Monday, 5 August 2019
A short time ago, I was asked why Jewish people say Adonai when they see the four letters of God's holy name. So, I'm going to take this opportunity to tell you what I know about the Jewish use of the name of God. Maybe this is something you already know about, and maybe there is something new here for you.
The most often used name for God in the Hebrew Scriptures is the 4 letter (tetragrammaton), Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay. Those letters are the first letter of each word "He will be (Yiyeh), He is (Hoveh), And (V) He was (Hayah)." This name speaks of God's eternity; He is without beginning and without end (as we sing in the Adon Olam hymn).
Jewish people believe this name is so holy it is only to be pronounced once a year, by one person, in one place, and at no other time, ever. On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), by the High Priest (but we don't have a high priest today), from within the Holy of Holies (but we don't have the Temple, much less the Holy of Holies from which to declare this holy name).
Because we are missing two out of the three necessary elements to speak forth this name, it is never to be mentioned until all 3 conditions are present. Also, because it is not to be spoken it is called the "ineffable name" (unspoken name) of God.
You may have heard those 4 letters pronounced as Yahweh. I believe that is incorrect. I'm not sure where that comes from. Maybe someone is trying to say the consonants without vowels and it comes out Yahweh. Some people think because we don't have the vowel markings in the Torah that we don't know how to say it at all. Nonsense! We know how to say it. It is pronounced "YeHoVaH." Anyone who knows Hebrew knows that is the only way to pronounce it.
When Jewish people see that name (written with the 4 letters), rather than say the holy name, we substitute the name "Adonai." Adon means "Lord," and Adonai is a plural form (just like "Elohim" is a plural form).
Also, the name may be written, but not spoken. However; if it is written, whatever it is written on is considered holy. Therefore; anything on which that name is written is not to be thrown in the trash, but is preserved in the synagogue in a "Genizah." A Genizah is a crypt where old manuscripts are stored until they can be bundled together and given a proper burial in a Jewish cemetery.
There you go. That's everything I know on the subject of the use of the ineffable name of God.
Rabbi Michael Weiner,