Shema

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


Parashat Bereishit 5762

Families of roots

yikavu (Gen. 1:9) ('[the waters] shall be gathered') The root is Kuf, Vav, Heh/Yud. Kuf is a palatal letter (articulated by raising the tongue to the palate), Vav is a labial letter (articulated at the lips), Heh is a guttural letter (articulated in the throat). One of the characteristics of the commentary of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch is his use of the principle that roots with letters (in the same position, and) articulated in the same part of the vocal tract may be found to have similar meanings. Alef, Heh, Chet, Ayin, are guttural, Gimmel, Yud, Chaf, Kuf, are palatal, Dalet, Tet, Lamed, Nun, Tav, are lingual (the tip of the tongue touches the alveolar ridge), Zayin, Samech, Shin, Resh(!),Tzade are the 'hissing' letters Bet, Vav, Mem, Peh, are labials (Sefer Yetzirah, 2:3). Accordingly Rabbi Hirsch lists many similar roots with a connotation of concentration.

* * * *

Is Meshullam to be spelled with or without a Vav?

Meshullam (Isaiah 42:19) According to both Rashi and R' A. ibn Ezra, Meshullam means 'paid for.' In the opinion of Radak it means 'complete.' In this context it is clear that it is a verb. The conjugation is Pual (this conjugation has a Dagesh in the second letter of the root) and is written normatively without a Vav as in our text. Meshullam appears 25 times in the Tanach as a proper noun and is consistently spelled as the verb.

Many years ago Rabbi Yehoshua Menachem Ehrenberg ztz"l, Av Bet Din, Tel Aviv, asked me: How do you spell Meshullam? I answered him: 1) throughout the Tanach it is without a Vav; 2) as it is a Pual in form, dikduk requires it to be spelled without a Vav 3) I sign my name with a Vav. He seemed pleased with the answer, (in his rabbinical duties as Av Bet Din dealing with divorce proceedings, correct spelling of names would be part of his expertise), and told me that this was discussed in responsa between R' Moshe Isserles (Rema) and R' Shelomo Luria (Maharshal).

Maharshal wrote :

You Sir wrote Meshullam with a Vav, and it is without a Vav in the Torah, and there is support for this spelling in Tractate Megillah (23a) 'why was he called Meshullam because he was complete (shalem) in his deeds', and it is also written so in Tofsei Gittin (Shu"t Rema No. 6).
Rema responded

I take care about the flow of meaning but not of the words, these are of no importance so far as the law goes. I admit that I do not have the knowledge of you Sir. However might I say that this is petty thinking, may my master forgive me. Everyone understands that when the mind of a great scholar of Israel deals with some matter, errors may occur in his words; how much more so that he cannot pay attention to matters of 'standard' or 'full' spelling, as you Sir pointed out that I spelled Meshullam with full spelling, for this is not a Sefer Torah that it should be invalidated thereby (Shu"t Rema No. 7).

It should be noted that Rema does not dispute that the correct standard spelling for Meshullam is without the Vav. His argument is that there is no reason to pay attention to a matter that makes no difference to the meaning.

Poets called Meshullam who incorporated the name into their work also seem to have been consistent in spelling it without the Vav. Examples of poems with an acrostic spelling of Meshullam can be found in the Selichot recited in Nusach Ashkenaz on Taanit Esther, and in the description of the temple service read on the Day of Atonement "amitz koach" where the acrostic goes through the alphabet followed by the words Meshullam berabbi Kelonimos in both cases Meshullam is without a Vav.

The same problem occurs with the name Hillel which appears once (Psalms 10:3) in the Bible as a verb and is in the Piel conjugation. (This conjugation too, has a Dagesh in the second letter of the root). It appears twice as a proper noun (Judges 12:13, 15). R' Yosef Karo writes 'some say that Hillel should be written with a Yud (Shulchan Aruch E. H. 129:28). The Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (Gra) has a different reading in the Mesora on which this opinion is based and points out that the rule is that we follow the majority of cases, and here all the cases are uniform - no Yud.

Rema agrees with the opinion that Hillel should be written with a Yud and adds that this should always be the practice that even in places where by the rules it should be written with the 'short' spelling, there is no harm in writing with the 'full' spelling. His opinion is consistent with his view in the responsa about Meshullam. The note of the Gra refers the reader to Tosefot (Meachot 32b sv ketava) where Tosefot states that 'short' and 'full' spelling do not matter in a get!

The Taz and Beit Shemuel have the same dispute. Rabbi Ehrenberg told me that I can sign my name whichever way I wish, but regardless of how I sign the halacha remains that Meshullam should be spelled without a Vav.

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: fredit@zahav.net.il

Shema

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 parsha@shemayisrael.co.il

http://www.shemayisrael.co.il

Jerusalem, Israel

732-370-3344