Is it proper/preferred for a congregation to have an official Hebrew pronunciation scheme, such that they request or demand that people use it for public prayers?

Does this concept apply differently for

Does this concept apply differently for pronunciation of any of the following?

  • undotted 'tav' ('t' / 's' / 'th')

  • 'ayin' (guttural stop / nothing)

  • other consonant variants

  • kamatz gadol ('a' as in "Brahms" / 'aw' as in "brawny" / 'u' as in "bun")

  • kamatz katan (just like a kamatz gadol / 'o' as in "broken")

  • cholam ('o' as in "broken" / 'oy' as in "boy" / 'ay' as in "bray" / 'ow' as in "brow"),

  • other vowel variants

  • 1
    I'm not sure what you mean by 'a' and 'aw' (and even 'o'), and if clarity in that respect is in your opinion necessary here you should perhaps consider using the International Phonetic Alphabet or several "as in..." words that are pronounced the same in most places (or specify a dialect for each "as in..." word).
    – msh210
    Jun 23 '11 at 18:22
  • thanks for the edit per my previous comment. But: You say "'aw' as in 'brawny'". To New Yorkers (a large component of the site, I'm guessing), this makes no sense. No one AFAIK pronounces a kamatz the way a New Yorker pronounces 'aw' in brawny. I've heard a kamatz pronounced as in fun or as in car (without the 'r', and not the way a northern-Midwesterner would say car, and not way a non-rhotic person would). I suspect you mean the latter?
    – msh210
    Jun 23 '11 at 18:55
  • @msh210 I guess "as in" pronunciation guides inherently suffer from this issue. I don't speak IPA, so this is going to have to do. "aw" is a canonical lay transliteration of Ashkenazic kamatz.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jun 23 '11 at 19:05

I really think it depends heavily on what type of congregation it is.

If it's a Sepharadi/Mizrahi congregation, it is surely more acceptable to pronounce words with at least the standard recognized pronunciation habits of Sepharadim (Tav pronounced as 't' rather than 's'; Kametz Gadol pronounced as 'ah' rather than 'aw'; Kametz Katon pronounced as 'o' and knowing when it's Katon; etc.) than to do otherwise.

When called to the Torah for an 'Aliyah, in many cases in Mizrahi congregations, there is an expectation that you will read your own section, and I'm fairly certain there is an expectation that you will pronounce the words "correctly".

In a Yekke congregation I have a feeling, though I don't know for certain, that there is a similar expectation, but with Yekke customs.

In Chassidishe shuls, I'm not sure what the expectation is, but I'd imagine there is a certain expectation that you will look Chassidish if you expect some Kavod, which would imply that those given Kavod will follow the local customs as well.

Note a common thread here. If one has an expectation to be called upon to lead anything, in some places one needs to look the part, and in those cases one would be expected to conform with with pronunciation.

On the other hand, any place that doesn't have such an expectation initially, might reach out to a visitor to give them the opportunity to lead Minhah, for example, in which case the expectation of conformity is already removed, and I would be quite surprised if they criticized someone's pronunciation for not fitting with theirs.

HOWEVER - on the last point, I would emphasize that this really only applies in a multi-cultural Jewish community such as one can find in places like the United States, Canada, and Israel, where many people of many backgrounds come to one place to pray. In certain parts of Europe, even today, as well as in parts of South America or other parts of the world, where all-comers are certainly welcome, the influence of the local community's traditions might weigh in the decision as to whether or not to "correct" someone else's pronunciation.


The question was posed to Rabbi Hershel Welcher; if I recall correctly, he said ideally there would be some standard pronunciation for the synagogue, and anyone leading prayers or reading the Torah would abide by it. He then acknowledged that there's enough variation out there today that we shouldn't be too strict about it.

Making the blessings on the Torah -- eh I don't hear it so much.

The Aruch HaShulchan discussed the question of Birkat Kohanim, as the Gemara implied that a Kohen who mispronounces the blessing shouldn't be doing it. He said the reason for that Gemara is that it would distract the congregation; today, any form of pronunciation that's common or normative would be fine. (Yes, what do you do if it's a Yemenite at a Hassidic synagogue where they've never ever heard anything like that pronunciation before and it would be distracting ... good question ...)

There's also the story of Rabbi Chaim Brisker travelling to a Hassidic town with his colleague, Rabbi Simcha Zelig Reiger; Rabbi Chaim felt that the Hassidic pronunciation was invalid for the Torah reading, and instructed Rabbi Reiger (a ba'al kriah) to forceably take the podium and read it "the right way"; Rabbi Reiger attempted this, but was forced down by the congregation!

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