Monday, July 9, 2007

The man who called God by his right name

A great Franco-Israeli intellectual has just died in the Holy City: 89-year-old André Chouraqui, counselor of David Ben-Gurion, friend of Moshe Dayan, author, translator of the Bible and the Koran, former vice-mayor of Jerusalem.



Born in Algeria and educated at the law school in Paris, Chouraqui was a profound Jew with an ecumenical regard for all the great religious faiths of the planet, including Buddhism. Intrigued, if not irritated, by the countless names that have been invented to designate the divine entity with whom Abraham, Moses and Jesus communicated, Chouraqui proposed a novel typographical solution designed to replace the term "God". In fact, Chouraqui decided to use the two names provided literally in the Pentateuch: on the one hand, the so-called Tetragrammaton composed of four Hebrew letters, often written in English as YHVH (or similar variants), whose pronunciation remains a mystery; on the other hand, the strange plural word Elohim. Chouraqui suggested that, instead of the letters "God", it would be better to use the following formula:

Finally, he has inserted the term adonaï, in small letters, above the Tetragrammaton. This is not a proper name, but merely an easily-pronounceable Hebrew term (which might be translated into English as "master"), used as a substitute for the unpronounceable term YHVH. Simple, no?

In Hebrew today, there is in fact an easy way out of this naming problem. Instead of trying vainly to pronounce or even write the name of God, it's perfectly correct to refer to it simply as HaShem: literally, the Name. In computer programming, naming things is a fundamental task. Maybe my longtime preoccupations in this field have made me sensitive—in a superficial way—to the Jewish question of naming the entity that others call God.

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