Author: Venessa Holtzhausen
There is probably not a single person alive who isn’t familiar with the word “Hallelujah”. We’ve all heard this word repeated time and again in various contexts. Hallelujah is a Hebrew loan word, it was incorporated into the English language from Hebrew. But what does this word mean in Hebrew?
The word “Hallelujah” (הללויה) is actually two Hebrew words put together: “Hallelu” (הללו) and “Yah” (יה). We call them compound words. Literally “Hallelu” is an exhortation to praise someone or something, addressed to more than one person. The old English translation of “Praise, ye” is, therefore, accurate. “Yah” is a version of יהוה “YHWH” – the English transliteration of the covenant name of Israel’s God.
Jewish belief holds that this name is too holy to be pronounced at all. And regardless, no one knows how to pronounce it correctly. The original Hebrew did not use vowels but only consonants. Most translators, both Jewish and Christian, used the word “Lord” instead. This is a rough translation of another Hebrew name for God (אֲדונָי Adonai).
To signify that YHWH is the original Hebrew word used in the text – all capital letters were used (“LORD” and not simply “Lord”). In Jewish tradition for many centuries people referred to this most holy name of God by simply referring to it as “The Name” (HaShem) or at times even the longer replacement versions such as “Holy One, Blessed be He” (HaKadosh Baruch Chu).
Today’s modern Christ followers are divided over the appropriateness of the translation (LORD), some preferring to pronounce the actual name (forbidden for pronunciation in Judaism) believing that this makes the faith more authentic and original, while others stick with the Jewish/Christian traditional ways of expressing their devotion. No matter on what side of the debate we find ourselves, we must both affirm the much needed authenticity and Israelite character of our modern prayers without losing sight of the graciousness of Israel’s God who is far more concerned about our hearts than about our grammar.