‘The Impassioned God’ Of God-Loving Jews And Muslims – OpEd


In 1956, Shelomo Dov Goitein (1900-1985), an Israeli scholar of both Jewish and Arabic studies, wrote that the name special name of YHVH derives partly from the Arabic root h.w.y (هوى), and the word hawaya (هوايا), which means “love, affection, passion, desire.” Goitein pointed to the passage in Exodus 34, which forbids Israel to worship other gods (Exodus 34:14) “For you must not worship any other god, because YHWH, whose name is Impassioned, is an impassioned God.” 

Goitein thought that “YHWH whose name is Impassioned ” refers to the deity’s personal name YHWH, which means “the Impassioned One,” and that this name derives from a proto- Arabic Hebraic term for passion. This reflects the idea that YHWH’s bond with his worshipers is one of interactive passionate love, and thus YHWH is very upset if some of his worshipers “cheat” by worshipping idols or other gods.

For monotheists the word God is not a name of the one God like Allah or YHVH. It is the generic term for any and every deity, similar to the West Semitic root word EL as it is found in Sumerian and Akkadian Ellil-Enlil, and Hittite and Hurrian Ellel, and Hebrew El-Elohim. 

While most Gods are personifications of objects or forces of nature, a few are personifications of abstract cultural values like Maat, the Egyptian Goddess of truth, Vagisvara the Buddhist God of speech or Vac, the Hindu Goddess of the spoken word, hearing and sight; who also created the 4 Vedas.

One of the 99 names of God in Islamic tradition that I think is most beautiful is Al Shakur— “The Appreciative One.” There are several verses of the Qur’an which speak of God as “appreciative”: “If anyone willingly does what is good, God is appreciative and cognizant.” (Quran 2:158) and “God will pay them their due and more, from the divine bounty, for God is most forgiving, most appreciative.” (Quran 35:30)  “And for anyone who brings about good, We will add goodness to it, for God is forgiving, appreciative.” (Quran 42:23)

This is truly, truly amazing. The Lord God – Originator of heaven and earth, Creator of all that exists, Giver of Life, the Most Powerful of all, King of all kings – is al Skakur, “the appreciative One.” for all human efforts to do good.

For Jews the very special name for God (YHVH) is not to be pronounced verbally any more. 
This most important, unique, personal name of the one God is the name that God himself revealed to Moses at the burning bush: YHVH, which appears more than 6,800 times in the Hebrew Bible. 

In Exodus 3:13-15, Moses said to God, “If I go to the Israelites and tell them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’—what should I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”.

Ehyeh is the verb “to be” future tense singular and means I will/could/might/may be/become who I may/could/will/might be/become i.e. Ehyeh is The God of Potentialities, The God of Possibilities, The Living God of Becoming and Transforming, the One who can and will liberate Israel from bondage in Egypt. 

Unfortunately, the Greek and Latin translations of this verse were influenced by the Greek philosophical idea that God was similar to a permanent ideal form (like an equilateral triangle) or an unmoved mover; and is not similar to a living, loving personality.  

Since the Greeks thought God must be a static unchanging being. They mistranslated “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh’ as ‘I am who I am’ rather than its plain Hebrew meaning of ‘I will be whatever I should or need to be to redeem you” i.e. the dynamic interactive God Almighty.

The Torah continues, “And God said, “You must say this to the Israelites, “I am” (the usual false translation for God’s self revealed name) has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “You must say this to the Israelites, Ehyeh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is my memorial from generation to generation.’ (Exodus 3:13-15)

When Jews speak of God in the third person, God’s name is pronounced Yehyeh and written YHVH– “the One who causes being and becoming, the One who brings potentials into existence.” 

The name  YHVH was spoken publicly for almost a thousand years, from the time of Moses, throughout the centuries of the 1st Temple of Solomon. But it was ultimately replaced by Adonai (Lord) before the beginning of the 3rd century B.C.E., because God’s actual Holy name was eventually considered too holy to speak audibly.

In later centuries even the substitution Adonai was considered too holy to utter; and the custom among pious Jews till this day is not to use any name for God at all (except in prayer); but to say HaShem–the name (of God) when speaking about God.

The difference between the personal intimate name of God the believer uses in prayer and when reciting his or her holy scripture, and all other names; is a measure of the believers piety and love of the God of his or her own religion. 

When Christian believers speak about Jesus they are referring to the “Divine Son of God” who connects them to God the father. When Jews or Muslims speak about Jesus they are referring not to God, but only to a man of God.

When Jews do not utter the name YHVH they are referring to the God who made a covenant at mount Sinai with the descendants of their ancestors; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel. Neither Christians or Muslims connect to God this way.

When Muslims use the word Allah they mean the one God they worship and adore; who sent Prophets, speaking their own language to every nation and tribe in the world, and sent Prophet Muhammad to proclaim the Qur’an in Arabic. This is the same one God; who sent Prophet Jesus to proclaim the Gospel and Moses to proclaim the Torah. Neither Jews nor Christians connect to God in this very universal way. 

Thus, for Muslims the word Allah is both a generic for the one God of all monotheistic religions; and a special personal Islamic name when spoken with devotion and love by Muslims.

As a neutral outsider, and an American Reform Rabbi, I can understand why many Muslims would object to Christians using the word Allah in the context of saying that the human Jesus is the son of Allah. Another word for Divinity is needed. 

As Prophet Muhammad said: ‘To God belongs 99 names, 100 minus 1, anyone who memorizes them will enter Paradise; He (God) is odd (ie. he is the Only One), and He loves odd numbers (like 99)’

If people of good will use the generic aspect of the word Allah only in a monotheistic context, and use another word for a trinitarian or polytheistic context, we can have more light and less heat in our own religious lives.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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