Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Lithuanian Charedi Mitnagdim pronunciation

Frank from France sent the following request


I've discovered your great website while searching some informations about hebrew pronunciation and different questions about minhagim, As I've noticed your great culture in those subjects I'd like to submit you some questioning I have.

I'm interested in Lithuanian Haredi Mitnaggim movement and great rav like rav Shach, rav Elyachiv, etc. and references like Chafetz Chaim, Chazon Ish, etc. My search is about their practice : hebrew pronunciation, minhag, nusach, siddur, halacha, etc.

I'd like you to clarify myself on those points :

Pronunciation, is this movement pronouncing like this : Boroukh Ato Adey-noy Eleyheynou Melekh Hoeylom Asher Kiddéshonou Bémitsveysov Vétzivonou ... ? cholam=tzerer= 'ey' like in 'veined', also I have read that some pronounce shin like sin and sin like shin not sure who is concerned...

I'm not sure this theoretical pronunciation is still respect in Israel because I didn't always recognize them while listening to some rav shach or rav elyachiv brachot also I have read many arguying about how to pronounce the holam for example, as in your website "R' Schach ruled that the vowel holam should davka be pronounced with a yud sound at the end," so lithuanian (so rav shach) pronounce 'ey' but he says to pronounce 'oy' ? same for the Vilna Gaon saying we should pronounce it like a long o (sounds 'ou' like in 'you' ?) how do the lithuanian Haredi Mitnaggim define the correct hebrew pronunciation ? and paradoxically is it different from what they actually do ?

siddur, what siddur (daily use) are they using ? classic ashkenazim siddur ? or siddur ha-gra ? other ? does an artscroll classic ashenaz siddur fit ?

nusach : does they have a melody while praying ? I read somewhere they are just talking not singing in every days prayers

halacha : is the mishnah berurah their actual authority or is there other texts ?

many thanks & best regards

Frank (from France excuse my english please)


  1. Frank you have interesting questions - but this is not the typical focus of this blog.

    I would suggest you post these questions on the Avodah discussion group.

  2. ... or , aimed specifically at questions of diqduq, the siddur and the mesoretic text.

    To give short answers:

    Litvaks used to pronounce a cholam more like the German "ö" or "oe". When they got to countries that don't have that sound in their language, that tended to shift to a long /A/. By the way, there are Yemenite towns that have the same sound for cholam.

    The more southern, Polish, /oi/ won over the Chareidi world. So that's what you'll hear today.

    Lithuanian has no /sh/ (I guess you would transliterate it "ch" in French) sound, so they end up using /s/ for both shin and sin.

    Most use the standard East European siddur, e.g. ArtScroll or something similar. Some do follow the Gra's text, but only a minority.

    Litvaks aren't known for tunes. Particularly the yeshivos, where time for singing means time coming out of learning. And thus yeshiva alumni can get out of the habit. A cultural note: when Litvaks do sing, it tends to be heartfelt, pleeding to G-d type tunes. Like a "kumzitz", not wedding music. To over-simplify: he culture emphasizes the dependency on G-d and human frailty more than joy. At least in comparison to many other versions of Orthodoxy.

    Traditional Lithuanian practice was closer to the Arukh haShulchan, not the Mishnah Berurah. Many of the Lithuanian post-WWII rashei yeshiva promoted the MB, and so that has dominance today, at least in Orach Chaim (the territory it covers).

    (listowner of Avodah and Mesorah)

  3. Much has been written about the Lithuanina pronunciation of Yiddish. See various books and atlases by men like Max WEinreich and Marvin Herzog.This has nothing to do with being frum or a Charedi or the Yeshiva world.
    The Cholom is pronounced as ey. The previous commentator is mistaken its an "ey". Perhaps in the areas about Memel and Zamut and extreme Northern Lita it may have changed in the 19th century to a sort of German pronunciation under the Prussian influence.. But in area about Vilna, Minsk, Kovna, Horodna, Vitebsk , Baranowitz,Shavel etc etc it was pronounced ey not oe.
    after World war 1 some segments of the Yeshiva Community started to pronounce the cholom in Hebrew (not Yiddish) as oy.(See the new bio of Rav Shimen Skopf where this trend is mentioned) But this was still a work in progres in 1939.
    By the way this has nothing to do with Charedim, all of Lithuanian Jews frum, Zionist, Communists, Bundists etc spoke Yiddish thisway. Of course YIVO also attempted to tamper with the pronunciation.
    There is so much to write about this subject. Today the real Litvishe pronunciation is limited to a small group of lubavitcher who still speak Yiddish. Some yerushalmi Perushim still ahve the Mekori pronunciation, but the Yerushalmi Cholom is more like oy.If the original writer wishes he may contact me at and we can discus this issue or I can refer him to the appropriate sources

  4. I forgot to comment on some other points.
    1. The mekori Litvishe SHIN was a sin, but after World war 1 most melamdim etc tried to use the shin in Lashon Kodesh , in Yiddish the sin remained somewhat in force especially in the KOvna, Shavel, Ponoviesz area. In White Russia the sin was slowly being transfered into a shin in Yiddish as well.My late father emembered when a new cadre of melamdim came to his region and insisted on the shin not sin in Lashon Kodesh. Thus rav Shach who hailed from the northern regions used what we call Sabbesdike lashon. The late Lubavitcher rebbe whose father hailed from the Vitebsk White Russia area did not use the Sabbesdike lashon.
    Siddur the standard Nusach Bnai Lita siddur and Machzor. No one except for the gaon's Kluiz in Vilna used the Nusach HaGra before 1939.
    In Lithuania hot men gezogt a niggun nit gezungen. In 1936 at the Bar Mitzva of the grandson of the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe in Warsaw, the rebbe was mechabed the Modzitzer rebbeRabbi saul Yedidya Taub zu zogen a niggun, the Modzitzer replied as bay unz zingt men,,,. That says a lot about niggunim in Lita.
    That being said it must be mentioned that men like Reb Baruch Ber of Kaminetz and Reb Moshe Shemuel Schapira of Beer Yaakov and a Volozhiner eynikel were renowned menagnim and composed niggunim. The Bnai Tore of Nevorhodok also had their own zisse niggunim in Hebrew and Yiddish.
    Since over 90% of litvishe Yidden were killed in the War and those who survived who retianed a religious lifestyle were few and that group went over to Hebrew or Englsih much of this has been lost. Chaval Chaval.

  5. I am happy - ich fray zich - tzu zehn dem discussye (to see this discussion).

    Yaser keyach to the various posters so far, each brings forth valuable points.

    Re the comment by Reb Zalman "Today the real Litvishe pronunciation is limited to a small group of lubavitcher who still speak Yiddish.", I want to be maysif that there are still vestiges of this pronunciation among some older Misnagdim, zolen zei zayn gezund un stark, as well, esp. European ones, and I know at least one younger American-born misnaged who uses it at times too.

    For a general survey related to the pronunciation of the cholam, see Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz volume I, by R. Binyomin Hamburger.

    I think that the contemporary Yiddishist and maven Dovid Katz ( would also be able to shed light on this matter.

  6. I should saw what looks like much important worthwhile material related to some of the questions raised above at the linguistics section of Katz's site -

  7. Dovid Katz is certainly the best resource person in this field.
    He is the son of a White Russian Jew and has done extensive field work in this area.
    Certainly there must be a few older Lithuanian Jews in Brooklyn, Bnai Brak and Jerusalem who still use the litvishe havore.


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