Not “G-d.” At least for me. Yes, when I was younger and attended yeshiva in Detroit, it was “G-d.” God was also “Hashem,” “Adoshem,” “Elokeinu” etc. Anything but “God.” My first year at Michigan State University, about 25 years ago, I took what I thought would be an “Easy A,” The Old Testament. Come on, a class on the Tanach, what could be easier? Except it wasn’t so easy. Why? On the very first day of class, I learned that “the God of the Jews is named Yahweh.” I have to admit, at the time, after 18 years of being a Jew, I had never heard of this Yahweh. So, in the end, not such an “easy” class.
Some feel that even trying to pronounce, the Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey (the Tetragrammaton) is blasphemy. I was once teaching a class in Augusta, Ga., to students from my Conservative congregation and the next door’s Reform eighth-graders and, boy, did those kids from the other congregation freak out when I mentioned “Yahweh.” “You can’t say that!” But, I’ve got a secret for you. “Yahweh” cannot be the ineffable name of God, because it isn’t “effable.” And, I don’t pray to Yahweh or G-d, I pray to God.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate it when my people take their Judaism seriously. Go ahead, kiss your kippa when you drop it on the floor, spell out God as “G-d”; but, you are not obligated to do either. What you shouldn’t do is go overboard. It’s like the old overused joke from the bima, “Some Jews care more about what goes into their mouths than what comes out of them.” And we certainly know how to go overboard. In this week’s seventh aliyah, the Torah tells us a story of a Jewish man who was put to death for blaspheming God. Now, if God has a problem with what we are saying, then let God take care of it.
Last month, I was reading a disturbing article from CNN. In Pakistan, a man had been accused, jailed, tried and eventually cleared of the crime of blasphemy. Fine, except that two weeks after he returned to society, he was gunned down by “Blasphemy Vigilantes.”
The Blasphemy Police are everywhere. All I said was “Oh, God.” I was once sitting at a table and just remembered something I forgot to do and all I said was, “Oh, God.” The woman across from me asked me not to take the Lord’s name in vain. Oh, God.
I understand that you don’t want to throw away God’s name, so you write “G-d”. My congregation now has three genizas (burial places for papers with the Tetragrammaton printed on them). But if “G-d” represents our ineffable God to you, then aren’t you putting more weight into those three letters (or two letters with a dash) than plain old
G-O-D? One can never throw away God. We teach our children to respect each other and to respect God. If you need to do this through G-d, then go ahead, but I will continue praying to God.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.