What is God Called?

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The 72 Names of God

Kabbalists speak of the 72 names of God and give these names special powers attainable through knowledge of the Kabbalah.

It is of course foolish to argue about religious beliefs. Therefore we need not concern ourselves with the claims of the Kabbalists. It is however true that the Torah speaks of God by means of various names, as do Torah-true Jews. One of these names is “Shem Yisborach”, which means “the blessed name”. Sometimes “hashem” or “the name” is used.

The third word of the first book of the Torah uses the name “eloheem”, meaning “the gods”. This seems strange to us, as we usually translate the first sentence in Beraysheet as:  

”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In Hebrew: “Beraysheet bara eloheem et hashamayim ve’et haaretz.” The usual explanation for the use of the plural in this sentence is that the majesty of God requires the plural just as the Queen of England speaks of herself as “we”. All English kings have used the plural in the past.

It is of course also possible that those who wrote that sentence were polytheists. We shall never know.

Scholars have uncovered a number of ancient artifacts in the Sinai desert which use the name “El” for God. El is commonly used in the Hebrew language, so that many a synagogue is called Beth El or House of God.

A further name of God among us has been Yah and Yahveh. That name appears in the Torah 6,823 times and has been considered a sacred or holy name by some. Believing that the name of God should not be pronounced, some pious Jews use Adonai when encountering Yehovah. Adonai means my Lord.

In 1543 Martin Luther, no doubt the forerunner of Hitler, wrote a book called Vom Shem Hamphorash. That means “Of the hidden name”. Here Luther ranted against the Jews of his day using the Name of God as a platform for his attack on “the Jews”. Luther had come into possession of a book by the monk Porchetus Salvaticus called Victoria adversus impios Hebraeos. This anti-Jewish tract also used the name of God as a platform for an attack on the Jews. If this interests you further, go to the library and read The Jew In Christian Theology. Therein I translated the entire book into American English.

Other names of God appearing in the Torah and in our prayer books are: El elyone, or most high god. Sometimes HaBoreh or the creator is used. God the Hero means El Hagibbor and can be found in both the Torah and the prayer books. Then there is Elohay Zebaoth which means God of armies as well as Tzur Yisroel which means Rock of Israel.

It is this name which appears in the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and other occasions we use “Our Father Our King” or “Oveenou Malkaynoo”.

Note that all names of God are masculine. There are now a few Jews who have tried to include the feminine into the concept of the nature of God. So far that effort has not succeeded but may well do so in time. However, religion is quite conservative, so that the belief in a female God is hardly popular today.

Keddosh Yisrael, or the Holy one in Israel, is another name of God, as is Hakodesh Boruch Hoo or the Holy One Blessed be He.

The significance of these many names for God lies in the importance placed on the God concept among the Hebrew speaking peoples. It has been noted by linguists that every language has several names for concepts meaningful in that culture. For example, there are numerous names for a motor car in American English, such as automobile, car, jalopy, SUV, convertible, sedan or Ford, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Jeep, etc.

Among the Eskimo Indians there are several words for ice, depending on its strength or its color, etc. To us, ice is only one word.

In view of the evidence that so many people with Jewish sounding names are atheists and agnostics, it may be better if politicians consider as Jews only those who adhere to that minimum of identification with Judaism which consists of holding on to the view that God gave his Torah to Israel for the enlightenment of the world. Those who identify with that form of Judaism are very few. Yet, we will endure. It is precisely this endurance which has made us the Chosen People, indestructible and permanent. Believe it or not. Israel is here to stay and prosper no matter what the odds against us may seem.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Man's Ascent to Reason (2003) & the forthcoming Football & American Identity.


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