Why do Jews write G-D instead of God?

In simple words, it is because of respect. The Hebrew name of God is given a great degree of reverence such that it cannot be erased or disrespected in any means once it is written or printed. This custom derives from an interpretation of the commandments by Moses, found in Deuteronomy 12:3-12:4. In this part, Moses instructs his followers to destroy anything associated with the gods of their rivals, and they are not to let this happen to their own God.

Judaism does not prohibit writing the name of God. The prohibition is against destroying it in some way. Erasing, tearing, and throwing the paper away – all these are considered means of tarnishing God’s name. Since anything printed or written is likely to be damaged at some point in time, they use the word with extreme care. A convenient way to avoid the chance of disrespect was to refrain from writing the name of God. This applies to the sacred Hebrew names of God, such as YHVH, Hashem, and Elohim, found in Torah, the Hebrew Bible.

Even though there is no rule against writing and erasing God in English, many Jews treat the word with the same respect as in Hebrew. So when writing, they use ‘G-d’ instead of ‘God’ in case it would be destroyed in the future. It is a recent custom and prevents others from destroying the name of God. Since the word is not complete but conveys the idea well, there is no risk of defacing the name. It can be erased or damaged later without disrespecting God. Some use the word “G!d” as a means to express both respect and wonder.

Many Jews wouldn’t discard paper or books which contain God’s name in Hebrew either. Those books are regarded with a great amount of respect, and the believers would rather store such documents in a genizah (a storage place in synagogue) and sometimes bury them in a Jewish cemetery.

Such a practice is also based on other traditional practices among Jews, which include not saying the word “Adonai” out loud as it means “My Lord” or “My God.” Adonai is only used during their prayer services. Such is the level of respect for the name or word of God among Jews that they use the Hebrew word “HaShem” – meaning “the name” instead of “Adonai.” The Jews are even reluctant to say the name of God aloud. Instead, they use phrases like ‘the Creator,’ ‘the Merciful One’ and ‘Master of the Universe’ to refer the God.

The evolution of technology has triggered various debates over the writing of God’s name on the computer and other electronic devices. The general agreement is that the rule doesn’t apply to modern devices. The deletion of God’s name on a computer screen is not considered a violation of the rule.

Though some of the Jews believe that this code of respect does not necessarily apply to write the word “God” in English as compared to mentioning “God” in Hebrew, it is nonetheless observed by many.  

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