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Letter to a Friend: Why I Discuss Hebrew Language:

June 2, 2015


You wanted to know why before I even attempt to engage someone in a strictly talmudic/halachic discussion, I like to gauge his grasp of the nuances of the Hebrew language. Specifically, you wanted to know why I mentioned that the  pair of words מקח and ממכר and not really supposed to be pronounced the way they are in the yeshivas, MEH-kach and MEM-kar (with segols and accents on the first syllables) but rather miq-QAH and mim-KAR, both accented on the last syllables and vowelized with hiriqs. There is actually much to be said about this, but for me in particular, it tells everything about a potential study partner’s/disputant’s relationship to and understanding of the study patterns of our greatest minds. Maimonides, Nahmanides, Rashi, the Vilna Gaon, Saadiah Gaon, and others not only studied Talmud, not only studied Bible, they wrote about the language of the Bible and analyzed its very words. To them, the intricacies of language and the alphabet were inseparable from the deepest esoteric secrets and the most complex halachoth. Just because people tend to skip the “grammar Rashis” and have never opened up the Guide to the Perplexed or Diqduq Eliyahu, does not mean that those comments of Rashi and those books are not part of the Torah tradition. They are, and if you aspire to be one of the students of our heroes, you need also to  be able to follow a discussion about the language before you can even begin to follow a discussion in the Gemara. So, unless the reasoning behind miq-QAH and mim-KAR was of interest you, we were not ready to talk Torah together. Every now and then I find someone who derides such a discussion, or is even willing to argue that for example, they should be pronounced MEH-kach and MEM-kar, because that’s the way everyone says them. I try to avoid those people, and I think that for the sake of your own growth, you should too. 


From → logic, pronunciation

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