In many Yeshivish communities in the US, the male segment of the population vocalizes the cholam as "oi," while their female counterparts vocalize it as a long "o". How did this come about? Does the same phenomenon exist in countries other than the US? And is there any historical precedent for this kind of disparity?

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    Oh no! Oi V'Avoi! May 3, 2011 at 19:17

3 Answers 3


A few notes which may be enlightening:

  • My grandfather, the first student to be enrolled in Parochial School of Baltimore in 1917, (later to become Talmudical Academy) son of a Latvian Habad Hasid, learned under Rav Samson, Rav Sheftel Kramer, and Rav Ruderman, pronounced the cholam as an "o".
  • The pronunciation amongst many Yeshivah bochurim prior to the influx of refugees from Europe after WW II and prior to the Hungarian Revolution was "o".
  • The pronunciation of Lithuanian non-Hasidim was somewhere between an "o" and a long "a".
  • The founders of the Bais Yaakov movement in America learned in the Cracow Teachers' Seminary, founded by Frau Sara Schenirer. There was at least one very influential architect of that Seminary and the movement it started who was of German extraction: Rabbi Dr. Leo Deuschtlander. They could have pronounced it "o" due to his (and others') influence.
  • Boys' Yeshivos even in Lithuania had a minor constituency of students from countries that pronounced it as "oi".
  • I have not seen it inside, but I have seen it quoted by reliable second-hand sources that the GR"A held that the proper pronunciation for the cholam is a Kametz and a shooruk in succession, which results in an "o".
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    Thanks. This supports my suspicion that there are two parallel but separate "linguistic mesorahs" being propagated here, one through the yeshivos and the other through the beis yaakovs. I find that quite remarkable.
    – Dave
    May 5, 2011 at 6:12
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    I have that sefer by the GR"A, and he does say that. And, while it is entirely possible he meant to instruct that it should be pronounced as "o", it is possible, though not very likely, that he meant to instruct that it should be pronounced as "ow", as some people of German descent pronounce it. Furthermore, in classical Arabic, which does not have an "o" sound, the standard cognate for "o" is "ow".
    – Seth J
    May 5, 2011 at 17:09
  • Seth, true but I did not want to complicate the matter by adding another pronunciation into the mix. What is the name of the sefer?
    – Yahu
    May 6, 2011 at 4:08

A few points:

1) The 'oy' is linked to Yiddish. Like English, Yiddish underwent a major vowel shift, the full result of which is seen in Chassidishe Hebrew. I don't have the books available, but I believe the books written by any of the Weinreichs regarding Yiddish discuss this in detail. I'm pretty sure the /oy/ is linked to that vowel shift in some form.

If you keep in mind the fact that Chassidim had a massive affect on the Yeshiva world post-WWII, it shouldn't come as a surprise if they influenced the entire Ashkenazi world's pronunciation, with the exception of the MO and German traditions, who have roughly similar pronunciations. As for the source, it wouldn't surprise me if the /oy/ came from there or from communities where knowledge of Hebrew grammar and correct pronunciation wasn't emphasized.

2) Based on a Yekkishe siddur that I downloaded recently, the /oy/ seems to be a Polish pronunciation, while the Litvish communities said something akin to /ay/ and everyone else saying something between /o/, /au/ and /ou/. Another plausible explanation.

3) Bais Yaakov schools were essentially a girl's version of the Hildesheimer Yeshiva. Because of that, the fact that Sarah Schenirer the founder spent a lengthy period of time in a German community, and the fact that their Posek was of German extraction - as stated above - it makes sense that Bais Yaakov schools would use the older Mesorah from Germany.


I don't recall witnessing this phenomenon myself, but my guess is that in the Yeshivish community men are much more likely than women to override the pronunciation they learned at home with what they are exposed to in Yeshiva. Many yeshivot nowadays tend to promote uniformity of dress, and I suspect, halachic practice and pronunciation.

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    Maybe I should have made it clearer in the question, but it seems that the 'Yeshivish' boys' schools teach with the "oi" pronunciation while the girls' schools invariably use "o". There is thus no overriding taking place -- it is built into the system. I'm just curious how this system evolved. Were the pioneers of the Beis Yaakov movement from a different milieu than the pioneers of the Yeshiva movement in the US?
    – Dave
    May 4, 2011 at 14:32
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    I encourage you to include this additional information into your question.
    – Isaac Moses
    May 4, 2011 at 15:30

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