I read Rabbi Dr. Joshua Waxman’s article with interest and respect (“Gittin 2a: Befanai Nechtav,” May 25, 2023). In it, he admits that the way he pronounces the word Nihtav as Nechtav is incorrect. Moreover, Rabbi Dr. Waxman did find this an important subject that is worthy of discussion. His final opinion is different from mine, but it is discussed! The rabbi uses two arguments, the old argument of prescriptivism vs. descriptivism, and that a person must say, in the language that he heard from his rabbi. These two arguments would be, perhaps, valid in Israel, where Hebrew is the native language and people could discern between cute Massoret and the real thing. In this country where there is an ideology in some quarters, represented by prominent rabbis, that knowing Hebrew is unimportant and the students should learn one more hour of Gemara per week rather than contaminating their knowledge with one hour of Hebrew per week, the implication is dangerous and damaging. The net result is that we have, to paraphrase a bit, “Burim Bi-Reshut Ha-Torah” (ignoramuses with Torah approval.)
I once witnessed a lecture where the rabbi quoted a responsa from Hatam Sofer, zt”l, in which the Hatam Sofer was talking about baskets without any reference whatsoever to the ground. He used the word גומא (gimel, vav, mem, aleph). Anybody who knows Hebrew, even a little bit, and listens to the weekly portion, would easily render this word as referring to the material from which you make baskets and also as the material that was used for the teva where little baby Moses was put in the Nile. I polled several young brilliant Torah scholars, students of rabbis like the aforementioned ones. They never failed to render that word as a “hole in the ground.” Now, the implication is that when such a young guy would become a rabbi, he would surely give a wrong answer when the same case would come to him.
I know that I would not change the opinion of those rabbis! On the positive side, I do see attempts in the day schools and some high schools to give the students a fair amount of Hebrew knowledge. What bothers me was the cavalier approach to the subject in many quarters.Ze’ev Atlas