Hebrew In Israel | Not Speaking The Name – Learn Torah

The Prohibition of Speaking The Name -- An Overview of Selected Sources

Hebrew In Israel | Not Speaking The Name – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

Lately I have been seeing the renewal of the debate in regard to the use of the name of God. The subject at hand is not about the correct pronunciation, but on the base subject of using the name in overall. 

It has become a common claim that the Jewish sages, or rabbis, are the ones who decreed a prohibition on speaking God’s name. However, an examination of the sources leads to a completely different conclusion. 

Ancient Non-Rabbinic Sources

The common understanding amongst many is that the Pharisees and the rabbis are the originators of the prohibition on speaking the name. It is important to understand the historical development of this practice to truly understand what actually happened. Unfortunately, ideology has affected the research done by many laymen, which has created biased results and incorrect assumptions. It is also problematic to perceive rabbis as one group, which has also affected how both orthodox Jews and non-Jews have understood this subject. 

It seems very clear that the name was used in vows and in everyday life. Letters discovered in Lachish and Arad demonstrate that people would say the name to the scribe even in regular day-to-day life (See Tor Sinai on Lachish and Aharaoni on the Arad letters). However, during the Persian era something happened. As S. Japhet has demonstrated in her book on Chronicles, there is a change in the use of the name. Parallel verses from Samuel and Kings appear in Chronicles replacing the name with Elohim (Japhet S., The Ideology of The Book of Chronicles and its Place in Biblical Thought, Jerusalem 1995, pp.33-39). 

Later in time, the Dead Sea scrolls tend to remove the name in non-biblical scrolls with four dots. We also find in the Damascus scroll (CDa 15:1-10) a prohibition from using the name or any reference to God in vows. 

“[He will not sw]ear by the Aleph and the Lamed (‘El=God) not by the Aleph and the Dalet (‘Adonai=The Lord)”

(CDa Col.XV, Martinez F.G, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, Leiden-New York-Cologne, 1992, p.39)

Rabbinic Sources

The above sources are non-rabbinic, and even predate any pharisee or rabbinic notion. The practice of not using the name dates back far into the 2nd temple history and started very early. The act was so wide spread that it was accepted by many regardless of who they were. Later on, in time we also find Abba Shaul forbidding the use of the name (Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1). Usually this statement is used to argue that is forbidden to speak the name, which was a common practice. However, on the other hand one can argue that the statement is in conjunction with the prohibition of magic as stated:

כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ לָהֶם חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר(ישעיה ס) וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים לְעוֹלָם יִירְשׁוּ אָרֶץ נֵצֶר מַטָּעַי מַעֲשֵׂה יָדַי לְהִתְפָּאֵר. וְאֵלּוּ שֶׁאֵין לָהֶם חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, הָאוֹמֵר אֵין תְּחִיַּת הַמֵּתִים מִן הַתּוֹרָה, וְאֵין תּוֹרָה מִן הַשָּׁמָיִם, וְאֶפִּיקוֹרֶס. רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אוֹמֵר, אַף הַקּוֹרֵא בַסְּפָרִים הַחִיצוֹנִים, וְהַלּוֹחֵשׁ עַל הַמַּכָּה וְאוֹמֵר (שמות טו) כָּל הַמַּחֲלָה אֲשֶׁר שַׂמְתִּי בְמִצְרַיִם לֹא אָשִׂים עָלֶיךָ כִּי אֲנִי ה’ רֹפְאֶךָ. אַבָּא שָׁאוּל אוֹמֵר, אַף הַהוֹגֶה אֶת הַשֵּׁם בְּאוֹתִיּוֹתָיו

All Israel have a portion in the world to come, for it says, “Your people, all of them righteous, shall possess the land for ever; They are the shoot that I planted, my handiwork in which I glory” (Isaiah 60:21). And these are the ones who have no portion in the world to come: He who maintains that resurrection is not a biblical doctrine, that the torah was not divinely revealed, and an epikoros. Rabbi Akiva says: “Even one who reads non-canonical books and one who whispers [a charm] over a wound and says, “I will not bring upon you any of the diseases which i brought upon the Egyptians: for I the lord am you healer” (Exodus 15:26). Abba Shaul says: “Also one who pronounces the divine name as it is spelled.”

Harari demonstrates that the name of God was used in magic bowls from Babylon, which fits into our overall discussion (Harari Y, Early Jewish Magic, Jerusalem, pp.213-214). One then can ask; Can it be that the rabbinic sources are actually attacking the magic practice and not adopting the prohibition of saying the name? However, in time the prohibition became so common that everyone understood that it was on saying the name and not magic.

When examining this matter, Schiffman has demonstrated that in vows used by rabbinic Jews it was expected to use the name (Schiffman L.H, Law, Custom and Messianism in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jerusalem 1993, p.226.) This practice clearly stands in opposition to the practice mentioned in the Damascus scroll. Schiffman finds evidence in the following sources:

והשביע הכהן את האשה בשבועת האלה מכאן אהת דן לכל השבועות שבתורה הואיל ונאמרו שבועות בתורה סתם ופרט באחת מהם שאינו אלא באלה ובשבועה, אף פורטני בכל השבועות שבתורה שלא יהיו אלא באלה ובשבועה. הואיל ונאמרו שבועות בתורה סתם ופרט באחת מהם שאינם אלא ביו”ד ה”א, אף פורטני בכל השבועות שבתורה שאינם אלא ביו”ד הא. יתן ה’ אותך לאלה ולשבועה בתוך עמך למה נאמר, לפי שהוא אומר ושמעה קול אלה אין לי אלא אלה מנין לעשות שבועה כאלה, הרי אתה דן. נאמר כאן אלה ונאמר להלן אלה, מה אלה האמורה כאן עשה שבועה כאלה, אף אלה האמורה להלן עשה שבועה כאלה. (ומה אלה ביו”ד ה”א אף שבועה ביו”ד ה”א.) הואיל ונאמרו שבועות בתורה סתם ופרט לך הכתוב באחד מהם שאינן אלא ביו”ד ה”א אף פורטני בכל שבועות שבתורה סתם שאינן אלא ביו”ד ה”א

(Bamidbar 5:21) “Then the Cohen shall beswear the woman with the oath of the curse.” What is the intent of this? Because it is written (Vayikra 5:1) “and he hear the voice of a curse,” this tells me only of a curse. Whence do I derive that an oath is like a curse? It is derived inductively, viz.: It is written here (Bamidbar) “curse,” and it is written elsewhere (Vayikra) “curse.” Just as here “oath” is equated with “curse,” (viz. “the oath of the curse”), so, there, “oath” is equated with “curse.” And just as here, (the oath is administered) with “yod-heh” (viz. Ibid. “May the Lord [yod-heh-vav-heh] render you, etc.”), so, all the oaths in the Torah (are administered with) “yod-heh”.

(Sifri, Horovitz H.S, Jerusalem 1992, p.19)

שבועת ה’ תהיה בין שניהם. ביו”ד ה”א. מכאן אתה דן כל השבועות שבתורה. הואיל ונאמרו כל השבועות שבתורה סתם, ופרט לך הכתוב באחת מהם, שאינה אלא ביו”ד ה”א. מכאן לכל שבועות שבתורה, שאינן אלא ביו”ד ה”א

“the oath of the Lord (Yod-Heh) shall be between the two of them”: by Yod-Heh. From here you derive the same for all “oaths” in the Torah. Since all the “oaths in the Torah are unqualified (as to the formula for the oath), and the Torah qualified an oath in one instance as being “Yod-Heh,” so all the oaths in the Torah must be by “Yod-Heh.”

(Mekhilta DeRabbi Yshma’el, Horovirts and Rabin, Jerusalem 1998, p.303).

אמר אביי לא קשיא הא רבי חנינא בר אידי הא רבנן דתניא רבי חנינא בר אידי אומר הואיל ואמרה תורה השבע ואל תשבע קלל ואל תקלל מה השבע בשם אף לא תשבע בשם מה קלל בשם אף לא תקלל בשם

“Abaye said:  This is not difficult. This baraita is the opinion of Rabbi Ḥanina bar Idi, and that mishna is the opinion of the Rabbis, as it is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Ḥanina bar Idi says: Since the Torah says in some cases:  Take an oath, and in some cases: Do not take an oath; and it says in some cases: Curse, and in some cases: Do not curse, just as when the Torah says: Take an oath, it is in the name of God, so too, when the Torah states: Do not take an oath, it is in the name of God. And just as when the Torah states: Curse, it is in the name of God, so too, when the Torah says: Do not curse, it is in the name of God”.

(Babylonina Talmud, Shvuot 35b).

Schiffman even finds the Mishnah in Berakhot 9:5

הִתְקִינוּ שֶׁיְּהוּ אוֹמְרִים, מִן הָעוֹלָם וְעַד הָעוֹלָם. וְהִתְקִינוּ, שֶׁיְּהֵא אָדָם שׁוֹאֵל אֶת שְׁלוֹם חֲבֵרוֹ בַּשֵּׁם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (רות ב) וְהִנֵּה בֹעַז בָּא מִבֵּית לֶחֶם, וַיֹּאמֶר לַקּוֹצְרִים יְיָ עִמָּכֶם, וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ, יְבָרֶכְךָ יְיָ. וְאוֹמֵר (שופטים ו) יְיָ עִמְּךָ גִּבּוֹר הֶחָיִל. וְאוֹמֵר (משלי כג) אַל תָּבוּז כִּי זָקְנָה אִמֶּךָ. וְאוֹמֵר (תהלים קיט) עֵת לַעֲשׂוֹת לַייָ הֵפֵרוּ תוֹרָתֶךָ. רַבִּי נָתָן אוֹמֵר, הֵפֵרוּ תוֹרָתֶךָ עֵת לַעֲשׂוֹת לַייָ

“They also decreed that a person should greet his fellow in God’s name, as it says, “And behold Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, ‘May the Lord be with you.’ And they answered him, “May the Lord bless you’” (Ruth 2:. And it also says, “The Lord is with your, you valiant warrior” (Judges 6:12). And it also says, “And do not despise your mother when she grows old” (Proverbs 23:22). And it also says, “It is time to act on behalf of the Lord, for they have violated Your teaching” (Psalms 119:126). Rabbi Natan says: [this means] “They have violated your teaching It is time to act on behalf of the Lord.”

The understanding is that this statement is not about the time of Boaz, but rather about the time that this Mishnah was composed. The final statement “they have violated your teaching (lit.” Torah”) indicates an objection to the idea of not vowing in the name. Hence the rule of using the name in vows as the Torah commands in several places is upheld by rabbinic sources in opposition to the non-rabbinic practice mentioned in the Damascus Scroll. 

Medieval Sources

Probably the most important source we have on this matter is the 12th century rabbi Moshe son of Maimon who openly states:

״אוֹמֵר אֶת הַשֵּׁם כִּכְתָבוֹ וְהוּא הַשֵּׁם הַנֶּהְגֶּה מִיּוּ״ד הֵ״א וָא״ו הֵ״א. וְזֶה הוּא הַשֵּׁם הַמְפֹרָשׁ הָאָמוּר בְּכָל מָקוֹם. וּבַמְּדִינָה אוֹמְרִים אוֹתוֹ בְּכִנּוּיוֹ וְהוּא בְּאָלֶ״ף דָּלֶ״ת. שֶׁאֵין מַזְכִּירִין אֶת הַשֵּׁם כִּכְתָבוֹ אֶלָּא בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ בִּלְבַד. וּמִשֶּׁמֵּת שִׁמְעוֹן הַצַּדִּיק פָּסְקוּ הַכֹּהֲנִים מִלְּבָרֵךְ בַּשֵּׁם הַמְפֹרָשׁ אֲפִלּוּ בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִלְמֹד אוֹתוֹ אָדָם שֶׁאֵינוֹ חָשׁוּב וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ הָגוּן. וְלֹא הָיוּ חֲכָמִים הָרִאשׁוֹנִים מְלַמְּדִין שֵׁם זֶה לְתַלְמִידֵיהֶם וּבְנֵיהֶם הַהֲגוּנִים אֶלָּא פַּעַם אַחַת לְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים. כָּל זֶה גְּדֻלָּה לִשְׁמוֹ הַנִּכְבָּד וְהַנּוֹרָא״

“The name of God was pronounced as written; that is, the name of which the utterance is according to the letters Yod, He, WaW, He.  This is the Ineffable Name (literally the Proper Name), wherever it is referred to. Outside the temple the usual pronunciation is used, as if it were written Alef, Dalet, Nun, Yod-Adonai.; for the Proper Name of God as written, is pronounced nowhere but in the Temple. After the death of Simon the Just, the priests ceased to utter the proper name of God in the Benediction, even in the Temple, so that an unworthy or unsuitable person should not learn it. The ancient teachers did not teach this name to their disciples or sons, even when they were worthy, except once in seven years—all this out of respect to the Honored and Revered Name of God”.

(Mishneh Torah, Prayer and the Priestly Blessing, 14:10)

The Rambam states two important points. The first is that the name was allowed in the temple well into the 2nd temple. The second point is that the name was stopped during the Hasmonean era. Though he bases himself on the Talmud, this description adds to our information of a pre-rabbinic prohibition on speaking the name. 

However, as stated in the above reference to the Mishnah in Sanhedrin, the context is probably in regards to magic and everyday use in prayer.

Another source that is paramount to the spread of this practice is the Aleppo codex and the Leningrad codex. Both texts avoid (by most) placing the full vowels of the tetragrammaton, and in cases where it is adjacent to the name אדני replacing the vowels with the vowels of Elohim אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה. This demonstrates that Karaites were also practicing not saying the name by this stage.


The overall material found from the 2nd temple and rabbinic sources indicate that the prohibition on the name was not a rabbinic decree. It seems more likely that the name was not used due to a custom which developed in Judea by the different groups who lived in the Persian era. It became wide a widespread practice by the 2nd century, becoming a staple in different Jewish circles. At one point it became so common that writing the name was prohibited unless it was a Biblical Text. No single group can be the perpetrator of this action, and it seems more likely that it was done by almost everyone. Hence one must say that the prohibition on the speaking the name was accepted by all groups during the 2nd temple, and it had nothing to do with Rabbis which only appeared in the 1st century C.E. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Join My Group Bible Class TODAY!

The class is done in a virtual class room with multiple participants. We meet on Sundays at 11:45am US eastern, or 6:45pm Israel time. You do not need to know Hebrew for this class, and you also receive a recording of the classes every month. For the link and how to join, click the More Info Button to email us.