Volume 25 Number 90
                      Produced: Thu Jan 30 23:04:03 1997

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Pronunciation & Kavvana
         [Seth Kadish]
Pronunciation of Gimel
         [Abdullah Khouraini]
Pronunciation of Qometz, Vov Chaseir and Moleih, More
         [Mechy Frankel]
Vayedaber Hashem
         [Russell Hendel]


From: <skadish@...> (Seth Kadish)
Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 20:16:58 GMT
Subject: Pronunciation & Kavvana

        I followed the discussion on pronunciation for prayer and Torah
reading with interest, since I dealt with it in a forthcoming book of
mine.  A couple of weeks ago, I was very happy when Shlomo Godick raised
what is, at least in my opinion, the most ignored and yet the most
important aspect of the problem.  He wrote (with some deletions):

>But where do you draw the line?  I once discovered a distinguished,
>rabbinic-looking gentleman in his late fifties, doing duty as baal koreh
>at an ashkenazic shul in B'nei B'rak.  He distinguished aleph from ayin,
>but also made pains to distinguish:
>1) tet from taf (change in position of tongue against teeth)
>2) vet from vav (vav is waw - the Yemenite vav)
>3) chet from khaf (Sephardic/Yemenite chet)
>4) kuf from kaf (kuf is deeper in the throat)
>5) thaf from samech (Yemenite thaf)
>6) daled from thaled (with/without dagesh - hard "th" as in "then")
>7) gimmel from rimmel (with/without dagesh - another possibility is the
>   Yemenite jimmel. By the way, the "r" of rimmel is more gutteral; the "r"
>   of resh is rolled)
>His argument was simple: it cannot be that two different Hebrew letters
>are pronounced exactly the same.  By the way, the Sephardim also claim
>that Tsade is not pronounced "ts" but is closer to samech ("ts" is not a
>pure letter).
>...I can personally say that if I were to undertake
>making all of the above distinctions, it would take me all day to daven
>shachris.  Additionally, with all my concentration going into
>pronunciation, my kavana would be close to zero.
>I think that with a view to consistency *and* practicality, it is
>preferrable to rely on one's mesora rather that arbitrarily adopting
>certain distinctions while ignoring others which are equally valid.

I agree with Shlomo's sentiments completely, and would like to add the
following thoughts and piskei halakha to what he wrote:

First of all, most of these distinctions do have some degree of
historical reality.  A couple of them entered halakhic discourse when
the Rambam codified them as being neccessary to do the mitzva properly.
(This may have some basis in the Rambam's philosophical views on
language, as my book will mention.)

But when people are NOT raised on a particular tradition of
pronunciation, or not living in a society that uses it, and then they
try to mimick it for supposedly halakhic or other reasons, the results
are usually ludicrous.  Personally, I love tefilla in the Sephardic
batei knesset in my neighborhood, where the people immigrated from Iraq
and Libya, and I am always fascinated by their detailed traditions.  The
same goes for the many Yemenites who live nearby, and some of whose
children I teach in school.  But when Ashkenazic Jews try to immitate
them, they usually fail.  Tefilla and Keriat HaTorah (Torah Reading)
become a mockery.  Let me make it clear: I have seen serious Ashkenazic
talmidei hakhamim in the US and Israel do this for "het" or "ayin" or
other things (because they are concerned about the Rambam and other
poskim), but it usually sounds completely artificial.  Even if the
result is technically correct (and I'm sceptical about this), it isn't
what the Rambam had in mind.  So if you don't grow up with it or live
with it, then don't bother trying to copy it.

Shlomo also raised the issue of kavvana, which is far more important
than halakhic qualms about supposedly "correct" pronunciation for one
simple reason: If you don't have kavvana you are not yotzei no matter
how accurately you pronounce the words.  This is true for the first
blessing of the Amida; furthemore, kavvana is a requirement lehatehilla
for all blessings.  The fact that "nowadays" (as the poskim put it) we
don't pray again if we fail to mean what we say the first time doesn't
change the fact that the mitzva is not fulfilled without kavvana.  (My
book will discuss this point in great detail.)

There are many philosophies of Jewish prayer.  But for our purposes
here, if we define "kavvana" as sincerely meaning what we say to God the
same way we would speak sincerely to another human being, then excessive
concern for the arcane issues of pronunciation like those that have been
discussed recently in mail-jewish will likely destroy kavvana.  I know
that this is true for myself, and I suspect that it is true for many
others (even some of the Ashkenazic Jews who go to extremes over "het"
and "ayin", etc).  I do NOT mean that we should not teach ourselves to
say our prayers correctly -- of course we should.  You cannot mean what
you say to God if what you say borders on gibberish.  But I DO mean that
an American Jew whose grandparents came from eastern Europe trying to
immitate the CORRECT pronunciation of a Yemenite or Iraqi Jew, instead
of trying to CORRECTLY use Ashkenazic Hebrew, will probably ultimately
fail.  This is one of many areas where an attempt to be mahmir (strict)
actually leads to demeaning the mitzva.

When it comes to Israelis, however, one more factor comes into play:
Even if someone who makes aliya from the US was brought up using
Ashkenazic Hebrew, if he eventually becomes truly comfortable with
Hebrew as a spoken language then there is reason to change.  Some
participants in the mail-jewish discussion (I forgot whom) mentioned
their children, who grew up in Israel, using Ashkeniazic pronunciation.
Obviously, such children are not enrolled in Israeli public schools, and
it is questionable how involved they are in wider Hebrew-speaking
Israeli society.  But even if they are confined to an Israeli yeshiva
community, the question still comes up: It makes absolutely no halakhic
sense for an Ashkenazic Israeli yeshiva student, who speaks Israeli
Hebrew all day long, to suddenly switch to Ashkenazic Hebrew when he
prays or reads the Torah.  The only it could possibly make sense is if
we say that his pronunciation is determnined ONLY by his tefilla and NOT
AT ALL by his day-to-day conversation.  But day-to-day conversation is,
in fact, what determines a person's pronunciation according to the
teshuvot of former Chief Rabbis Uziel zt"l, Unterman zt"l, and Ovadia
Yosef, shlit"a.  The references and a discussion of them will appear in
my book, God willing, in late spring of this year -- Kavvana: Directing
the Heart in Jewish Prayer, Jason Aronson, Inc.

Personally, after I become comfortable and fluent in Hebrew as a
day-to-day spoken language, I changed to Israeli pronunciation.  In the
short term, it may have lessened by kavvana.  But in the long term, it
has helped make my tefilla a better conversation with Hashem.  It leads
me to feel that I am *conversing* with Hashem instead of *reciting* a
text.  I suspect that many people in similar situations who haven't done
so may simply have not considered it, or thought that there is a
halakhic objection to it.  There is not.

In any case, I hope that all of us will continue to appreciate and learn
about "proper" pronunciation of Hebrew, no matter what our ethnic
origins, and improve our Hebrew reading regarless of what "system" we
use.  But Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Yemenites must all realize that the
ultimate value in prayer is not this consonant or that vowel; rather, it
is kavvana, to mean what we say when we talk to Hashem.  Het and Ayin
are important, but not as important as to sincerely mean the words that
they spell.  When we plead with God to "Sim Shalom... `al Yisrael
`amekha ve-`al Yerushalayim `Irekha" (Grant peace and blessing to Israel
Your People and Jerusalem Your City") during these troubled times of
political negotiations and inner strife among our people, let us all
mean the same thing no matter how we pronounce it.

Seth Kadish
Rehov Hartom 4/3 Netanya

P.S.  Several years ago I posted some material on prayer for mail-jewish,
much of which I later corrected, expanded, and made into pieces of my
forthcoming book.  But the posted material unfortunately does not contain
any discussion of pronunciation in prayer and how it relates to kavvana.


From: Abdullah Khouraini <linetsky@...>
Date: Thu, 30 Jan 1997 20:44:56 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Pronunciation of Gimel

In vol 25 # 88 there was a discussion about the pronunciation of the
plosive and spirant Gimel. Although, the opinion expressed that the
plosive would correspond to a hard English G and the spirant to a voiced
khaf, I would like how the original writer assumed that following the
Yemenite pronunciation the Plosive would be a J and the Spirant a hard
G, since even the Yemenites pronounce the spirant Gimel as a voiced

I also would like to understand the suggestion made in the same issue to
create an edition of the Bible which marks not only the two types of
QemeSim, but also the Shewaim. To put in the latter would be a rather
complicated task, because there is no true agreement about the rules of
each shewa. The standard rules that we are accostumed to (depending on
the the length of the vowel, e.g.) are those developed by the Kimhi
family.  Other grammarians (Rabbi Saadiah GAon, e.g.) had a considerably
different set of rules. Only three rules are agreed upon: the shewa is
mobile 1) at the bgegining of a sylabble and 2)under a geminate letter
and 3) and if it is the second of two consecutive shewas. The last rule,
however, is agreed upon only if the shewas appear in the middle of the
wordord , at the end of the word, however, some maintained that both are
quiescent and others that the sencond is still mobile and is connected
to the word following it.


From: Mechy Frankel <FRANKEL@...>
Date: Mon, 20 Jan 1997 03:18:49 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: Pronunciation of Qometz, Vov Chaseir and Moleih, More

 1. Les Train writes that the Biblical pronunciation of qometz was as a
long "o" with w-glide. While the torah tapes have unfortunately not
survived the many centuries exposure to palestinian humidity to fix such
questions more definitively, it would seem that the truth may be more
complex. There is quite reasonable evidence that both the sephardim and
ashkenazim were already linguistically well represented within the
borders of ancient israel. (there's an old Tarbitz article on this which
I can't quite put my finger on just now which attempts to demonstrate
the simultaneous exercise of both the "o" and "ah" qometz within the
borders of tannaitic israel (seems like the sefardim inhabited the galil
with the ashkenazim holding sway to the south).  Similarly, and with
more convincing evidence, the usage of both forms in geonic bavel seems
well attested.  Actually, to confuse things even more, there is good
reason to assume that in the days of the early ashkenazic rishonim,
e.g. rashi and rabbeinu tam, they actually sounded more like the
sephardim and used the "ah" for a kometz (see e.g. rashi d"h "amein
hatufoh" in Berochos 47a where the clear implication is rashi couldn't
or didn't bother to distinguish between a patach and qometz).

2.  Micha Berger writes that he pronounces the vov choseir differently
from the moleih as he does with the chirik with/without a yud.  No
problem with the yud/yudless chirik, this is just the difference between
a short and long vowel, but this is the first I've heard of such a
construct applied to a chaseir-moleih.  The quality and length of the
vov should not be affected by this status, and a vov chaseir should not
be treated as a tinuoh qitanoh.  I'd be interested in his source.

3.  alephs and ayins are tougher if only because they're mentioned in
the gemoroh as things to be careful about.  I've struggled with this off
and on, and have basically evolved towards a position where i attempt to
differentiate them only when it makes a difference in meaning of a
word. e.g. consider the unfortunate implications of reading the ayin as
aleph in the shema, where one prays that he may "u-liovdo bikhol
livovikhoh.." or when one articulates "..ka'asheir nish'ba hashem.."
Expanding on this theme of taking the trouble only where it makes a
difference one might consider the case of khof and ches, "..visamti es
zarakhoh ki'ch(kh)ol hayam..") etc. etc.

4.  Having perhaps decided to differentiate some letters that ashkanazim
usually don't it is also fair to ask whose accent might you be mimicing.
After all, the sephardi ayin i used to hear in Israel (to my ears a kind
of a plosive sounding semi-grunt) is rather different than the ayin
preserved by the western sephardim exhibited e.g. in the Spanish
Portuguese shul in New York. The ayin there finishes off with a distinct
"n" sound". Thus the poster who described a leiner who consistently
differentiated not only alephs and ayins, but also tofs and tets, kofs
and qufs, various daleds (that actually sounds like an arabic borrowing
to me - not every cognate sound is common to each language, thats why we
have different languages after all) etc. could only be hopelessly mixing
elements chosen randomly from different and opposing systems, and
perhaps some made up entirely, to produce an idiosyncratically eclectic
dialect of his own never spoken by any jewish community anywhere.  i
fail to see the improvement this offers over current usual practice of
following the self-consistent dialect of your own community.

Mechy Frankel 				W: (703) 325-1277
<frankel@...>			H: (301) 593-3949


From: <rhendel@...> (Russell Hendel)
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 1997 21:18:54 -0500
Subject: RE: Vayedaber Hashem

A detailed answer to Yisrael Dubitsky's question[mj25n83]:"Why does it
usually say Vayomer Hashem but in certain places it says Vayedaber" is
answered in the first Malbim on Leviticus 1:1--an outstanding example of
exposing the intrinsic beauty in a superficially technical Midrashic

Malbim, in a manner for which he is famous, skillfuly weaves thru the
various terms by which G-d calls people: Speak, say, call, page, happen.
Then, citing a variety of Midrashic sources the Malbim carefully
enumerates the times G-d spoke to Moses, Moses and Aaron etc. and uses
these technical numbers to defend certain equalities between Moses and
Aaron in teaching the law(which Yisrael Dubitsky alludes to)

I must confess that my original intention was to review the Malbim and
publish a short 25 line summary. Unfortunately every time I have tried
to summarize this Malbim there is at least one point I am not fully
satisfied with. So I suffice with the quote. Maybe someone out there can
summarize it succinctly.

Russell Jay Hendel, PH.d, ASA, rhendel @ mcs drexel edu


End of Volume 25 Issue 90