Names of God in Judaism

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Divinities

At the bottom of the hands, the two letters on each hand combine to form יהוה (YHVH), the name of God.
At the bottom of the hands, the two letters on each hand combine to form יהוה ( YHVH), the name of God.
An early depiction of the Tetragrammaton - circa 600 B.C.E. Portion of writing on silver scroll with the "Priestly Benediction" (Numbers 6:24-26)
An early depiction of the Tetragrammaton - circa 600 B.C.E. Portion of writing on silver scroll with the "Priestly Benediction" (Numbers 6:24-26)
Portion of column 19 of the Psalms Scroll (Tehilim) from Qumran Cave 11. The Tetragrammaton in paleo-Hebrew can be clearly seen six times in this portion.
Portion of column 19 of the Psalms Scroll (Tehilim) from Qumran Cave 11. The Tetragrammaton in paleo-Hebrew can be clearly seen six times in this portion.
The Tetragrammaton in Phoenician (1100 BC to AD 300), Aramaic (10th Century BC to 0) and modern Hebrew scripts.
The Tetragrammaton in Phoenician (1100 BC to AD 300), Aramaic (10th Century BC to 0) and modern Hebrew scripts.

In Judaism, the name of God is more than a distinguishing title. It represents the Jewish conception of the divine nature, and of the relation of God to the Jewish people. In awe at the sacredness of the names of God, and as a means of showing respect and reverence for them, the scribes of sacred texts took pause before copying them, and used terms of reverence so as to keep the true name of God concealed. The various names of God in Judaism represent God as he is known, as well as the divine aspects which are attributed to him.

The numerous names of God have been a source of debate amongst biblical scholars — some have advanced the variety as proof that the Torah has many authors (see documentary hypothesis), while others declare that the different aspects of God have different names, depending on the role God is playing, the context in which he is referred to and the specific aspects which are emphasized (see Negative theology in Jewish thought).

Names of God

The Tetragrammaton

The most important and most often written name of God in Judaism is the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God. This name is first mentioned in the book of Genesis and is usually translated as 'the LORD'. Because Judaism forbids pronouncing the name outside the Temple in Jerusalem (see below), the correct pronunciation of this name has been lost—the original Hebrew texts only included consonants. Some scholars conject that it was pronounced "Yahweh", but some suggest that it never had a pronunciation (which is extremely unlikely given that it is found as an element in numerous Hebrew names). The Hebrew letters are named Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh: יהוה; note that Hebrew is written from right to left, rather than left to right as in English. In English it is written as YHWH, YHVH, or JHVH depending on the transliteration convention that is used. The Tetragrammaton was written in contrasting Paleo-Hebrew characters in some of the oldest surviving square Aramaic Hebrew texts, and it is speculated that it was, even at that period, read as Adonai, "My Lord", when encountered.

In appearance, YHWH is the third person singular imperfect of the verb "to be", meaning, therefore, "He is". This explanation agrees with the meaning of the name given in Exodus 3:14, where God is represented as speaking, and hence as using the first person — "I am." It stems from the Hebrew conception of monotheism that God exists by himself, the uncreated Creator who doesn't depend on anything or anyone else; therefore I am who I am.

The idea of 'life' has been traditionally connected with the name YHWH from medieval times. God is presented as a living God, as contrasted with the lifeless gods of the heathen: God is presented as the source and author of life (compare 1 Kings 18; Isaiah 41:26–29, 44:6–20; Jeremiah 10:10, 14; Genesis 2:7; and so forth)

The name YHWH is often reconstructed as Yahweh or oftentimes Jehovah in the English language. The name Yahweh is likely to be the origin of the Yao of Gnosticism. A few also think it might be cognate to Yaw of Ugaritic texts. If the Hehs in the Tetragrammaton are seen as sacred augmentation similar to those in Abraham (from Abram) and Sarah (from Sarai), then the association becomes clearer. Though the final Heh in Yahweh would not necessarily have been pronounced in classical Hebrew, the medial Heh would have almost certainly been pronounced. Other possible vocalisations include a mappik in the final Heh, rendering it pronounced — most likely with a gliding Patah (a-sound) before it.

The prohibition of blasphemy, for which capital punishment is prescribed in Jewish law, refers only to the Tetragrammaton (Soferim iv., end; comp. Sanh. 66a).

Pronouncing the tetragrammaton

All modern denominations of Judaism teach that the four letter name of God, YHWH, is forbidden to be uttered except by the High Priest, in the Temple. Since the Temple in Jerusalem no longer exists, this name is never said in religious rituals by Jews. Orthodox and Conservative Jews never pronounce it for any reason. Some religious non-Orthodox Jews are willing to pronounce it, but for educational purposes only, and never in casual conversation or in prayer. Instead of pronouncing YHWH during prayer, Jews say Adonai, though passages such as:

"And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, YHWH [be] with you. And they answered him, YHWH bless thee" ( Ruth 2:4)

strongly indicate that there was a time when the name was in common usage. Also the fact that many Hebrew names consist of verb forms contracted with the tetragrammaton indicates that the people knew the verbalization of the name in order to understand the connection. The prohibition against verbalizing the name never applied to the forms of the name within these contractions (yeho-, yo-, -yahoo, -yah) and their pronunciation remains known. (These known pronunciations do not in fact match the conjectured pronunciation yahweh for the stand alone form.)

English translations of the Bible generally render YHWH as "Jehovah" in several locations, while replacing the name altogether as "the LORD" (in small capitals), and Adonai as "Lord" (in normal case). In a few cases, where "Lord YHWH" (Adonai YHWH) appears, the combination is written as "Lord GOD" (Adonai elohim).

  • YHWH —
    • A very common pronunciation of YHWH, although no one knows if this is, in fact, the correct pronunciation.


Jewish law requires that secondary rules be placed around the primary law, to reduce the chance that the main law will be broken. As such, it is common Jewish practice to restrict the use of the word Adonai to prayer only. In conversation, many Jewish people will call God "Hashem," which is Hebrew for "the Name" (this appears in Leviticus 24:11). Many Jews extend this prohibition to some of the other names listed below, and will add additional sounds to alter the pronunciation of a name when using it outside of a liturgical context, such as kel or elokim.

While other names of God in Judaism are generally restricted to use in a liturgical context, Hashem is used in more casual circumstances. Hashem is used by Orthodox Jews so as to avoid saying Adonai outside of a ritual context. For example, when Orthodox Jews make audio recordings of prayer services, they generally substitute Hashem for Adonai.

  • Hashem —


Up until the mid twentieth century, however, another convention was quite common, the use of the word, Adoshem - combining the first syllable of the word Adonai with the last syllable of the word Hashem. This convention was discouraged by Rabbi David HaLevi Segal (known as the Taz) in his commentary to the Shulchan Aruch. However, it took a few centuries for the word to fall into almost complete disuse. The rationale behind the Taz's reasoning was that it is disrespectful to combine a Name of God with another word. Despite being obsolete in most circles, it is used occasionally in conversation in place of Adonai by Orthodox Jews who do not wish to say Adonai but need to specify the use of the particular word as opposed to God.

Other names of God


Jews also call God Adonai, Hebrew for "Lord" (Hebrew: אֲדֹנָי). Formally, this is plural ("my Lords"), but the plural is usually construed as a respectful, and not a syntactic plural. (The singular form is Adoni: "my lord". This was used by the Phoenicians for the god Tammuz and is the origin of the Greek name Adonis. Jews only use the singular to refer to a distinguished person.) "Adon" is linguistically similar to " Aten", the first recorded monotheistic god of Akhenaten in Egypt, and may be related.

Alternatively, Adonai and other names of God may be written in the plural form to point out that this one God embodies all of the many gods that were worshipped by the ancestors of the Israelites and concurrently by the surrounding peoples.

Since pronouncing YHWH is considered sinful, Jews use Adonai instead in prayers, and colloquially would use Hashem (The Name). When the Masoretes added vowel pointings to the text of the Hebrew Bible in the first century CE, they gave the word YHWH the vowels of Adonai, to remind the reader to say Adonai instead.

  • Adonai —

The Sephardi translators of the Ferrara Bible go further and susbtitute Adonai with A.


The name Ehyeh (Hebrew: אֶהְיֶה) denotes God's potency in the immediate future, and is part of YHWH. The phrase "ehyeh-asher-ehyeh" ( Exodus 3:14) is interpreted by some authorities as "I will be because I will be," using the second part as a gloss and referring to God's promise, "Certainly I will be [ehyeh] with thee" (Exodus 3:12). Other authorities claim that the whole phrase forms one name. The Targum Onkelos leaves the phrase untranslated and is so quoted in the Talmud (B. B. 73a). The "I am that I am" of the Authorized Version is based on this view.

I am that I am (Hebrew: אהיה אשר אהיה, pronounced ''Ehyeh asher ehyeh') is the sole response used in (Exodus 3:14) when Moses asked for God's name. It is one of the most famous verses in the Hebrew Bible. Hayah means "existed" or "was" in Hebrew; ehyeh is the first-person singular imperfect form. Ehyeh asher ehyeh is generally interpreted to mean "I will be what I will be", I shall be what I shall be or I am that I am ( King James Bible and others). The Tetragrammaton itself may derive from the same verbal root.

  • Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh —


The word El appears in other northwest Semitic languages such as Phoenician and Aramaic. In Akkadian, ilu is the ordinary word for god. It is also found also in Old South Arabian and in Ethiopic, and, as in Hebrew, it is often used as an element in proper names. In northwest Semitic texts it often appears to be used of one single god, perhaps the head of the pantheon, sometimes specifically said to be the creator.

El (Hebrew: אל) is used in both the singular and plural, both for other gods and for the God of Israel. As a name of God, however, it is used chiefly in poetry and prophetic discourse, rarely in prose, and then usually with some epithet attached, as "a jealous God." Other examples of its use with some attribute or epithet are: El `Elyon ("Most High God"), El Shaddai ("God Almighty"), El `Olam ("Everlasting God"), El Hai ("Living God"), El Ro'i ("God of Seeing"), El Elohe Israel ("God, the God of Israel"), El Gibbor ("God of Strength"). In addition, names such as Gabriel ("Strength of God"), Michael ("He Who is Like God"), Raphael ("God's medicine") and Daniel ("God is My Judge") use God's name in a similar fashion.

  • El —


A common name of God in the Hebrew Bible is Elohim (Hebrew: אלהים); as opposed to other names mentioned in this article, this name also describes gods of other religions.

Despite the -im ending common to many plural nouns in Hebrew, the word Elohim, when referring to God is grammatically singular, and regularly takes a singular verb in the Hebrew Bible. It is argued that the word elohim had an origin in a plural grammatical form. When the Hebrew Bible uses elohim not in reference to God, it usually takes plural forms of the verb (for example, Exodus 20:3). There are a few other such uses in Hebrew, for example Behemoth. In Modern Hebrew, the singular word be'alim ("owner") looks plural, but likewise takes a singular verb.

Other scholars interpret the -im ending as an expression of majesty (pluralis majestatis) or excellence (pluralis excellentiae), expressing high dignity or greatness: compare with the similar use of plurals of ba`al (master) and adon (lord). For these reasons many Christians cite the apparent plurality of elohim as evidence for the basic Christian doctrine of the Trinity. This was a traditional position but modern Christian theologians now largely accept that this is an exegetical fallacy.

Theologians who dispute this claim, cite the hypothesis that plurals of majesty came about in more modern times. Richard Toporoski, a classics scholar, asserts that plurals of majesty first appeared in the reign of Diocletian (284-305 CE)1. Indeed, Gesenius states in his book Hebrew Grammar 2 the following:

The Jewish grammarians call such plurals … plur. virium or virtutum; later grammarians call them plur. excellentiae, magnitudinis, or plur. maiestaticus. This last name may have been suggested by the we used by kings when speaking of themselves (compare 1 Maccabees 10:19 and 11:31); and the plural used by God in Genesis 1:26 and 11:7; Isaiah 6:8 has been incorrectly explained in this way). It is, however, either communicative (including the attendant angels: so at all events in Isaiah 6:8 and Genesis 3:22), or according to others, an indication of the fullness of power and might implied. It is best explained as a plural of self-deliberation. The use of the plural as a form of respectful address is quite foreign to Hebrew.

The plural form ending in -im can also be understood as denoting abstraction, as in the Hebrew words chayyim: "life" or betulim: "virginity". If understood this way Elohim means "divinity" or "deity". The word chayyim is similarly syntactically singular when used as a name but syntactically plural otherwise.

The Hebrew form Eloah (אלוה, which looks as though it might be a singular form of Elohim) is comparatively rare, occurring only in poetry and late prose (in the Book of Job, 41 times). What is probably the same divine name is found in Arabic (Ilah as singular "a god", as opposed to Allah meaning "The God" or "God") and in Aramaic (Elaha). This unusual singular form is used in six places for heathen deities (examples: 2 Chronicles 32:15; Daniel 11:37, 38;). The normal Elohim form is also used in the plural a few times, either for gods or images ( Exodus 9:1, 12:12, 20:3; and so forth) or for one god ( Exodus 32:1; Genesis 31:30, 32; and elsewhere). In the great majority of cases both are used as names of the one God of Israel.

The root-meaning of the word is unknown. One theory is that it may be connected with the old Arabic verb alih (to be perplexed, afraid; to seek refuge because of fear). Eloah, Elohim, would, therefore, be "He who is the object of fear or reverence," or "He with whom one who is afraid takes refuge."

In many of the passages in which Elohim occurs in the Bible it refers to non-Israelite deities, or in some instances to powerful men or judges (Exodus 21:6).

  • Elohim —

1R. Toporoski, "What was the origin of the royal "we" and why is it no longer used?", (Times of London, May 29, 2002. Ed. F1, p. 32)
2Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar (A. E. Cowley, ed., Oxford, 1976, p.398)


The name `Elyon (Hebrew: עליון) occurs in combination with El, YHWH or Elohim, and also alone. It appears chiefly in poetic and later Biblical passages. The modern Hebrew adjective "`Elyon" means "supreme" (as in "Supreme Court") or "Most High". El Elyon has been traditionally translated into English as 'God Most High'. The Phoenicians used what appears to be a similar name for God, Έλιον. It is cognate to the Arabic `Aliyy.

  • `Elyon —


The name Shaddai (Hebrew: שַׁדַּי), which occurs both independently and in combination with El, is used as a name of God chiefly in the Book of Job. According to Exodus 6:2, 3, this is the name by which God was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the Septuagint and other early translation it was translated with words meaning 'Almighty'.

The root word "shadad" (שדד) means "to overpower" or "to destroy". This would give Shaddai the meaning of "destroyer" as one of the aspects of God. Compare to " Shiva," the destroyer in the Hindu trinity, "creator, preserver, destroyer".

Another theory is that 'Shaddai' is a derivation of a Semitic stem that appears in the Akkadian shadû, 'mountain', and shaddā`û or shaddû`a, 'mountain-dweller', a name of Amurru. This theory was popularized by W. F. Albright but was somewhat weakened when it was noticed that the doubling of the medial d is first documented only in the Neo-Assyrian period. However, the doubling in Hebrew might possibly be secondary. In this theory God is seen as inhabiting a mythical holy mountain: a concept not unknown in ancient near eastern mythology (see El), and also evident in the Syriac Christian writings of Ephrem the Syrian, who places Eden on an inaccessible mountaintop.

An alternative view proposed by Albright is that the name is connected to shadayim which means 'breasts' in Hebrew. It may thus be connected to the notion of God’s fertility and blessings of the human race. In several instances it is connected with fruitfulness: “May God Almighty [El Shaddai] bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers . . .” (Gen. 28:3). “I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]: be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 35:11). “By the Almighty [El Shaddai] who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts [shadayim] and of the womb [racham] ” (Gen. 49:25).

It is also given a Midrashic interpretation as an acronym standing for 'Guardian of the Doors of Israel' (Hebrew: שׁוֹמֶר דְלָתוֹת יִשְׂרָאֶל), which is commonly found as carvings or writings upon the Mezuzah, a vessel which houses a scroll of parchment with Biblical text written on it, that is situated upon all the doorframes in a home or establishment.

Shaddai was also a late Bronze age, Amorite city on the banks of the Euphrates river, in northern Syria. The site of its ruin-mound is called Tell eth-Thadyen: "Thadyen" being the modern Arabic rendering of the original West Semitic "Shaddai." It has been conjectured that El Shaddai was therefore the "god of Shaddai" and associated in tradition with Abraham, and the inclusion of the Abraham stories into the Hebrew Bible may have brought the northern name with them. (See Documentary hypothesis.)

  • Shadai —


Shalom ("Peace"; Hebrew: שלום)

The Talmud says "the name of God is 'Peace'" (Pereḳ ha-Shalom, Shab. 10b), ( Judges 6:24); consequently, one is not permitted to greet another with the word shalom in unholy places such as a bathroom ( Talmud, Shabbat, 10b). The name Sh'lomo literally His peace (from shalom, Solomon, שלומו) refers to the God of Peace. Shalom in Hebrew also can mean "hello" and "goodbye."

  • Shalom —


Shekhinah (Hebrew: שכינה) is the presence or manifestation of God which has descended to "dwell" among humanity. The term never appears in the Hebrew Bible; later rabbis used the word when speaking of God dwelling either in the Tabernacle or amongst the people of Israel. The root of the word means "dwelling". Of the principal names of God, it is the only one that is of the feminine gender in Hebrew grammar.

  • Shekhinah —


The name Yah is composed of the first letters of YHWH. The Rastafarian Jah is derived from this.

  • Yah —

YHWH Tzevaot/Sabaoth

The names YHWH and Elohim frequently occur with the word tzevaot or sabaoth ("hosts" or "armies", Hebrew: צבאות) as YHWH Elohe Tzevaot ("YHWH God of Hosts"), Elohe Tzevaot ("God of Hosts"), Adonai YHWH Tzevaot ("Lord YHWH of Hosts") or, most frequently, YHWH Tzevaot ("YHVH of Hosts"). This name is traditionally transliterated in Latin as Sabaoth, a form that will be more familiar to many English readers, as it was used in the King James Version of the Bible.

This compound divine name occurs chiefly in the prophetic literature and does not appear at all in the Pentateuch, Joshua or Judges. The original meaning of tzevaot may be found in 1 Samuel 17:45, where it is interpreted as denoting "the God of the armies of Israel". The word, apart from this special use, always means armies or hosts of men, as, for example, in Exodus 6:26, 7:4, 12:41, while the singular is used to designate the heavenly host.

The Latin spelling Sabaoth combined with the large, golden vine motif over the door on the Herodian Temple (built by the Jewish Herod the Great) led to identification by Romans with the god Sabazius.

  • YHWH Tzevaot —

The name Sabaoth is also associated with a demi-god in the gnostic scriptures of the Nag Hammadi Text; he is the son of Yaltabaoth.

Lesser used names of God

  • Adir — "Strong One".
  • Adir —
  • Adon Olam — "Master of the World".
  • Avinu Malkeinu — "Our Father, our King".
  • Avinu Malkenu —
  • Boreh — "the Creator".
  • Boreh —
  • Ehiyeh sh'Ehiyeh — "I Am That I Am": a modern Hebrew version of "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh".
  • Elohei Avraham, Elohei Yitzchak ve Elohei Ya`aqov — "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob".
  • El ha-Gibbor — "God the hero" or "God the strong one".
  • Emet — "Truth".
  • E'in Sof — "endless, infinite", Kabbalistic name of God.
  • Ro'eh Yisra'el — "Shepherd of Israel".
  • Ha-Kaddosh, Baruch Hu — "The Holy One, Blessed be He".
  • Kaddosh Israel — "Holy One of Israel".
  • Melech ha-Melachim — "The King of Kings" or Melech Malchei ha-Melachim "King of Kings of Kings", to express superiority to the earthly rulers title.
  • Makom or Hamakom — literally "the place", meaning "The Omnipresent"; see Tzimtzum.
  • Magen Avraham — "Shield of Abraham".
  • YHWH-Yireh (Yahweh-Yireh) — "The Lord will provide" ( Genesis 22:13, 14).
  • YHWH-Rapha" — "The Lord that healeth" ( Exodus 15:26).
  • YHWH-Niss"i (Yahweh-Nissi) — "The Lord our Banner" (Exodus 17:8-15).
  • YHWH-Shalom — "The Lord our Peace" ( Judges 6:24).
  • YHWH-Ra-ah — "The Lord my Shepherd" ( Psalms 23:1).
  • YHWH-Tsidkenu — "The Lord our Righteousness" ( Jeremiah 23:6).
  • YHWH-Shammah — "The Lord is present" ( Ezekiel 48:35).
  • Tzur Israel — "Rock of Israel".
  • Ha Shem — "The Name"

Miracles of the divine names

In the Haggadah (the traditional Hebrew Passover text) it is written that the divine names of God could be used to perform miracles if one knew their combination.

Kabbalistic use

The seventy-two names
The seventy-two names

The system of cosmology of the Kabbalah explains the significance of the names. One of the most important names is that of the En Sof אין סוף ("Infinite" or "Endless"), who is above the Sefirot.

The forty-two-lettered name contains the combined names אהיה יהוה אדוני הויה, that when spelled in letters it contains 42 letters. The equivalent in value of YHWH (spelled הא יוד הא וו = 45) is the forty-five-lettered name.

The seventy-two-lettered name is based from three verses in Exodus (14:19-21) beginning with "Vayyissa," "Vayyabo," "Vayyet," respectively. Each of the verses contains 72 letters, and when combined they form 72 names, known collectively as the Shemhamphorasch.

The kabbalistic book Sefer Yetzirah, explains that the creation of the world was achieved by the manipulation of the sacred letters that form the names of God. Much in the same way, a golem is created using all permutations of God's name.

Laws of writing divine names

The Psalms in Hebrew and Latin. Manuscript on parchment, 12th century.
The Psalms in Hebrew and Latin. Manuscript on parchment, 12th century.

According to Jewish tradition, the sacredness of the divine names must be recognized by the professional scribe who writes the Scriptures, or the chapters for the tefillin and the mezuzah. Before transcribing any of the divine names he prepares mentally to sanctify them. Once he begins a name he does not stop until it is finished, and he must not be interrupted while writing it, even to greet a king. If an error is made in writing it, it may not be erased, but a line must be drawn round it to show that it is canceled, and the whole page must be put in a genizah (burial place for scripture) and a new page begun.

The tradition of seven divine names

According to Jewish tradition, the number of divine names that require the scribe's special care is seven: El, Elohim, Adonai, YHWH, Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, Shaddai, and Tzevaot.

However, Rabbi Jose considered Tzevaot a common name (Soferim 4:1; Yer. R. H. 1:1; Ab. R. N. 34). Rabbi Ishmael held that even Elohim is common (Sanh. 66a). All other names, such as 'Merciful', 'Gracious', and 'Faithful', merely represent attributes that are common also to human beings (Sheb. 35a).

Many Jews do not actually ever write God's name on paper or say it, this is to sanctify his name and not to come to desecrate God’s name. In many Jewish communities one would say Hashem instead of God's name. It has been the tradition of many Jews to write G–d or L–rd instead of actually spelling the name out.

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