Volume 11 Number 90
                       Produced: Sun Feb 20 22:45:41 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Nachum Chernofsky]
On the "yeshivishe" pronunciation of Hebrew
         [Mark Steiner]
         [Anthony Fiorino]
         [Danny Weiss]
truth - pronunciation/history
         [Eli Turkel]


From: <F5E017@...> (Nachum Chernofsky)
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 94 12:11 O
Subject: Accents

[Correction of Lon's post which has already been corrected deleted - Mod.]

 As a former American who could not speak a word of Hebrew before coming
on Aliya over 21 years ago, I can attest to the fact that the easiest
way to understand what one davens is to know how to speak Hebrew. When I
attended Hebrew 1-2 in my freshman year at Y.C., the teacher asked the
class, "Who wants this class conducted in Ashkenazis and who wants it
conducted in Sfaradit?" Aside from another Bnei Akivanik, I was the only
one who asked for Sfaradit.  The instructor (a well know Hebraist and
Talmid Chacham) told me that if I wanted to learn spoken Hebrew, I
should take an ulpan.

I teach the beginners level in the one year program at Bar Ilan.  My
students can't do even the most elementary text in Hebrew. (And I'm not
only talking about students without Yeshiva high school backgrounds. One
of my students is a graduate of MTA.) I think that Hebrew must be taught
in the U.S. (from the crib). Only in this way will Jews properly
understand what they are supposedly saying to Hashem when they daven.

Purim Sameach to all.
Nachum Chernofsky (Bnei Brak)


From: Mark Steiner <MARKSA@...>
Date: Wed,  9 Feb 94 11:00 +0200
Subject: On the "yeshivishe" pronunciation of Hebrew

     Note: the following note was prepared in consultation with three
outstanding Hebrew linguists.  I'm not sure they would want their names
mentioned; I'm only saying this in order to avoid giving an exaggerated
impression of my own expertise.  Some of the points, however, are my own

     In recent postings, the "yeshivishe" pronunciation of Hebrew has
come in for heavy criticism, to the point where some writers demand that
Jews who pronounce Hebrew that way revise their pronunciation.  Of
course, the "yeshivishe" pronunciation is nothing but the Ashkenazic
Hebrew reading tradition.  "Dikduk" was used by the maskilim to
undermine this tradition as "corrupt" and, by implication, the entire
tradition of Yiddishkeit.  (The power of language is much greater than
people are willing to admit.)  Overreaction by the yeshiva world led to
the neglect and even opposition to the study of Hebrew grammar, a
pity--if only because they have no idea how to answer their critics.
[For the chassidishe reaction, cf. the Introduction to the Bnei
Yissosschor (sic), where the author compares dikduk to the bomos
"altars" that were beloved in the days of the Fathers but rejected in
later days.]

     The truth is, that the Ashkenazic reading tradition contains many
ancient forms, far superior to their Israeli (or "maskilish")
counterparts.  Actually, there are two Ashkenazic reading traditions:
one for the synagogue, where the Torah is read; the other for Hebrew
words embedded in Yiddish ("merged" Hebrew).  That is, the same word
might have been spoken differently in shul and in speech.  Remarkably,
it is Yiddish that best preserves the most ancient forms.

     It is crucial, too, to distinguish between Biblical Hebrew and
Rabbinic Hebrew.  ("Biblical language is one thing, Rabbinic language
[leshon xakhamim] another," as the gemara says in Eruvin.)  Many of the
"mistakes" the Maskilim thought they had discovered in the Ashkenazic
reading tradition were the result of trying to correct Rabbinic Hebrew
on the basis of Biblical grammar, which is equivalent to correcting
modern English on the basis of Chaucer, or maybe Shakespeare.

     What I'm saying is that the criticism of the "yeshivishe"
pronunciation of Hebrew often is ignorant of the best work in
contemporary Hebrew linguistics: that of Yalon, Kutscher, Yeivin,
Bar-Asher, Bergruen, and my own brother.

     I will illustrate this point with the very examples that were
posted as "mistakes" in the "yeshivishe" pronunciation.

     Take, for example, the Yiddish expression rov "Rabbi".  The YU
expression "the rov," used to denote Rabbi Soloveitchik, of blessed
memory, is of course Yiddish; i.e. it is a word from (what else?)
Rabbinic Hebrew (though the Rabbis saw it in the Torah: because in the
verse lo ta`aneh `al riv the word riv is spelled without a yod, they
midrashically interpreted it as though it were vocalized rav).
Vocalized fragments of the Mishnah found in the Geniza show that the
word "horov" (e.g. in Avoth 1:3) is vocalized with a kometz, just as in
the YU expression.  In fact, the expression "horov" is similar to other
like words even in Biblical Hebrew: har - hohor, par - hapor.  Thus the
expression "the rov" is not only not to be corrected, it should be
adopted, and in any case preserved.

     One reader feels apologetic about using the "yeshivishe"
pronunciation "rebbe" of the word resh-beth-yod He need not apologize;
the Kaufmann Codex of the Mishna and others attest to the vocalization
"rebbe" THOUSANDS of times.  I might add, that there is no need for
yeshivaleit to leave the "beth medrash" and enter the "beth midrash"
since the best ancient manuscripts endorse this "mistake" also.  (This
goes also for yeshivishe pronunciations like meqax umemkar.)  If the
boys at Lakewood are mispronouncing Hebrew, so were the Tannaim.

      We are told that there are two "approved" ways to read the
expression (I'm using x for het) "yod-yod-shin-resh koxakha," namely
"yeyasher koaxakha" and "yiyshar koaxakha."  In either case the stress
of the first word is milra`, i.e. yeyaSHER or yiySHAR.

     First, let's look at the spelling and vocalization of the word.

     The fact is, that the (ancient) expression yod-yod-shin-resh koax
appears in the Talmud, Shabbat 87a, quoted by the last Rashi on the
Torah, where G-d praises Moses, for breaking the Tablets, with those
words.  There we find a play on words: 'asher shibarta "the tablets you
broke" is interpreted Midrashically 'yod-yod-shin- resh' koxakh
sheshibarto.  (I am vocalizing koxakh as in Mishnaic Hebrew.)  If R.
Akiba Eger (Gilyon Hashas ad. loc.) is correct, and he clearly is, then
the Midrash is based on substituting yod for aleph in 'asher, in which
case the expression is "yasher koxach," i.e. "straighten your power," an
imperative.  The fact that there are two yods in the word is irrelevant,
since in the orthography of Rabbinic Hebrew, two yods often are used for

     The word aleph-yod-yod-shin-resh (with the word koax understood)
occurs in the Yerushalmi Shevi`it 4:3, with the same congratulatory
meaning, where it is also an imperative, albeit an Aramaic one (also
here the two yods are used for one).  In the Bavli Gittin (34a) we find
the word aleph-shin-vav-resh (also without the word koax) with a similar
meaning.  In fact it is possible that the derash asher/yasher is based
on the fact that they are different spellings of the same word, as aleph
and yod alternate.  They are certainly related words, see Isaiah 1
"ashru xamotz."  (Of course, the midrash reads the word asher as with a
patax, rather than the Massoretic hataf patax--that's why it's "only" a
midrash.)  There is even a possibility that "yasher koax(akha)" means
STRENGTHEN your power, for this reason.  I have consulted linguists and
the matter is by no means simple--but the pronunciation "yasher
koax(akh)" is undoubtedly an ancient one.  (If I learn more on this
particular problem I'll write again, bli neder.)

     What now of the stress?  Is it yashSHEIR [dagesh] koax (as has been
suggested) or YASHsher koax?  (I'll abbreviate the expression y. k.)  In
the light of the above, we have to distinguish between Biblical and
Rabbinic Hebrew.  Let's begin with Biblical Hebrew-- suppose, therefore,
the expression is treated as a Biblical one for the purpose of grammar.
Then, according to well established rules, the expression y. k. could
appear in the Massora as two words joined together by a maqaf,
yashsher-koax.  In that case, the stress on the syllable "sher" is
cancelled, the tzeire of yashsheir turns into a segol (compare
dibbeir-dibber plus maqqaf) and the word is vocalized as one word, with
only one stress: yashsherKOax, exactly as they say in yeshiva.  This
would not happen if the word koax were koxakha or koxekh, but there is
really no nead for these pronouns, since the entire word koxakh is often
missing in the sources, as I stated above.

     OK, you'll say, but what of the thousands of incorrect "yeshivishe"
readings in which the stress is put on the "wrong" syllable: "Omar Rovo"
instead of "oMAR Rovo" etc.  Here we are not, of course, speaking of the
reading of the Torah, where all agree the stress must be placed
according to the Massorah--and in Litvishe yeshivos it mostly is, in my
experience.  The context seems to be, using Hebrew words in English--or
perhaps reading texts such as the Mishna and Talmud in the besmedrash.

     Here I have permission to cite Professor Moshe Bar-Asher, recipient
of the Israel Prize in Hebrew linguistics, who brought to my attention
something known to all leading linguists [but any misunderstandings are
my own responsibility]: in Rabbinic Hebrew there was a shift in the
stress from milra` [ultimate stress] to mil'eil [penultimate stress]
which is well documented in the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Babylonian
Amoraim.  Thus, it is likely that Rovo (or maybe Abaye) himself said
Omar rovo and not oMAR rovo!!  There is even a possibility that this
shift occurred in the Mishnaic period and is itself responsible for some
of the differences between Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew.  Yiddish
preserves this ancient form (Bar-Asher, by the way, is a Moroccan Jew!).
The reading of the siddur in shul, however, could have been influenced
by Biblical grammar, so that the same Hebrew word pronounced mil`eil in
Yiddish could have been pronounced milra` in shul.  But contrary to what
you might think, it is not the Hebrew that was "corrupted" by Yiddish,
itself a "corrupted" by whatever European language; it was the Yiddish
that preserved the ancient reading tradition.

     Incidentally, even the chassidishe reading tradition "booreekh
atoo," considered corrupt and comical even by the yeshivishe world--and
beneath contempt by all others--contains ancient readings, but I will
not expand on this.

     The bottom line is, that the "yeshivishe"/Yiddish reading tradition
has been proved to preserve ancient readings so often that there is a
heavy burden of proof on those who would change it.  (They have their
own "agenda.")  On the other hand, it is a disgrace that the yeshiva
world neglects as an important an area of Torah as Hebrew
grammar--leaving it to their critics.  The late Rav Yaakov Kaminetzkly,
z"l, was an exception to the rule: Bar-Asher told me that Reb Yaakov
rediscovered on his own some of the basic insights of the modern Hebrew
linguistics mentioned above.

     From the liturgical point of view, the Israeli pronunciation of
Hebrew (mistakenly called "havarah sefaradit"--though Sefardim call it
the "havarah Ashkenazit") is the worst possible and should be avoided.
It contains the "mistakes" of the Ashkenazic tradition and the Sefardic
tradition, being the lowest common denominator.  For example, it makes
no distinction between kometz and patax, so that the sacred Name
'ado-noy is pronounced as though it were the profane 'adonay "lords",
which is why is also why both Rav Kook z"l and the Hazon Ish z"l
insisted on the use of the Ashkenazic pronunciation in davening--for
Ashkenazim.  (This is a far greater error than stressing the "wrong"
syllable, since incorrect stress only rarely produces an actual change
of meaning.)  It also confounds tzeireh with segol.  At the same time,
it inherits the Ashkenazic practice of confusing 'aleph and `ayin, xet
and khof, vet and vov, kaf and qoof.  These mistakes are in direct
contravention of the Talmud and Codes, particularly the first two
mistakes, but I rarely hear those who criticize the yeshivishe
pronunciation adhere to these distinctions in their own prayers.


From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 94 18:51:25 -0500
Subject: Pronounciation

[Correction of Lon's posting deleted - Mod.]

Anyway, let's not get carried away in this discussion -- it is clear
from the shulchan aruch orach chaim 61 that one has certainly fulfilled
the mitzvah of kriat shma even if one has not been scrupulous about
pronounciation.  I am not advocating that one should be careless about
such matters, as one should always strive to fulfill a mitzvah in the
l'chatchila most preferable manner, but we should keep this in
perspective.  Certainly, there are those who hold that one fulfills the
mitzvah of kriat shma l'chatchila ONLY if one recites it in that same
accent as one's father; presumably this is true even if one's father
accented the "wrong" syllables.

Eitan Fiorino


From: <danny@...> (Danny Weiss)
Date: Tue, 15 Feb 1994 07:56:05 -500 (EST)
Subject: Pronunciation

I have been reading the discussions about pronunciation of Hebrew words
in utter amazement. How can anyone defend reading the words incorrectly
accented. If you want to use the ashkenazic qamatz and taf, go ahead.
But no matter which, the traps of improper pronunciation resulting in
the wrong meaning (even for things seemingly as trivial as a shva nah
vs. a shva nach) are legion - e.g. yir-oo (shva nach) means will see,
yir-r-oo (shva nah) means will fear. Not to mention that the tense
changes, etc.  I agree that no one expects that your Hebrew be the same
that King David spoke, but we should try to pronounce the words of G-d
correctly, no?  Besides, pronouncing it incorrectly make one seem like
such a "golus Jew" (yiddishized transliteration intended).


From: <turkel@...> (Eli Turkel)
Date: Fri, 18 Feb 1994 08:25:46 -0500
Subject: truth - pronunciation/history

    Moshe Bernstein writes

>> the crux of this entire matter is whether one is interested in truth or
>> not, for the meaning of a word is either right or wrong, true or
>> false, and where I come from truth takes priority, by far, over rhetoric,
>> and no number of gedolim, litvish or otherwise, can make it different.

    The matter is not quite as simple as he makes out. It is an ancient
debate how to determine this truth. R. Berel Wein in his latest book
points out that Donash and Menachem (1000 years ago) debated whether
semitic cognate languages can be used to discuss Hebrew or else if
one should not use external sources and rely only on  Jewish tradition.
There seems to be a similar disagreement in style between Rav Steinsaltz's
edition of the Gemara and artscroll. Artscroll will usually discuss the
meaning of a strange word if it is mentioned by Rashi, Arukh etc. while
R. Steinsaltz will mention Greek and other sources for words. Similarly
Rav Steinsaltz will bring many geographical facts based on modern studies
which are ignored in Artscroll (I personally really enjoy these side comments
in the Steinsaltz Gemara more than his commentary).

     Rabbi Wein skirts this issue in terms of history. Thus, for example,
he brings down in great detail the story from Ravad I about the four
captives and their trip from Babylonia to establishing Torah in Europe.
He hints that there are problems with this story but leaves it at that.
In fact there are Genizah letters that cast doubt on details of the story.
The general feeling is that if a "rishon" tells us a story we must accept it.
In other places he explicitly says that we would not accept the theories
of nonjewish/nonreligious historians over opinions expressed by Rashi
however, in other places he classifies such midrashim as legends
(e.g. the definition of ashkenaz and tzerfat in Tanach as Germany and France).
Similar controversies occur in other areas of history where it is the
rabbis versus the historians. Thus for example, several years ago a
document was found apparently written by Rav Yehuda haChasid that indicated
that some verses in the Torah were not from Moshe Rabbenu. Rav Moshe
Feinstein paskened that this could not have been written by a Rav Yehudah
haChasid. Having spoken with a person (a talmid chacham) who saw the document 
he claims that there is little doubt that it was written byy Rav Yehuda 
haChasid (I would be interested in hearing from anyone with more information).
Few historians would accept the view that Eliezer haKalir was a Tannah even
though that is stated by many rishonim.  In terms of the controversy 
between Rav Yonasan Eibshutz and Rav Yaakov Emden, I was told by a religious 
historian that most rabbis accept the version of Rav Eibshutz while most 
historians agrre with Rav Emden.

     So in the end truth is in the eye of the beholder.


End of Volume 11 Issue 90