I don't have much background in Judaism. Please forgive any ignorance or mistakes on my part.

I was reading a small debate in online comments. One person was asking another why 'G-d' was written as such in an article. The other person replied that that was how observant Jews spell the name of G-d, because it is forbidden to speak it. A person then asked why that ruled applies to this word, because it was an English word, and not the Hebrew name, and anyways, it's not the 'name' of G-d, because it's also used to references other gods, such as Zues, whose actual names are Zues, Hera, etc., so it can't be a name specific to G-d. It more refers to the being, or however one would accurately describe G-d, the first person argued.

Which got me to thinking, what sort of name is the Tetragrammaton? Is it a personal name, like my name might be 'Mike'? Or does it refer to the sort of 'thing' that G-d is, the same way that 'gods' of various religions are all the same type of thing, the same way I could be referred to as a person? (though the Hebrew G-d would be unique, having no peers)

  • This site -- bible-researcher.com/tetragrammaton.html -- which doesn't seem to be Jewish, so use at your own risk -- has an interesting discussion in the footnotes. Basically it seems to say that the tetragrammaton is a paranomastic play on G-d's words "I am that I am"
    – SAH
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 1:27

1 Answer 1


In our Torah, God is referred to by multiple names and appellations. Of those, 7 are holy, with the Tetragramaton being the holiest.

All 7 of the holy names should only be used for a legitimate reason, such as in prayer. Many authorities say that even translations of these 7 names - i.e. "God" - have the same status and should not be used unless necessary.

The Tetragrammaton is unique. As G-d's personal name, so to speak, rather than a description, it is never pronounced the way it is written except by the high priest in the holy Temple. Otherwise, we substitute a different holy name for the Tetragrammaton when praying. This name is also never to used to describe any being or phenomena except the God of the Jews.

One of the 7 names is "Elohim". It literally means "god" or "power", and can be used to refer to the Almighty, idols or foreign "gods", as well as angels and powerful people. This name has a unique rule. When used to refer to God, it is holy. When used to refer to someone else, it is not holy. The word can go either way depending on context. The same would apply to using God to refer to the Jewish God, or god to refer to the foreign gods of the nations. In the former context it may be holy, in the latter it is definitely not.

BTW, there is no absolute requirement to spell God as G-d, as there is no prohibition of writing God's name. Many observant people do spell His name as G-d as an extra protection. There is also a prohibition of erasing G-d's name that may be mitigated by spelling it G-d, but that likely does not apply to "writing" on a computer screen.

  • This answer could do with some citations to sources.
    – msh210
    Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 4:49
  • Question 11.3.1: Writing: Why do some people write "G-d" with a hyphen instead of an `o'? Rabbi Soloveitchik actually wrote the letters G O D on a blackboard and erased them to show that it was not a sacred name. This was attested by one of the students who had been in the class. Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 0:30
  • @sabbahillel With all due respect to Rabbi Soloveitchik, there are many authorities who prohibit erasing the name G O D when used in reference to the Almighty.
    – LN6595
    Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 0:21
  • @LN6595 this was to show a source for those who say that the English word is not sacred. Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 0:26
  • "This name has a unique rule." This is incorrect. All 7 names have that rule.
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 13:12

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