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I have not witnessed enough test cases to statistically verify anything, but I have heard various Chassidic Rebbes make b'rachos and daven out loud, and without fail, they mispronounce a majority of the words. I'm not talking about using a different pronunciation scheme (havara) for the vowels and letters (which is of course not mispronunciation), but mil'eil / mil'ra mistakes. This is in contrast to the many other non-Chassidic rabbis whom I've heard who do not make nearly as many such mistakes.

I can think of the following options to explain this:

  1. Chassidic Rebbes are ignorant of grammar, and simply don't know the correct pronunciation.
  2. They are purposely mispronouncing a majority of the words they say, even though they know how they really should be pronounced.
  3. I'm wrong. Chassidic Rebbes use normal pronunciation, and the ones that I've seen happen to have been the exception.

Now, here are the respective problems with those options:

  1. Why would they be ignorant of grammar? These Rebbes are, for the most part, known to be great Talmidei Chachamim, proficient in Torah knowledge. What kind of talmidei chachamim don't know basic Hebrew grammar? (Most siddurim even show which words are mil'ra and mil'eil, and even which sh'va's are na or nach.) And even if they are, for some reason, ignorant of grammar, why should they be any more so than the non-Chassidic rabbis?
  2. Why? I can't think of any reasonable explanation for this.
  3. This is in my opinion unlikely, but possible.

Does anyone know which of the options above (or another that I overlooked) is the correct explanation for this phenomenon? Please explain.

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+1 I love how you set this question up. –  Hacham Gabriel Aug 15 '12 at 21:04
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Those sound like worthwhile additions to the Mi Yodeya Glossary. –  Double AA Aug 15 '12 at 21:23
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I'm confused; I thought typical Eastern European pronunciation was all mil'eil. I didn't realize this had anything to do with Chasidic Rebbes. Nor did I realize that one could label the typical pronunciation of millions of Eastern European Jews a "mistake". Can you clarify in the question? –  Curiouser Aug 15 '12 at 21:51
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@Curiouser, European Jews (especially, Eastern European) tend to pronounce more words as mil'eil even when they should not be. However, this is not because their masora is that these words are in actuality mil'eil, but rather because it is more comfortable for those who speak a language in which that is the norm. Therefore, many will use the improper mil'eil pronunciation in informal speech, or when their pronunciation doesn't matter even though they know it is wrong. When it does matter, like saying prayers or b'rachos, then they will pronounce the words correctly. [cont] –  jake Aug 15 '12 at 22:05
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[cont] However, many people who are unfamiliar with grammar will not differentiate and simply use the more comfortable pronunciation for all matters. This does not constitute a tradition to do so. It is still wrong, and most people of European ancestry today, so long as they are at least slightly familiar with grammar, and since the siddurim are so helpful in this regard, will pronounce words correctly when it matters. In my experience it seems to be only the Chassic Rebbes, and hence their chassidim also, who pronounce incorrectly even when it does matter! (Ping @SethJ) –  jake Aug 15 '12 at 22:05

5 Answers 5

Stressing of syllables in Hebrew in the way determined by the Tiberian Ba'aley HaMesorah and indicated by the ta'amim (trop) as printed in Bibles is a legitimate issue for halakhic concern when it comes to keriat hatorah and keriat shema. But the obligation to pray is one that may be fulfilled in any language: couldn't you be open to accepting the Ashkenazi tradition of Hebrew as as a medium of communication / language with its own legitimacy?

Grammatical "correction" of davvenning is a perennial issue. In every generation there are people that discover that things are out-of-line with the dikduk of biblical hebrew and introduce "improvements" in the text of the prayers. These tend to erase living features of the the language. For example, at one time the suffix indicating a singular masculine possessive or direct object was 'akh' throughout Ashkenazi siddurim, e.g., 'Na'aritzakh ve-Nakdishakh' in Kedushah. Someone noticed that in Biblical Hebrew this form is reserved for females and so corrected everything to, e.g., 'na'aritzkha ve-nakdishkha'. Hebrew is not just Biblical Hebrew; there were later, living developments, which were reflected in the text of the prayers.

By the way, whether spoken Hebrew in the time of the Mishnah was accented mainly mille'eil or millera' is, I think, an open question among academic linguists of the language.

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"Couldn't you be open to accepting the Ashkenazi tradition of Hebrew as as a medium of communication / language with its own legitimacy?" Absolutely. But that is something that needs a source; the fact that the Chassidic "version" of Hebrew claims to be a different language, no better or worse than -say- Italian when it comes to prayers. –  jake Aug 16 '12 at 17:29
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I'm claiming it has the same legitimacy as Mishnaic Hebrew: the text of the Mishnah is not wrong for being different from Biblical Hebrew--it's just a later, living development. –  paquda Aug 16 '12 at 17:30
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That is fine. All I'm saying is that that needs a source. Do the Chassidic siddurim mark the words differently than others, with more words as mil'eil? I have not seen such a thing. –  jake Aug 16 '12 at 17:33
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Just to be clear, this argument allows for Chassidishe Hebrew to be Leshon HaKodesh just as much as Modern Israeli Hebrew. –  Double AA Aug 16 '12 at 17:55
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I think aspects, such as accenting words mille'el, might reflect the living pronunciation of Hebrew and Aramaic vocabulary the original Jewish migrants to Europe brought with them from the Middle East. Other aspects would be the results of the kind of shifts that are continually occurring in all languages, e.g., the way Australian pronunciation of the vowel 'long a' has come to sound like American English 'long i'. –  paquda Aug 16 '12 at 18:28

אמר ר' אחא: עם הארץ שקורא לאהבה איבה, כגון: ואהבת, ואייבת. אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: "ודילוגו עלי אהבה".

אמר ר' יששכר: תינוק שקורא לְמשֶׁה מַשֶׁה, לְאַהֲרן אַהֲרַן, לְעֶפְרן עֶפְרַן. אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: "וליגלוגו עלי אהבה"

And his flag (‘vedigulo’) is, to me, love.

Rabbi Acha said: An ignorant person who calls love (“ahavah”) hate (“eivah”) — for example, “ve’ahavta,” “ve’ayevta” — G-d says, “And his skipping (‘vedilugo’) is, to me, love.”

Rabbi Yisachar said: A baby who calls Mosheh “Masheh,” Aharon “Aharan,” Efron “Efran,” G-d says, “And his slip of the tongue (‘veliglugo’) is, to me, love.”

Shir HaShirim Rabah 2:4

Therefore, the mispronunciation is okay, if you don't know the correct pronunciation.


Shu"t Chasam Sofer 1:166:

picture

[Israel] don't require an interpreter between them and G-d, because He accepts graciously even gibberish.

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But this is for a ignoramus or small child; how does this limmud zechus help an intelligent adult? –  Curiouser Aug 16 '12 at 23:51
    
@Curiouser You can be ignorant about one area as well –  b a Aug 16 '12 at 23:51
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This explains why they might still be yotzei. But why do this on purpose? (Also, it's not clear to what extent this can be applied: how bad a mistake can it be?) –  Double AA Aug 17 '12 at 1:39
    
@DoubleAA The "ignorant person" mentioned in the midrash also shouldn't do it on purpose; he just doesn't know how to pronounce it. Chasidic rabbis are obviously not ignorant, but ones who don't know grammar are comparable to the example. (Also, there is the famous story with R' Levi Yitzchak Berditchev: Someone was praying and pronouncing unclearly, RLYB came to him and blabbered nonsensically and told him that that is what he was doing to G-d. –  b a Aug 17 '12 at 1:44
    
An old man came and told RLYB that G-d knows what a person means even when he speaks unclearly, just like a mother knows what her baby wants even when the baby's words aren't making sense. RLYB accepted it.) –  b a Aug 17 '12 at 1:44

There are different opinions concerning some of the pronunciations etc.

Chassidic Rebbes at times will say things differently on purpose, since every word of Tfilah (or Brachos etc.) has an affect on the upper worlds, therefore by saying the words in different ways they affect these worlds in the way they see fit.

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On a totally other line,

If you ask many Chasidim today why they don't take care to pronounce words properly; why they don't place the emphasis on the correct syllable; distinguish between a shva na and a nach, dagesh from rafeh, you may hear something that goes as follows: "This is by design. We intentionally de-emphasize dikduk because the Maskilim overemphasized it." You may be happy with this explanation if you chose not to pronounce the words correctly, but, it's plain not true!

Besides the fact that there is no shitah for Am Ha'aratzus, history shows that the issue predates the Haskalah. See Siddur Derrech Siach Hasadeh published in Berlin in 1713 (before the Haskalah) and have a look at the Haskomos. You will find that the Gedolai Yisrael were already bemoaning the situation of how people have strayed from dikduk and are mispronouncing words. This problem wasn't created in response to the Haskalah Movement but predates it. (Locate the full Siddur at the JNUL Digitized repository.) (This is not an endoresement of that siddur, and his approach to dikduk. I am just using documented evidence as proof that this predated haskalah.)

Source: Holy Language Blogspot

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A very interesting disproof to some of the other theories. But does it answer the question? –  Double AA Aug 16 '12 at 18:17
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@DoubleAA, The title of the blog post in the link is "Chasidim Mispronouncing words is due to lack of proper education". He seems to follow the logic that if the Haskalah reason is untrue as he shows, it must be just ignorance. –  jake Aug 16 '12 at 18:19
    
@jake couldnt have put it better myself. This shittah holds that it is pure ignorance! –  Yehuda Aug 16 '12 at 18:23
    
This then raises the question of at what point "ignorance" results in a legitimate pronunciation. –  yoel Aug 16 '12 at 18:41
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This demonstrates nothing. There was common mispronunciation among the general people. Doesn't mean that Chassidim didn't come along and make it deliberate. –  Yishai Aug 16 '12 at 19:06

The reason why they mispronounce words is because in the times of the Haskalah one of the Shittos of the Maskilim was to be extremely makpid on Dikduk. So whilst countering the Haskalah, they took on to specially ignore grammar to show that the Maskilim were wrong in their general way of life.

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Sourcing this historical fact (as well as providing Halachik justification for their doing so) would greatly improve the value of this answer. –  Double AA Aug 16 '12 at 14:44
    
"To show that the maskilim were wrong". Wrong about what? About being makpid on grammar? Surely that's not wrong. –  jake Aug 16 '12 at 16:26
    
@jake wrong with thier general Shittos, and so they wanted to make a seperation between them even on a subject like Dikduk! –  Yehuda Aug 16 '12 at 16:56
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@Yehuda Try listening to the shiurim here judaism.stackexchange.com/a/224/759. (Also, did you just ask me for a source??? :-) ) –  Double AA Aug 16 '12 at 18:15
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I've heard that reason before, but I'm not sure if it is historically accurate or merely an apocryphal post-facto justification. At any rate, it does not seem like a legitimate reason to violate halachos requiring proper pronunciation, especially when e.g. a change to mil'eil changes the meaning. ping @DoubleAA –  Fred Jan 28 '13 at 22:05

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