© 2019

Understanding YHWH

The Name of God in Biblical, Rabbinic, and Medieval Jewish Thought


Part of the Jewish Thought and Philosophy book series (JTP)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xii
  2. Hillel Ben-Sasson
    Pages 1-21
  3. The Name YHWH in the Bible and in Rabbinic Thought

  4. Part II

  5. Back Matter
    Pages 299-304

About this book


This book unlocks the Jewish theology of YHWH in three central stages of Jewish thought: the Hebrew bible, rabbinic literature, and medieval philosophy and mysticism. Providing a single conceptual key adapted from the philosophical debate on proper names, the book paints a dynamic picture of YHWH’s meanings over a spectrum of periods and genres, portraying an evolving interaction between two theological motivations: the wish to speak about God and the wish to speak to Him. Through this investigation, the book shows how Jews interpreted God's name in attempt to map the human-God relation, and to determine the measure of possibility for believers to realize a divine presence in their midst, through language.


adonai biblical philology halakha Hebrew god Ibn Ezra

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Jewish Theological SeminaryNew YorkUSA

About the authors

Hillel Ben-Sasson is a scholar of Jewish theology and political philosophy. His academic appointments include positions in Israel, Germany, and the United States.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title Understanding YHWH
  • Book Subtitle The Name of God in Biblical, Rabbinic, and Medieval Jewish Thought
  • Authors Hillel Ben-Sasson
  • Series Title Jewish Thought and Philosophy
  • Series Abbreviated Title Jewish Thought and Philosophy
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019
  • Publisher Name Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
  • eBook Packages Religion and Philosophy Philosophy and Religion (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-3-030-32311-0
  • Softcover ISBN 978-3-030-32314-1
  • eBook ISBN 978-3-030-32312-7
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XII, 304
  • Number of Illustrations 0 b/w illustrations, 0 illustrations in colour
  • Topics Jewish Theology
    Philosophy of Language
    History, general
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“Hillel Ben-Sasson's book takes us through a profound journey of theological intimacy. This is a path breaking work that aims at the very heart of Jewish theology and religiosity. What's in a name? Everything, so it seems.” (Menachem Lorberbaum, Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Talmud, Tel Aviv University, Israel)

“In this extraordinarily learned and keenly insightful treatment of one of the pivotal issues of Jewish theology, Hillel Ben-Sasson explicates a wide range of texts that attempt to interpret the name of God in Jewish sources and hence to understand humanity’s relationship with the divine. By applying tools adopted from classical and analytic philosophy to these diverse texts, Ben-Sasson uncovers a debate throughout Jewish intellectual history concerning the ways in which—and the extent to which—humanity can approach the divine. This book provides a breathtakingly deft synthesis of textual erudition, philosophical clarity, and theological depth.” (Benjamin Sommer, Professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages, The Jewish Theological Seminary, USA)

“Hillel Ben-Sasson's brilliant and erudite book explores the most fundamental question of Jewish Thought. In analyzing with remarkable scope and depth the radically different ways in which God's name YHWH was interpreted in ancient and medieval Jewish trends, the book sheds light on the immense wealth and dynamism of Jewish tradition.” (Moshe Halbertal, Gruss Professor of Law at NYU Law School and Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel)