Question: When coming across God’s name in a passage of Midrash or Talmud, should God’s name be pronounced, or is it better to use an appellation – such as Hashem or Adoshem.
Answer: The Talmud [BT Brachot 21a] records a debate concerning the status of a person who is ritually impure: R. Nathan b. Abishalom says: He may expound the Talmud, provided only he does not mention the divine names that occur in it. Rashi explains that this refers to names that appear in the verses of scripture that are quoted in the Talmud – i.e. a person who is ritually impure should avoid pronouncing God’s name when studying. From here we can deduce that if only one who is ritually impure is prevented from pronouncing the Divine name, everyone else is permitted to pronounce the name.
Furthermore, the Talmud states [ ibid]: Words of Torah are not susceptible of uncleanness. … as it says, Is not My word like as fire. Just as fire is not susceptible of uncleanness, so words of Torah are not susceptible of uncleanness. This means that we are no longer concerned with questions of ritual purity when it comes to the study of Torah. Anyone is permitted to pronounce God’s name during their study.
In spite of the widespread custom to say Hashem instead of pronouncing Gods name, there is strong Halachic support for the opposite opinion. Rabbi Yaakov Emden [Germany, 18th Century] relates that as a young child studying with his father [also a famous Rabbi, the Chacham Tzvi] the students would sometimes use one of the appellations, rather than pronounce God’s name. He would admonish the students and insist that they pronounce the name correctly – based on the Talmud quoted above. Many later scholars adopted this view. Furthermore, the use of the word Adoshem, which is a corruption of Gods name, is considered disrespectful, and therefore if one uses an appellation, it is always preferable to use Hashem.
All of the above only applies to saying God’s name when quoting verses. If when studying one comes across a proper blessing [i.e. the formula that starts Baruch Ata …] there are different considerations. It is forbidden to recite a blessing without cause. Saying a blessing without a reason is considered taking God’s name in vain – and is strictly forbidden. Therefore, if one comes to a blessing while studying, he or she should say Hashem or Elokim – rather than recite a proper blessing without cause. Here the concern for not reciting an improper blessing takes precedence over pronouncing Gods name properly.
Rabbi Chaim Weiner
Based on R. Ovadia Yossef, Yachve Da’at, 3, 13.
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