Ashkenazi Hebrew (Hebrew: ) (Yiddish: ), is the pronunciation system for Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew favored for liturgical use by Ashkenazi Jewish practice. It survives today as a separate religious dialect even alongside Modern Hebrew in Israel, although its use even amongst non-Israeli Jews has diminished.
As it is used parallel with Modern Hebrew, its phonological differences are clearly recognized:
There are considerable differences between the Lithuanian, Polish (also known as Galician), Hungarian, and German pronunciations. These are most obvious in the treatment of lam: the German pronunciation is [au], the Galician/Polish pronunciation is [oi], the Hungarian is [i], and the Lithuanian pronunciation is [ei]. Other variants exist: for example in the United Kingdom, the original tradition was to use the German pronunciation, but over the years the sound of olam has tended to merge with the local pronunciation of long “o” as in “toe”, and some communities have abandoned Ashkenazi Hebrew altogether in favour of the Israeli-Sephardi pronunciation. (Haredi communities in England usually use the Galician/Polish [oi]).
Another feature that distinguishes the Lithuanian pronunciation, traditionally used in an area encompassing modern day’s Baltic States, Belarus, and parts of Ukraine and Russia, is its merger of sin and shin, both of which are pronounced as [s]. This is similar to the pronunciation of the Ephraimites recorded in Judges 12, which is the source of the term Shibboleth.
There have been several theories on the origins of the different Hebrew reading traditions. The basic cleavage is between those who believe that the differences arose in medieval Europe and those who believe that they reflect older differences between the pronunciations of Hebrew and Aramaic current in different parts of the Fertile Crescent, that is to say Judaea, Galilee, Syria, northern Mesopotamia and Babylonia proper.
Within the first group of theories, Zimmels believed that the Ashkenazi pronunciation arose in late medieval Europe and that the pronunciation prevailing in France and Germany in the time of the Tosafists was similar to the Sephardic. His evidence for this was the fact that Asher ben Jehiel, a German who became chief rabbi of Toledo, never refers to any difference of pronunciation, though he is normally very sensitive to differences between the two communities.
The difficulty with the second group of theories is that we do not know for certain what the pronunciations of these countries actually were and how far they differed. Since the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, if not before, the Sephardic pronunciation of the vowels became standard in all these countries, ironing out any differences that previously existed. This makes it harder to adjudicate between the different theories on the relationship between today’s pronunciation systems and those of ancient times.
Leopold Zunz believed that the Ashkenazi pronunciation was derived from that of Palestine in Geonic times (7th11th centuries CE), while the Sephardi pronunciation was derived from that of Babylonia. This theory was supported by the fact that, in some respects, Ashkenazi Hebrew resembles the western dialect of Syriac while Sephardi Hebrew resembles the eastern, e.g. Eastern Syriac Peshitta as against Western Syriac Peshito. Ashkenazi Hebrew in its written form also resembles Palestinian Hebrew in its tendency to male spellings (see Mater lectionis).
Others, including Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, believed that the distinction is more ancient, and represents the distinction between the Judaean and Galilean dialects of Hebrew in Mishnaic times (1st2nd centuries CE), with the Sephardi pronunciation being derived from Judaean and the Ashkenazi from Galilean. This theory is supported by the fact that Ashkenazi Hebrew, like Samaritan Hebrew, has lost the distinct sounds of many of the guttural letters, while there are references in the Talmud to this as a feature of Galilean speech. Idelsohn ascribes the Ashkenazi (and, on his theory, Galilean) pronunciation of kamatz gadol as [o] to the influence of Phoenician: see Canaanite shift.
In the time of the Masoretes (8th10th centuries CE) there were three distinct notations for denoting vowels and other details of pronunciation in Biblical and liturgical texts. One was the Babylonian; another was the Palestinian; the third was the Tiberian, which eventually superseded the other two and is still in use today.
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Ashkenazi Hebrew – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia