Volume 9 Number 52
                       Produced: Tue Oct 19  6:56:12 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Pronunciation - Havara (4)
         [Yosef Bechhofer, Joe Abeles, Anthony Fiorino, Frank


From: <YOSEF_BECHHOFER@...> (Yosef Bechhofer)
Date: Wed, 13 Oct 93 22:12:57 -0400
Subject: Pronunciation - Havara

> From Philip Beltz Glaser: I would point out, however, that with the
> phrase "or at least improper" Yosef leaves open the possibility that the
> problem raised by some of these posekim is not halakhic in the strict
> sense of the term. Perhaps Yosef could clarify this point.  In addition,
> to the extent that there is a real HALAKHIC problem with switching from
> one's ancestors' pronunciation, on what is that decision based?

No, the problem raised is absolutely halakhic.  Essentially, as Reb
Yoshe Ber zt"l writes in his essay on Mesorah, in the absence of any
compelling contradictory halakhic evidence, Mesorah is the Halakhic
determinant of Halacha in common ritual practice.  Therefore Mesorah is
the final arbiter of Halacha L'Ma'aseh in this area.  (In addition,
Rabbainu Bechayai writes that since the Hebrew letters which comprise
the name of Hashem when pronounced with a pasach mean "My masters" it is
imperative that it be pronounced with a clear kamatz to mean Hashem.)

> First, there is an halakhic inconsistency in Yosef's position.  Above
> he seemed to suggest that we should follow those posekim who insist on
> retaining the pronunciation of our ancestors.  Here, however, he
> implies that the real issue is maintaining a pronunciation which
> preserves the most ancient sounds of the Hebrew language.

As I said, in the absence of other Halakhic evidence Mesorah determines.
The argument is often made that since the Yemenite exile is the most
ancient and least disturbed one that their Mesorah is the most
unadulterated. This is the exact same line of reasoning, of course.

> Yosef's initial complaint was against teaching "some quasi-modern
> Israeli pronunciation."  I think that the pronunciation against which
> he rails is not "quasi," but is the real thing, because Ashkenazic
> Hebrew minus a distinction between tov and sov is precisely the way
> many modern Israelis speak.

No, many of these students come out with all the other Ashkenazic traits
intact, including the next one, which I agree is inexcusable...

>  There is also a critical point of similarity between modern  Israeli
> Hebrew and the day school Hebrew that  Yosef  ignores,  namely,  that
> words are accented on the last rather than the next-to-last syllable. 
> I would like to suggest that there is a very strong undercurrent here
> of ideological tension.  Most  people  I  know  who  support  Israeli
> pronunciation (including several  American  rabbis  who  switched  to
> Israeli pronunciation even though they have not yet made aliya) do so
> because Israel is in a very real sense the  center  of  world  Jewish
> existence. Some identify Ashkenazus with  the  life  of  the  shtetl,
> which in turn is associated with the Jewish powerlessness that led to
> the horror of the holocaust. To pronounce Hebrew as  an  Israeli,  in
> other words, is to identify with life as a  sovereign  and  dignified
> Jew who needn't worry that s/he could be whipped out at the  whim  of
> the next Hitler, may his name be blotted out -- that if s/he  has  to
> die, s/he will do so defending the sovereign  nation  to  which  s/he
> belongs. This socio-linguistic dimension is  so  powerful  living  in
> gullut intensifies  the  yearn  for  that  sovereignty.  True  Jewish
> sovereignty can, of course, only be obtained by living in Israel; but
> some of us express our desire to do so linguistically.

Precisely this argument is what bothers me most.  I will reserve comment
on the implication of disregard and disrespect for our sacred heritage
and Gedolei Yisroel of yesteryear. I want to point out only: a) The
premise of this perspective has no basis in Halacha, rather emotion, and
is not proposed by any Posek that I have heard or seen.  b) The premise
of the statement is not correct, since I harbor no anti-Israeli
sentiment (chas v'shalom!), speak a good modern Hebrew to boot, and do
not want to be destroyed by a modern day Hitler either (neither did my
great-grandparents who were killed by him YS"V - in the *holy* shtetl of
Telshe - why are shtetls castigated?), and certainly regard Israel as
the center of Jewish sovereignty today.  Therefore? c) Most importantly,
in his haskama to the Mishpatei Uziel, the most militant opponent of
changing havaros is Rav Kook zt"l. Was he anti-Zionist and shtetl
minded?  Was Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt"l who followed his father's psak
even in spoken Hebrew anti-Zionist and shtetl minded?  Our Mesorah, as
the Kuzari points out, is the heart of our Religion.  Tampering with the
Mesoros of Am Yisroel is a serious matter.

From: Joe Abeles <joe_abeles@...>
Date: Wed, 13 Oct 93 17:33:06 -0400
Subject: Pronunciation - Havara

Ezra Tepper wrote regarding the correct pronunciation of the Hebrew "r"
sound (in m.j. v9 n44):

"As far as I know there are two traditions for this letter: one like a
French er, where the tongue trills the letter on the palate or the
guttural German r, which is what is used in Yiddish or in Israel."

According to the Jewish scholar of Middle Eastern Studies S. D. Goitein,
who taught us a shiur on Nechemia at Princeton University's Stevenson
Hall around 1980 or so (Goitein, who then was no longer a youngster, was
at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and he is fairly
well-known as the author of the book available from Schocken Press,
"Jews and Arabs"):

The correct pronunciation of the letter resh is not a gutteral "r" and
is not the French "r" (and thus is neither the French or German r's
referred to above), although there is much traditionally-incorrect
variation among modern Hebrew speakers from various backgrounds
including speakers of German, Yiddish, French, etc.

Rather, the only correct prononciation of "resh" is one accompanied by a
rolling sound (i.e., a periodic sound as in the Scottish pronunciation
of "r" but not formed in the front of the mouth as do the Scots).
Specifically, the rolling sound must be generated by contact between the
rear of the tongue and the palate, not further forward as do the French
who do not actually roll their "r" sound (I disagree respectfully with
Ezra's characterization of the French "r" as a trill).  In the absence
of the rolling sound, the "r" begins to sound similar to a chaf or het
sound, which I believe are correctly described by the term "guttural."
This is quite incorrect.

I cannot in good conscience characterize the rolling sound as a
"trilling" sound (though both terms imply a periodic sound) because the
"resh" sound is not melodic nor particularly high-pitched, two
characteristics at least one of which I regard as a requisite for the
categorization of a spoken sound as a "trill."

Goitein was quite aware that people do not by and large, even in Israel,
pronouce the "resh" sound correctly.  Moreover, people also do not
pronounce the "het" or "ayin" sound correctly either.  Those Sephardim
and others from the Aidos HaMizrach (i.e., Eastern Jews) who do
pronounce the "het" and "ayin" sounds are also more likely to be able to
pronounce the "resh" correctly.  It is well-accepted that the Sephardic
tradition is more correct and has suffered less distortion through the
centuries, certainly on this point.

In reality, the correct pronunciation of "het" is not in any way
confusable with "chaf," but most Hebrew speakers are not aware of the
difference and fewer are capable of enunciating it in their speech.  The
"chaf" in fact is very similar to the "resh" with the exception of a
rolling sound.

HERE IS THE BOTTOM LINE ON "RESH:" If you can say a "chaf" and
simultaneously utter a rolling sound (in the same sense as do the Scots
except that it is rolled in the same part of the mouth that creates the
"chaf" sound), you are correctly pronouncing "resh."  Otherwise, and I
feel quite confident based on Goitein in stating this categorically, you
simply are not pronouncing "resh" correctly according to the ancient
pronunciation of this sound of our language.

(However, you will be well-understood.)

Even fewer are capable of pronouncing the "ayin."  Both the "het" and
the "ayin" are pronounced in the throat, and western speakers have no
familiarity with the muscle control necessary to achieve those sounds.
It is not beyond our reach, but the result of speaking correctly would
be to sound very affected in our Ashkenazic communities.

As long as we are still Ashkenazim (those of us who are, that is), I
believe that we ought to stick to the tradition of Ashkenazic

My ears are not comfortable in shuls where people pronounce the modern
Hebrew way, which is not actually correct, by and large, because of the
deficiencies with "resh," "het," and "ayin," anyway, and is not
traditional for Ashkenazim either.

It is most irksome to hear a person using the pseudo-Sephardic
pronunciation to get away with not distinguishing between "sof" and
"tof" when that is convenient (pronouncing both with the "t" sound)
because of a lack of familiarity with tongue-twisting words, but
pronouncing other words ending in "sof" with an "s" sound.

Ashkenazim are Ashkenazim and I believe ought to remain so for the
forseeable future.


From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 93 01:27:46 -0400
Subject: Pronunciation - Havara

Regarding the discussion of pronunciation:

In Rav Schachter's RIETS Rabbinic Alumni hesped for the Rav zt"l, he
mentioned that the Rav's father Rav Moshe would recite kriat shma after
davening in every Hebrew pronunciation (from Yemenite to Galacian,
something like 14 times) in order to be sure he fulfilled the mitzvah
*l'chatchila*.  (This implies that one has fulfilled the mitzvah of
shma, though not ideally, if one has deviated from the ideal
pronunciation).  This implies also that Rav Moshe held that there was
one "correct" Hebrew pronunciation, and that all others were

Rav Schachter mentioned that the Rav did not do this; the Rav felt that
the l'chatchila way to recite kriat shma was simply to say it with the
pronunciation of one's father, whatever that pronunciation might be.

A member of our list, Eli Turkel, has an article in the J. of Halachah
and Contemporary Society on variations in pronunciation which deals with
many contemporary teshuvot on this topic.  Unfortunately, my copy does
not have the volume number on it, so I do not know to where to refer
interested readers.  Perhaps the author could provide this information?

Eitan Fiorino

From: Frank Silbermann <fs@...>
Date: Wed, 13 Oct 93 12:08:08 -0400
Subject: Pronunciation - Havara

In Vol9 #44 Ezra Tepper asks:

> (In America) both the traditional "boruch" schools and the Israeli-type
> "baruch" schools have one major common problem: neither group transmits
> the proper pronunciation of the "resh" in "baruch." As far as I know
> there are two traditions for this letter: one like a French er, where the
> tongue trills the letter on the palate or the guttural German r, which
> is what is used in Yiddish or in Israel. The American or English
> (England) "r" which is a lip-produced consonant has no tradition and is
> simply incorrect.

A number of Hebrew primers (including those given me by my LOR) state
that the "resh" is pronounced like "`r' as in `red' or `really'".  Some
of these primers are several generations old, and thus establish a
minhag.  Though the rabbis who wrote or approved these primers may have
been in error, I believe their `heter' is a sufficient halachic basis
for anyone who wishes to pronounce the resh in that manner.

> I have no idea how any native English yeshiva or day school student
> properly fulfills the Torah command of the recital of Shma, unless we
> put his incorrectly pronounced Hebrew in the same category as reciting
> Shma in English which (according to the Shulchan Oruch) is valid.

What about people with speech impediments?

By the way, I also have a hypothesis wrt the permissibility of switching
ones pronunciation from Askenaz to (pseudo) Sephardi.

As background, let me remind the readers of the discussion on
liberalizing the education and roles of women.  Someone pointed out that
even the Chafetz Chaim, who was not at all a Halachic liberal, advocated
increasing Torah education for women when their secular education level
increased.  Another contributor, however, responded that not the proper
way to view the situation.  Rather, one should note that only someone as
great as the Chaffetz Chaim can permit an innovation of this nature.
This latter view led me to wonder "What nature of innovation would _not_
require the permission of someone as great as the Chaffetz Chaim?"
Apparently, one example would be the change in pronunciation from
Askenaz to (pseudo) Sephardi.  This apparently is permitted, despite the
lack of any great posek to approve it!  :-)

Frank Silbermann	<fs@...>
Tulane University	New Orleans, Louisiana  USA


End of Volume 9 Issue 52