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The Politics of Pronunciation

  • Isaac B. Gottlieb (a1)

Extract

World Jewry is divisible into two major groups of tradition based on geographic and historical considerations: Eastern or Sephardi and Western or Ashkenazi. They differ in their rites of prayer, customs, and also in many points of Jewish law. Moreover, their pronunciation of Hebrew in the synagogue differs as well. This situation leads to a practical question: May one elect to change his pronunciation of Hebrew from one tradition to the other? More to the point, as we shall see, may one change from the Ashkenazi (Western) to the Sephardi (Eastern)? On the face of it, this is strictly a matter of halakhah (Jewish law). But we will argue that the number of responsa written in the last seventy years that address this question and the highly charged attitudes expressed or implied in them reveal much more than law alone. Responsa in general, we will claim, should be examined through the lenses of the social sciences because they stand at the convergence of sociology and halakhic decision making. In the particular question before us, accent has become a nodal point between religion, legal writing, and sociolinguistics.

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1. Previous discussion of responsa about differences in pronunciation can be found in Zimmels, Hirsch Jakob, Ashkenazim and Sephardim: Their Relations, Differences, and Problems as Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa (Gregg: London, 1958), 8290; and Sharvit, Shimon, “Mivta'eha shel ha-‘Ivrit le-'or ha-sifrut ha-rabbanit le-doroteha,” in Sefer Shivtiel: Meḥkarim ba-lashon ha-‘Ivrit u-ve-masoret ha-‘edot, ed. Gluska, Isaac and Kessar, Tsemah (Tel Aviv: Association for Society and Culture and Afiqim, 1992), 316–37. The term “Ashkenazi,” referring to Jews of Northern European descent, was first associated with Franco-German Jewry and was later expanded to include Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. Ashkenazi Israelis are their descendants, so, too, most of British and American Jewry. Sephardim were originally the Jews of Spain and Portugal, Sepharad being a biblical place-name that was associated with Spain in the Middle Ages. In current popular usage, “Sephardi” connotes Jews of Eastern (Muslim) countries such as Syria, Iraq, Persia, Turkey, and those in the Arabian Peninsula, Israel serving as the dividing line between east and west. In one sense, this name is anachronistic because traditions originally spread from the east (Babylonia) to Spain; in another sense, though, the connotation is valid because following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the exiles found refuge in the Ottoman Empire, including Palestine and regions of the Middle East. Many Jews of Eastern origin therefore prefer the more original designation Mizraḥim, “Eastern Jews.” However, the traditions of North Africa—Algeria, Morocco—are also Sephardic, brought to those lands by the Spanish émigrés, yet these lands are all due west of Israel, hence not “Eastern.” For the sake of convenience, despite the possible inaccuracies, we will use the accepted terms Sephardi and Ashkenazi. Most non-Ashkenazim, even Yemenites, will define the polar opposite of “Ashkenazi” as “Sephardi,” including themselves in this definition. However, if asked what they are, they will respond with their country of origin (Iraqi, Yemenite).

2. Boxer, Diana, Applying Sociolinguistics: Domains and Face-to-Face Interaction (Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2002), 125, notes that “the domain of religion has seen a relative paucity of sociolinguistic research over the past decades.” Her own study of bar mitzvah (ibid.) is more concerned with talking than with language. Waxman, Chaim I., “Toward a Sociology of Psak,” Tradition 25, no. 3 (1991): 1225, reprinted in Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy, ed. Moshe Sokol (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1992), deals with the role socioeconomic conditions play in halakhic decisions and in their acceptance but makes no mention of language. Lau, Binyamin, Mi-maran ‘ad maran: mishnato hahilkhatit shel harav ‘Ovadyah Yosef (Tel Aviv: Miskal, 2005), in a section entitled “Decisions with a Social Orientation,” does not cite R. Ovadiah's views on pronunciation. Seeman, Don, “Ethnographers, Rabbis, and Jewish Epistemology: The Case of The Ethiopian Jews,” Tradition 25, no. 4 (1991): 1329, investigates the relations between halakhic decisions and the social sciences, a question that will concern us here as well. On the nature of halakhic decisions, see Angel, Marc D., “A Study of the Halakhic Approaches of Two Modern Posekim,” Tradition 23, no. 3 (1988): 41. Washofsky, Mark, “Responsa and the Art of Writing: Three Examples from the Teshuvot of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein,” in An American Rabbinate: A Festschrift for Walter Jacob, ed. Knobel, Peter S. and Staitman, Mark N. (Pittsburgh: Rodef Shalom Press, 2001), 149204 (http://www.huc.edu/faculty/washofsky.shtml), views responsa from the point of view of “law as language,” about which see further.

3. The number of books on law as literature is legion: White, James B., The Legal Imagination: Studies in the Nature of Legal Thought and Expression (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973); idem, Heracles’ Bow: Essays on the Rhetoric and Poetics of the Law (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985); Ward, Ian, Law and Literature: Possibilities and Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Ledwon, Lenora, ed., Law and Literature: Text and Theory (New York: Garland, 1996); Posner, Richard A., Law and Literature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998); and Binder, Guyora and Weisberg, Robert, Literary Criticisms of Law (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000). Julius, A., in the introduction to Law and Literature, ed. Freeman, M. and Lewis, A. D. E. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 2:xiii, identifies four meanings for “law as literature”: (1) the laws pertaining to literature, (2) law in literature, (3) the law as literature, and (4) legal and literary hermeneutics. The last two areas are relevant to this paper.

4. “To adopt a speech-act perspective on literary texts (rather than on fictional discourse) is to see that literature, like any other linguistic performance, is a collective interaction as well as a verbal object” (Petrey, Sandy, Speech Acts and Literary Theory [New York: Routledge, 1990], 71).

5. Halliday, Michael A. K., Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning (London: Arnold, 1978), 11.

6. The following remarks by a leading scholar in the realm of “law as language” studies convey the sense of the term: “My focus was always on language and expression…. I could begin to see that the law was a system for the translation of mute and inexpressible experience to another plane” (White, James Boyd, The Edge of Meaning [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001], 220). He adds, “The lawyer and the judge live constantly at the edge of language, the edge of meaning” (223).

7. Language studies of the responsa were done by Kaddari, Moshe Z., “Kivunim be-ḥeker leshonah shel sifrut ha-she'eilot u-teshuvot,” Leshonenu 54 (1990): 231–45. Kaddari called for a morphology and syntax of the language of the responsa in addition to semantic studies. His student, the late Zvi Betzer, followed suit with several papers on the grammar and vocabulary of the responsa. However, there is no mention in Kaddari's paper of sociolinguistics. The rhetorical and literary aspects of responsa have been highlighted in the pioneering paper of Washofsky, “Responsa and the Art of Writing.”

8. Rhetoric in legal literature has been defined as a “subset of stylistic devices that is used to persuade readers or listeners” (Posner, Law and Literature, 255).

9. Iggerot Moshe 4:E.H.13 (the sections of Shulḥan ‘Arukh are henceforth abbreviated: ‘Oraḥ Ḥayyim, OH; Yoreh De‘ah, YD; Even ha-Ezer, EH; Ḥoshen Mishpat, HM). See n. 103 herein for details on Rabbi Feinstein, his responsa, and our system of citing them.

10. Jewish decisors in Islamic lands wrote responsa in Judeo-Arabic, and the Geonim in the East (Iraq) penned theirs in Aramaic. But Jews in Germany and France during the Middle Ages wrote in Hebrew, as did Sephardic decisors under Christian rule (Nahmanides in northern Spain). Possibly they modeled their use of the holy tongue after the use of Latin in the church and therefore refrained from writing responsa in the vernacular (Old French, German, or Catalan). Western and Eastern European Jews, as well as American halakhic authorities, have continued to write in Hebrew right up to the present (communicated by Dr. Yehuda Galinsky).

11. “.כיון שהוא חבר להראבייס דקאנסערוואטיוון”

12. Washofsky, “Responsa and the Art of Writing,” also cites R. Feinstein's use of the transliterated “Rabbi” for members of the Reform rabbinate and “temple” for their synagogues. See also Chinitz, Jacob, “Reb Moshe and the Conservatives,” Conservative Judaism 41 (1989): 11, who cites a responsum of R. Feinstein as follows: “The fact that he was known as ‘rabbi’ and not as ‘rav’ indicates to me that he was Conservative” [Iggerot Moshe 5:EH4]. Unfortunately, this is a misreading. What R. Feinstein wrote was, “It seems from the use of the word ‘Rabbi’ by the questioner [presumably writing in Hebrew] in place of the word rav that the mesadder kiddushin [the officiating rabbi being referred to] must have been a Conservative rabbi.” Reb Moshe made a logical deduction based on the questioner's style and did not independently deem every “rabbi” a member of the Conservative clergy. After all, American Orthodox rabbis are also called “rabbi.” Nevertheless, our point is academic, as the example we chose to cite (like those of Washofsky) indicates that the medium of language served R. Feinstein's case to deny the validity of Conservative (and Reform) rabbis.

13. Not that halakhah requires a rabbi for the ceremony; rather, the responsum creates an ambience of ersatz both for the officiator and the ceremony.

14. In Sephardi pronunciation, both kamaẓ and pataḥ are sounded as /a/, and ẓere and segol as /ĕ/. The letter tav is always plosive /t/.

15. See Fellman, Jack, The Revival of a Classical Tongue: Eliezer Ben Yehuda and the Modern Hebrew Language (The Hague: Mouton, 1973).

16. The decision was taken by the Va'ad ha-Lashon (Language Committee) in 1913. This was an early example of language planning; on this topic, see Shimon A. Shur, “Modern Hebrew in the Light of Language Planning Terminology, History, and Periodization,” Hebrew Studies 37 (1996): 39–54. On whether it was demography or ideology that brought about this decision, see Efrati, Nathan, Mi-leshon yeḥidim le-leshon ‘umah: ha-dibbur ha-‘ivri be-'Ereẓ-Yisra'el ba-shanim 1881–1922 (Jerusalem: Academy of the Hebrew Language: 2004), 8891.

17. The following paragraphs are based on Bartal, Israel, “From Traditional Bilingualism to National Monolingualism,” in Hebrew in Ashkenaz: A Language in Exile, ed. Glinert, Lewis (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1993), 141–50.

18. Ferguson, Charles A., “Diglossia,” Word 15 (1959): 325–40, thinks that the term refers to using two varieties of the same language: “In many speech communities, two or more varieties of the same language are used by some speakers under different conditions” (325). Fishman, Joshua A., “Societal Bilingualism: Stable and Transitional,” in Language in Sociocultural Change (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1972), 135–52, uses the term “diglossia” for speaking two different languages as well. Fishman sees the Jewish situation as one of “stable diglossia co-occurring with widespread bilingualism. Traditional (pre–World War I) Eastern European Jewish males communicated in Hebrew (H) and Yiddish (L). In more recent days their descendents have continued to do so, adding to their repertoire a Western language (notably English) for intragroup communication” (Fishman, Joshua A., “Bilingualism With and Without Diglossia; Diglossia With and Without Bilingualism,” in Sociolinguistics: The Essential Readings, ed. Paulston, Christina B. and G. Tucher, Richard [Oxford: Blackwell, 2003], 360). Here, H stands for high language, L for low.

19. “The English term Hebrew is a misnomer in our context, suggesting as it does either the language of the Bible or the new Hebrew…. What traditional Jewry was concerned with was loshn koydesh … in which Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew, Talmudic Aramaic, the post-Talmudic amalgamation of Hebrew and Aramaic all had converged into one linguistic entity” (Weinreich, Max, “Yidishkayt and Yiddish: On the Impact of Religion on Language in Ashkenazi Jewry,” in Mordecai M. Kaplan Jubilee Volume…, ed. Davis, Moshe [New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1953], 388).

20. Ibid., 385.

21. This period encompassed more than 120 years, from the 1770s to the 1890s. See Feiner, Shmuel, “Towards a Historical Definition of the Haskalah,” in New Perspectives on the Haskalah, ed. Feiner, Shmuel and Sorkin, David (London: Littman, 2001), 184220.

22. The sociolinguistics of the Orthodox in Europe was much more complex, depending on the country in question and the branch of orthodoxy—hasidic or otherwise. See, for example, Poll, Solomon, “The Role of Yiddish in American Ultra-Orthodox and Hassidic Communities,” in Never Say Die! ed. Fishman, Joshua (The Hague: Mouton, 1981), 197218, which lists “eight distinct categories in the expression of attitudes towards Yiddish” (200) in the Hungarian Jewish community in the mid-nineteenth century.

23. In fact, the ḥaredi community in Israel often speaks Hebrew, so it is important for its members to distinguish clearly between the vernacular (“secular” Hebrew) and lóshn kóydesh.

24. Myhill, John, Language in Jewish Society: Towards A New Understanding (Buffalo, NY: Multilingual Matters, 2004), concludes that Jews and Gentiles differ with regard to the place that language occupies in their national identity. For non-Jews, the main components of national identity are language and country; whoever does not speak English in the United States is perceived by the average citizen as being less than American. But for Jews, identity is based primarily on religion and ancestry. Therefore, not knowing Hebrew (or not residing in Israel) does not flaw one's Jewish identity.

25. Lewis Glinert, “Language as Quasilect: Hebrew in Contemporary Anglo-Jewry,” in Glinert, Hebrew in Ashkenaz, 249–64, has suggested that Hebrew be called a “quasilect” in England, an “as if” language, because English Jews pray in Hebrew but are not able to speak it.

26. The difference between leshon ha-kodesh, the holy tongue, and the modern spoken form of Hebrew may indeed come under the rubric of diglossia (see n. 18 herein). However, Ferguson, “Diglossia,” 333, finds that the term means that “H has grammatical categories not present in L and has an inflectional system of nouns and verbs which is much reduced or totally absent in L,” as in the case of Classical Arabic and its spoken dialects. The difference between the Ashkenazi pronunciation and the Sephardi is one of language variation alone and does not affect grammar.

27. In truth, this identity is not a full correspondence because traditional Sephardi pronunciation maintains the guttural consonants, while Israeli Hebrew does not.

28. The idea of merging the secular and the sacred is especially strong among the followers of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, author of two responsa on the question of changing pronunciations.

29. At the beginning of the twentieth century, R. Shalom Ber Schneersohn, the Lubavitch Rebbe, “vented his wrath upon the portrayal of the Hebrew language as the national language and demanded that his followers vigorously maintain the traditional diglossia that assigned a sacred function to leshon ha-kodesh and a colloquial role to the vernacular” (Bartal, “From Traditional Bilingualism,” 147–48). R. Shalom Ber claimed that in talmudic times, “the masses engaged in worldly matters did not speak the Holy Tongue … and in Eretz-Israel as in Babylonia the masses spoke another language” (cited by Bartal, loc. cit.).

30. Because “pronunciation reflects the permanent social group with which the speaker identifies” (Hudson, Sociolinguistics, 48), changing pronunciation carries with it serious social consequences.

31. The ensuing discussion is based on the responsa cited in the appendix. Each responsum there is numbered from 1 to 13 and is referred to by number in this section.

32. On extra-halakhic considerations in Rabbi Kook's decisions, see Guttel, Neria, Ḥadashim gam yeshanim: bi-netivei mishnato ha-hilkhatit-hagutit shel harav Kuk (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2005).

33. This claim comes up time and again and is explained in the appendix.

34. In particular, they venerated the Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534–72), who resided in Safed.

35. Rabbi Kook had earlier argued (2) that an Ashkenazi using the Sephardi pronunciation when reading the Shema was equivalent to “one who read the Shema without enunciating the letters properly … he has fulfilled his obligation,” but should not do so from the outset (M. Berakhot 2:3).

36. “Rabbi Herzog is unique in his clear and unequivocal attribution to ‘the researchers’ of his doubt regarding Ethiopian Jews” (Seeman, “Ethnographers,” 20). The issue is epistemological: What kinds of knowledge or sources are acceptable to halakhic decision makers?

37. Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Schreiber), 1762–1839, is considered to be the spiritual father of Hungarian Jewry in the modern period. Born in Frankfurt am Main, he was appointed rabbi of Pressburg in 1806 and was considered the greatest rabbi of his generation. He is known for his voluminous responsa and for his successful battle against the Reform movement in Austria-Hungary.

38. Rabbi Herzog's relation to scholarship was neither tangential nor superficial: He published a two-volume work in English, The Main Institutions of Jewish Law (London: Soncino, 1936–39), the first while chief rabbi of the Irish Free State, the second after being chosen as chief rabbi of Palestine, in which he writes, “My work does not purport to be a history of Jewish Law…. Were I writing such a history, I would, of course, have to deal very fully with the critical theory about the Pentateuch which dissects the Law of Moses into distinct sources.” The mere mention of biblical criticism and the history of halakhah distinguishes Herzog from other traditional posekim (halakhic decisors). Further evidence of his cultural world is an expression of gratitude to a friend in the preface (xvi): “He is the Maecenas of this work” (xxv).

39. Though his published responsa appeared only later, Rabbi Kook had written on the subject in the journal Kol Torah 2 (1933): 1–4, and had spoken about the matter in his published approbation of R. Ouziel's responsa volume, OH 1. R. Waldenberg summarizes R. Kook's arguments as published in Kol Torah in the summary that appeared in ‘Ereẓ Tovah (Jerusalem, 1947), a collection of responsa by R. Tobiah Judah Tavyomi (Gutentag), a rabbi in Tel Aviv. Thus, R. Weiss could have cited R. Kook's opinion, either from Ẓiẓ ‘Eliezer or ‘Ereẓ Tovah, but he chose not to.

40. R. Jacob David b. Ze'ev Willowski, Safed (1845–1914), not to be confused with Radbaz, R. David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra, Spain-Safed-Egypt (1479–1573), author of responsa Shut Radbaz.

41. He makes reference to his own previous responsum (11) and wishes that schools would teach in the Ashkenazi manner, but he seems to accept the reality that modern Orthodox day schools and high schools use the Israeli/Sephardi pronunciation; the entire responsum goes in the direction of acceptance.

42. R. Feinstein asked the editors to change all the foreign (English, Yiddish) terms that he used for realia to modern Hebrew so that Israeli readers could understand them. There are some signs that this had already been done sporadically in the earlier volumes that were published in New York.

43. He is the spiritual leader of Shas, an ethnic political party whose motto is “to return the crown to its rightful place.” The party was born when Sephardi voters broke away from the traditional ḥaredi Agudat Yisrael party, which they felt was dominated by Ashkenazi ḥaredim and prejudiced against its Sephardi members.

44. See Lau, Mi-maran; and Picard, Ariel, Mishnato shel ha-rav ‘Ovadyah Yosef be-’idan shel temurot: ḥeker ha-halakhah u-vikoret tarbut (Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2007).

45. The verse from Proverbs (1:8; 6:20 with variations) mentioned by many of the responsa is understood to mean that one may not forsake the customs of one's father (though the verse literally speaks of “your mother's Torah”). The source for this ruling, cited by some as Y. Pesaḥim 4:1 (30d), does say “do not change the customs of your fathers” but does not connect it to any verse. B. Pesaḥim 50b tells of the people of Beisan (Beth-Shean), whose custom was not to travel from Tyre to Sidon for business on Friday so as not to interfere with preparations for the Sabbath. Their sons came before R. Yoḥanan and asked for permission to make the trip for economic reasons. He told them, “Your fathers already accepted [the prohibition] on themselves, as it says, ‘Heed my son the ethics of your fathers, and do not desert the Torah of your mother’” (Proverbs, loc. cit.), and he prohibited their travel. However, one may claim that keeping the customs of the fathers relates to prohibitions, not to positive actions.

46. Hudson, Sociolinguistics, 197–98.

47. Coulmas, Florian, “Sociolinguistics,” in The Handbook of Linguistics, ed. Aronoff, Mark, Rees-Miller, Janie (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001), 568–69. The reference is to Fishman, Joshua A., Cooper, Robert L., and Ma, Roxana, Bilingualism in the Barrios (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1971). The idea of domains was adapted by Boxer, Applying Sociolinguistics, to shape her book.

48. Paulston and Tucher, Sociolinguistics: The Essential Readings, 343.

49. Romaine, Suzanne, Language in Society: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 88.

50. On the concept of social network, see Romaine, Language in Society, 83–87. Perhaps it is similar to social domains; see n. 47 herein.

51. Ibid., 88.

52. See n. 18 herein.

53. Mordell, Phineas, “The Sephardi Vocalization,” Jewish Quarterly Review 24 (1933–34): 278.

54. Rabin, Chaim, Toledot ha-lashon (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1960), 51. Weinreich, Max, “Reshit ha-havarah ha-ashkenazit be-zikatah le-ba'yot kerovot shel ha-Yiddish ve-shel ha-'Ivrit ha-ashkenazit,” Leshonenu 27–28 (1964): 244, describes a tenth-century manuscript found in Chartres, France, that transcribes some twenty verses from Psalms into Latin letters; in place of kamaẓ comes the letter [a], indicating a pataḥ.

55. Kutscher, Eduard Y., A History of the Hebrew Language (Jerusalem: Magnes Press; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1982), 154.

56. Ilan Eldar, “The Grammatical Literature of Medieval Ashkenazi Jewry,” in Glinert, Hebrew in Ashkenaz, 28.

57. Weinrich, “Reshit ha-havarah,” 241.

58. Rabin, Toledot, 51.

59. If we include the Samaritan reading tradition, we have four exemplars. The system in use today is the Tiberian, which places notation signs under the letters (the Babylonian system was supralinear).

60. Hudson, Sociolinguistics, 191–230, does not mention religion as a source for prejudice. However, see more recent sources cited earlier in “Conclusions.”

61. “Perhaps the major task of sociolinguistics is to reconcile the essentially neutral, or arbitrary, nature of linguistic difference and linguistic change, with the social stratification of languages and levels of speech unmistakable in any complex speech community” (Sankoff, Gillian, “Political Power and Linguistic Inequality in Papua New Guinea,” in Language and Politics, ed. , William M. and O'Barr, Jean F. [The Hague: Mouton, 1976], 283310; cited in Hudson, Sociolinguistics, 199).

62. Hudson, Sociolinguistics, 191.

63. See Responsum 5 (R. Herzog); Responsum 11 (R. Feinstein).

64. On this issue, see Seeman, “Ethnographers.” For the sake of comparison, it is standard practice for rabbis to consult with doctors on halakhic questions of a medical nature.

65. Jewish history has already used the shut to good advantage. See Agus, Irving A., Urban Civilization in Pre-Crusade Europe: A Study…Based on the Responsa Literature, 2 vols. (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1965); Assaf, Simha, Mekorot u-meḥkarim be-toledot Yisra'el (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1946); and Soloveitchik, Haym, She'eilot u-teshuvot kemakor historiy (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 1990). I thank Marie A. Failinger, Jack Fellman, Benzion Hochstein, Mendel Schapiro, Suzanne Last Stone, Amram Tropper, and the reviewers for the Journal of Law and Religion and the AJS Review for their criticisms and helpful suggestions.

66. Sharvit, “Mivtaeha shel ha-’Ivrit,” deals with rabbinic literature until 1858, so our paper may be seen as complementary to his fine work. We acknowledge permission to translate selections from Heikhal Yiẓḥak granted by Minister Isaac Herzog, MK and permission to translate from ‘Oraḥ Mishpat and Kol Mevaser granted by the publisher, Mosad Harav Kook.

67. The author was the first chief rabbi of Palestine, Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (1865–1935). He came to Palestine in 1904 and was chosen as chief rabbi in 1921. He was known for his love of the early pioneers (ḥaluẓim), though they had abandoned the religious way of life. Four volumes of his responsa were published posthumously: Mishpat Kohen (1936) deals with questions about commandments related to the Land of Israel; Da'at Kohen (1942), responsa on Yoreh De'ah; ‘Ezrat Kohen (1969) with ‘Even ha-‘Ezer; and finally, ‘Oraḥ Mishpat (1979), responsa on ‘Oraḥ Ḥayyim and Ḥoshen Mishpat.

68. The responsum is dated 25 Tishri 5693. This is a lengthy teshuvah, from which we present excerpts.

69. R. Ben-Zion Meir Hai Ouziel was born in Jerusalem in 1880. In 1911, he was appointed Hakham Bashi (chief rabbi) for Jaffa under Ottoman rule, where he worked in harmony with the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Kook. Active in Zionist affairs, he was exiled by the Turks to Syria because of his pro-Jewish activities during World War I, but he returned to become chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and then Sephardi chief rabbi of Palestine (1939). He wrote three volumes of responsa between 1935–40 (1: OH, YD; 2: EH; 3: HM). These were reissued in 1995–2000.

70. The source of this expression is the root of the words pesak, “halakhic decision,” and lifsok, “to render a decision,” which also means “to cut.” R. Ouziel means to say that they rendered a clear-cut but harsh and radical decision.

71. See n. 45 herein. Actually, R. Kook did not cite this verse and the attendant gemara but rather B. Beẓah 4b; see Responsum 2.

72. “Exact grammar” is Hebrew dikdukah shel ha-safah; it seems to us he meant “exact pronunciation.”

73. R. Zevi Pesah Frank (1873–1960) was chief rabbi of Jerusalem for many years. Born in Kovno, Lithuania, he came to Jerusalem at the age of twenty and was appointed to the Rabbinical High Court of Jerusalem in 1907 by R. Israel Salant. He was instrumental in establishing the chief rabbinate of Palestine and invited R. Abraham Isaac Kook to serve as the first chief rabbi. Many of his responsa deal with actual issues in Israel and commandments related to the land. Three volumes of responsa arranged according to the Shulḥan ‘Arukh were issued posthumously: (YD) in 1964, (OH) in 1969, and (OH) 1973. Two volumes on laws related to agriculture in the Land of Israel, Sefer Har Ẓevi Zera'im, were issued in 1985 and 1991.

74. The Sephardi pronunciation of God's name ’dny as if it were written with pataḥ under the nun rather than kamaẓ (the Masoretic pointing) comes up frequently in these responsa as a prime reason to forbid a change of pronunciation. See the discussion of Responsum 6, and n. 90 herein.

75. This responsum is addressed to a rabbi in Johannesburg, South Africa. The author, Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog (1887—1959), was born in Lomza, Poland. He studied at the University of London and the Sorbonne in Paris, where he received his doctorate for a thesis on “The Dyeing of Purple in Ancient Israel.” In 1916–19, he was rabbi of Belfast, Ireland. He moved to Dublin to become first chief rabbi of the Irish Free State in 1925. In 1936, he was elected to succeed Rabbi Kook as Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine. Aside from his English work, The Main Institutions of Jewish Law, he stood at the head of a committee of scholars that produced (in 1947) the first volume of Ozar ha-Posekim (volume 19 was published in 1995), a compendium of the responsa literature arranged according to the Shulḥan ‘Arukh. Three volumes of his responsa, Heikhal Yiẓḥak, were published posthumously: 1 (EH) in 1960, 2 (EH) in 1967, and 3 (OH) in 1972. Between 1989 and 1991, all of his responsa were reissued in nine volumes under the title Pesakim u-Ketavim (Decisions and Writings).

76. M. Berakhot 2:3.

77. R. Herzog, like R. Ouziel (see n. 71 herein), is not accurately citing R. Kook's source, as the latter had referred to the principle “be careful with the customs of your fathers” (B. Beẓah 4b); see Responsum 2.

78. An expression found in T. Shevi'it 3:8; and B. Sanhedrin 26a.

79. The response was written to a questioner from Bnei Brak, who complained that members of his synagogue objected to the Sephardi pronunciation of God's name.

80. Lot addressed the people of Sodom as ’dny, “my masters.”

81. The reference is to Abraham's address to the three angels (or the Lord, depending on the interpretation of ’dny).

82. In this way, R. Herzog explains why ’dny is vocalized with kamaẓ (the pausal form) rather than pataḥ, which has the identical meaning but is the contextual form.

83. “Open” and “closed” refer to the shape of the lips when pronouncing these vowels, and this is the source of their names (pataḥ  =  open, kamaẓ  =  pursed, closed). “We” refers to Ashkenazim. R. Herzog claims that the Sephardi pronunciation lengthens the kamaẓ somewhat more than the short pataḥ, while Ashkenazim make a qualitative rather than a quantitative difference.

84. R. Meshulam Ratt (1875–1963) was ordained at the age of twelve in Poland and served as rabbi in Romania. Active in the Zionist movement, he immigrated to Israel in 1949 and was a member of the chief rabbinate, where he served as advisor to the Rabbinical High Court. Among his responsa is a decision affirming the obligation to recite Hallel on Israel Independence Day. Two volumes of Kol Mevaser were published by Mosad Harav Kook, in 1955 and 1962.

85. The response was given to a rabbi in Capetown, South Africa.

86. Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss (1902–89) was the head of a yeshiva in Munkacz, Hungary, then a dayyan (rabbinical judge) in Romania for twenty years. In 1948, he became the head of the Orthodox rabbinical court in Manchester, England. In 1970, he immigrated to Israel at the behest of the rebbe of Satmar, R. Yoel Teitelbaum (see the introduction to vol. 10 of Minḥat Yiẓḥak), where he assumed the position of the head of the court (Badaẓ) of the ‘Edah Ḥaredit, the ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem. He authored ten volumes of responsa. Eight appeared between 1956 and 1983, volume 9 in 1985, and 10 in 1989, shortly after his death. All ten were reissued in five volumes in 1993.

87. “All matters of holiness” is a talmudic term (kol davar she-bi-kdushah) referring to prayer, Torah reading, benedictions, and other vocal religious performances.

88. The “responsum” is addressed to the chief rabbi of Great Britain, Rabbi Israel Brodie, and appears to be a letter initiated by R. Weiss rather than a response to a question.

89. This is the principle cited by Rabbi Kook (see Responsa 1 and 2), who is not cited by R. Weiss.

90. The word ‘dny in Genesis 18:3 is vocalized in the Masoretic Bible with kamaẓ. R. Weiss quotes extensively from Bahya's Torah commentary, Genesis 18:1, where he writes that “even though it seems that the kamaẓ and pataḥ are one and the same, the identical vowel, it is not so, but there is a difference between them in pronunciation.” Bahya speaks of “high” and “low” vowels, but he seems to be using these terms as metaphors for spiritual qualities of the vowel signs and not as phonetic descriptions. He also ascribes kabbalistic values to these vowel signs. Bahya b. Asher ibn Halawa of Saragossa, Spain, wrote a Bible commentary (in 1291) based on that of Nahmanides. He was a student of R. Solomon b. Abraham ibn Adret (Rashba), himself a disciple of Nahmanides. He is not to be confused with Bahya ibn Pakuda, the eleventh-century philosopher and author of Duties of the Heart.

91. That is, a Sephardi.

92. Because they pronounce the kamaẓ in the same way.

93. See the discussion of Responsa 11 and 12. Ashkenazim pronounce the ḥolam as oy (Eastern Europe), aw (Germany), or the word “oh” (United States), while for Sephardim (and Israelis), it approximates the /ō/ in “long”. To the Ashkenazi's ear, the Sephardi ḥolam is identical to his own pronunciation of the kamaẓ, and hence for Emden, the Sephardi ḥolam is “missing.”

94. These vowels are identical in Sephardi pronunciation—/e/—like the Ashkenazi segol.

95. It should be noted that Emden wrote in rhymed verse; consequently, some of his phrases are exaggerated for the sake of the rhyme or wordplay.

96. R. Jacob Emden was an Ashkenazi who served a Sephardi community. Already his father, the Ḥakham Ẓvi, did so in Holland, which is the source of his title ḥakham, “sage.” This may be why R. Weiss uses the words “they,” “their,” implying that Emden was also a Sephardi. However, Emden's language earlier, “and he [Bahya] was one of them,” clearly shows that he placed some distance between himself and the Sephardi community.

97. It is not clear whether maskil here means one who is conversant in non-Torah subjects such as language or someone who is a product of the Haskalah.

98. Polemics aside, R. Weiss's claim has linguistic support. David Tene, late professor of medieval Hebrew at the Hebrew University and a member of the Israel Academy for the Hebrew Language, wrote about the 1913 decision of the Hebrew Language Council (Va'ad ha-Lashon ha-’Ivrit) to recommend that the Sephardi pronunciation be taught in Palestinian schools: “Both in the system of consonants and vowels David Yellin and his followers strove to establish a pronunciation which would give each letter of the alphabet and each vocalization sign a unique sound. From this aspect, the eastern [Sephardi] pronunciation is more accurate and more correct than the Ashkenazi pronunciation. But as far as the vowels, the Ashkenazi and Yemenite vocalizations are superior to the Sephardi vocalization in the number of vowel realizations, and the Sephardi pronunciation is less accurate and less correct than the other two, as reflected in the Tiberian punctuation of Hebrew” (Tene, David, “Shalosh he'arot al hakhvanat ha-lashon ha-‘Ivrit תר''ן-תש''ן (1890–1990)” in Ha-lashon ha-‘Ivrit be-hitpatḥutah u-ve-hitḥadshutah, ed. Blau, Joshua [Jerusalem, 1996], 224). Rabbi Kook's words in Responsa 1 and 2, make the identical point. See also Aharon Dotan, “‘Inyanei hagayah ba-tefilah u-bi-kriyat ha-Torah,” in Sefer Shivtiel, 68–76, who discusses the different pronunciations of kamaẓ katan in the Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Israeli traditions.

99. R. Yaakov David b. Ze'ev Willowsky, Safed (1845–1914), not to be confused with Radbaz, R. David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra, Spain-Safed-Egypt (1479–1573), author of responsa Shut Radbaz.

100. 7:28, para. 8. We cite this responsum next.

101. Authored by R. Ovadiah Hadayah, 1890–1969. Born in Jerusalem, he became a leading rabbinical authority who stood at the helm of the kabbalist yeshiva Bet El and served as a judge in the Rabbinical High Court. The first volume of his responsa Yaskil Avdi was published in Jerusalem in 1939 and the eighth after his death, in 1983.

102. R. Eliezer Waldenberg (1915–2006) was a member of the Rabbinical High Court of Jerusalem. His responsa deal with modern problems, specifically issues of medicine and halakhah. In addition to the responsa Ẓiẓ Eliezer (22 volumes), he wrote Hilkhot Medinah (1952), devoted to halakhic issues relating to the state of Israel. He was awarded the Israel Prize for Torah literature in 1976.

103. R. Moses (Reb Moshe) Feinstein (1895–1986) was the premier halakhic authority in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. He was born in Russia and served as a rabbi there until his immigration to the United States in 1937. He was known internationally for his written responsa, Iggerot Moshe. Seven volumes appeared during his lifetime, and an eighth was issued by his sons and grandsons in 1996, edited by R. Shabtai A. Rappoport. The following is a bibliography of R. Feinstein's responsa, subtitled by the section of the Shulḥan ‘Arukh with which they deal: 1. OH (New York, 1959); 2. YD (New York, 1959); 3. EH (New York, 1961 [on the title page of the last reprinting, the Hebrew date is given as “5734” (1974)]); 4. HM/OH part 2/EH part 2 (New York, 1963); 5. YD part 2/OH part 3/EH part 3 (New York, 1973); 6. OH part 4/Y.D. part 3 (Bnei Brak, 1981 [the latest printing reads “Brooklyn, New York 5742”(1981)]); 7. EH part 4/HM part 2 (Bnei Brak, 1985); 8. OH part 5/YD part 4 (Jerusalem, 1996). We refer to the volume and responsum number (e.g., 1:OH104) according to the foregoing listing. The date given is the date of the individual responsum.

104. R. Feinstein earlier reasoned that during the First Temple period prior to the exile, all Jews must have spoken in an identical way.

105. R. Feinstein presumes that the various pronunciations in Hebrew stem from different pronunciations in the languages of those countries. He may have had in mind the realization of ḥolam as /ü/ by parts of German-speaking Hungarian Jewry, who transferred the umlaut to their Hebrew reading.

106. Chronologically, this teshuvah belongs after the responsum of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. However, we present the two responsa of Rabbi Feinstein together.

107. An Orthodox synagogue in Argentina that follows the German (Ashkenazi) rite fastidiously.

108. Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1920, R. Ovadiah Yosef came to Israel at the age of four, studied in yeshivot in the old City of Jerusalem, and was ordained by Chief Rabbi Ouziel. He is a former Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel (Rishon le-Ẓion) and is considered the foremost Sephardi halakhic authority. His two responsa collections are Yabia Omer (ten volumes, 1954–2004) and Yeḥaveh Da'at (six volumes, 1977–1980). The date given here is the publication date of the volume.

109. It is unclear whether the second question was sent by the first person, a second questioner, or whether R. Yosef himself phrased it. The ambiguity arises because R. Yosef presents the first question in his own words (as he generally does), referring to the questioner in third-person (“I was asked by a young scholar”). However, at the conclusion of this second query, the responsum seems to adopt the voice of the questioner: “Let him [R. Yosef] show us the path to the light.”

110. In the printed volume, the responsum runs ten and a half columns, two columns per page.

111. In his responsum, (see n. 83 herein), Rabbi Herzog makes a similar argument. Perhaps the “lengthened” quality of the kamaẓ that they both take note of is the fact that the last vowel in the name ’dny is a diphthong.

112. He is describing the Eastern European vocalization of the ḥolam. In Germany, it was sounded as the diphthong /ow/. See the discussion of R. Feinstein's responsa, numbers 11 and 12.

113. R. Yosef is not speaking only of the final syllable /noy/ but, as we cited earlier, also about the second syllable /do/, which the Ashkenazim pronounce /doy/. It would seem that the Ashkenazi pronunciation of the ḥolam [ō] as /ōy/ is, to R. Yosef's ears, much more of a strident violation of the rules of pronunciation than the pronunciation of kamaẓ as pataḥ among the Sephardim.

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AJS Review
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  • EISSN: 1475-4541
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