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Surprisingly, I have only just realized that we pronounce the letters Yud-Hey-Vuv-Hey completely differently then how the spelling could possibly sound. I mean the pronunciation used during laning that sounds like "my master/lord" but slightly different. Is this pronunciation simple mesorah or is there a source for how to pronounce the name of God?

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The Gemara in Pesachim 50a brings a verse that Hashem's name is not pronounced the way it is written.

ר' אבינא רמי כתיב {שמות ג-טו} "זה שמי לעלם וזה זכרי לדור דור". ‏
אמר הקב''ה: לא כשאני נכתב אני נקרא. נכתב אני ביו''ד ה''א, ונקרא אני באל''ף דל''ת‏

R' Avina taught it to us, based on the verse in Shmot 3:15 that says זֶה שְּׁמִי לְעֹלָם וְזֶה זִכְרִי לְדֹר דֹּר - this is My Name forever and the is how I am to be mentioned for all generations.

This (the duplication) teaches us that Hashem's name is not mentioned the way it is written. It is written Yud-Hey and pronounced Alef-Daled

Some learn it from the fact that לְעֹלָם is written without its Vav, thus rendering it L'Elem - mutely.

As to how to know how to pronounce it, the Torah sometimes does spell it the way it's pronounced - with Alef-Daled-Nun-Yud. For example:

The Mishna in Sotah 37b- 38a and Tamid 33b inform us that in the Mikdash during Birkas Cohanim they did say The Name as it was written.

בִּרְכַּת כֹּהֲנִים כֵּיצַד? בַּמְּדִינָה אוֹמְרִים אוֹתָהּ שָׁלשׁ בְּרָכוֹת, וּבַמִּקְדָּשׁ בְּרָכָה אֶחָת. בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ אוֹמֵר אֶת הַשֵּׁם כִּכְתָבוֹ, וּבַמְּדִינָה בְכִנּוּיוֹ

The Rambam in הלכות תפילה וברכת כהנים - פרק ארבעה עשר however, informs us that:

  • From the time of Shimon HaZadik they stopped, this practice so that the secret of how to pronounce the Yud-Hey name would remain a secret.

וּמִשֶּׁמֵּת שִׁמְעוֹן הַצַּדִּיק פָּסְקוּ הַכֹּהֲנִים מִלְּבָרֵךְ בַּשֵּׁם הַמְפֹרָשׁ אֲפִלּוּ בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִלְמֹד אוֹתוֹ אָדָם שֶׁאֵינוֹ חָשׁוּב וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ הָגוּן.

  • This secret was passed on from generation to generation, with appropriate students being reminded every 7 years of the correct pronunciation.

וְלֹא הָיוּ חֲכָמִים הָרִאשׁוֹנִים מְלַמְּדִין שֵׁם זֶה לְתַלְמִידֵיהֶם וּבְנֵיהֶם הַהֲגוּנִים אֶלָּא פַּעַם אַחַת לְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים

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    Interesting -- I had not heard that Alef-Dalet was ever considered the correct pronunciation. – Monica Cellio Nov 15 '15 at 17:14
  • Yosef b' Matityahu Flavius knew how to pronounce it due to his kehuna. However, he wrote that he would not show how it was pronounced due to its kedushah and his fear that it would be misused (I heard this from a friend last Thursday) – Noach MiFrankfurt Nov 15 '15 at 23:54
  • @NoachMiFrankfurt - I think I lot of people who better realize who you were talking about if you just said "Josephus." Not everyone is familiar with his Hebrew name. – ezra Apr 3 '17 at 19:28
  • @ezra, agreed, but using a hellenised/Romanised name would also be more likely to make people question the source more. I know I would if I didn't know about Josephus and only heard his name – Noach MiFrankfurt Apr 3 '17 at 20:54
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    @NoachMiFrankfurt - Very true, it's like saying Rambam instead of Maimonides. – ezra Apr 3 '17 at 22:31
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The word you're referring to is not actually a pronunciation of the tetragramaton; it's a substitution. Traditionally, the tetragramaton was pronounced (with its real pronunciation, I mean) by the kohein gadol (high priest) on Yom Yippur, but this was a special occasion. Otherwise, while it's possible that early Jews might have pronounced the name, by the time of the talmud (according to Mechon Mamre, which doesn't give a specific citation) the rabbis called for substituting a different reference. I was taught that this is to avoid accidentally misusing the divine name.

In conversation today you will hear Jews say "Hashem" (literally "the name") instead, or in English you'll sometimes hear "the Lord". In prayer and torah reading we use the form "Ado-nai", which means "my lord". In a tikkun (the book used to prepare torah reading) you'll see the tetragramaton with the vowels from "Ado..." as a reminder to the torah reader.

See some further information on Wikipedia.

  • (See my answer regarding your statement about the Kohein Gadol.) – Danny Schoemann Nov 15 '15 at 8:43
  • not only then but by kohanim when duchening in the mikdash, until it was phased out. – CashCow Nov 15 '15 at 14:23
  • How can we use the substitution "Ado-nai" in torah reading? In what other case (besides Yom Kippur) would you be certain to be using the name correctly and not in vain? – SophArch Nov 15 '15 at 14:27
  • @CashCow I didn't know that. Thank you. – Monica Cellio Nov 15 '15 at 17:14
  • @MonicaCellio not sure if this deserves its own question, but why is it "Ado-nai" and not "Adoni?" In modern Hebrew at least "adoni" is how you say "my lord/master." Is my Hebrew grammar just poor (definitely possible), or is there a difference between "Ado-nai" and "Adoni?" – SophArch Jan 28 '16 at 6:38
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The Hebrew word אדני can actually be pointed in three distinct ways:

(1) אֲדֹנִי adoni,
(2) אֲדֹנַי adonai, and
(3) אֲדֹנָי adonai.

All three forms can be used as terms of address; the first one is singular and has the possessive suffix “my” added to it. The second form is the plural, again with the possessive suffix “my” added to it, and is best translated as “Gentlemen!” or “Sirs!” The third form is very special and is used exclusively for addressing G-d (in prayer); non-Jews can find this confusing, because it is pronounced in exactly the same manner as the second form. Furthermore, the third form is also how the Tetragrammaton is vocalized—it cannot be read as written because it consists only of consonants and has no vowels, and (despite christian claims that this usage is post-Biblical), we find that Abraham uses it to address God in B'réshıt 18:3, 18:27 and 18:31, as does King Avimelech in B'réshıt / Genesis 20:4

  • "because it is pronounced in exactly the same manner as the second form" That's not true in Ashkenazi or Yemenite dialects. – Double AA Aug 11 '17 at 13:44

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