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Correct pronunciation


Rabbi Elchanan Lewis

Iyyar 20, 5769
Dear Rabbi, I have a question concerning pronunciation. Rav Saadia Gaon writes in his a commentary on Sefer Yetzira that ’there are 29 consonantal sounds to our language’ and that the sounds are the same as in Arabic except for 3 sounds - the j, platial d and palatial dh sounds( like a d but pronounced with the back of the throat)’. he also writes that every letter has a distinct sound except for Samech and sin. Today the Temanim, Adanim and some Sefardim like the iraqi’s still distinguish between these letters as Rav Saadia writes. My question is: why don’t Klal Yisrael change to this clearly more correct pronunciation? e.g. to distinguish between Aleph and Ayin and Chaf and Chet (which the Gemara says) and to lengthen the Daled in Kriat Shema in the word Echad by pronouncing it as its pronounced without a Dagesh i.e. thhhhhhhhhhh as in ’the’, and many other letters like Vav being pronounced Waw and to use the double sounds of the BeGeD KeFeT letters. Vowels too should be distinguished - Patach and Kamatz Segol and Tsere: Temanim pronounce Segol as a an ’a’ in cat not as a Patach as people commonly think. Rashi also calls a Segol a Patach Katan (Shemot). It is common knowledge that sounds are lost due to the Galut and the Jewish people being separated in countries where certain sounds are non existent. Other Mesorot that don’t distinguish and don’t have separate sounds for every letter except Samech and Sin are clearly a Minhag Taut -a mistaken Minhag and surely a mistaken minhag should not be continued. I am aware about the tribe of Binyamin or is it Ephraim who pronounced Shibboleth as Sibbolth, but this is because they couldn’t distinguish between shin and sin. Thank you for you time kol tov
Pronunciation is important but not essential, changing the pronunciation is not something easy, it is almost like changing a language. Since Hashem can understand any spoken language dialect or pronunciation, we can speak to him and Daven in any pronunciation we speak in. The Kavana is the more important component of Tefilah. More so – there is a dispute whether the Temani pronunciation is the original one or maybe the Ashkenazi or others, this dispute has not yet been resolved, so much so that the Poskim insist a person should stick to his family's pronunciation and not change it. [see also Igrot Moshe OC 3:5. Yabia Omer 6 OC 11]
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