In the last series of articles we examined the need for Messianic Judaism to establish an identity. The focus was on examining both the similarities and differences of Messianic Judaism and the broader Jewish movement.
This time I want to focus on our relationship to God and more specifically how Messianic Judaism views the name of God. I believe this is a crucial discussion if we wish to grow as a branch within Judaism. There are those who do not pronounce the name and others who argue that we must pronounce the name. How do we deal with this contradiction within the Messianic movement? I should point out that I spell God in full. If this is offensive to some, then I apologize in advance.
I believe the starting point for this discussion must commence with an understanding of the Name of God within Mainstream Judaism.
By the Mainstream I am talking about that which includes Orthodox, Conservative and Reform.
The main branches of Judaism do not ever pronounce the Name of God. In most prayer books it is written as Adonai or as two yuds. When it is pronounced it is usually Hashem (the Name) or Adonai (God of Mercy) or Elohim (The Judge) depending on context. Even when writing in English Jews are careful to spell the Name. Many will write G-d for God, Ad-nai for Adonai, etc. There are however, many Jews who will write God and Adonai in full.
It is important to understand the significance of these practises. There is such a high regard for the Name of God that no Jew would ever want to desecrate it. This also goes when the name of God was written on a Torah scroll in which an error was made. It was not simply a matter of throwing the page away, but there is / were very special burial rites for such documents.
Therefore, there is a great deal of respect within mainstream Judaism for the Name of God. Now, let us examine the controversy that exists within the Messianic Jewish movement.
One of the major dichotomies that exist in Messianic Judaism is those who support the mainstream view in not pronouncing the Name and those of the Sacred Name movement who believe that the Name should be pronounced.
I personally support the mainstream view of not pronouncing the Name of God. The purpose of this paper is not to disparage the sacred name movement, but to have an open and honest dialogue within the Messianic movement. I will list my reasons as to why I believe the Name should not be pronounced. However, I want to hear from people on both sides of the issue. I am only one voice within Messianic Judaism. However, I do believe it is necessary to deal with this issue if we hope to be taken seriously as a branch of Judaism.
In the prior paper I noted the importance of being a Jewish movement and the significance of our witness to the Jews and the community at large.
The first reason for me is an obvious one. If the mainstream respects the Name so as not to say it then so will I. This is because if we are to be taken seriously within Judaism then I believe that this is a necessary practise to follow. I also do not want to become a snare to my Jewish brethren. In the words of Yeshua: “So the greatest in the Kingdom is who ever makes himself as humble as this child. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me; and whoever ensnares one of these little ones who trust me, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the open sea! Woe to the world because of snares! For there must be snares, but woe to the person who sets the snare! (Matthew 18:4-7)
Rav Shual also expresses this concept. He states “You then, why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For all of us will stand before God’s judgment seat; since it is written in the Tanach, "As I live, says ADONAI, every knee will bend before me, and every tongue will publicly acknowledge God." So then, every one of us will have to give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore, let’s stop passing judgment on each other! Instead, make this one judgment – not to put a stumbling block or a snare in a brother’s way.” (Romans 14:10-13)
Secondly, to my view, there is much confusion within the Sacred Name Movement. Some pronounce the Name one way, some another way and some yet a different way. I believe that much of the confusion stems from the fact that many people do not understand Hebrew. They do not bother to read or understand the Torah in its original language. Therefore, this leads to the many variations within the sacred name movement. If there cannot be a cohesive view within the Sacred Name Movement then how can we in the Messianic community embrace this position or expect other Jews to take us seriously?
I also believe that the name of God is different than that of any human being. My name is Avraham; your name could be Ted, Jane, or whatever it may be. Our names are simply identification of who we are and for others to address us. However, I don’t know how to live as an Abraham nor do you know how to live by your name. In other words our character does not reflect our name. If your name were Ted, for example, some may think of that name in reference to former US President Teddy Roosevelt, others may remember it for Ted Bundy the serial killer. The point is there is no way to know how to live as a person named Ted. That is, however, your name and how I would address you if I were talking to you.
The name of God is not simply a name like ours, not just an identification tag like Avraham or Ted. The Name of God is reflected in the character of God. Sometimes we need God to be merciful (Adonai) other times we need God the judge (Elohim). In Judaism there are actually 70 Names for God. Each name describes a certain characteristic of who God is in relation to our needs.
In summary, I hope I have clarified the issue of the use of the Name of God. In grappling with this issue we need to be sensitive to each other’s views. However, we also need to be aware of our testimony not only to the Jews, but also to the greater community at large. I think if viewed from the latter perspective one becomes aware that the Name of God is respected in Judaism and not to be used in a haphazard manner.
We also must realize that within the Messianic community the lack of clarity on how exactly to pronounce the Name of God creates confusion and uncertainty. Therefore, I would urge that we err on the side of caution and view God’s name in the same way as the other branches of Judaism.
If nothing else I hope I have given people food for thought and a basis to discussion the issue. My hope is that we can eventually bridge the gap that currently exists within Messianic Judaism. Then one day may the Mashiach come and reveal to us His true name.
Tags: adonai, branches of judaism, burial rites, contradiction, english jews, god of mercy, jew, jewish movement, mainstream judaism, Messianic Judaism, messianic movement, nai, name of god, nbsp, prayer books, regard, relationship, similarities and differences, torah scroll, writing in english
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