I can pin down an unknowable thing, I am reminded that I can’t. G-d is the biggest thing in this universe and that boggles my mind. It boggles my mind so much that I remind myself every time I create that hyphen that I am not the ultimate Creator; I am a fragment of light seeking to find its way back to the Source of all light.

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