I’ve noticed in many Jewish writings the words G-d and L-rd. While it’s obvious what the words mean, I’m curious why they are spelled that way.
Some questions pop up repeatedly on our question feed and this is one of them. We can only tell you why we do not write God’s name in this way, though we know that many people do.
If you have studied Scrolling through Scripture: Genesis with us or looked at the study guides for our Genesis Journey audios (or The Gathering Storm video), you will know that when we write God’s name in Hebrew, we do not use the correct letters as they are used in prayer books or in Bibles. We might use dashes in place of some of the letters or we replace a letter with a substitute letter. That is because the names of God in Hebrew are powerful and holy. We do not want to write them casually, or on papers that might get thrown out or mistreated.
The Code of Jewish Law known as the Shulchan Aruch 179:11 explicitly prohibits writing God’s name in Hebrew on any paper that might be discarded in the garbage. However, it emphasizes that in any other language, it is permitted. When the names of God are in a language other than Hebrew (or Aramaic), they do not have the same power. Those are already substitutes for the accurate names.
In fact, when something that has God’s name in Hebrew is old and unusable, we bury it. At a Jewish funeral, it is not uncommon to see old prayer books being put in the plot along with the coffin. A builder we know buries these items before pouring the foundation for the houses he builds.
We hope this satisfies your curiosity.
Keep asking questions,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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Join Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin on a fascinating treasure hunt through the Lord’s language. Discover why in Hebrew the word “face” only appears in the plural, why a table is a place of grace, why it is more important to have a spouse who is committed to you than one who professes love for you, and much more.
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