Meaning of Term.

Ancient tannaitic name of the Tetragrammaton. The exact meaning of the term is somewhat obscure; but since the Tetragrammaton is called also "Shem ha-Meyuḥad" (), it may be assumed that "meyuḥad" is used elsewhere in, the terminology of the tannaitic schools as a synonym for "meforash," both words designating something which is distinguished by a characteristic sign from other objects of its kind (see Bacher, "Die Aelteste Terminologie der Jüdischen Schriftauslegung," p. 71). In connection with "shem" (= "the name [of God]"), both terms mean also "preeminent." "Shem ha-Meforash," therefore, denotes the name of God which differs from all the other names applied to Him, and is, consequently, the excellent name, the Tetragrammaton. In the old exegesis of Num. vi. 27 ("my name") one version (Sifre ad loc.) has "Shem ha-Meforash"; the other (Soṭah 38a), "Shem ha-Meyuḥad." Further explanations of the term are given by the authorities cited in the bibliographyof this article. In the tannaitic halakah, in the first place, this designation of the Tetragrammaton is found, as already stated, in the note on Num. vi. 27, while the Mishnah (Soṭah vii. 6; Tamid vii. 2) says, in conformity with this interpretation: "In the Sanctuary the name of God [in the three blessings, Num. vi. 24-26] is to be pronounced in the Priestly Benediction as it is written []; but outside the Sanctuary it must be given the paraphrastic pronunciation []." The high priest spoke the name of God on the Day of Atonement in his recitation of Lev. xvi. 30 during the confession of sins; and when the priests and the people in the great hall heard him utter the "Shem ha-Meforash," they prostrated themselves and glorified God, saying: "Praised be the glorious name of His kingdom for ever and ever" (Yoma vi. 2). When a very young priest, the well-known tanna Ṭarfon witnessed this ceremony; and he declares that the high priest uttered the holy name of God so that his voice was merged in the song of the priests (Yer. Yoma 40d, below; Ḳid. 71a; Eccl. R. iii. 11), although it was believed that when, at this point in the ritual, the priest pronounced the name of God he was heard as far as Jericho (Tamid iii. 7; comp. Yoma 39b).

Mode of Utterance.

Ṭarfon's account, that the voice of the high priest was drowned by the song of the other priests, also confirms the synchronous statement (Yer. Yoma 40b) that in former times the high priest uttered the Name with a loud voice, but that subsequently, when immorality had become more and more prevalent, he lowered his voice lest the Name should be heard by those unworthy to hear it. The mishnah (Berakot, end) mentions also an utterance of the Tetragrammaton outside the Sanctuary which was permitted and even commanded, saying that "it was ordained that the name of God should be used in the ordinary forms of greeting, which were the same as those exchanged between Boaz and the reapers [Ruth ii. 2], or the salutation of the angel to Gideon [Judges vi. 12]." According to Grätz ("Gesch." 2d ed., iv. 458), this injunction was given at the time of the Bar Kokba war, and the greeting, which contained the Tetragrammaton instead of the word "Adonai" (= "Lord"), was the shibboleth which distinguished the Jews from the Judæo-Christians, who regarded Jesus also as Lord. A haggadist of the third century, Abba bar Kahana, states (Midr. Teh. on Ps. xxxvi., end) that "two generations used the Shem ha-Meforash, the men of the Great Synagogue and those of the period of the 'shemad' [the Hadrianic persecution]." According to Sanh. vii. 5, actual blasphemy is committed only when the blasphemer really pronounces the Tetragrammaton ("Shem ha-Meyuḥad"; comp. Sifra, Emor, xix. [ed. Weiss, p. 104d]).

These details indicate that the long-sanctioned dread of uttering the Shem ha-Meforash was by no means without exceptions, and that the correct pronunciation was not unknown. Abba Saul (2d cent.) condemned the profanation of the Tetragrammaton by classing those "that speak the Name according to its letters" () with those who have no part in the future world (Sanh. x. 1); and according to 'Ab. Zarah 17b, one of the martyrs of Hadrian's time, Hananiah b. Teradion, was burned at the stake because he so uttered the Name. A Palestinian amora of the third century (Mana the Elder) exemplified the apothegm of Abba Saul (Yer. Sanh. 28b, above) by the statement, "as, for instance, the Samaritans who swear"; he meant thereby that in their oaths the Samaritans pronounce the Tetragrammaton exactly as it is written. According to Theodoret, the Greek Church father, who flourished in the fifth century, they gave it the sound of Ἰαβέ (see Löw, "Gesammelte Schriften," i. 193).

The Shem ha-Meforash as an object of the esoteric knowledge of scholars appears in the statement of Johanan (Ḳid. 71a): "Once each week the sages give their pupils the Four-Lettered Name." A tannaitic passage in Yer. Yoma 40d, however, says: "In former times the Name was taught to all; but when immorality increased it was reserved for the pious," although this statement refers, according to the baraita in Ḳid. 71a, to teaching the Twelve-Lettered Name to the priests. It is related that in the fourth century the well-known haggadist Phinehas b. Ḥama refused the offer of a physician (or of a man by the name of Assi) of Sepphoris to "teach him the Name" (Yer. Yoma 40d), while another scholar of the same century offered to "transmit the Name" to the amora R. Ḥanina of Sepphoris, although this was not done (ib.). The curious anecdote is also told (ib.) that Samuel (a Babylonian amora of the third century) heard a Persian curse his son by using the Tetragrammaton (according to Eccl. R. iii. 11, however, it was a Persian woman who cursed her son). This story assumes that the Gentile had managed to obtain a knowledge of the Shem ha-Meforash, which was used like a magic formula (see Blau, "Das Altjüdische Zauberwesen." p. 129).

Objections to Pronouncing the Tetragrammaton.

The earliest instance of the dread of pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, and of the use of the paraphrasis "Adonai" instead, is found in the Septuagint rendering of Κύριος = "Lord." The Samaritans read the Four-Lettered Name as "Shema," the Aramaic equivalent of ("the Name"), which, even without the qualifying word, connotes the Shem ha-Meforash in the language of the Tannaim, as in the maxim of Abba Saul cited above. According to Josephus' paraphrase of Ex. iii., "God declared to him [Moses] His holy name, which had never been discovered to man before; concerning which it is not lawful for me to say any more" ("Ant." ii. 12, § 4). When Aquila made his Bible translation, which, in the spirit of Akiba's Biblical exegesis, adheres to the text with extreme rigidity, he could not follow the Septuagint, Κύριος being only a free paraphrase of the name of God. Since, therefore, he could not give an exact rendering he introduced the word bodily into his translation, writing it IIIIII, a form which is found in the Hexaplar manuscripts of the Septuagint and is the representation in the Greek alphabet of the letters of read from left to right (see Swete, "Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek," p. 30; Nestle, in Z. D. M. G." xxxii. 468, 500, 506).

Not Read as Written.

The prohibition against pronouncing the Tetragrammatonas written was based on Ex. iii. 15 by Abina, a Babylonian amora, who paraphrased the last words of that passage as follows: "'I am not read,' says God, 'as I am written; I am written with "yod," "he" [], and pronounced with "alef," "dalet" []'" (see Ḳid. 71a; Pes. 50a). This seems to be an old tannaitic midrash on Ex. iv. 15, to which Jacob bar Aḥa alludes in Yer. Sanh. 28b, above. In like manner the words (Ex. l.c.) and (Eccl. iii. 11) were explained as referring to the non-utterance of the Tetragrammaton. In his interpretation of the latter passage, Ahabah b. Ze'era (4th cent.) says as follows: "Men slay one another—so saith God—even by pronouncing the paraphrasis of the Divine Name; what would they do if I should teach them the Shem ha-Meforash?" The miraculous power of this word, which was sometimes fatal in its might (see Zunz, "S. P." p. 145), is mentioned as early as the tannaitic haggadah. Thus, R. Nehemiah says that Moses killed the Egyptian (Ex. ii. 14) by pronouncing "the Name" over him (Lev. R. xxxii.; Ex. R. ii.); and he also answered the question to Ps. cxiv. 2 [A. V. 3], "What did the sea behold?" with the words, "It beheld the Shem ha-Meforash graven on Aaron's staff, and fled" (Pesiḳ. 140a; Midr. Hallel, in Jellinek, "B. H." v. 95). In a haggadic passage which occurs in several places, Simeon ben Yoḥai, another pupil of Akiba, mentions an ornament given to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai on which the Shem ha-Meforash was engraved (Cant. R. i. 4 et passim; see Bacher, "Ag. Tan." ii. 118), while a chain and a ring on which were inscribed the Name are mentioned in the legend of Solomon and Asmodeus (Giṭ. 68b). The "weapons of war" mentioned in Jer. xxi. 4 are the Tetragrammaton (Midr. Teh. on Ps. xxxvi., end); and Pirḳe R. El. xxxviii., end, states that Ezra, Zorubbabel, and Joshua pronounced the great ban on the Samaritans by means of the "mystery of the Shem ha-Meforash." According to Midr. Shemu'el xv. the scholars explained the words in Ex. iv. 28 as meaning that Moses revealed the Four-Lettered Name to Aaron. Phinehas b. Jair, one of the last tannaim, asked the question: "Why are the prayers of Israel not heard?" and answered it, according to Joshua b. Levi, thus: "Because they know not the mysteries of the Shem ha-Meforash" (Pesiḳ. R. 14.); but, according to Eleazar b. Pedat, the expression "halleluyah" (Ps. cxiii. 1 and frequently elsewhere) implies that God will be praised by His full name not in this world, but in the world to come (Midr. Teh. on Ps. cxiii.; comp. 'Er. 18b). In interpreting "and his name one" (Zech. xiv. 9), Naḥman b. Isaac, a Babylonian amora of the fourth century, said (Pes. 50a): "The future world is not like this world. Here the name of God is written, and read ; there it is also read ." The view that prayer is more effectual if the name of God is pronounced in it as it is written caused the scholars of Kairwan to address a question in the eleventh century to Hai Gaon with reference to the pronunciation of the Shem ha-Meforash, to which he answered that it might not be uttered at all outside the Holy Land (Hai Gaon, "Ṭa'am Zeḳenim," p. 55; see Löw, "Gesammelte Schriften," i. 204).

In the Cabala.

From the earliest times the Tetragrammaton has been an extremely important element in Jewish mysticism. According to the "Sefer Ḥanok." (in Jellinek, "B. H." ii. 117), it was Hillel who transmitted the name of God to the generations after Ezra, while Abbahu and Ze'era (3d and 4th cents.) and the "men of faith" ("anshe emunah") are mentioned as possessing this knowledge after Hillel. There are several other names, in addition to the Tetragrammaton, which are designated according to the number of their letters, as the Twelve-Lettered and the Forty-two Lettered Name (see Ḳid. 71a; Bacher, "Ag. Bab. Amor." pp. 17 et seq.), and the Seventy-two Lettered Name (see Lev. R. xxiii.; Gen. R. xliv.). The view became current that the high priest uttered on the Day of Atonement the Forty-two Lettered Name (Hai Gaon, l.c.), and it appears from two remarks of Rashi (on Sanh. 60a and on 'Er. 18b) that there was a general belief that the Forty-two Lettered Name was represented by the Shem ha-Meforash. Maimonides opposed this idea with the express statement that was the Shem ha-Meforash ("Yad," Yesode ha-Torah, vi. 2; ib. Tefillah, xiv. 10; idem, "Moreh," i. 62).

Among the earlier examples of the belief in the supernatural power of the Name may be mentioned the Chronicle of Ahimaaz ("Sefer Yuḥasin," ed. Neubauer, in "M. J. C." ii. 111 et seq.; comp. "R. E. J." xxxii. 147 et seq.), and the story related by Benjamin of Tudela that David Alroi completed a journey of twenty-one days in a single day by means of the Shem ha-Meforash ("Massa'ot," etc., ed. Grünhut, p. 74).

The Jewish philosophers of religion who discuss the Tetragrammaton include Judah ha-Levi ("Cuzari," iv. 1-3; see Kaufmann, "Gesch. der Attributenlehre," pp. 165 et seq.; Bacher, "Die Bibelexegese der Jüdischen Religionsphilosophen," p. 122), Abraham ibn Ezra (excursus in his commentary on Ex. iii. 15 et passim; see D. Rosin in "Monatsschrift," 1898, xlii. 156 et seq.), and Maimonides ("Moreh," i. 61; see Kaufmann, l.c. pp. 467 et seq.; Bacher, "Die Bibelexegese Moses Maimûni's," pp. 62 et seq.). See also Ba'al Shem; Names of God; Tetragrammaton.

  • M. Grünbaum, Ueber Shem Hammephorasch, in Z. D. M. G. xxxix., xl. (= Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Sprach- und Sagenkunde, pp. 238-434);
  • L. Löw, Die Aussprache des Vierbuchstabigen Gottesnamens, in Gesammelte Schriften, i. 187-212;
  • E. Nestle, Jacob von Edessa, über den Schem Hammephorasch, etc., in Z. D. M. G. xxxii. 465-508;
  • Fürst, Schem Hammephorash, ib. xxxiii. 297-300;
  • A. Nager, Ueber Schem Hamephorasch, ib. xxxiv. 162-167;
  • D. Oppenheim, Ueber die Bedeutung der Worte , in Monatsschrift, xviii. 545;
  • D. Cassel, Noch Etwas über , ib. xix. 73;
  • W. Bacher, Eine Neue Erklärung für , ib. xx. 382;
  • A. Sidon, Sens et Origine du Schem Hamephorasch, in R. E. J. xvii. 239;
  • W. Bacher, Le Schem Hammephorasch, etc., ib. xviii. 290;
  • A. Geiger, Urschrift, pp. 263 et seq.;
  • Zunz, S. P. pp. 144 et seq.;
  • L. Blau, Das Altjüdische Zauberwesen, pp. 124 et seq.
W. B.
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