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I notice that when referring to God in the second person in a possessive form, Sefardim often use the female form where Ashkenazim use the male form.

For example, where Ashkenazim say in kedusha, "כַּכָּתוּב עַל יַד נְבִיאֶךָ", Sefardim say "וְכֵן כָּתוּב עַל יַד נְבִיאָךְ". Notice the difference in the last word.

Another example: In birchas hamazon Ashkenazim say "רַחֶם נָא יי אֱלהֵינוּ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּךָ. וְעַל יְרוּשָׁלַיִם עִירֶךָ. וְעַל צִיּוֹן מִשְׁכַּן כְּבוֹדֶךָ", while Sefardim say "רַחֵם יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ עָלֵינוּ וְעַל יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמָּךְ. וְעַל יְרוּשָׁלַיִם עִירָךְ. וְעַל הַר צִיּוֹן מִשְׁכַּן כְּבוֹדָךְ" Again, notice the "ךְ" ending instead of the "ךָ".

Although, there are those instances where even Ashkenazim use the female form. (e.g. מודִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ.) But in my limited study of Tanach, I seem to recall God as always being referred to in the male form.

What is the reason for this difference between Ashkenazic and Sefardic liturgy, and its origin?

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Are you certain about the vocalisation of the Sefardi nusach in your second paragraph? If so, it's problematic for another reason: נביאָך is a singular noun (your prophet). If you want to write "your prophets", it should be נביאַיך (nevi-ayikh). –  Shimon bM Oct 16 '13 at 1:34
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Note: It's not actually the female form when it ends in -akh, rather, it's the masculine form as found in Mishnaic Hebrew. It's the result of a sound shift that happened after the era of Biblical Hebrew. –  Malper Oct 16 '13 at 16:41
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4 Answers 4

[More a comment, but I don't have enough points.]

As others have pointed out, this difference is an echo of the divergence between Biblical Hebrew and Rabbinical Hebrew, where second person masculine suffixes became ־ָךְ and feminine ־ִךְ, probably under the influence of Aramaic.

"These characteristic RH forms were retained in good manuscripts and in the Sefardi and Yemenite oral traditions" (Fernández).

See:

  • Fernández MP (1997) An Introductory Grammar of Rabbinic Hebrew: p. 30
  • Sáenz-Badillos A (1996) A History of the Hebrew Language: p. 185
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The difference is indeed that between Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew. At the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century c.e., there was a movement in Europe to apply Biblical (considered "classic" and more high-tone) rules of grammar to prayer. The advocates of this (among them the highly respected R Wolf Heidenheim) persuaded the editors of Ashkenazic siddurim to use that principal in applying vocalization. Since this was when adding vocalization to the siddur was becoming more and more popular, this trend was accepted by the public, who often just thought they hadn't been saying it right. Sephardim retained the traditional pronunciation. (See The Scholar's Haggadah by Heinrich Guggenheimer, p. 214.) This applied too to the hidush of pausal "gafen" in place of the traditional "gefen".

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I have heard before (no source at this moment though) that, Kaballistically, we are talking to the "Shechina" - G-d's presence - which is feminine. Considering the fact that Sefaradim generally tilt towards Kaballah more, especially with regards to prayers, I would assume this is a possible reason

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The -ach-final form is not just a feminine form (even in Biblical but also in later Hebrew) but also:

  • a Biblical-Hebrew pausal masculine form. (E.g., 2 Sh'muel 7:9 has וָאֶהְיֶה עִמְּךָ whereas Sh'mos 3:12 has כִּי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ.) This explanation seems unlikely to me for things like nakdishach (at the start of k'dusha).
  • a rabbinic-Hebrew[1] masculine form. (I have no source for this at the moment.)

I assume, but do not know, that the use of -ach in k'dusha and the like is in its latter capacity, as rabbinic Hebrew.

That said, I do not know why the Sephardic text would use the one form and the Ashkenazic text the other.

And if the explanation is that it's pausal (which, again, I doubt), then it's curious to me that S'faradim should use the pausal form and Ashk'nazim not, whereas the reverse is true for bore p'ri hagafen/hegefen.

[1] I.e., l'shon Chazal. I don't know what scholars call this. It's later than Biblical Hebrew.

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Re: [1] "Rabbinic Hebrew" and "Late Biblical Hebrew" are both acceptable "academic" designations. –  WAF Aug 28 '11 at 21:24
    
@WAF Yes, but "Rabbinic Hebrew" also has certain definitions. I'll try to find out more specifics. –  Seth J Aug 29 '11 at 14:01
    
Yedid Nefesh is an example of later Rabbinic -ach meaning male. –  Charles Koppelman Apr 29 '13 at 19:33
    
@CharlesKoppelman, depends on the nusach. –  msh210 Apr 29 '13 at 19:34
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@msh210 The original manuscript has it as such (though admittedly written by a Sephardi). In light of this, some nusach Ashkenaz communities are shifting to the "correct" version –  Charles Koppelman Apr 29 '13 at 19:53
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