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Pronunciation of Hashem’s Name in a Sephardic Congregation

Ashkenazic Pronunciation of Shem Hashem

You may have witnessed the following: An Ashkenazic Jew attending a Sephardic synagogue receives an aliyah. Wishing to respect the practice of the congregation, he utters the brachot using Sephardic pronunciation except for one word, the vital of name Hashem, Ado _____. He pronounces the second syllable as “noi,” in keeping with Ashkenazic tradition. What is the basis for this practice and is it correct?

Explanation of the Practice

The source of this practice is none other than the great Chazon Ish (cited by Rav Binyamin Zilber in Teshuvot Az Nidberu 3:101). In a well-known ruling, the Chazon Ish felt that an Ashkenazic Jew who recites his prayers using Sephardic pronunciation must pronounce the Shem Hashem in accordance with Ashkenazic tradition.

I heard Rav Aharon Lichtenstein offer an explanation for the Chazon Ish’s approach. He argues that it is based on the Teshuvot HaRashba, who rules that although tefillah may be recited in any language (Sotah 32a), the holy name of Hashem, may be recited only in Hebrew.

Criticism of the Chazon Ish’s Approach

Rav Lichtenstein noted the peculiarity of this approach in that it adopts the stance that for an Ashkenazic Jew, any pronunciation other than his tradition’s pronunciation has the status of a language other than Hebrew. Rav Lichtenstein at the time noted that Rav Amital reports that his wife’s illustrious grandfather, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, disagreed with the Chazon Ish. Rav Isser Zalman believes that an Ashkenazic Jew may pray using Sephardic pronunciation even when uttering the holy name of Hashem. Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer does not subscribe to the idea that for an Ashkenazic Jew, Sephardic pronunciation of Hebrew is the equivalent a language other than Hebrew. Hebrew has many varieties of pronunciation, and any credible pronunciation of Hebrew practiced by a Jewish community enjoys the halachic status of Hebrew for all Jews.

Rav Ben Zion Uzziel (Teshuvot Mishpitei Uzziel Orach Chaim number one) agrees with Rav Meltzer’s approach, though the famed Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook (Kol Torah Av 5693 and his letter of approbation to Mishpitei Uzziel) famously disagrees. Rav Kook argues that each group of Jews must preserve its specific practices, traditions and customs. He continues that one who changes his accent is considered like “one who recited [the Shema] and was not meticulous in enunciating the letters,” (Brachot 15a) for even though b’dieved (post facto) he fulfills his obligation, he should not do so l’chatchilah (initially). Rav Zvi Pesach Frank (Teshuvot Har Zvi Orach Chaim 1:4) agrees that Ashkenazic Jews should retain their original pronunciation.

Rav Ovadia Yosef’s Approach

Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 6 Orach Chaim 11) bolsters the approach of Rav Meltzer and Rav Uzziel. Rav Ovadia argues that the Sephardic pronunciation of Hebrew is the more authentic version of Hebrew. He, interestingly, cites piyutim whose rhyme scheme fits only with Sephardic pronunciation.

He cites the famed paytan (liturgical poet) Rav Elazar HaKalir whose krovetz (liturgical poem) for Tisha B’Av and Purim proves Sephardic pronunciations authenticity. The Krovetz states: “Hi bati el beit madanai, Azai dinai omerah laAdo____. Only does the Sephardic pronunciation of this piyut fits with the rhyme scheme. Rav Yosef notes that Tosafot (Chagigah 13a s.v. V’Raglei Hachayot) state that Rav Elazar Hakalir is none other than the Tanna Rabi Elazar ben Rav Shimon Bar Yochai! This assertion provides a great boost to the authority of the piyutim (liturgical poems) of Rav Elazar HaKalir.

In addition, Rav Yosef notes that the ancient piyut “Tzur Mishelo” also proves the authenticity of the Sephardic pronunciation. Tzur mishelo achalno barchu emunai, Savanu v’hatarnu kidvar Ado_______. Once again, only does the Sephardic pronunciation of this piyut fits with the rhyme scheme.

Finally, Rashi to Brachot 47a (s.v. Hutafah) describes the vowel beneath the letter alef in the word Amen as pronounced as a patach. Rav Yaakov Emden, in his comments to this Rashi, notes that Rashi fits perfectly with the Sephardic pronunciation in which the kametz is pronounced in a manner quite similar to a patach.

Conclusion

While the Chazon Ish’s approach is quite popular in certain circles, an Ashkenazi who does not abide by this ruling has ample authority and support for his practice. In fact, it is strongly recommended not to follow this approach in a Sephardic congregation as it appears quite strange to most congregants and might not be in harmony with Hillel’s teaching to not separate from the tzibur/community (Avot 2:5).

By Rabbi Haim Jachter


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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