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In the introduction to his siddur (down the bottom of the linked page), Rabbi Yaakov Emden emphasises the strict importance of a proper Hebrew pronunciation when davening. In particular, he remonstrates against the Ashkenazi pronunciation of consonants (eg: "לא כמו שאנו האשכנזים עושים בקריאת תי״ו רפויה כסמ״ך לבשתינו"), but also against the Sephardi pronunciation of vowels (eg: "לא כספרדים שאינם מבדילים בין קמץ לפתח").

My question is, if one were to carefully differentiate between every consonant (say, in the manner of certain "Sephardim" - certain of the edot mizrach, for example) and to carefully differentiate between every vowel, one would be adopting a pronunciation of Hebrew that has no precedent, and is perhaps even of his own invention.

Am I correct in supposing that this is effectively what R' Yaakov of Emden recommends? If not, is there a specific problem with doing this? Sourced answers only, please.

  • I saw a very logical psak that a person can be yotzei kiddish, etc. from someone who's pronunciation is different. That would seem to imply that all pronunciations are fine - but this doesn't quite answer the question. Maybe someone can take it from here. – LN6595 Feb 5 '15 at 22:11
  • I seem to recall seeing a Tshuva from R' Moshe saying that while many pronunciations are valid, one should not change between different customs and should stick to what their custom is. I assume the same logic would apply to picking and choosing different bits from each custom. – Salmononius2 Dec 1 '16 at 14:02
  • one would be adopting a pronunciation of Hebrew that has no precedent Do you really believe that the correct pronunciation has no precedent?! What makes it the correct pronunciation then? – mevaqesh Dec 1 '16 at 20:35
  • FWIW Teimonim differentiate between qomoss and pathah, and between taw and thaw. (Hopefully I transliterated that correctly). @MoriDowidhYa3aqov – mevaqesh Dec 1 '16 at 20:36
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    @ShimonbM judaism.stackexchange.com/q/45484/759 It's certainly commonly assumed that every grapheme represent[ed] a distinct phoneme, and that's true in secular linguistics as well and not just in Hebrew. When you say it's not true in other languages, you are only thinking of their modern realizations. – Double AA Dec 1 '16 at 23:17
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R. Kook z"l writes in a responsum (Orah Mishpat OH: 148) that one may not create a new pronunciation and that one must continue to use the pronunciation inherited from one's forefathers.

קבלתי מכתבו ע"ד שאלת ההברה, ואשיב לו שיאמר להם בשמי שמצד הדין אסור לשנות יותר המבטא שקבלנו מאבותינו הקדושים. בכל עניני קדושה ותפילה, ואקוה שישמעו לדברי. ואם ח"ו יתעקשו בזה, אל יעשה עמם קטטה בשביל כך, והנח להם לישראל מוטב שיהיו שוגגין ואל יהיו מזידין.

However it is very important to note, that he does not specify which changes he is opposed to. That is, it is possible that were they restoring the original pronunciation of their forefathers, that was merely corrupted in the interim, that R. Kook would be accommodating.

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    It should be noted that I assume that he is referring to the newfangled Zionsint pronunciation that combined the mistakes of of both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews. It was also part of a variety of social and religious changes, that may have sparked protest on the part of R. Kook and others. – mevaqesh Dec 1 '16 at 23:09
  • It should be noted that many, such as R. Mazuz and R. David Bar-Hayyim encourage Jews to pronounce words correctly regardless of their origin. – mevaqesh Dec 1 '16 at 23:11
  • This is really giving short shrift to R Kook's lengthy writings on the topic. – Double AA Dec 1 '16 at 23:14
  • Great source! Thank you. I also think he probably would have been in favour of ditching one's received pronunciation in favour of an earlier one - a case in point would be various ashkenazi baalei teshuva who adopt the Ashkenazi pronunciation over that which they learnt from their parents. (And yes, he may have been referring to the new Zionist pronunciation, but then a fixation on matters of pronunciation was also very common amongst his generation anyway.) – Shimon bM Dec 1 '16 at 23:14
  • @DoubleAA This was the only source of his on the topic that I knew. (credit to someone who showed it to me a few years ago). If you know of more sources, I would certainly appreciate them, and would be happy to add them. – mevaqesh Dec 1 '16 at 23:16
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The Ran in the gemara in Nedarim on 2a discusses what is considered a language and what is considered slang. It seems to come out that there is Hebrew which is an intrinsic language, and then there is everything else which is considered a language because it is an agreed upon communication between a people/nation; while Hebrew seems to not need the step of an agreement of people that it works as Hashem made it. We also see that when someone says a beracha in Hebrew, they successfully fulfill their obligation regardless of whether they know what they said or not (there are some things, however, that require your understanding and Saying it in Hebrew is not enough like the nullification of chometz before Pesach).

So, Hebrew needs to pronounced correctly if it is to be considered Hebrew and not a slang. But, this is where tradition/minhag makes things tricky. There are letters (such as gimel, daled, ayin, ches/chet, tes/tet) which are pronounced differently by different communities (vowels, too). Some communities have a continued tradition/mesora to pronounce these letters a certain way, but others don't.

It is important to pronounce words correctly, and especially Hashem's names. One who pronounces them correctly, and according to their tradition, is not creating a new language and it still remains Hebrew as opposed to a slang (though are those who would argue this point on some communities who may have pronunciations that seem to come more from dialectical differences as opposed to a tradition of pronunciation that was passed down, and thus potentially creating issues, according to some). So, by pronouncing things correctly, it's not a new language, rather it is called the correct pronunciation.

At the end of the day, you should pronounce things as written and be extremely careful to do so (just as someone who counts money carefully and with concentration - Mishna Berura in Hilchos Berachos). As far as questions regarding specific letters and vowels and what you should do, you should ask your local orthodox rabbi aka LOR.

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    I don't see how this answers the question – הנער הזה Feb 5 '15 at 4:36
  • Dear Neiro_yair: Your words are useful; thank you for them. However, as @Matt pointed out, they don't answer the question. I have therefore downvoted your post. You should know that the post may get flagged and deleted at any time. You might want to move all or part of it into the self-answer to a new question — before it's too late. If you don't understand, or if you need help doing this, feel free to contact us in Mi Yodeya Chat. – unforgettableid Apr 17 '15 at 14:05

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