Why Write “G‑d” Instead of “G-o-d”?
Chabad.org, like many Jewish print and online publishers, is particular to not spell out the name of our Creator, even in English. Rather, we write “G‑d.”Here’s why: Following the Torah’s instruction to “obliterate the name” of idolatry in the Land of Israel,1 the Torah warns us not to do the same to G‑d. We thus learn that there is a prohibition to erase G‑d’s name.2 Writing G‑d’s name could lead to erasing or disrespecting G‑d’s name, as will be discussed.Foreign LanguagesWhile it is clear that this prohibition applies to the names of G‑d written in Hebrew,3 the question is whether it applies to foreign languages, such as English.Some opinions understand that this prohibition extends to all languages.4 Others limit the prohibition to Hebrew; however, they agree that one should avoid erasing G‑d’s name in foreign languages if possible.5RespectEven those who do not consider erasing G‑d’s name in a foreign language to be a technical violation agree that there is another issue to contend with: disrespect. All agree that the name must not be treated (or defaced) in a disrespectful manner.To give some perspective, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, when discussing the laws of mentioning G‑d’s name in a place of filth, explains the concept this way:Names that refer exclusively to the Holy One, blessed be He, i.e., the seven names that may not be erased, may not be mentioned in such places [e.g., bathroom or place of filth] — even in a secular language, such as any name by which the Holy One, blessed be He, is called by any nation in any language (such as Gott in German, or Boga in Polish or Russian). No holiness attaches to the written forms of these secular names for G‑d and it is permitted to erase them. Nevertheless, it is debasing to mention them in a place of filth.[To cite a parallel:] mentioning the name Shalom. This name, too, may be erased. Nevertheless, since it is used as a name for the Holy One, blessed be He—albeit not exclusively—it is forbidden to mention it [in a bathhouse] when one is referring to the concept of peace, as explained in sec. 84[:1]. How much more so does this apply with regard to the names designated for Him in non-Jewish languages . . .6Why must one be so careful not to disrespect these foreign language names of G‑d? Because if one recites a blessing in a foreign language using one of these names, the blessing is considered valid. This is despite the rule that “any blessing that doesn’t include G‑d’s name is invalid,7” thus indicating that these foreign names are manifestations of the Divine name.So even if you can technically erase G‑d’s name written in a foreign language, you still need to treat it in a respectful manner.Due to this, when religious Jewish newspapers were first printed in pre-Holocaust Europe, many adopted the practice to follow the more stringent opinion and hyphenate the name of G‑d, lest at some stage these pages be treated disrespectfully.8 This practice now extends to all articles, newspapers or magazines printed in Yiddish, English or any other language. However, in sacred texts, the name of G‑d is often spelled out in full, since the presumption is that such books will be treated with respect.9Although some of these concerns may not apply to a digital copy or computer screen, we are still careful to hyphenate Divine names written in foreign languages online, not only out of extra reverence for G‑d’s name where it may not be technically required, but also since it is very common, especially for Jews (because of Shabbat), to print out these articles to read later.FOOTNOTES1.Deuteronomy 12:3-4.2.Talmud, Shavuot 35a.3.See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 276:94.See Urim Vetumin 27:2; Pischei Teshuva, Yoreh De’ah 276:115.See Shach, Yoreh De’ah 179:11.6.Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 85:3 (also quoted in Mishnah Berurah, ad loc.); see also Igrot Kodesh, vol. 7, p. 26, that this is the explanation for writing “G‑d” with a hyphen.7.Talmud, Berachot 40b; Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 214:1.8.See, for example, Achiezer Responsa, vol. 3:32.9.See Achiezer Responsa, vol. 3:32; Shulchan Menachem, vol. 5, pp. 217-18.