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The theme of Hebrew pronunciation is one that facinates me and, as such, I want to get some feedback on some issues I've been thinking about for years. I have already discussed some of these issues with other people, some of whom are rabbis with considerable clout in the Orthodox community, and so I have some ideas, including some opinions already partially formed, but there are still issues that remain to be solved, if that's the right word to use. So I'm throwing out a series of closely related questions to the community to discuss:

Why are there differing traditions in the pronunciation of Hebrew? Is one more correct than another? If they are all equally valid, ie, if they all developed along a reasonable pattern over the course of history, as many languages do, does it matter if you decide to pray using a different Hebrew pronunciation than you were taught, or should you stick with the tradition of your home and/or teacher(s)? (On that point, is preference given to the tradition of one's family or one's teacher(s), if they differ?)

Furthermore, if your family has no tradition of Hebrew pronunciation (ie, you converted, or you grew up in a home that did not practice/pray), should you do due diligence to figure out what is the "most correct" tradition, or should you go with the tradition of a friend or a teacher you've met? Or should you try to find out what tradition your family might have had if they had practiced over the past couple of generations (ie, if your family over the past couple of centuries lived in Morrocco, they would have had a different tradition than if they had lived in Lithuania)?

A lot of broad issues, I know. What do you think?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

See this YU lecture and I believe this one summarizing it.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote that all pronunciations are legitimate (even vis-a-vis the chalitza ceremony, which must be performed in Hebrew), and added that there's no way to tell which are more accurate than any other. (Which may sound naive to some linguists.)

Rabbi J. David Bleich, prescriptivist that he is, argues (in one of his Ishut lectures I believe) that only an authentic evolutionary strain of Hebrew pronunciation (Yemenite, Hungarian, you name it) can be used for chalitza; a synthetic hybrid (including common Modern Hebrew pronunciation) is not valid.

Rabbi Nosson/Nathan Adler, mentor of the Chasam Sofer, switched to Yemenite pronunciation -- and became persona non grata in Frankfurt!

I know that for converts, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef feels (unsurprisingly) that Sephardic practices in general are the only authentic ones, so of course that's what should be adopted.

Last note: this is interesting academically, but few big names actually make a big deal of it. I'd heard of several heavyweights (Steipler and Chazon Ish, I think?) who said not to make a fuss about whether Israeli schools say "Ado-noi" or "Ado-nai." When posed the question of a fellow (me) whose pronunciation differed from his ancestry, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky (no mild-mannered left-winger, put mildly), the strongest language he used was "worthwhile."

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I do know of those, whoever, who have strongly oppose Ad'nai / Ad'noi, including the Rav of my former shul, who would not let people daven that way from the amud! Both a classic komotz sound and patach were accepted ways to pronounce the komotz, but replacing the cholom (or choilom) with a sh'va was not OK. I don't want to mention his name here, as his psak was for his tzibbur, and not intended to be distributed via pashkavel to the entire nation <g> –  Mike Miller Mar 16 '10 at 7:29
    
That's reasonable. Adonai vs Adonoi are different forms of pronunciation; Ad'nai, Adanai, etc. are all just wrong, and the result of people rushing or not paying attention. –  Shalom Mar 16 '10 at 13:30
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Yahu Skaist, According to Siddur Rinat Yisrael, which prints kamtz gadol and katan differently, you're mistaken. See the third verse of the second paragraph of Uva Letzion ("Ki ata Adonai") and the vocalized Tratragrammatons in the Torah readings in the back. Kamatz katan is actually a tenua ketana, the little sister of cholam. Kamatz gadol is a tenua gedola, the big sister of patach. The pedestrian form of "adonai," for "my masters" has a patach, so it stands to reason that the change in the holy version would be to the sister of the patach, the kamatz gadol. –  Isaac Moses Mar 21 '10 at 14:42
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Which Sephardic pronunciation did he use, and where did he learn it? –  Shalom Apr 1 '10 at 18:16
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No, "Adonay" is correct. That's a valid position for qamatz gadol to appear. All Sephardic traditions (except the Persian, which pronounces qamatz gadol as long aw) support this. I have no idea where Yahu got any idea otherwise. –  B.BarNavi Aug 10 '11 at 2:18
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If you are able to read hebrew, this book here goes through all the different traditions, and traces back the pronounciation to how hazal pronouced hebrew.

The name of the book is : שפת אמת שפתי כהן

The author of the book was: ר' בנציון הכהן

http://www.wslibrary.net/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=1768&language=en

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Nice find. Thanks! –  Seth J Dec 26 '13 at 13:43
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