Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Geshem and gashem

This is a reworking of (and I hope an improvement on) an old now-deleted post.
Well, the holiday season is over. Which raises the eternal question that I know is on everyone's mind: "Should I say 'Mashiv haruah umorid hagashem,' or 'Mashiv haruah umorid hageshem'"?

But first, let's discuss pausal forms. Those who know from pausal forms are invited to skip down to the paragraph that begins "Gashem is the pausal form of geshem."

Using the siddur, I noticed some strange stuff some years ago. For example, in the Retzeh paragraph that's added to Birkat Hamazon on Shabbat, we find "kemitzvat retzonékha [new clause] uvirtzonekhá haniah ["hanah" in Birnbaum] lanu..." What's with the two different endings for the same word? And similarly in the weekday Amidah, we find "vekarno tarum bishu'atékha [new clause] ki lishu'atekhá kivinu..."

And in the post-drinking blessing for wine, what's with all the gefen and gafen? "Gafen" must be the basic way of saying it, right? I mean, everyone's heard "borei peri hagafen." So you look up vine in an English-Hebrew dictionary--it's gefen.

And at the end of Birkat Hamazon, we have "vezar'o mevakesh lahem" instead of "lehem," and in Ashrei "ugdol-hased" instead of "hesed."

What's going on? What's going on is pausal forms. In biblical Hebrew, some words undergo a change if they're immediately followed by a major pause. One pausal form is the "-ekhá" (meaning "your") that becomes "-ékha" in pausation. Thus lishu'atekhá and bishu'atékha. Another occurs in nouns with three consonants and two segols (a segol is the three-dot vowel that sounds like a short "e"), such as lehem, melekh, and hesed; the first segol becomes a qamatz (the vowel that looks like a squushed-down capital T). Thus "vezar'o mevakesh lahem" and "ugdol-hased."

"But wait!," you may be saying. "You said the pausal forms are in biblical Hebrew. While some of the things you've quoted are from the Bible--viz., Ashrei and the verse near the end of Birkat Hamazon--others are not. So, not to put to fine a point on it, one needs to ask 'Wha?'!"

If you're saying this, you're right. Much of Ashkenazi liturgy was recast into biblical style in recent centuries, and we sometimes go hog wild, as it were, with the pausalities. Consider the Berakhah Aharonah: "al Yisra'el amékha, ve'al Yerushalayim irékha, ve'al Tsion mishkan kevodékha, ve'al mizbehékha, ve'al heykhalékha." On this and on this and on this and on this and on this. This is a lot of pausativity. (Although I like this one; it makes it more lively than "on this and on this and on this and on this and on this.") But yes, it’s overdone.

* * *

Gashem is the pausal form of geshem. So which one to use? I used to be a gashemite, to use the word of Dr. Shnayer Leiman. Every siddur I've seen has a full stop after "hag*shem" (either a Western-style period or a Hebrew sof pasuk, which looks like a Western colon and is more or less equivalent to a period). This is true even of those siddurim that have "hageshem." And in general, even those shelihei tzibbur who say "hageshem" also pronounce a full stop. So "hagashem" made sense to me. According to Dr. Leiman, this is in fact the rationale of the gashemites.

There are some who are very intolerant of what they consider the wrong pronunciation. Even if I had no other reason to like the virtual person known as Mississippi Fred MacDowell, I would still be eternally grateful to him for pointing me toward Dr. Leiman. Specifically, to this shiur by Dr. Leiman on the history and halakhah of the geshem-vs.-gashem controversy. I recommend the shiur highly, even if you're not a vocalization geeq. It's as much history as it is halakhah, and Dr. Leiman's presentation is fascinating, educational, and entertaining. You don't need a yeshiva background to understand it--I, for example, am an am ha'aretz with no training in rabbinics.

This comment from Siddur Tzelota d'Avraham summarizes both the geshemite position and, so that it can be refuted, the gashemite position (you can enlarge the image by clicking on it):

Morid hageshem: The gimmel takes a segol [i.e., it’s geshem]. This is how it’s printed in all the old Ashkenazic siddurim and mahzorim, and also in the Sephardic siddur that is available to me, as well as in the siddur of the Holy Luminescent Rabbi Who Wrote the Tanya (may the memory of the righteous one be a blessing). I’ve heard that a grammarian in Berlin [Isaac Satanow] published a siddur, Vaye'ater Yitzhak, in which he prints it as "hagashem," in accordance with the rules concerning pauses. And in fact Zechariah 14:15 [sic; it seems to me to be verse 17] ends with "yihyeh hagashem." After Satanow, it was published as hagashem in several siddurim. But this is just a complete scrambling of the old books; there is no pause here at all. In siddurim, it's printed on a line by itself in order to teach that it's said not all year 'round, but only in the winter. But it is connected to the language that follows it; by making the rain fall (morid hageshem), God kindly sustains the living (mekhalkel hayyim behesed). As the Tur (Orah Hayyim 114) notes, "morid hageshem" supports "mekhalkel hayyim" because the rains provide livelihood and sustenance (kalkalah, which has the same root as mekhalkel). It has nothing at all to do with "mehayyeh hametim" (giver of life to the dead), which precedes it.
Note that in the same siddur that makes this argument that there is no pause at all after hageshem, hageshem is followed by a period. As I was saying. This is why I was a gashemite.

I’m not at all competent to evaluate the halakhic arguments for either position. I have become a geshemite for nonhalakhic reasons. When I started thinking about it, I realized that the phrase is parallel to those that follow--they all begin with participles (or what are in Modern Hebrew called present-tense verbs):

mashiv haruah umorid hag*shem
mekhalkel hayyim behesed
mehayyeh metim berahamim rabim
somekh nofelim
verofe holim
umatir asurim
umkayyem emunato lisheney afar

OK. So it’s associated with the following phrases. This doesn’t necessarily mean it should be geshem. After all, Ashkenazic liturgy is heavy on the pauses--recall the Berakhah Aharonah. Maybe it should be pausal gashem. But note the next phrase; it ends with hesed, not hased. Because I’m claiming that the two lines have parallel construction, I choose to say geshem (which is not the same as claiming that gashem is incorrect).

Judging by Dr. Leiman’s lecture, each pronunciation is advocated by bunches of rabbis, and these guys are always right, so you’re probably OK either way. On the other hand, since some of these rabbis say the other pronunciation is downright wrong, it’s possible that you’re non-OK either way.


lethargic-man said...

Interesting. Now the question I have is why is the third son of Noah universally referred to in English as Japheth when the first vowel is clearly a pausal form. You even see יֶפֶת in the Torah. (I suspect יֶפֶת originated some time between the first transliterations into Greek and Latin and the Masoretes, and the original form was יָפֶת.)

lethargic-man said...

Perhaps you could do some grammatical clarification for me. I was under the impression that מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ (rather than לְךָ) is pausal. The Sephardi liturgy has lots of ־ָךְ forms; I'd thought those were pausal too, rather than feminine, but recently spotted ones that couldn't possibly be, e.g., IIRC, וְעַל נִפְלְאוֹתָךְ וְטוֹבוֹתָךְ in מוֹדִים. But then you post has made it clear to me that the forms in the Ashkenazi liturgy are pausal, not the ־ָךְ forms. So what is going on in the Sephardi liturgy here?

Mike Koplow said...

Hi there Michael. I hope you're none the worse for the holiday marathon.

You're absolutely right about everything you've said. My understanding is that the Sephardi liturgy uses Mishnaic vocalization, where -akh is the masc. sing. suffix (without regard to pausalization). At some point, Ashkenazi liturgist-grammarians decided this was wrong and biblicized the language of the siddur.

There have been a bunch of recent papers on this topic in *Leshonenu* in recent years by Chaim Cohen. I pdf'd them from library copies and am working up the energy to read them (they're in Hebrew, and my dictionaries and I get tired after a while).

But you've given me another thought. Where I've said the Ashkenazim go wild with pausals (as in the example I gave), maybe that's not what it is; maybe it's a vestige from the older siddurim.

Regarding "g*shem," the most important thing is that you listen to Prof. Leiman's shiur, if you haven't already. You'll thank me later.

I'd been wondering Japheth too. Also Lamech.

Mike Koplow said...

Yikes! I called Mississippi Fred MacDowell "Fred MacDowell." It's now been corrected, with apologies.

Mike Koplow said...

And yikes!, an even more serious mistake. The mishnaic forms aren't like the pausal across the board; they coincided with "lakh." But at the ends of masc. sing. nouns, they aren't the same. The biblical pausal of k{e}vod{e}kha' is k{e}vode'kha, but the mishnaic is k{e}voda'kh. And my hypothesis ("wild guess" is so declasse) about vestiges of the earlier version is obviously incorrect.

Balashon Hebrew Language Detective said...

The link to the shiur (along with the other links in the post) is broken. Can you share it or fix it? Thanks!

lethargic-man said...

Thanks for your comments.

It seems to me, on further reflection, that the argument of Siddur Tzelota d'Avraham is weak, because a full stop does not have to mean a change of subject; and furthermore, as you know, pause also occurs on אתנחתא. Your argument is a better one.

Mike Koplow said...

Oops. Thanks for pointing out the flawed links. They should be OK now.

Which means that now everyone can hear Dr. Leiman's shiur. You'll be glad you did.

S. said...


"Interesting. Now the question I have is why is the third son of Noah universally referred to in English as Japheth when the first vowel is clearly a pausal form. "

The answer is that he isn't. My childhood teachers called him "Yefet." (Okay, they called him Yefes.)

Clearly some people do and some people don't realize it.

However, another example is Teresh from Megillat Esther. I am pretty sure that I've only heard "Seresh" (from people who pronounce the ת Ashkenazi style). His name only occurs as "ותרש." Probably many who pronounce all תs as /t/ are just getting lucky.

As for the the geshem/ gashem debate, for a long time I leaned toward 'gashem,' because it is historically correct, and some other reasons. But this year I decided to switch to gashem for the simple reason that in the controversy a lot of it centered around Yitzchak Satanow and his Vayeetar Yitzchak. Some of the arguments came down to nothing better than that he was an evil maskil. I realized that I have to stand with him, problematic figure that he is, and not with those who think that who he was is actually an argument. In addition, I say "borei peri ha-gafen," and it makes no sense to do that whole "Biblical Hebrew is not the same as liturgical Hebrew" spiel. And I wasn't going to change to "gefen."

Mike, I can assure you I'm at least virtually a real persons. ;-)

Mike Koplow said...

S., you've forced me into a rare moment of honesty by your statement about supporting Satanow. Another part of my being a former gashemite was because I prefer Birnbaum to ArtScroll, and Birnbaum uses "gashem." I'm not sure that choosing a pronunciation because of whose side you're taking is a very good idea (at least not if you have other reasons).

S., I assume you're virtually real, or really virtuous, or something like that. What I said is that *I like* your virtual person. I don't know your nonvirtual person, so I neither like nor dislike you in nonvirtuality. It's likely you're an OK person, but I don't really know. But either way, you should have a peaceful Shab.

Mike Koplow said...

BT"W, I like Tzelota d'Avraham. The author may have a hharedi streak, but he doesn't seem to do personal attacks. At one point--misfortunately, I didn't make a note of where--he cites Baer as "Baal Avodat Yisrael." And he seems to be near unique in actually discussing g*shem in the siddur.

S. said...

"I'm not sure that choosing a pronunciation because of whose side you're taking is a very good idea (at least not if you have other reasons)."

Fair enough. I do have other reasons. One of them was what I said: I say "borei peri ha-gafen," and it doesn't make much sense to me to differentiate between this and geshem. Actually, Rabbi Jacob Emden reports that his father, Chacham Tzvi, used to make fun of pedants who said "borei peri ha-gafen," which now seems normative, at least in my circles, even if it wasn't 300 years ago. (My Ashkenazi Israeli brother-in-law says "gefen.")

So I consider the liturgical-Hebrew-doesn't-have-to-match-biblical-Hebrew argument to be a moot point. It doesn't, but it also isn't forbidden. Another reason is that the whole Ashkenazic world accepted the change in pointing רבי to 'rabbi' with a patach (e.g., rabbi yishmael omer). This too was propounded by Satanow (and the Christian Hebraists). Basically I see no reason to choose the question of g-sh-m as special, this as the one thing to restore to its pristine originality. If we'll do that to every questionable reading (as if there is an 'original' of every questioned reading) then maybe I'd stick with geshem.

It also isn't as if you can absolutely prove that it ought to be geshem. There are two cases to be made. The most compelling argument is simply that it actually is the original reading.

Putting all those aside, for me the decisive factor is that since you can make arguments either way, and since the entire issue seems to have been raised to attack Satanow, I decided to let that be the tipping point. Maybe it's not really the decisive factor, because without the other stuff I would not have decided that gashem it shall be for me. But I just thought of that this year and decided to take the plunge. Actually, I davened for the amud a couple of weeks ago, and I almost said 'geshem,' my prior practice. I caught myself and said 'gashem.'.

BTW Baer is considered a perfectly wholesome source.

Re my virtual self, I know - I was just kidding. ;-) Shabbat shalom u-me-vorach.

lethargic-man said...

Mike, a question about your identification of the liturgy as having been Mishnaic Hebrew. On the one hand, this makes sense in terms of when the liturgy originated, on the other, surely if that were the case, we'd say, frex, מוֹדִין אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ, rather than מוֹדִים. Is this just a case of even the Sephardi liturgy having been partly Classicised too?

S., I hadn't realised the change to pointing רַבִּי with a patach was so recent. What was it before, a segol as in "rebbe", or a ḥiriq like the Yemenites render it to this day? And why was it changed?

This is all so fascinating; where did you all learn it? It's some way off the beaten track as regards traditional (and even not-so-traditional) Jewish learning.

S. said...

It was with a hirik, which is the most likely primary one, or with a sheva. There are earlier sources discussing it, but the first Jewish ones to dissent are from the 18th century. R. Solomon Hanau offered that a kibutz should be placed under the resh. He had a compelling reason too, but it's way off because there is nothing historically supporting it. R. Jacob Emden was of the view that a sheva under the resh is correct, but that meant that it has to be a bhet ("vet") and not a bet. And he felt that was correct. Satanow had a very long treatment and he proposed the patach. Heidenheim accepted that, and that's how he printed it - and it all followed from there. The debates concerned the uncertain etymology of the word; was it "r-b-h" or "r-b-b"? And even knowing that, what did the word actually mean when applied to a "rabbi." R. Jacob Emden actually writes that there is one exception: Rabbi Judah Ha-Nassi, when called r-b-y, needs to be written with a patach.

I myself have seen some Christian Hebraists who pointed with a patach because they were following the New Testament, which gives ραββί / rabbi. There is another interesting line of evidence in the form of epigraphic inscriptions all over the Near East and Europe, and they support a very wide variety of readings, which indicates (to me) that there is no original reading we can point to - from a very early time.

Other things to look at are arostics in piyutim, which *seem* to support hiriq (although that's not so simple). It should also be borne in mind that the way it is written doesn't necessarily accord with the way it's pronounced. Thus, while the Ashkenazim were using a hiriq and/ or a patah, they were probably already saying "rebbe." On the other hand, the /e/ sound of the segol is actually nothing more than a more extreme sheva. In addition, the vowels /e/ and /i/ switch in other Ashkenazi terms, like /midrash/ /medresh/ /shiur/ sheur/ etc.

I have been looking into it for awhile, and I'm probably going to write it up one day. :)

Mike Koplow said...

Michael (L-M), that's a very good point about "modin." I don't have an answer. The rabbis used both "-in" and "-im," so it isn't necessarily a classicization, but I don't know.

I don't know where I know much of nothing from---just unsystematic and undisciplined reading of scraps that are interesting to me. As it says in the description of the blog (conveniently titled Consider the Source), this is all a bunch of "speculative miscellaneousities, etc., on...stuff I don't know much about."

Regarding "rabbi," Baer treats this in his notes to "R' Yishmael omer" in his Seder Avodat Yisrael, now available at

Anyhow, I'm crawling back into my hole in the salt mines and may post again one of these months.