In the title Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch, why is the word מרכז transliterated with an 's' in place of a 'ז' rather than a 'z'?

  • Chabad Chasidus originates in Russia. Perhaps in Russian the Zayin translates more closely to a "s". May 22 '11 at 4:06
  • I'm voting to reopen because it is about how to communicate a Torah organization's name to English speakers.
    – Yishai
    Nov 8 '16 at 22:48

It may be under the influence of German (where z represents the sound /ts/, so it's unavailable for this purpose).

The first director of Merkos was R' Chaim Mordechai Aizik Hodakov ע"ה, who in the '20s and '30s was the principal of the Torah Im Derech Eretz school in Riga; and one of Merkos' early influential employees was Dr. Nissan Mindel ע"ה, who had been a student at the same school. It followed the principles of R' Samson Raphael Hirsch זצ"ל (hence its name), so I would guess that they used German orthography for Hebrew transliterations.

It's also possible that this was simply the standard at the time. I don't have his sefarim handy, but I seem to remember that R' Avigdor Miller זצ"ל also occasionally used S for zayin (though he never studied in any German-influenced school).

  • In German, not only is the letter z unavailable, but, if I'm not mistaken, a final consonant is devoiced, so that (to the extent that influenced Hebrew, as local languages always do) merkaz may well have been pronounced with an s sound, further encouraging such a transliteration.
    – msh210
    May 23 '11 at 16:38

An S in English can have the sound of a Zayin (e.g. dishes), and that was probably the intent.

  • Are you suggesting the transliteration was done by someone who was unaware that that pronunciation is the rare exception to the rule and therefore forewent 'z'?
    – WAF
    May 22 '11 at 22:58
  • Nowadays, when every second person you meet in the States is named Manmeet or Fatima, people will see an unusual word and pronounce it as if it's a transliteration; hence, they'll see s and pronounce it as an s. However, I'm guessing (no source) that that wasn't always the case, and that someone seeing merkos would pronounce it with a z. (Also with an er as in the English word her, but there's not much to do about that: there's no unambiguous way to transliterate the Hebrew er into English.) But that leaves open why the o — and why Machine Israel used to be spelled that way.
    – msh210
    May 23 '11 at 1:21
  • @WAF, it is hard to state a hard-and-fast rule in English pronunciation because there are always exceptions, but in general an s after a vowel is pronounced as a z, as is a final s in a word. The s is doubled to indicate that it is a proper s sound. See here: pronuncian.com/materials/podcasts/Episode_3.aspx
    – Yishai
    May 23 '11 at 13:05
  • that is true of conventional English spelling (which actually has been artificially conventionalized to double final letters for at times unnatural reasons) but when it comes to transliteration from Hebrew, I believe the standard is to leave consonants singular unless marking a geminate for a dagesh. I have never, for example, seen שבת transliterated with a final 'ss'.
    – WAF
    May 30 '11 at 15:26
  • @WAF ssssssee here meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/q/1266/759
    – Double AA
    Jul 19 '12 at 5:48

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