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I am curious about the Hebrew pronunciation taught in many Modern Orthodox schools. It doesn't seem to conform to real Israeli pronunciation, nor is it the "standard Yiddish" or Polish pronunciation used in Yeshivish schools.

The schools in question are careful to use Tov, not Sov, and kamatz and patach sound the same. Other than that, they seem confused. I am unsure as to the proper use of Shva, pronunciation of tzeirei, and whether other Keriah rules are used or ignored.

I would like to know the correct way to encourage students in these MO schools to say Shema. Which rules should they follow? When should they pronounce a shva na? What other rules are used or ignored?

For the purpose of this question, let's assume that all accepted pronunciations (eg. Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Yemenite) are equally valid. Let's also assume that Shema is meant to be said in the original Hebrew with a special emphasis on pronouncing each word correctly.

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    The confusion you're describing is, in my experience, common to various kinds of American, Orthodox Jewish dayschools. They tend to be pretty careful to be uniform about how to pronounce tav without a dot and whether or not kamatz is pronounced the same as patach, but whether they encourage careful or uniform pronunciation of other elements of Hebrew is a very mixed bag, often from one teacher to another within the school. – Isaac Moses Dec 18 '15 at 16:36
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    How can you ask for "the correct way", but also "assume that all accepted pronunciations are equally valid"? – Double AA Dec 18 '15 at 16:37
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    Many MO schools give mixed messages -- Hebrew language is often taught by Israelis who stress one way, and Judaic studies classes are taught by yeshiva grads who have a mixed pronunciation (the home grown yeshivish mixed with the sensitivity to a spectrum of students). But some Judaic classes are taught by Israelis which further muddles. Rarely is "proper" pronunciation taught formally. The mongrelized pronunciations of the teachers are copied by students and then further mixed with the pronunciations of other teachers, parents and friends. – rosends Dec 18 '15 at 16:44
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    @LN6595 "Hear O" can be said in any language. – Double AA Dec 18 '15 at 19:41
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    @DoubleAA In its ideal form, Shema is meant to be said in Hebrew, pronounced properly. This is something many people are careful with. – LN6595 Dec 21 '15 at 2:19
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So the way i'm interpreting your question is as follows: The way that the MO school teaches Hebrew isn't consistent, it seems to take a little from here, a little from there, and kind of plops it all together. And so you want to teach a consistent Hebrew pronunciation.

So if your goal is to teach a consistent pronunciation, you basically have 5 to choose from.

The Ashkenazi pronunciation. You are probably familiar with this one. א and ע only serve the purpose as vowel holders, ח and כ share the same sound, as do ק and כּ. The patach and kamatz are distinguished as are the ת and תּ.

The Israeli pronunciation. The Israeli pronunciation is interesting because originally the council in charge of it tried to enforce the pronunciation to be modern Sephardic, in that one should distinguish between ח and כ and א and ע. Unfortunately this never spread to the general public. You are probably well aware of how Israeli Hebrew pronounces the letters, so i won't go into that. But i will say that Israeli Hebrew generally ignores the pronunciation the "sheva/shewa" na in lots of instances. A few examples would be: when the sheva/shewa follows the qamats vowel and other long vowels. When there is a sheva/shewa underneath a letter that has a dagesh in it, a good example would be a recent blessing said during Hanukkah.

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The second to last word should properly be pronounced "ba-ze-man" rather than Baz-man. Ashkenazi Hebrew often fails to follow these sheva/sehwa rules as well. So be aware that if you choose this pronunciation, that built into the system is certain bad grammatical issues.

The Modern Sephardic pronunciation. This is a stripped down amalgamation of several pronunciations and is the most widely used amongst Sephardim today. They distinguish between ח and כ. And between א and ע. They also distinguish between כ and כּ, and ב and בּ. They do not distinguish between patach and qamatz.

The Old Mizrahi pronunciation. This pronunciation crops up amongst certain community members that recently immigrated to Israel or to other countries. Good examples would be people from Iraq, Tunisia, and certain other parts of the Middle East. This pronunciation distinguishes between all the בגד כפת letters when dageshim are present. It also distinguishes between כ and ק , plus ט and תּ. It is consistent with use of the sheva/shewa, and pronounces ו as a w rather than a v. If you would like to hear how this pronunciation works you can see a video here. The video is done by Moshe Chabusha who is a famous Iraqi Hazzan. For a proper tutorial on the Shema using this pronunciation, with some Mizrahi melodies, you can see this video, which is also by Moshe Chabusha.

The final one is Yemenite Pronunciation. The Yemenite is similar to the Old Mizrahi pronunciation in that it distinguishes between all the בגד כפת letters and pronounces the ו as a w. What sets it apart from the Old Mizrahi pronunciation is that they have a different set of vowels, the some vowels more closely matching the Ashkenazi pronunciation, and others just being unique.

My advice to you would be to answer a few questions for yourself. Is your goal to have these kids pronounce the shema in the way that Jews originally did? If so, choose the Old Mizrahi or the Yemenite pronunciations. If your goal is to teach them a Hebrew they will use in Israel. Then teach them Israeli Hebrew, with all of its pluses and minuses. If the kids are learning Hebrew because "You're Jewish! You should be doing Jewishy type things! Just don't ask us what the point of a made up Hebrew pronunciation system is!" Then it doesn't really matter. If you want these kids to go into Ashkenazi Yeshivoth where Yiddish is the main language, then why not give them the Ashkenazi pronunciation so they stand out less when they get there? If you want them to have a proper pronunciation that still sounds similar to other forms of Hebrew, then teach them Old Mizrahi.

  • Your answer would be correct if we assume any necessity for a standard pronunciation to begin with. Considering that one may fulfill his obligation to say Shema in any language at all, including sign language, what you've stated is not a given requirement. – DanF Dec 20 '15 at 3:04
  • @DanF That assumption is implicit in my question, and is not the subject of my question. Aaron's answer happens to be the one that best addresses my question as written. – LN6595 Dec 21 '15 at 15:09
  • @LN6595 i added an extra video, and added some further clarifications. If my answer is the one that best addresses your question, then i would appreciate it you accepting it as the answer since i've received a few downvotes for it =\ – Aaron Dec 21 '15 at 18:05
  • @Aaron FYI, if you get 2 upvotes and 3 downvotes, you still pull ahead by 14 points. – LN6595 Dec 21 '15 at 19:29
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    @LN6595 Interesting discussion. See DoubleAA's last comment below the last answer. There is current concensus that most people today don't pronounce everything correctly. Torah reading, howver, seems to involve stricter pronunciation rules than tefillah, though I'm uncertain why this is the case. – DanF Feb 2 '16 at 20:53
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"Modern Orthodox," like its superset, "Orthodox," does not refer to a particular ethno-historial line of tradition, like "Yemenite" or "Galician," or to a particular centrally-led movement, like Chabad or Conservative. As such, it can't possibly have a well-defined notion of a particular tradition of pronunciation. A teacher in a MO school (or any other not-otherwise-specified Orthodox achool) should follow whatever pronunciation rules are dictated by the school's leadership. If there aren't any, the teacher should probably revert to his/her own tradition and best understanding of correct pronunciation.

  • I'm still uncertain of the current definition of "Modern Orthodox". When I attended elementary school, a number of my Hebrew teachers were Israeli, and thus pronounced and taught us Hebrew in Sefardi accent. However, the majority taught us to pronounce it in "Ashkenazis". When my kids attended elementary and high school, the "yeshivish" pronunciation was considered common, so they learned that almost every cholam sound gets a yud after it as in "Ha'oylam", and some get a shva sound as in "Toysfis". So, I'm not sure what's happened to that definition or pronunciation in the past 30 - 40 years. – DanF Feb 2 '16 at 21:01
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/34263 – msh210 Feb 2 '16 at 21:18
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There is no such thing as a modern orthodox pronunciation. Modern orthodoxy is a movement rather than a location in the world where the people living there have a specific mesorah for their accent. That being said from my experience most use either the Sephardic or the German Ashkenazi accent.

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    What does this add beyond Isaac's existing answer? – Double AA Dec 21 '15 at 4:19
  • @DoubleAA The last line. – Ypnypn Dec 21 '15 at 5:01
  • @Ypnypn Why is that a useful addition, though? – Double AA Dec 21 '15 at 5:13
  • Please see my question. I am clearly referencing schools that don't conform to normative Sephardic nor normative Ashkenazi accents. – LN6595 Dec 21 '15 at 15:06
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    Dude, I would disagree that most who use Ashkenazis use the German pronunciation, considering that while I do so, I know no-one outside of my family who does and I know plenty of folks who use Ashkenazis. – Noach MiFrankfurt Dec 21 '15 at 21:17

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