The Bach, writing on the Tur OC 5:1, says that when pronouncing the tetragrammaton (שם הויה) as the שם אדנות, some people say the first vowel as a patach and some as tending toward tseirei. His words:

מקצתם קורים בפתח ומקצתם קורין נוטה לצירי וכן הוא מנהג האשכנזים

Other commentators discuss the distinction between a patach and a shva, and many talk about using chataf patach, however I have not seen any other discussion of this "tending toward tseirei" besides those who quote the Bach.

Does the Bach mean tseirei the same way we do? (From the Be'er Heiteiv, who quotes the Bach, and from the discussion of the Be'er Heiteiv in siman 6 seif katan 2, it would seem that he at least understands the Bach to mean a tseirei the same way we do.)

Does this pronunciation persist today? The Bach says that the "tending toward tseirei" pronunciation is the common minhag of Ashkenaz, so one would expect that it does survive.

  • I'm unaware of any pronunciation system where the place of articulation between a patah and a seirei isn't a segol, and I don't know of any Ashkenazi pronunciation where segol and seirei are completely merged. I wonder what he meant by "tending towards seirei." – ShamanSTK Oct 28 '15 at 22:58
  • @ShamanSTK Could it be the "a" as in "bat"? – Scimonster Dec 29 '15 at 21:27
  • @Scimonster the bat a is technically between the segol and patah. The Yemenites merged the two letters at this mid point, but that's a Babylonian tradition. I'm not aware of any Ashkenazi tradition that uses that sound for a patah or a sere. – ShamanSTK Dec 29 '15 at 21:41
  • @ShamanSTK, interesting comment. Perhaps for his pasak in his community he was drawing on a tradition through the Gaonim. Many things from the Temanim come via the Gaonim. See this link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Sirkis – Yaacov Deane Dec 31 '15 at 18:01

You're right. "tending toward tseirei" is exactly equivalent to the shva that you already heard about. When a shva is in the beginning of a word, it sounds very similar to a tseirei, just quicker. That's probably what the Bach meant by "tending toward tseirei".

A semi-proof for this we see in Mishna Berura (same place) where he says:

... וגם בנקודת אדנ"י, דהינו האלף בחטף-פתח ...

Since he remarks in Sha'ar HaTsiun:

דלא כמהר"מ והב"ח

Opening up the mentioned Maharam (Shut Maharam Lublin, siman 83) brings a long answer about reading the aleph with a shva, which again, must be a shva na, which sounds like a tseirei.

The Sha'arei Teshuva says that Maharam retracted this opinion (same place of Mishna Berura).

So it seems that even though there were a few poskim who said that the aleph should be read in shva/tseirei, most of them agree that it should be read as we all do today.

I myself have never heard of anyone with a tradition of reading it with a shva.

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    Many thanks for your answer, and welcome to Mi Yodeya! I hope you stick around and enjoy reading and contributing to the site; you may especially enjoy our 140 other pronunciation questions and our 29 mishnah-berurah questions. – msh210 Jan 11 '16 at 20:47
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    I really enjoyed reading this answer, but I don't fully understand it (or the comments on the question that are similar). What does "sounds like a Tzeirei" mean? I don't pronounce Sheva (aka schwa) Na' that way. I don't know anyone that does, actually. In fact, my college professor for Arabic, whose PhD was in Aramaic, argued that a Sheva Na' should be pronounced like the 'u' in the English word "urge", and not like the 'i' in "hit" as most do (nor as the 'e' in "egg", as this pst seems to recommend - if I've understood you correctly). Can you clarify? – Seth J Jan 11 '16 at 22:25
  • Indeed, thank you for this answer, but I have the same issue as @SethJ. I don't understand how a sheva na is pronounced as "tending toward a tseirei". I've seen other opinions (besides those in the above comment) that sheva should be a shorter version of the following vowel (so in this case, a short o), but not as a tseirei. – magicker72 Jan 11 '16 at 22:27
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    Thanks for the welcome, and I find your comments very interesting. I live in Israel, where even in the Ashkenazi community many of the Sephardic customs have taken hold. Here the most popular way to pronounce a shva na is like a tseirei, but quicker. Here's a very interesting source about shva in general: forum.otzar.org/forums/download/file.php?id=27146 Paraphrasing: This custom (shva na like a tseirei) is mentioned by the later grammarians: Ma'ase Efod, R' Shabtai Sofer, Maharal, Minchat Shai, Bach. It is known as an "Eretz Israel" pronunciation. – Cauthon Jan 12 '16 at 8:33

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