QUESTION: Please comment on the use and understanding of the Hebrew word Ha-Shem (the Name) as presented in the Bible.

ANSWER: The common Hebrew word for name is shem, and it has two uses. One refers to appellation, title or identity, and the other to fame or renown surrounding a person or place.

Combined with the Hebrew definite article ha, shem becomes ha-shem, the name.” In Scripture the word shem is rarely found with the definite article ha attached to it. This is because shem is most often used with a possessive ending (as in sh’mo, “his name”) or with a prepositional prefix (as in b’shem, “in the name”). In the latter example the word is in the contracted form with the definite article ha deleted.

In Judaism, however, the word shem combined with the definite article ha has taken on a special significance referring specifically to the holy name of God. This is done in reverence and in order not to take God’s name in vain as commanded in Exodus 20:7.

For this same reason Jewish people will not attempt to pronounce the ineffable name of God, which is written in the Scriptures as YHVH, YAHWEH or JEHOVAH. Instead they often substitute Adonai, which means “my Lord,” or Ha-Shem as discussed above. In the same vein, the Hebrew Elohim, another title for God, will be pronounced and written Elokim. To carry the entire idea even further you will find that many Jewish writings contain the English word “God” with the middle letter deleted (G-d). Again this is done in reverence and in order not to violate the third commandment.