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

Parashat VaYikra 5762

vayikraa (Lev. 1:1) (and He called) ve'asaa, chataa; vesamach, veshachat, velakach, vetaval, venatan; (Lev. 4:2-7) (and he made, he sinned; and he rested, and he slaughtered, and he took, and he immersed, and he put): These are in the simplest form of the verb. The conjugation is Kal; the tense - past; the number - singular; and the gender - masculine. Nevertheless there is a slight distinction in the vowels (here emphasized by doubling the 'a' for Kamatz where the difference occurs). Why do some of these verbs have a Kamatz in the last syllable while others have a Patach? The answer lies in the syllable structure. When verbs have Alef as the third letter of the root, or Heh that is silent, these letters act as signs for vowels (as do Vav and Yud in many positions). Verbs that have the other 18 letters as the third letter of the root act as true consonants. Syllables which conclude with a vowel are known as 'open syllables.' Syllables which conclude with a consonant are known as 'closed syllables.' Open syllables tend to have a long vowel (hence the Kamatz), while closed syllables tend to have a short vowel (hence the Patach).

* * * *

borei peri hag-fen (Berachot 35a) ('Who creates the fruit of the vine') Should the last word of this blessing be pronounced hagafen or hagefen? The siddur of R' Shabbetai Sofer of Premishla (which was authorized by the Council of the Three Lands and received approbations from many of the most famous rabbis of the 17th century including the Maharsha) states:

The custom of the whole of Israel to read the Gimmel of hagefen with a Segol is most amazing as it is known to scholars of Hebrew Grammar that Segol changes to Kamatz at [the pausal tunes] Etnachta and Sof Pasuk as is explained in chapter one. The exceptions are the few words which do not change, as listed by the Radak in the Michlol in the chapter on Segolate nouns, but Gefen does change as we find in two instances (Judges 9:12; Hosea 14:8). The Gimmel in both of these verses has a Kamatz as we say in the Morning Blessings shelo asani aved, mitzadei gaver, both of them having a Kamatz because of the pause as is explained there. Therefore it seems to me that it is correct to read the Gimmel with a Kamatz and one should not divert from this practice even though there are people accustomed to do so and will not want to amend their error … (R' Shabbetai Sofer, Haggada shel Pesach, Kiddush)

It would appear that R' Shabbetai Sofer's arguments were accepted among the Ashkenazim and today in their siddurim the Gimmel has a Kamatz even though R' Shabbetai Sofer himself testifies how in his day Segol was the accepted reading. Even today the Sefaradim and many of the Eastern communities retain the pronunciation with the Segol. It is worth pointing out that the Yemenites pronounce the word with a Kamatz, and it is arguable to say that a custom common to the Yemenites and the Ashkenazim (who come from opposite extremities of the Jewish diaspora) is an original custom. However it may be countered that originally the custom was to read with a Segol it being perceived as Mishnaic Hebrew and the Yemenites adjusted it to Biblical Hebrew in the same manner as did R' Shabbetai Sofer. R' Shabbetai Sofer's prime evidence is from Biblical verses and his evidence from the Morning Blessings may be words which Mishnaic Hebrew had with a Kamatz, or it may be that these words themselves had been adjusted to Biblical Hebrew by grammarians before R' Shabbetai Sofer's time. R' Ovadia Yosef shelita suggests that amen is the actual end of the blessing (Haggada shel Pesach).

* * * *

R' Amiel Naiman of Chicago enquired as to whether the quandary of zecher having Tzeirei, 'five points' or Segol, 'six points' can be settled by the rules of Hebrew grammar. Unfortunately, the answer is in the negative. zecher belongs to the group of Segolate nouns which has sub-groups. Among them is the group of nouns like seifer that have a Tzeirei in the first syllable and Segol in the second ('five points'); these have a Chirik in declension sifri etc. Then there are nouns like beged and shemen that have a Segol in both syllables ('six points'). In the latter group there are some that are declined with a Chirik as in bigdi …and there are others that have Patach as in shamni/ …. It is the Mesora rather than grammar that can determine to which sub-group zecher - zichri belongs. R' A. Naiman pointed out that R' H. Schechter in his book Nefesh HaRav wrote that because of this doubt R' J B Soloveichik of Boston used to repeat the verse in Ashrei - zecher rav tuvcha.

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