Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hebrew Pronunciation

This old post is related to this week's Torah reading:

I. Different Pronunciations

There are certain mitzvos that must be done in Hebrew, such as the reading of Parashas Zachor, and others that are preferable to be done in Hebrew. The question, then, is what pronunciation(s) can be legitimately considered Hebrew. Generally, there are two types of pronunciations today: Ashkenazic and Sephardic. However, within both types there are wide variations. Polish pronunciation is different from Russian, which is different from Litvish and German pronunciations. I know less about Sephardic pronunciations, but from what I understand, aside from the "standard" Sephardic pronunciation there are also Persian and Yemenite variations...

II. Which Pronunciation is Correct?

So which pronunciation is correct? R. Henkin (Eidus Le-Yisrael, pp. 156-157) recommends learning from Sephardim how to distinguish between consonants because Ashkenazim do not do so (although he does not seem to advocate dropping the soft tav's "s" sound). Regarding vowels, however, he says that there is no reason to believe that Sephardim are correct.

Rabbenu Bachya, in his commentary on Gen. 18:3, has a long discussion of vowels and notes how when the "nai" in God's name has a kamatz it is God's name but when it has a pasach it just means "my masters". Each vowel, Rabbenu Bachya emphasizes, is pronounced differently. Thus, many argue, the Sephardim who pronounce the kamatz like a pasach are turning God's name into a plural reference, an unintentional heresy! (See R. Ya'akov Emden, Siddur Ya'avetz; R. Yitzchak Ya'akov Weiss, Minchas Yitzchak 3:9:2; R. Moshe Shternbuch, Ta'am Va-Da'as, Gen. 18:3, Teshuvos Ve-Hanhagos, vol. 1 no. 128; R. Meshullam Rothe, Kol Mevaser 2:12; and others)...

Read the whole post here: link

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