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About the blessing when donning the tefillin Orach Chayim 25:7 says:

יברך להניח בקמץ תחת הה"א ולא בפתח ובדגש:‏

He should bless lehaniach with kamatz under the hei and not with patach and dagesh.

In Beit Yoseif the Mechaber had already cited that the Maharil emphasised the properness of using the language as it is written in Yechezkeil 44:30:

וְרֵאשִׁית֩ כָּל־בִּכּ֨וּרֵי כֹ֜ל וְכָל־תְּר֣וּמַת כֹּ֗ל מִכֹּל֙ תְּרוּמ֣וֹתֵיכֶ֔ם לַכֹּֽהֲנִ֖ים יִֽהְיֶ֑ה וְרֵאשִׁ֤ית עֲרִסֽוֹתֵיכֶם֙ תִּתְּנ֣וּ לַכֹּהֵ֔ן לְהָנִ֥יחַ בְּרָכָ֖ה אֶל־בֵּיתֶֽךָ׃

And the first of all the first-fruits of every thing, and every heave-offering of every thing, of all your offerings, shall be for the priests; ye shall also give unto the priest the first of your dough, to cause a blessing to rest on thy house.

This is perfectly fine with respect to not geminating the n. Being an Ashkenazi, the Maharil obviously didn't have any problems with differentiating between kamatz and patach either. But what should Sefardim do, who don't distinguish the two vowels?

Coming from Bagdad, the Kaf haChayim understood the problem, and he proposed to lengthen the syllable, but in that case you may overcompensate and fail to put the primary stress on lehaniach. Did later authorities confirm his ruling? Or should Sefardi Jews make an effort to pronounce the two vowels in a different way?

Possibly related: Sefardi rishonim who differentiate between Patach and Kamatz

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    Why are you assuming Ashkenazim and Sefardim spoke hebrew the same 500 years ago as they do now?
    – Double AA
    Apr 27, 2020 at 14:12
  • @DoubleAA This is one part of the question; it seems that R' Karo could have distinguished the two. On the other hand, there's evidence, that there were traditions that didn't have separate kamatz/patach even 1000 years ago. Apr 27, 2020 at 14:16
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    This is a pretty convoluted way to ask if people spoke exactly the same 500 years ago. The question of what people do in general who don't distinguish two different phonemes when they form a minimal pair is also more convoluted than necessary.
    – Double AA
    Apr 27, 2020 at 14:24
  • @DoubleAA Edited out R' Karo and the historical part. Apr 27, 2020 at 16:14

1 Answer 1

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Sephardim who are careful in pronouncing Hebrew according to our tradition, do differentiate between the vowels. We do so according to an ancient Mesorah where vowels are split into five pairs of a long and short vowel. In this system, Kamatz is the long vowel of the A-pair, while Patach is the short one.

Some Sephardim use a different pronunciation called the "Tiberian system". (This was used by the Masorites who invented the nequdot we use today, and is the precursor to all major Ashkenazic pronunciations). In this pronunciation, Patach is like the A of "hat", and Kamatz is between the O of "Octopus" and of "Ore".
(Click each vowel for an audio recording.)

Some modern Sephardim don't make any such distinction, because of influence from Modern Hebrew, some American Ashkenazic dialects, and many Western languages, none of which differentiate between vowel lengths like Torah Hebrew does.

If someone is unaware of any way to make a distinction between the two vowels, then it's okay: The main point is NOT to double the letter נ. The vowels were only mentioned in your sources because letter-doubling and vowels are intricately connected according to the rules of grammar.

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  • “Influence from Ashkenazim” All Ashkenazi dialects differentiate between קמץ and פתח.
    – ezra
    May 13 at 0:09
  • @ezra should have clarified: American Ashkenazim. May 14 at 22:36
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    Still not correct
    – ezra
    May 15 at 4:41
  • @ezra I am exposed daily to one American Ashkenazic sub-dialect, and very often to others. None of them so far have differentiated between Kamatz and Patach. You are correct that most major Ashkenazic dialects do differentiate, but not American ones, at least none of those which I hear. Maybe it’s an eastern thing. In any case, I specified in my answer what I meant, as you suggested. May 15 at 20:49

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