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Yiddish pronunciation of Hebrew during tefila


Rabbi Yoel Lieberman

Tishrei 11, 5772
Dear Rabbi: Why do many people continue to use the Yiddish pronunciation instead of pronouncing them in Hebrew? This baffles me of many people who speak Hebrew but when they daven they use the Yiddish pronunciation. Yiddish is a Jewish dialect of German and I know this offends many people but Spanish Jews speak Ladino which they admit is a dialect of Spanish. Jews from Iraq like my family spoke a Jewish dialect of Arabic and we used Hebrew letters to write in Arabic in addition to Arabic letters. We had our pronunciations like the letter tav sometimes pronounced as th (eg. Shabbath) and the vav as waw (eg. Miswoth for mitzvot). Sephardic Jews in Israel are now using Hebrew pronunciation and so do some Ashkenazim. Please don’t tell me that Hebrew and Lashon Hakodesh differ, I already heard that and it’s a poor excuse. Sincerely,Uzi Kattan
What you call "yiddish" pronunciation is what is generally called Ashkenazi pronunciation. However, the Askenazi pronunciation is not uniform. There is a Lithuanian pronunciation and a Chassidic pronunciation. There is also a German pronunciation and a Hungarian pronunciation. This is just a partial list of those I am aware of among European Jews. The list can go on if we turn to Jews from Arab lands. As you yourself mentioned there are Iraqi pronunciations and there are many distinct and different pronunciations in Hebrew by Sefardic Jews. Your question may be then asked why Yemenite Jews pronounce their Hebrew different? The Yemenites themselves have Baladi and Shami pronunciations and the list can go on. The answer is then that we follow the custom of our fathers. We look upon the pronunciation as a custom of our fathers the same way as we look upon Nusach Ashkenaz, Nusach Sefarad, and nusach Edot mizrach for tefilla. Some Rabbis are of the opinion that since Hebrew is spoken today as the common language, it therefore can be considered as an independent custom so Tefilla can be said with the same pronunciation. There are those who differ and therefore we had a variety of Tefilot in Eretz yisrael as we experience the incoming of all our exiles from the four corners of the globe. . The Mekubalim say that there are 12 gates to Heaven for the Tefilot of each one of the tribes and each is equally accepted.( See משנה ברורה סח:ד)
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