Pronunciation Customs

Question

As we know, there are two main forms of Hebrew: Ashkenazi and Sefardi. And the most notable difference between them is the pronunciation of the last letter, the ת, as either an S or a T.

Though the T-sound is considered Sefardi, I hear plenty of Ashkenazim using it. And I hear people who constantly switch around between the two, using them interchangeably, sometimes even in the same verse! (Example “YiTgadal V’YiSkadash”)

How important is it to pronounce this letter according to one’s heritage? If one pronounces it differently from one’s family custom, is the prayer or blessing still valid? If a Torah reader pronounces it unlike his tradition, must he be corrected? How about if one suddenly decides to change because he joins a congregation that does it the other way or simply wants to?

7 months

Answers

  1. It is important that a person be consistent in their pronunciation. Therefore, a person who uses the traditional Ashkenazic pronunciation should try to be careful to pronounce a ‘taf’ correctly. That means that a ‘taf’ without a dagesh should always be pronounced ‘saf’. Should you be correcting everyone you meet who is not careful? If you feel that they are able to listen to what you are saying then it might be correct to point out their mistake(s) otherwise I think that you should let them be.

    All Blessings are valid – even if they are pronounced in a different way from a family custom and even if they are mispronounced. The Sages teach that Hashem accepts our prayers so long as they are heartfelt even if we make mistakes when saying them. However, just as a person needs to be consistent with their pronunciation they must also be consistent with the method of prayer that they use. The method used is normally always dictated by family background and family custom and only under very rare circumstances would it be correct to change one’s method of praying.

    No,a Torah reader does not need to be corrected for using a different method of reading so long as the words are enunciated clearly and correctly.

    Interestingly enough the traditional Yemenite pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew is assumed to be the most accurate as the Yemenite community traces its roots back to the First Temple period. For example, Yemenite pronunciation actually makes a “w” and “th” sounds for a “vav” and a “taf”. According to the traditional alphabet the third letter is a “gimmel” (which is normally given a hard sound). However, the traditional Yemenite pronunciation sometimes pronounces a “gimmel” with a soft sound that is closer to a “jimmel”!

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team