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Saturday, June 06, 2020

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I read the article “The Invention of the Alphabet” (May 14, 2020) with a lot of interest as I always do with Mr. First’s articles. I even preserved this particular one to use as a prop in my Hebrew lectures.

However, there was a very confusing statement in that article. It said that “Aleph was a consonant at this early stage.” The implication of that statement is that somehow, at a certain stage, aleph ceased to be a consonant. This must be a very late stage indeed. When I studied Hebrew in school in Israel during the 1960s and early 1970s, merely 50 years ago, aleph was still a consonant. That was taught to me throughout my years in elementary and high schools by a series of professional Hebrew teachers, all who had degrees from various Israeli universities, and all emphasized that aleph was, at the time, still a consonant.

When in the last 50 years did aleph cease to be a consonant?

I have an aleph in my name זאב and it sounds exactly like any other consonant in my name (zayin and vet). There is a word in the tefillah that we say every morning, נאדר. There is a sh’va na under the aleph, which means a non-vocalized sound. You cannot non-vocalize something that is not a consonant. Aleph is understood by Hebrew speakers (who are the most experts in the language) as a consonant and it is a consonant!

The problem seems to arise from the fact that, here in this country, teachers who are not Hebrew speakers and do not have proper training in that language try to impose their (mis)understanding of aleph that comes from the fact that English does not have many of the sounds that Hebrew (and Arabic and Arameic) have.

Aleph (and ayin, and heh, and het) are all consonants and are not silent letters as local teachers, wrongly, teach our children. Remember, you cannot judge one language in the terminology of another (and more primitive, at that it lacks many sounds) language. Any language must be understood on its own terms and terminology.

Ze’ev Atlas
Teaneck
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