Morsels of Hebrew Grammar  
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Rosh Hashana 5761


For Torah Readers

HalAdo-noy (Deut. 32: 6) ('Is it to G-d?') Minhat Shai, a 17th century commentary dealing with spelling, vocalization, and other textual matters, is the major authority on the text of the Tanakh and frequently corrects the Venice Mikraot Gedolot. He says 'The Heh is large and written separately, and the Lamed has a silent Shva, and the letters of G-d's name have their regular diacritic marks. This is the opinion of Gedolei Yisrael and their sages'. The implication is that for reading, the Heh is attached to the Lamed preceding G-d's name. This is because the silent Shva signifies the end of a syllable. Thus when Minhat Shai says 'the Lamed has a silent Shva' he is pointing out that the Lamed is the final sound of a syllable. Minhat Shai goes on to say that G-d's name which follows is then read in the ordinary way. Elsewhere when G-d's name has a Lamed prefix, the Lamed has a Patah and the Aleph of G-d's name has no vowel at all - it is silent.

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A Resh with a Dagesh!

…harrima (I Sam. 1:6) According to the accepted rules of Hebrew grammar Resh does not take a Dagesh. However, in Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation), an ancient work, (Ch. 4, Mishnah 1) it says: The seven doubles Bet, Gimel, Dalet, Kaf, Peh, Resh, Tav, direct themselves with two tongues Bet-Bhet, Gimel-Ghimel, Dalet-Dhalet, Kaf-Khaf, Peh-Pheh, Resh-Rhesh, Tav-Thav, a structure of soft and hard, strong and weak (Aryeh Kaplan edition 1990, p 159). Rabbi Kaplan in his commentary, points out that all Jews have retained the double sound for Bet, Kaf and Peh. There are some communities whose members have two pronunciations for all the six letters BGD KPT. The pronunciation for the letters with a Dagesh is plosive, that is to say one blocks the passage of the air in the vocal tract at one of the five points of articulation and releases suddenly; the escaping air makes the sound of the letter. The letters without a Dagesh are pronounced by allowing the air to pass through the same points of articulation slowly, thereby creating friction which makes the sound of the letter. Thus, for example, to pronounce a Bet with a Dagesh one blocks the passage of the air with the lips and opens them suddenly to allow the air to escape. To pronounce the Bet without a Dagesh one allows the air to pass between the lips creating friction. The pronunciation of Resh in Hebrew is fricative, and a plosive pronunciation for Resh is not known. However, in 14 places in the Nakh there is a Resh with a Dagesh (ibid, p 160) and harrima is one of them. The translators of the Septuagint knew of the pronunciation of the Resh with a Dagesh - the evidence is that they wrote the name Sarah with a double R. This pronunciation was also known in the times of Rabbi Saadiah Gaon in Tiberias. I learnt all of this from the commentary of Rabbi Kaplan, though I shortened it in some places and expanded in others.

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An excuse and a request for forgiveness.

Since distributing this Parasha sheet I have received many responses both orally and in writing. To the extent that they have been relevant I have endeavoured to pass them on to the readers. The responses are an important part of the goals of the Parasha sheet. Frequently they have saved me from error, or added valuable information. Thus the Bibliography of sources on the two sets of tunes for the Ten Commandments which was published on Shavuot, was supplied by supportive readers. Of course there are also critics. To date all of the critics have commended my comments as being unique in that they deal with a subject which is often bypassed. I do not suspect them, G-d forbid, of intending to be critical for its own sake. But it is impossible to satisfy everyone. Let me take the example of two criticisms from two bnei Torah. One, a local, told me that I write too much like a professor. The other wrote that I do not write academically enough. Each one sees it in a different way; what they have in common is that they maintain that I do not write in a style suitable to the subject - or to the readers. I therefore would like to say that style is a very difficult matter. The subject matter of the Parasha sheet is investigation into language which has attracted me since I was young. Expression, on the other hand, is a creative gift which only someone whom G-d has graced with this gift, can command. Therefore, if in discussion with any of the respondents I have hurt their feelings G-d forbid, I request them to regard this as my inept style and judge me favourably, and forgive me as I forgive all those who dislike (morsels of Hebrew) grammar. Leshana Tova Tikateivu Vetehateimu.

I will be happy to receive comments on these notes in English on Hebrew grammar related to the week's Parasha.
Good Shabbos and good yom tov, Meshullam Klarberg, 35/4 Meshech Chochma, Kiryat Sefer, Israel 71919


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