Maseches Sofrim 6:5 [4] says that there are 3 places where the word is written as לא but read as לו. This seems to mean that there is a difference in how the word would be pronounced if it were לא as opposed to לו.

I am unfamiliar with any tradition which differentiates between a cholem and a cholem vav. Is there a difference in the pronunciation of these two, or is there some other explanation of the halacha from Maseches Sofrim (perhaps that the intention of the reader should be for לו as opposed to לא)?

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    I always understood it as what you wrote in parentheses. Read it as לו although it was written לא.
    – HaLeiVi
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 5:21
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    If you see RaSh"I on WaYiqra 25:30, it is pretty clearly that "we read it" means "we understand it to mean" (as your final note in parentheses suggests). I don't think the pronunciation is being discussed; but, the meaning of the word.
    – Lee
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 11:06
  • Incidentally, the edition of Masekhet Soferim linked to in your question cites WaYiqra 21. Either that's a smudge in the HebrewBooks.org scan or a typo on the part of the author citing the verse.
    – Lee
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 11:08
  • @HaLeiVi It is possible but it does not seem to me to be the most intuitive explanation - judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/61100/… Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 18:20
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    +1 for an interesting question, but I think this may be unanswerable. It kind of depends on the source and both the era and region in which it was written. Strictly speaking, Aramaic would pronounce לא as a 'La', and לו as 'Low'. Of course, this is Hebrew, not Aramaic, but the two are so closely linked that, regional dialects being what they are, there may be some overlap in pronunciation, depending on when and where the 'rule' in Masecheth Soferim was codified.
    – Seth J
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 13:35

2 Answers 2


(perhaps that the intention of the reader should be for לו as opposed to לא)

That seems to be what it is.

The commentary (whose?) surrounding it in the linked edition reads as such, explaining each case as if it were written with לו.

It seems to be like when we say אל תקרי __ אלא __ -- we don't actually change the pronunciation; we just darshen (explain) it as if it were written differently.

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    My hangup with this is the context of that chapter of Maseches sofrim. Every other halacha there is discussing issues of how our sifrei Torah are written and read, not methods of interpretation. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 18:18
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    @yEz that's just because in most cases the intended word happens to be pronounced differently. Put it this way, what would you expect to find if it is indeed meant to be pronounced the same while understood differently?
    – HaLeiVi
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 21:38
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    @HaLeiVi a gemara which said "אל תקרי לא אלא לו" like the normal construct of such statements. And I would expect to find it not in the context, in the middle of, a list of halachos of kesivas and krias hatorah. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 21:41
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    @yEz But this is Halacha and the actual, main meaning. In a Gemara it would be a way to Darshen.
    – HaLeiVi
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 0:00

In Biblical Hebrew the words לֹא (lōʾ) and לֹו () are homophonic. According to the Masorah of the Masoretic Text, there are two instances (1 Sam 2:16 and 1 Sam 20:2) where the לֹא (lōʾ) is to be understood in lieu of the written לֹו (). On the other hand, there are 17 instances where the לֹו () is to be understood in lieu of the written לֹא (lōʾ).

As homophonic words, they both sound the same, but are written differently and have different meanings. (An example in English would be the words to, two, and too, which are homophones because they each are written in a different way and each have different meanings, but they all sound the same when pronounced.) The reason that לֹא (lōʾ) is more often confused for לֹו () is because the former (5,184 instances) outnumber the latter (1,026 instances) by a ratio of four-to-one in the Masoretic Text. For this very reason, the word לֹא (lōʾ) is more apt for the confusion with לֹו () than the other way around.

  • How do you know they are homophonic?
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 18:09

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