SALT - Tuesday, 20 Tammuz 5776 - July 26, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

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This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
Thursday 22 Tamuz, July 28
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            Yesterday, we noted Rashi’s comments to the final verse of Parashat Matot, where he observes that the word לה in this verse is punctuated unusually, without the dot that normally appears in the hei of this word, such that it would be pronounced lah (with an audible “h” sound at the end).  Rabbi Moshe Ha-darshan, as Rashi cites, suggested that the Torah removed the dot from the hei so that this word, לה, would sound like the word לא (“no”).  This verse speaks of Novach, who captured a city and then named it after him, and the allusion to the word לא, according to Rabbi Moshe Ha-darshan, indicates that this name did not endure.  As we saw, it has been suggested that the phonetic resemblance which Rabbi Moshe Ha-darshan assumes to exist between לה and לא may prove that the kamatz vowel (which is used in the word לה) and the cholam vowel (which is used in the word לא) sound somewhat similar.  This would thus lend support to the custom to pronounce the kamatz as a short “u” sound (as in “sun”), and the cholam as a long “o” sound (as in “so”), such that לה is pronounced “luh” and לא is pronounced “lo.”

            This proof was suggested by Rav Menachem Chaim Galitzky, in a letter to the periodical Neizer Ha-Torah (Tevet, 5768), though he concedes that it can be refuted.  The Mishna in Masekhet Nedarim (13a) addresses the case of one who says to his fellow, “Le-korban lo okhal lakh” (literally, “As a sacrifice – I shall not eat your food”), this qualifies as a vow, and he may not eat his fellow’s food.  The Gemara (13b) initially explains that the statement “le-korban” may have meant “lo korban” – “not a sacrifice,” such that the statement means, “What I do not eat of your food will not be sacrifice,” implying that he declares that his fellow’s food should be treated as a sacrifice, and thus forbidden for his personal benefit.  Although the Gemara dismisses this reading, the fact remains that it considered the possibility that “le-korban” was said in place of “lo korban.”  This might suggest that when Chazal speak of vowel sounds resembling one another, the two sounds do not necessarily have to be very similar.  Thus, the resemblance indicated by Rav Moshe Ha-darshan between לה and לא does not necessarily prove the authentic pronunciation of these vowels.

            It should also be noted that Rashi himself, at least according to one later scholar, did not follow the tradition of pronouncing a kamatz as a short “u” sound.  Rav Yaakov Emden, in his notes to Masekhet Berakhot (47a), observes that Rashi in numerous contexts refers to the kamatz vowel as a patach.  On this basis, Rav Yaakov Emden suggests proving that Rashi accepted what later became the Sephardic tradition, of pronouncing the kamatz similar (or identical) to a patach.  If so, then we certainly cannot draw proof to the Western European pronunciation of the kamatz from Rabbi Moshe Ha-darshan’s comment, which Rashi himself cites.  (Rashi in fact disagrees with Rabbi Moshe Ha-darshan’s interpretation of the word לה in this verse, but not because of the phonetic gap between לה and לא.)