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The Al Chet that we say four times on Yom Kippur - the long list of sins that we list and ask to be forgiven for - is a double-acrostic (in nusach Ashkenaz). Each letter is represented twice in a row (aleph, aleph, bet, bet, etc.) except for samech (ס), which is replaced by sin (שׂ). I would say it's a cute pun in English (sin/sin), but there must be a more believable reason for this.

Why do we replace samech with sin in the Al Chet?

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    related judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/4286/… – rosends Sep 16 '13 at 2:12
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    In addition to Danno's link, the words with the roots from sikkur (e.g. אמר רבי יוסי מה תנינן סוקרין מה תנינן מהלכין in Y'rushalmi Nidda 3:2) and si'ach (e.g. אמר ר' יוסי סח לי נימוס אחיו של ר' יהושע הגרסי in B'choros 10b) are found spelled both ways. I wonder if an early version of the al cheits uses a spelling with samech. – Fred Sep 16 '13 at 2:20
  • @Fred that's fascinating! – Charles Koppelman Sep 16 '13 at 2:26
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    Sin and samech get exchanged all the time. Even in Tanach! They were the only two graphemes for a long time which were pronounced identically. In some masoretic manuscripts, a shin is turned into a sin by drawing a little samech on top – Double AA Sep 16 '13 at 2:56
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    The Avodas Yisroel siddur of Baer in the inclusion in the Amidah for Chanukkah has the word that we spell עוסקי spelt as עושקי. In the Birkas HaTorah he has לעשוק בדברי תורה. The Gemoro, he says, uses a samech to avoid the confusion of the intended sin with a shin because the Gemoro was not pointed. But in a pointed siddur, he sees not need to use a samech. Perhaps someone can apply his reasoning to this case. – Avrohom Yitzchok Sep 16 '13 at 20:40
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Many acrostic piyutim interchange ס with שׂ because of their sound being the same. I suppose it is because the author could not find a fitting word that began with ס. One example of this would be in the prayer "L'chai Olamim", in which the line for ס goes:

.הַסִּגּוּי וְהַשֶּֽׂגֶב לְחַי עוֹלָמִים

Also in the prayer "Kel Adon" on Shabbat, the line for ס is replaced with a שׂ:

.שְׂמֵחִים בְּצֵאתָם וְשָׂשִׂים בְּבואָם

These are just two examples, but it seems that it is quite common in acrostic prayers. So Vidui is not the only prayer which replaces ס with a שׂ in the acrostic.

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I heard it is related to ס being the first letter of ס"מ (the evil inclination) and we don't mention that letter (sources needed).

However, earlier in אשמנו בגדנו it does appear as סררנו. It seems that the reasons stay and the author of אשמנו בגדנו did not hold of that.


Many offer an easier solution of similar pronunciation, but I'd say anyone who knows the importance of the Hebrew letters would not even hint at that, as there are no examples that change ט with ת or כ with ק or א with ע. A similar sound is not a reason to change letters the world was created with! It's like saying - the water looks like the alcohol, so let the formula be C2O instead of H2O

  • The other examples you listed don't actually sound the same. – Heshy Sep 20 '18 at 11:23
  • @Heshy For the Ahkenzis they clearly are for a long long time! Do you differentiate? I don't and no one in Jerusalem (but some Briskers) – Al Berko Sep 20 '18 at 11:46
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    I'm Ashkenazi as you can probably tell from my name. I try to distinguish when it makes a difference in the meaning, though I can't get my mouth to do the ק properly so I usually fail for that one. For example ואף גם זאת בהיותם בארץ איביהם לא מאסתים ולא געלתים - if you substitute גאלתים for געלתים it's depressing and heretical at the same time! Also most words with the shoresh רעה also make sense and mean something different with ראה (even when it's a noun, because of the bird called רָאָה). But everyone agrees that in principle they sound different, just "we" don't distinguish. – Heshy Sep 20 '18 at 13:07
  • The other piece is that even if you're substituting a letter for a real reason, like the one you gave, you still have to pick whether to drop it entirely (Ashrei) or to substitute it with something else. And, if you're going to substitute it, the replacement letter has to be related to the removed letter. Any deeper meaning is going to be related to the fact that they sound the same. So the simple answer is not wrong, even if you can argue that it's incomplete. – Heshy Sep 20 '18 at 13:53
  • +1 I remember there being some old seforim that intentionally skip ס when labeling pages – ezra Sep 20 '18 at 17:17

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