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I've tried to ask a very general question in the title, but I'll begin with the specific circumstance that gave rise to my question.

I was looking at the Maxwell House Haggadah and noticed this prayer (the Kiddush):

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן

The guide to the spoken form begins, “Bar-ruch a-taw A-do-noi...”.

This Haggadah has the blessing as “בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה” (etc.)

It was interesting to me that the Tetragrammaton is written in the text, though of course it is not intended to be spoken. I suppose my previous assumption had been that the Tetragrammaton would only occur in Biblical texts, and in later texts quoting or discussing those texts—i.e., where its use is ‘forced’ by fidelity to the Scriptures. This is a use of the Tetragrammaton where it doesn't seem to be required.

(A related question is why the Tetragrammaton is represented with its vocalization only in this case, and whether that is a common practice.)

So clearly my assumptions about when the Tetragrammaton would be used/written/represented are wrong. Is it the case that the word can be written relatively freely, just not pronounced? What principles restrict its use in non-Biblical literature?

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  • Would "liturgy" be enough of an answer? I have no doubt, also, that through history, fiction authors have used the term to help define Jewish characters or concepts.
    – rosends
    Apr 15 at 10:44
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    I'm confused: the example you wrote doesn't have יהוה (the tetragrammaton) written in... Can you clarify your question?
    – magicker72
    Apr 15 at 11:42
  • @magicker72 Is יְיָ representing it though? (Or have I just misunderstood that?)
    – adam.baker
    Apr 15 at 12:19
  • "Adonai" is not a literal transliteration of the tetragrammaton. I'm not sure if you know this or not.
    – Double AA
    Apr 15 at 12:19
  • @adam.baker It might be. But it's not the tetragrammaton. And there are other Hebrew words referring to God that are also pronounced Adonai, and sometimes the tetragrammaton is pronounced Elohim. Is your question about the tetragrammaton itself (which is not written here) or the use of the name Adonai (however it's written)? By the way, some siddurim do have יהוה here.
    – magicker72
    Apr 15 at 15:41

1 Answer 1

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It's used in more "formal" texts, where the precise wording and spelling is important, such as the Bible and prayer books (although some prayer books use a double י). But in study books, it usually is represented by a symbol, such as 'ה. This is still an accurate quotation, as everyone knows what that symbol represents.

The reason this is done is that due to the holiness of the Name and the respect with which it must be treated, it is not proper to place it where it will not be treated properly.

The vocalization is actually the vowels to the word we say in its place: Adonoi. This was the common practice for when words were pronounced differently than how they were written.

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  • I guess the root of my question was, why not just write Adonoi? Would that be considered a different word (i.e., not necessarily referring to the Deity?). Or does this prayer perhaps predate the prohibition of pronouncing the Tetragrammaton?
    – adam.baker
    Apr 19 at 5:53
  • That is also a name of G-d, and as such any paper it is written on must be treated with respect. To avoid this, a double yud or a heh is used.
    – N.T.
    Apr 19 at 23:12
  • So יְיָ represents Adonoi and not the tetragrammaton?
    – adam.baker
    Apr 20 at 11:49
  • Both or either, really, depending on context.
    – N.T.
    Apr 20 at 20:15

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