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I have heard it stated in shiurim, in response to the question of why do we refer to Hashem as "Him", one of the reasons is that it would be not kavodik (i.e. it would be dishonourable) to use the term "it". Is there any halachic basis for this?


Background:

As there is currently another question about calling a person 'זה' (now closed), it makes me wonder if there is any halachic basis for this fairly common sense proposition. I know that in Hebrew, we avoid the problem by saying that the neutral gender is also the male gender, but the aforementioned question made me come back to this point, and wonder if it might also be considered a lack of Kavod to call Hashem or a fellow human 'זה', or it. I know they are not directly translated with one-another but they are both what we'd use to describe inanimate objects.

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    I don't have an answer, but personally I think "it" sounds more corporeal (as a thing/object) than a pronoun (which points towards an abstract personality/will) Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 17:19
  • @Deuteronomy I highly agree, are you thus pinning the possible issue in the direction of idolatry or blasphemy or?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 17:54
  • I'm not sure about a categorization, but I generally tend away from that which may lead to an improper/erroneous conception of God. That is not to say that pronouns are perfect either, but the problems are reduced (and not to mention that we already have an unambiguous mesorah for doing so)... just my 2¢ Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 18:24
  • @Deuteronomy וההוא כנוי איהו אור וחשך
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 11:47
  • I don't dabble in the world of parsufim... but if you've found something that speaks to you, I'm glad Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 11:06

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Shalom Rabbi, I thought I should offer this: Franz Rosenzweig, in Part II, Book 3 of the Star of Redemption, makes an allusive, elliptical remark to the effect that the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow as oneself contains within it, on a subtextual level, a commandment to believe that one’s fellow is like oneself. The mitzvah itself thus precludes the use of ‘it’ in relation to human beings. The same is true in relation to Hashem (on the basic level of personhood).

‘Dark horse’ Franz may be, but hashkafically he’s got this sewn up.

A snippet from The Star, as a taster:

‘For man’s act of love is only apparently an act. It is not said to him by G-d to do unto his neighbour what he would like done to himself. This practical form of the commandment of love of the neighbour, serving as a rule of conduct, really only designates the lower negative limit; the commandment forbids crossing over this limit of action, and already for this reason alone, it will be better to express it, even outwardly, in a negative form. For man must love his neighbour as himself. Like himself. Your neighbour is ‘like you’. Man must not deny himself. Precisely here, in this commandment of love of the neighbour, his Self is finally definitively con-firmed in its place. The world is not put before his eyes like a vast mixture, and he is not told, with a finger pointing at all this mixture: ‘This is what you are. This is what you are - so stop demarcating yourself from it, enter into it, disappear in it, keep on until you lose yourself in it.’ No, quite the contrary: out of the infinite chaos of the world, a neighbour, his neighbour, is placed before his soul, and of him, to begin with exclusively of him, he is told: he is like you. ‘Like you’, hence not ‘you’. You remain You and you will remain You. But he will not remain a He for you and hence only a This for Your You; no, he is like you, like your You, a You like you, an I - a soul.’

(P.257 of Barbara Galli’s English translation of The Star of Redemption.)

I could go on about Franz and his work, but I don’t want to overload the answer box here. As for Franz’s sources, he talks about his method in his work - which includes a commitment to ‘non-fanatical’ hashkafah (no derogatory meaning intended by him with this term), that attempts to put hashkafah on a different footing from discourses that rely on an ‘auctoritas’ (if you will pardon the expression) other than the existence, the witness, of Israel herself. I’ll say no more for now. Blessings :)

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  • That's absolutely amazing and blew my mind. Can you find me the quote and what ever sources he brings, if any~?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 11:44
  • I’ll edit in a quote to my answer, but it’s difficult to understand anything in Franz without knowing the entire system from beginning to end. Give me a minute :)
    – Tom W
    Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 11:50
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My sense is that "it" better describes the god of the philosophers from which everything flows necessarily and which doesn't have any will, agency or power; in other words lacks personhood.

Whereas the God of the Bible aka the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has all those qualities and is better described as a "person" than an unfeeling, unknowing (at least of particulars) and uncaring "it".

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Depends. If you were learning some Arizal and discussing Hakadosh Barukh Hu and someone said It, I don't think anyone would blink.

Otoh, if you're pleading for Divine Mercy from your Heavenly Father then I think your pops might bust your chops.

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  • Please provide some example of the former.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 15:47
  • Ok, HKBH is a name almost like Ein Sof, It's completely unknowable. Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 15:49
  • Cited examples please. What you just said is opening up another point that will distract, although feel free to start a chat to discuss it further.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 15:55
  • I don't have one in print other than to say when learning among my Chaverim that would take place just like that. Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 15:58

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