There are several places in the Talmud, where rabbis alter the reading of a Biblical verse to teach something. an example of this is:

Berakhot 64a (Sefaria):

אמר רבי אלעזר אמר רבי חנינא תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם שנאמר (ישעיהו נד, יג) וכל בניך למודי ה' ורב שלום בניך אל תקרי בניך אלא בוניך

R. Eleazar said in the name of R. Hannina: The disciples of the wise increase peace in the world; as it is said, "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord ; and great shall be the peace of thy children" (Is. liv. 13). Read not banayik "thy children" but bonayik - thy builders

Granted that the verse, above, is from Isaiah and not the Torah. However, I believe that the changing of pronunciation is used in verses from the Torah, as well. (Can't locate the example at the moment.)

Aren't the words and pronunciation Masoretic and the correct pronunciation should not be changed? I understand that in Hebrew, the vowels are not written, so the concept that the rabbis are using is within the freedom that since there are no vowels, it "could" be pronounced in some other way.

Nonetheless, how do the rabbis have the permission to alter the pronunciation since that was not what was originally meant? Also, what prevents any rabbi, currently, or even a wise student to alter the pronunciation of any word from anywhere in the Bible just to accommodate his idea or teaching? Is there some leniency in using this technique with other sections of Tanac"h outside of the Torah?

  • 1
    Whose translation is that? Bonayikh (with a Kamatz Katan) is "your wise ones" from בינה.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 16:43
  • @DoubleAA Sefaria. It's in the parentheses. Is it still unclear?
    – DanF
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 16:44
  • 1
    How is this different from any other form of exposition? You can always ask how they knew that. There's no special permissions here since you agree he's not actually changing the official text.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 16:45
  • Rashi implies that this is mere midrashic exegesis. He writes in his commentary to exodus 29: 43 בכבודי שתשרה שכינתי בו. ומדרש אגדה אל תקרי בכבודי, אלא [בכבודי], במכובדים שלי, כאן רמז לו מיתת בני אהרן ביום הקמתו, וזהו שאמר משה (ויקרא י ג) הוא אשר דבר ה' לאמר בקרובי אקדש, והיכן דבר, ונקדש בכבודי:
    – mevaqesh
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 16:47
  • related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/38556/759 cc @mevaqesh
    – Double AA
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 16:53

1 Answer 1


Let's first clarify that the literary device "Read not..." is an attempt to discover the layers of meaning in the word; it is not intended to invalidate in any way the accepted pronunciation.

I quote Artscroll Siddur, Interlinear Shabbos Edition, page 427:

The intention is not to change the accepted reading of Scripture. Whenever such a statement appears in Rabbinical literature it means that the verse contains an allusion in addition to its literal meaning as if it were pronounced differently.

The explanation for this depends on the answer to a further question. It is known that the Torah is written without vowels; vowels are actually a fairly recent innovation. So why was the Torah given without vowels? Doesn't that leave the words open to interpretation?

In fact, that was exactly the point. The words of the Torah were written with layers and layers of meaning. The primary meaning indeed comes from the understanding of the words according to the Masoretic tradition. However, the Mesorah does not in and of itself invalidate all alternative approaches. Many layers of meaning can be discovered through D'rash, which probes the alternative meanings of texts through such devices as "Read not"s, Gezeirat Shavas (parallels between the same word in different locations), Kri UKtiv (words written one way and pronounced another), and similar devices. These devices are intended to help the learned unlock the layers of meaning within the Torah. (R' Moshe Eisemann, Rashi's Thoughtful Students)

You asked another question. What protection is there in place to prevent the unscrupulous from misinterpreting a verse to suit their fancy? Only the reliability of the expounder. We rely on the acceptance only of people with Yirat Shamayim, who won't falsify the Torah to suit their ends. The transmission of the oral Torah relies on the integrity and credibility of the Sages. That is really subject for a different question. But once someone is accepted as reliable, and he does nothing to infringe on that reliability (such as attempting a midrashic device beyond his abilities), he is followed. If you would come up with your own "Read not...", you are unlikely to have your opinion accepted.

In general, even the greatest modern scholars do not create their own "Read not"s, nor do they innovate using the other devices mentioned above. They generally believe that they are not on the level of scholarship neccesary to innovate new "Read not"s, and instead use alternate meanings of Parshanut, or build upon the Midrashic devices quoted in earlier sources. Again, if you or your local Orthodox Rabbi would innovate a new "Read not", many people would be suspicious of both you and your Drashah.

  • 2
    Your first sentence seems to a answer the question. A source for it therefore seems vital.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 21:19
  • @DanF When Artscroll cites no source, that means they believe it to be the consensus of the commentators (See introduction to Esther, the first Artscroll book, where they write this explicitly). Since I have gotten a lot of flack for quoting this idea (which often happens when stating ideas that are taken for granted by the commentators and as such lack the typical sources) I edited in a full quote so it is clear what they say.
    – LN6595
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 20:36

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