Why Don’t Jews Say G‑d’s Name?
On the use of the word “Hashem”
I’ve recently been reading through the Bible, and it seems that the Jewish people have been grossly neglecting their mission. Throughout the Bible, the L‑rd is instructing the people to “proclaim His name” (Isaiah 12:4, Psalms 105:1) and “chant praises to His Name” (Psalms 68:5), speaks highly of one who “knows My name” (Psalms 91:14), and there are countless other references to His name.
Yet, in all my encounters with Jews, they seem to make a point of not mentioning His name. Instead, they vaguely refer to Him as “the Almighty,” “the One Above,” or as “Hashem,” which I understand to be Hebrew for “the name.”
Why don’t the Jewish people obey Him and “proclaim and praise His name” instead of beating around the bush?
You really called us out on this one. We Jews have an absolute obsession with avoiding uttering G‑d’s name. (Notice that we don’t even spell it out fully when writing the English word for G‑d. See: Why Don’t You Spell G‑d’s Name?) Actually, we are careful not to pronounce G‑d’s names except when reading the Torah or prayers.
Our caution is founded on an understanding of the third of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not take His name in vain.” Although this verse is classically interpreted as referring to a senseless oath using G‑d’s name, the avoidance of saying G‑d’s name extends to all expressions, except prayer and Torah study. In the words of Maimonides, the great Jewish codifier:
It is not only a false oath that is forbidden. Instead, it is forbidden to mention even one of the names designated for G‑d in vain, although one does not take an oath. For the verse commands us, saying: “To fear the glorious and awesome name.”1 Included in fearing it is not to mention it in vain.
Therefore if because of a slip of the tongue, one mentions [G‑d’s] name in vain, he should immediately hurry to praise, glorify and venerate it, so that it will not have been mentioned in vain. What is implied? If he mentions G‑d’s name, he should say: “Blessed be He for all eternity,” “He is great and exceedingly praiseworthy,” or the like, so that it will not have been [mentioned entirely] in vain.2
Considering the awe with which we are meant to approach G‑d and His names, the verses in the Prophets which speak of making G‑d’s name known are not referring to His actual name. Rather, the prophet is saying that the Jewish people should let the world know about G‑d’s existence, how He is Creator of the world and constantly supervising and recreating every living thing.
Similarly, when the Psalmist regularly refers to praising G‑d’s name, he refers to praising G‑d’s wondrous deeds.
This brings us to the obvious question: If the Psalmist means to say that we should be praising G‑d Himself, without mentioning His name, why not just say “praise Him,” instead of the constant use of the phrase “praise His name”?
This question is addressed by the great chassidic master, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. In very short, he explains3 that praise, by definition, is the expression of some degree of appreciation—either emotional or intellectual—for the greatness or beauty
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