I just read in Rav Kapach's introduction to his edition of Rav Saadiah Gaon's translation and commentary on Sefer Daniel that his grandfather had a manuscript of Rav Saadiah Gaon's translation which was punctuated with the Babylonian niqqud. This implies that his grandfather was proficient in the Babylonian niqqud, or at least had some familiarity with it. Were Yemenite Jews in general capable of reading the Babylonian niqqud system, and did they write in it, up through the twentieth century?

(Note: It might also be relevant that the pronunciation system represented in the Babylonian niqqud is similar to that of the traditional Teimani pronunciation in that patach and segol are merged into a single vowel.)

  • I'm pretty sure it was indeed used in Yemen until recently for certain specific texts – Double AA Dec 6 '13 at 4:31
  • 1
    @malper the niqqud changed from the tom of the word to the bottom pretty recently. it was much easier to read the niqqudheem on top but they switched to be part of the "bigger picture" as they have done with many things in their masoro. however the pronunciation was kept the same. so when writing with the niqqud of todays times, when there is a segol, they would continue to pronounce it as a a because there was no segol in the babylonian niqqudheem (there was no segol with the nidduqheem ontop of words). – MoriDowidhYa3aqov Dec 6 '13 at 4:39
  • @MoriDoweedhYaa3gob Your second sentence is laughable. The old way it was done doesn't have to be better. It just was the way it was. The way everyone else does it has very old roots as well in the northern Israeli Masorah instead of the Babylonian one. – Double AA Dec 6 '13 at 6:01
  • We are talking aboutb yamani niqqudheem which is Babylonian not northern israeli. So I'm not sure wat is laughable bout saying the original niqqudheem of the teimonim were much easier to read than the niqqudheem now. – MoriDowidhYa3aqov Dec 6 '13 at 16:07
  • 1
    @MoriDoweedhYaa3gob It's more complicated than that. The main reason is that the Babylonian pronunciation changed over time just like the Masoretic pronunciation did. If you'd like to discuss this further we can continue it in chat. – user3318 Dec 6 '13 at 19:30

The Babylonian system derives its name from its place of origin, but it was also found well out of Babylon. In Yemen, for instance, manuscripts following this system have been used up to this day. The earliest manuscripts using this system are a Geniza fragment from Cairo of the beginning of the tenth century and a complete manuscript of the Prophets of 916. The texts with Babylonian vocalization show a prolonged development and they are accordingly sometimes classified according to certain periods and the kinds of pronunciations characteristic of them.

- Martin Jan Mulder, "The Transmission of the Biblical Text". Pages 87-135 of Martin Jan Mulder (ed.), Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 109.


The Jews of Yemen must have been in close touch with Babylonia, since they reckoned time according to the Seleucidan era, and this chronology is found on tombstones as early as the ninth century. All the Hebrew manuscripts of Yemen, moreover, show the superlinear, or Babylonian, system of punctuation.

- "Yemen", Jewish Encyclopedia, 1917.

  • Thank you for the useful response. Do your sources indicate whether the Jews of Yemen actively wrote using the Babylonian niqqud, or just preserved old manuscripts that used it? (Perhaps this is implied by the second source, but I'm not sure.) – user3318 Dec 6 '13 at 17:45
  • 1
    I tried to find some information on that, but came up short. Material that I found on Yemenite printing practices (in Zion Zohar, ed. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry) treated of secular Hebrew literature only. To the best of my limited understanding, the notation was only used with Tanakh anyway, in which sense writing would be the same as preserving. – Shimon bM Dec 6 '13 at 21:25
  • 1
    Sorry - I meant to say "Tanakh and mediaeval literature" (like Saadiah and the Rambam, etc). @Malper – Shimon bM Dec 6 '13 at 21:44

You must log in to answer this question.