Morsels of Hebrew Grammar  
This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parashat Acharei-Kedoshim 5762

When do the letters Bet, Gimmel, Dalet, Kaf, Peh, Tav (Begad Kefat) receive a Dagesh?

melo-hamachta gachalei-eish (Levit. 16:12) ('a fire-pan full of burning coals') Why is there a Dagesh in the Gimmel? After all, the word before it concludes with a Heh. We have learnt that the letters Yud, Heh, Vav, Aleph (Yehu) 'which come at the end of a word, influence and soften the letters Begad Kefat which follow them at the beginning of the following word.' (R' S. Divletzky, Chok Yehu u'Mevatlav, ch.2) Clearly, this matter needs clarification.

Similarly, why is there a Dagesh in the first Bet of beveitecha in the phrase beshivtecha beveitecha (in the Shema)? R' Divletzky continues that the softening of the letters Begad Kefat ' does not depend on the written form [of the letters Yehu]; the principle consideration is the pronunciation, and therefore even if the Aleph does not appear in the written form at the end of the word and is only heard in the pronunciation - as e.g. velakachta, venatata - it is as though an Aleph were there, and the Begad Kefat following it is soft.' At this point, we would expect the Bet in the word after beshivtecha (which is read as though there were an Aleph or a Heh at the end) to be soft. This also requires clarification.

R' M. Ch. Luzzatto (the Ramchal, 18th cent.) writes in his book on grammar (ed. R' E. Breiger, Brooklyn, NY, 1994, p. 106) 'The gram-marians received a rule: every Begad Kefat following Yehu is soft unless it is pronounced, has a pausal form, is close, or comes from the distance.' Similarly, R' Divletzky writes 'There is a Mesora widely quoted in works on Mesora, whose source in the Tenach I have not found.' Evidently the rule is ancient and well-accepted, but has no clear source.

The first part of the rule 'every Begad Kefat which is close to Yehu is soft', means that when the letters Begad Kefat follow immediately after the letters Yehu, they are soft. The accepted meaning of the passage is that when Begad Kefat comes at the beginning of a word following a word concluding with Yehu, the Begad Kefat is soft, e.g. al pnei tehom (Gen. 1:2), vayehi-voker (Gen. 1:5). As the rule does not say 'at the beginning of the following word', it seems to me that it applies more widely than is commonly thought. Hence the Tav suffix of first and second person verbs whose third root letter is Yehu, is soft (i.e. without Dagesh). e.g. baati, beniitem.

The rule continues with four exceptions. The first exception is that Yehu 'is pronounced': that is to say pronounced as consonants. In this case, the Yehu following them has a Dagesh. e.g. betzidahh tasim (Gen. 6:16). (Similarly, it seems, in the middle of a word: ne:dar - the Aleph has a Sheva and is pronounced, and the Dalet following has a Dagesh.)

The second exception is the 'pausal form'. That is to say that the trope placed on the word by the Mesora indicates that the word concluding with Yehu is at the end of a phrase, a position for a pause in the sentence. As a result, the influence of Yehu does not proceed across the pause, and this is the reason for the Dagesh in the Gimmel of gachalei-eish. The word before it, hamachtah, has a Telishah Gedolah that is a tune indicating a pause, and therefore the influence of the Heh is not felt on the Gimmel.

The third exception is 'is close'. That is to say, the first word is short and the last syllable presses on the next word.

The fourth exception is 'comes from the distance'. In this case, the first syllable of the second word is accented, with the word before it having a service trope, and it is two syllables back from the stress of the following word.

There is one further exception (there is a dispute whether it can be slotted in among the four, or is a fifth and independent exception). This states that if two letters which are similar (there is also a dispute as to which letters are similar, but certainly Bet and Bet are similar) occur at the beginning of a word, and the first has a Sheva, it takes a Dagesh even though it follows a word concluding with Yehu.

* * * *

Absorption of the Tav of the Hitpa'el (again)

velo titam'u (Levit. 18:30) 'do not defile yourselves'. This is Hitpa'el and it is as though it said tit-ta-me'u and the Tav has been absorbed in the Tet as both are pronounced with the tip of the tongue on the alveolar ridge ('linguals'), and both are articulated by blocking the air flow and then releasing it ('plosives').

I will be pleased to have comments on these notes on the Parasha.
Good Shabbos, Meshullam Klarberg, 35/4 Meshech Chochma, Kiryat Sefer, Israel 71919
E-mail address:


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to

Jerusalem, Israel