5.0013 Writing the Name of God (2/71)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 8 May 91 22:03:10 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0013. Wednesday, 8 May 1991.

(1) Date: Wed, 8 May 91 00:49:22 EDT (48 lines)
Subject: Re: 5.0009 Queries

(2) Date: Wed, 08 May 91 08:43:04 EDT (23 lines)
From: "Marc M. Epstein" <EPSMARM@YALEVM>
Subject: Re: 5.0009 Queries

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 8 May 91 00:49:22 EDT
Subject: Re: 5.0009 Queries

I can't speak to conflicts with publishers about writing
the name of God, but I can relate the orthodox Jewish position,
namely that God's personal name (the Tetragrammaton from which is
derived the English "Jahweh" and "Jehovah") and, by extension,
the very word God (which, of course, is a collective noun
in Hebrew) are numinous. The former is considered so holy
that it may *never* be spoken, hence the difficulty in knowing
how to pronounce it today. The latter may be used in prayers
but not in casual discourse. Of course, Hebrew dictionaries
(not to mention other texts) do have the Hebrew equivalent of
God written out. However, the problem is that, to the orthodox,
those physical writings have a special status and, if the
book is to be disposed of, must be taken from the book (yes,
tear the page from the dictionary) and given a special burial.
As one of my orthodox students explained to me when, in teaching
*A Canticle for Leibowitz* (which has the Tetragrammaton in
an earlier edition but substitutes a traditional euphemism
in the current edition), I wrote the two on the board for
the benefit of those who weren't familiar with Hebrew characters,
he (the orthodox student) was filled with fear because he
realized that he had no way to bury the name and, sooner
or later, some janitor would come along and casually erase it.
The existence of the word God in the Hebrew dictionary,
and even the utterance of the Tetragrammaton, are clearly
allowed by the Jewish exception made for the sake of study.
This exception, I presume, would extend to most academic
texts. But a paper handed in to a teacher might, following
the practice of some teachers, not be returned but rather
saved for a while and then destroyed. To prevent that
desecration, an orthodox student would always find it
safer to change the word, even in the context of study.
BTW, I have checked this explanation with a couple of
rabbis and believe it to be correct. I have also checked
and found that none of my students, including the one
who felt fear, believes that any actual harm would
come to God, me, the janitor, or the fabric of the universe
by these acts; but many do believe that the symbolic
significance is morally functional, and therein lies
the modern problem. (Of course, for certain mystics,
including many Hassidim, the fear would be of a
physical desecration.) It is extraordinary, isn't
it, that some people who may have much less training
in literary study take symbolic value so much more
seriously than those with the training? I think we
all have much to learn from each other.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------28----
Date: Wed, 08 May 91 08:43:04 EDT
From: "Marc M. Epstein" <EPSMARM@YALEVM>
Subject: Re: 5.0009 Queries (7/92)

In reply to David Sewall's query regarding the Divine Name, I would like to
suggest that academics who are Orthodox Jews (I include myself) need not avoid
the full spelling of an English (pro)noun which derives from a Middle English
antecedant whose Old English roots are akin to the German Gott, deriving from
the Gothic Guth, whose probable Indo-European root was something like Ghau- to
call out or invoke, whence the Sanskrit 'havate' 'he calls upon.'
This word has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the Ineffible Names in
Hebrew, or with any of their substitutions (Ado*shem* [nay] -'My Lord', or
Elo*kim* [him]- 'God- plural of majesty'), which have traditionally been
altered as I have done in the previous line. One might conceivably argue that
it is not even neccessary to alter these names in English. As it is, all such
names are tertiary substitutions (at best) for the Ineffible Names, only one
of which was the Name itself, in any case, and whose pronunciation has been
completely (and deliberately) lost. I myself would be careful when invoking
any of the authentic Names (or their traditional substitutions) in the original
Though I can understand colleagues' discomfort with the 'o' in God, I really
fell that a lot of good dashes are being wasted, and should, perhaps be
reserved for those times we must write out the name A----k, whose name we are
explicitly enjoined to "blot out" (Deuteronomy 25:19).-Marc Epstein <EPSMARM@YA