Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ashkenazic - What is it?

Guest Post: Avi Grossman

R' Eidensohn,

Shalom. I am familiar with the ruling of prominent rabbanim from the past generations that Ashkenazic Jews should continue using havara Ashkenazis for ritual uses. I have long been confused by one issue: what defines what is Ashkenazic? Indeed, I spent a year davening at one of the largest Chasidic shuls in Yerushalayim, and they, like other synagogues, had a notice from the hanhala that shlichei tzibbur were required to use Ashkenazis, but mine sounds a lot different theirs. Better yet, laafukei mai? How would they define an un-Ashkenazic dialect?

On a similar note, an American rav who has been here for thirty years told me that R' Schach ruled that the vowel holam should davka be pronounced with a yud sound at the end, even though there are gantza rayas from the baalei mesora and dikduk, foremost of whom being the GRA, that holam is supposed to be pronounced like the long O sound, like in English, and even though that is a common Ashkenazic practice in England and America and among Yekkies. Is this true? Common Ashkenazic practise is to often accent the wrong syllable of a word. (me-NO-ra instead of me-no-RA). Would R' Schach similarly rule that Ashkenazim should continue accenting the wrong syllables even if they know better.

Thank you for your time.



  1. It should be noted, on the matter of accenting of syllables, that most all Ashkenazi siddurim do indeed show the correct accenting, which is sometimes at odds with practice.

  2. Proper Yekkes pronounce the cholam to rhyme with cow.

  3. The Rambam requires distinguishing ע-א and ח-כ in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Shema. Is this a Sepharadi ruling, or do Ashkenazim have to make this distinction at least when saying Shema?

    A similar issue is the dalet of "echad" which is supposed to be stretched out, and can't in Ashkenazi (and most Sepharadi) accents. (Yemenites generally use the /dh/ sound at the beginning of "this".) At least there, though, the question is dealt with -- we do use the usual sound. But again, is that because the East European languages didn't have a /dh/, so people weren't able, or a ruling even for us?

    Ashkenaz once had a sound for an ayin, something similar to an /n/, or maybe the /ng/ sound you hear in some Sepharadi accents. Otherwise, Yankl's nickname would be "Yakl" -- the ayin in Yaaqov turned into an "n" in the nickname. "Yankef" is a common pronunciation amongst Yiddish speakers. But just of that ayin...


  4. i was also looking into those issues.

  5. I have 6 teshuvos of the Igros Moshe listed in Yad Moshe page 66 dealing with this issue.

    1) Which is correct pronunciation OC 3:5
    2) Bar Mitzva boys versus congregation O.C. 4:23
    3) Baal Koreh who is not used to Sefardic pronunciation E.H. 4:108
    4) All are considered lashon hakodesh? OC 3:5
    5) All are considered lashon hakodesh OC 4:23
    6) To change from Ashkenaz to Sefard or the reverse OC 3:5

    See also OC 4:40.15 regarding morid hageshem

    שו"ת אגרות משה אורח חיים חלק ג סימן ה

    וא"כ ודאי שלה"ק האמתי כמו שדברו אבותינו עדיף לתפלה, לא רק משום שזה עצמו הוא זכות גדול שמתפללין בהלשון והברה שניתנה התורה, וכהטעם שאיתא בחתם סופר ח"ו סימן פ"ד כי אף שתפלה נאמרה בכל לשון הוא יותר ראוי להתפלל בלשון הקודש, וגם שתיקנו כן כי אף לפני מלך ב"ו אין עושין כן כי המדבר עמו צריך לדבר בלשון המלך אע"פ שהמלך מבין בכל הלשונות, שלכן גם בענין ההברה שייך זה, וגם הא א"ר יהודה בסוטה דף ל"ג, אל ישאל אדם צרכיו בלשון ארמית דא"ר יוחנן כל השואל צרכיו בלשון ארמי אין מלאכי השרת נזקקין לכשמתפלל ביחידות להסוברין /באו"ח/ בסימן ק"א סעיף ד' שכמו כן לכל לשון אין נזקקין אלא ללה"ק, ואף להי"א דרק ללשון ארמי אין נזקקין שהוא שיטת הרא"ש פ"ב דברכות סימן ב', הרי כתב שם במעיו"ט שהוא משום דהוא לה"ק המשתבש ומטעם זה כתב שגם בלשון ערבי שכתב הרמב"ם שהוא לה"ק משובש נמי אין נזקקין כשמתפלל ביחיד, ולכן הברות שהם בשינוי נמי הן כלה"ק משובש. אבל אין ידוע לנו איזו היא הברה האמתית לכן אינו רשאי לשנות מכפי שהתפללו אבותינו כיון דלפי קבלתם הברה שלהם הוא האמיתית ואיך ישנה להברה שאינה אמתית לקבלת אבותיו, והא בכה"ג שאיתא מחלוקת בדינא נמי מפורש שאסור לשנות כהא דחלב דאייתרא בפסחים דף נ"א ובמוגרמת דרב ושמואל בחולין דף י"ח, וכן הוא ענין הברות שהוא ג"כ כמחלוקת איך היא הברה האמתית שאסור לשנות אם לא שהלך למקום האחר אדעתא שלא לחזור. ולכן ברור שבמקומותינו שמתפללין בהברה אשכנזית וכן אומרין בכל הברכות וקורין בתורה אסור לשנות להברה ספרדית וממילא צריך ללמד במדינותינו עם התלמידים לקרא בהברה אשכנזית..

  6. " Londoner said...
    Proper Yekkes pronounce the cholam to rhyme with cow."

    No, that was only some in Northern Germany, the real Yekke/Ashkenaz cholam is not pronounced that way, rather as stated in the posting, cf lengthy discussion in the sefer Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz (SMA) by Rav Binyomin Hamburger, cheilek aleph, p.233-264.

    Re Rav Schach's reported remarks - Although I didn't hear it, I could believe it, as Rav Schach, from what I have heard, was a big advocate of people doing what their father did. For example, when he was asked by a Yekke talmid of his, who had been accustomed from his youth to waith three hours between meat and milk, if he should change to wait six hours, Rav Schach told him not to deviate from his ancestral minhag (see Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz I, 17-18, also SMA III, p.19-20).

  7. Eliyahoo William DwekJune 8, 2010 at 11:34 PM

    The Torah was not given in Munich or Hamburg. The Jewish People came out of EGYPT, which is in the Middle East.

    This means that Lashon HaKodesh is pronounced with the Sefardi pronunciation.

  8. Eliyahoo William DwekJune 8, 2010 at 11:35 PM

    1. Lashon HaKodesh is, “The Holy Language” or literally, “The Holy Tongue.” Lashon HaKodesh can therefore never be twisted into incorrect pronunciation.

    The vowels and pronunciation have been so severely distorted by the Chassidim and communities of Eastern Europe, or those of ashkenazi origin - that some words have unfortunately become unrecognisable. The problem persists until today, and it must be corrected – speedily.

    2. The vowels can never be mixed up - because Hashem doesn't like the sound of it.

    There IS a correct way to pronounce every letter of the Aleph Bet. We are not allowed to change Hashem's Torah.

    Drastically changing the pronunciation of any letter is changing Hashem's Torah - and this is something very grave.

    Every letter is extremely holy. Each letter has a particular sound - like a particular note. When that sound or "note" is played incorrectly e.g. I play a piano with a hammer instead of my fingers - then great damage is caused.

    Damage is caused Above, and correspondingly, below.

    3. In Hebrew, the vowel "A" is "a" and "U" is "u". So “Amein” is “amein”. The vowels cannot ever be twisted into “OOmein.” This is not Hebrew.

  9. Eliyahoo William DwekJune 8, 2010 at 11:36 PM

    4. Especially grave – is the stubborn and continual mispronunciation of Hashem’s NAME - for centuries - by the Chassidim. This is a blatant desecration of the 3rd Commandment, and a CHILLUL HASHEM – a public desecration of THE NAME of Hashem.

    The NAME of HASHEM beginning ALEPH – DALED - NUN - - which is extremely Holy - is continually mispronounced every day. The “OH” sound cannot be changed into “EE”. The 2 cannot be mixed.

    It is extremely urgent for all communities to correct this. It is very dangerous for the leaders: dayanim, rabbanim and rebbeim of communities to let this continue.

    There is NO forgiveness for this aveirah.

    The breaking of the THIRD Commandment is UNFORGIVABLE – “LO YENAKEH.”

    “Lo Tissa et SHEM Hashem Elokecha lashav ki LO YENAKEH Hashem eit asher yissa et SHEMO lashav.” (Parsha of Yitro 20:7)

    “You shall not take the NAME OF HASHEM, your G-d, in vain, for HASHEM WILL NOT ABSOLVE anyone who takes His NAME in vain.”

  10. Eliyahoo William DwekJune 8, 2010 at 11:39 PM

    5. “ElokeiNU” means, “Our G-d.” But the Chassidim have twisted the vowels into, “ElokIYNEE”. What does “ElokIYNEE” mean? “NU” must be pronounced as “NU”. It does not turn into “NEE.”

    a) “Yerushalayim” has been changed into, “YerISHU LAYIM”. What does “YERISHU LAYIM” mean? “They will INHERIT LAYIM?”

    b) “Yom Tov” has been changed into, “YON TIF”. This is not Hebrew. Hashem gave us days which are “YOM TOV” – not YON TIF.

    “YOM” ends with a “Mem” not a “Nun.”

    “TOV” ends with a “BET” not a “Peh.”

    These are glaring examples of how Lashon HaKodesh has been distorted into words that are unintelligible.

    6. The “OH” sound cannot be changed into “OY” or “OIY”. “OY” is from Polish. Lashon HaKodesh cannot be mixed with Polish.

    Some examples are below:
    a) The word, “TORAH” has been distorted into the word, “TOIYROH”.

    b) The name of “MOSHE Rabbeinu” has been distorted into the word, “MOIYSHER.” Who is MOISHER?

    It is MOSHE Rabbeinu who gave us the TORAH.

    Moshe did not give us the ‘TOIYROH’, or ‘TOYREH,’ and the Torah was not given to the Jewish People by a man called ‘MOIYSHER RABAIYNU.’

    The name of the greatest of all the Prophets is ‘MOSHE’. It is about time the ‘rabbis’ and ‘dayanim’ got this right.

    7. The last letter of the Hebrew Alphabet is a “TAFF”. But it has been changed into a “SOF”.

    “Taff” is “TE.” It is not “Se.”

    It is as if someone had a bad lisp (lithp) or had some teeth missing.

    On being called up to the TORAH (not TOIYreh), the correct way to say the Bracha (not ‘BRUCHA’ or ‘BROCHO’) is:


    – Not “BOruch ATOY Hashem NOSSEIN HASSORAH.”

    This must be corrected very urgently.

    • The “AH” sound cannot be changed into an “OY/OIY” sound or an ‘AW’ sound. So when a beracha is made, a person should be saying:

    “BAruch ATAH….” and NOT, “BOruch ATOY or BOruch ATAW……..”

    8. The 8th letter of the Aleph Bet is “(G)HET”. It is guttural. It is not a “CHES.”

    So a bridegroom is a (G)HATAN.

    He is not a ‘CHATAN’ / ‘CHASSAN’ / ‘CHOSSON’/ ‘CHUSSON.’

    9. The letter “AYIN” is guttural. The AYIN should not sound the same as the ALEPH.

    The ashkenazi communities should start correcting their pronunciation.

  11. Eliyahoo William DwekJune 8, 2010 at 11:39 PM

    10. With regard to some Sephardi communities, such as those from Iraq:

    The 6th letter of the Aleph Bet is a VAV. It is not a "WAW", as they may have been taught. "Waw" is incorrect.

    The sound "WE" or "WA" is actually the NAME of Hashem.

    When the 2 YUD's of Hashem's NAME are written together, the sound is "WA". However this is never pronounced. This is the only time where there is the sound "WA" in the Aleph Bet.

    Here are some examples:
    1. David HaMelech is "DaVID HaMelech." He is not "DaWEED HaMelech."

    2. A mitzvah is a "MitzVAH." It is not a " MISSWAH " or a “MUSSWA..”

    3. Mitzvot are "MitzVOT." They are not " MISSWOT " or “MUSSWOT”.

    4. Mitzvotav are "MitzVOTAV." They are not "MitzWOTTAW."

  12. Eliyahoo William DwekJune 8, 2010 at 11:41 PM


    As Lashon HaKodesh is a Holy language, it cannot be mixed together with any other language. To say, “Good Shabbos!” / “Good Shabbes!” / “Good Shaabos” is mixing English – a Latin-based language with Lashon HaKodesh (distorted).

    The correct way to greet your friend on Shabbat is to say, “Shabbat Shalom!” And with Lashon HaKodesh, a person is giving his or her friend the greatest greeting of all - SHALOM.

    It is time that Lashon HaKodesh is pronounced correctly by all communities, both ashkenazi and sephardi.

    It is especially important to make the changes to pronounce the NAME of Hashem correctly, and to begin to make a Kiddush HaSHEM in all our Tefillot.

  13. First, if they aren't saying Hashem's name correctly, that isn't a chillul hasheim. They aren't belittling G-d's reputation in any way.

    As far as the third diberah... If you're arguing that what they are saying isn't Hashem's name at all, then they aren't saying sheim Hashem lashav. One can't "carry My name for nought" if one isn't even invoking Hashem's name at all!

    Third, you write "There IS a correct way to pronounce every letter of the Aleph Bet." I disagree. There are many correct ways.

    For example, the Lithuanian choelam was considered a distortion of an earlier /o/ sound. Until it was found that the same /oe/ sound was used in a number of Yemenite towns.

    Don't forget the evidence in seifer Shofetim -- sheivet Ephraim's version of Hebrew had no /sh/ -- the letter was "sin" regardless of which side the dot was on. Which is why they couldn't say "shibboles" -- an Ephramite would stumble over the first sound.

    This notion of multiple accents dates back to the beginning.

    One thing the Galician Hebrew has that other Ashkenazim do not is a difference in sound between the qamatz gadol (which they render /U/) and a qamatz qatan (/u/).

    So stop worrying about how others say Hebrew and get on with life!


  14. First, your argument works better for Yemenite pronunciation than Sepharadic -- Spanish isn't any less alien than Germanic or Slavic languages.

    But your argument doesn't work anyway...

    Arabic didn't exist yet. And Misr was a Hamitic language, not much closer to Hebrew than European languages are.

    Ever hear what they spoke in Carthage? Kart Hadasht, New City, was the new Tzur for the Kenaanim we displaced. Their Punic language gives you a sense of how Phoenician sounded, and Phoenician is both contemporary with early Hebrew and similar enough to have shared the same alef-beis. ("Phoenicia" is Greek; the Phoenician word for Phoenicia is "Kenaan".) A better starting point than Arabic.

    But to return to my them: Given that even in the days of the shofetim we had numerous traditional pronunciations, why would we think that there is a "one right accent", or that one would even be desirable?



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