Elo-ah

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Once we’re in the season of change and repentance, let’s face it: Most of us don’t pronounce the name of God correctly. It’s not “Eloha”, it’s “Elo-ah” or if you want to be even more precise, it’s “Elo-wah”. It’s that simple.

I know. I might have just made you realize that you’ve gone ten, twenty, or thirty years pronouncing God’s name incorrectly. Maybe your parents are guilty, or maybe it was your [gulp] rebbi who taught you incorrectly. Confession:  Until about a year ago I was also guilty as charged. If you’re now wondering whether you’ve ever properly recited Nishmat, Selichot, Hallel, among other prayers where this name is found – we’ll get to that in a moment. For now, stop worrying. The past doesn’t matter. This is the season of change. You can start doing it right. 

So let’s get back to where we were. God’s name is “Elo-ah”. This is the fact. To paraphrase the “Torah Tidbits” (where this issue is written about every so often): This is not a difference of opinion or a chumra. It’s what it is. Any other way is wrong.

Now, if you think I’m wrong, let’s look at some similar examples. (Note: For all of these examples, try to picture the Hebrew wording in your mind with the patach vowel under the last letter, just as it is written.) The fellow who built the Ark was named “No’ach” not “Nocha”. On Rosh Hashana we dip the “tapu’ach” in honey, not a “tapuchah”. The wind is called the “ru’ach” not “ruchah”. Hence, it follows therefore, that God’s name is “Elo-ah” not “Eloha”. See here for more: http://www.safa-ivrit.org/dikduk/stolen.php

There is the question, of course, whether one who did not pronounce God’s name properly in the course of Hallel (or shema for that matter) is yotzai or not. On this issue the poskim are divided. There are those who say that one who unintentionally mispronounces God’s name is nevertheless yotzai arguing that it can be no worse than praying in a different language. Others argue that while praying in another language is indeed permissible, one is not permitted to create a new language for this purpose. According to this approach, since God’s name is not “Eloha” in any spoken language (other than one’s own made up language of incorrect pronounciation) one would not be yotzai the Hallel. If I recall correctly, Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg holds the former while Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv holds the latter. 

So when you recite the amida over Yom Kippuer and the many Hallels over Sukkot, please remember: it’s “Elo-ah”.

Also of timely interest: https://www.torahmusings.com/2010/09/yom-kippur-havdalla/

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

53 comments

  1. And when laining Esther please remember that the gallows that Haman had built was Gavoah Chamishim Amah.

    [R. Enkin – wouldn’t it be easier to simply include the relevant words in Hebrew like גָּבֹהַּ instead of asking people to imagine them? Unicode supports vowelized hebrew.]

  2. I thought it was obvious??

  3. ….Hebrew never works for me.

    Ari

  4. …Hebrew never works for me.

    זוהי גישה של מישהו שעדיין בגולה

  5. “Yom kippuer”?

  6. Baruch Alster

    Yishar koah!
    Don’t forget to pronounce the mappik-he properly as well.

  7. The difference between Elo-ah and Elo-wah is not one of precision. It is one of the teimani vs. non-teimani traditions of pronouncing patach genuvah. The teimanim insert a consonant to take the patach bassed on the preceding vowel. Thus, for cholam and kubutz, shuruk, it is a vav (or waw) — Lasuwach basadeh — for a chirik it is a yod — si’yach, etc. The non-teimani tradition is to have an aleph there — Elo-ah, Lasu-ach, si-ach. (It is possible that I have flipped which tradition is which, but regardless, it is not a matter of precision — unless you assume that Teimanim have the most precise pronunciation.)

  8. MDJ – say it both ways fast and you can barely hear whether the extra consonant is there because the mouth, in moving between vowel sounds, automatically forms the consonant. You need to pause before the ultimate syllable to hear a difference (at least to my untrained ear).

  9. As Baruch Alster notes, the heh is pronounced as well.

    Incidentally, there are old manuscripts which place the patach slightly to the right, so that it falls before the letter. This was true for both Mapik heh with a patach and chet with a patach, but was dropped with the introduction of movable type, which couldn’t really incorporate that position. Koren siddurim do it now, though, since our printing technology no longer precludes it.

  10. MJ,
    To my ear it is different, especially as, when davening from teh amud or leining, I am _not_ saying it particularly quickly. At any rate, the distinction between traditions is not my chiddush (needless to say). I didn’t originally see it there, but I would assume Morag discusses it. Perhaps I’ll take it out of the library and see what he says.

  11. MJ,
    Also, having a prosthetic aleph before the letter with a patach genuvah would require you to take a small pause (which you indicate would be necessary to tell the difference), since an aleph is a glottal stop. That is to say, if you take the reading tradition that there is an aleph there seriously, you _will_ pause briefly, because that is what it is to say that there is an aleph there.

  12. In havarah Americait, the cholam is more rounded than that of our ancestors. Pretty much every long /O/ in American English is more of an /Ow/. It’s spelled out in “blow”, but are the vowel sounds in “go” or “home” all that different. Therefore, I am betting RMJ, who doesn’t hear the difference when speaking quickly, is writing from the US (or at least learned Hebrew here).

    The concept of patach genuvah, which your pre-1a or 1st grade teacher/rebbe probably taught you WRT ches, is also true for hei — the point RAE makes in this post — and ayin. Yehosua’ not Yehoshu’a.

    I agree with RBA’s warning about mapiq hei, but don’t be so punctilious (since it’s the season for vidui, I’ll confess the pun is intended) as to shift the word’s emphasis to the hei. Also a problem with qor’im who are so careful about the sheva of metaheir (the one being purified) and the chiriq of mitaheir, that they end up emphasizing the “me” of “metaheir”, despite it being a sheva. My guess is this turns it into a chiriq anyway, as we often use a short /i/ for both sounds (compare “tzitzis” with “bereishis”), and of the two only a chiriq can be an *emphasized* short /i/.

  13. Rabbi Joshua Maroof

    I found the tone of this post rather condescending. Not everything that is a big hiddush to you is necessarily a hiddush to everyone else. It is certainly no hiddush to Sephardim (who, as a rule, are diqduq-savvy) or to educated Jews (and my impression is that the readership of this blog is generally well educated.)

  14. Some fun and informality was intended. Condascending was not.

    My apologies if you felt this in any way.

    In the same spirit though….I guess you’ve just labeled me “uneducated” . 😉

    Ari Enkin

  15. Isn’t it more demeaning to point out to someone that they just caught up on something you feel most of his readership already knew? If RAE mistakenly thought his ignorance of this one particular was far more broadly typical than it actually was, why the need to point it out?

    There is much RAE posts here that is new for me. I would have more graciously allowed him this one lapse.

  16. Abba's Rantings

    R. Enkin,

    with otherwise much esteem, how can you write such a post without once mentioning and explaining the concept of mapik?

    there are 2 issues involved with elo’ah. one is the vowel (the patah genuva) and the other is consonantal (the mapik heh). i have no doubt that your presentation of the word in this post will leave some readers with the assumption the problem is one of vowelization and they will not realize the consonantal issue. personally i don’t think that reading “elo’ah” is really much better than “eloha” unless people understand that in this case the “h” represents a consonant (specifically a voiceless fricative gutteral) and not an em hakeri’a.

    mapik heh’s (with and without the dot) are all over the place in tanach, for various reasons. explain what it is so people will pronounce them wherever they appear, not just in elo’ah. i am always amazed by people who in the course of repeating the whole pasuk of zecher-zeicher are concerned with correcting a non-mistake (or rather making a mistake out of what it correct) all the meanwhile twice ignoring a mapik heh. suddenly a non-existant vowel problem is more important than a real error in the consonantal text?

  17. Condescending? Maybe embarrassing. Actually, it’s very humble of Rabbi Enkin to admit something such as this, which required no admitting on his part. Being mezakeh the rabbim to teach them something proper while not playing the smarty-pants is not always easy.

    So, what’s the deal? How could it be that as frum society is ever more concerned with the fine details and hiddur in halacha at least in theory) that the most basic rules of pronunciation are overlooked entirely? If you want to exempt the Ashkenazi hamon am from this question, fine. But what about Briskers? Aren’t they chared

    I hate to admit it, but the failure to read pasach genuvah correctly is so rampant that I find myself waiting to hear how the chazan will say it every Hallel, every Rosh Hashanah, etc.

    In Mekor Baruch, R. Epstein quotes a certain maggid who evinced little knowledge of dikduk. His joking explanation was that the whole point of dikduk is to know how to daven correctly. But nowadays (1880s) the medakdekim aren’t medakdek in tefillah. Similarly, in Lev Haivri, R. Schlesinger cites someone who was asked why dikduk is so neglected, while we see in earlier times that it was precious and is a wonderful chachma? He answered that it is like a matzevah, which in the time of the Avos was wonderful, but when the Torah was given it was toevah.

    But all this is about religious struggles in the mid-19th century. What excuse is there today?

  18. The version I heard was tht a maskil asked the Chofetz Chaim why yeshiva bochurim don’t learn dikduk since “kara ve-lo dikdek” is only yotzei bedieved. He answered that “dikdek ve-lo kara” is not yotzei at all.

  19. R. Ari Enkin is the ultimate gentleman. Despite the knocks he occasionally takes in the comments, he always replies with a smile. I should add, though, that some e-mails on which I have been copied are lavish in praise. Many readers greatly appreciate his posts.

  20. Regarding the two different pronunciations, I have now looked at my source. It is not that one is a teimani and one non-teimani. He (the author of the dikdukei shai) says that l’ma’aseh, ashkenazim use and aleph and sefardim and teimanim use a vav or yud, depending on the preceding vowel. However, regardless of the accuracy of this sociolinguistic observation, he cites many sources that discuss the two types of pronunciation of the patach genuva. Many of them can be found in the minchat shai to Breishis 1:6, who explicitly discusses both methods. The Sefar Maslul (printed in the beginning of some tikkunim) also discusses it, as do R. Shabtai Sofer and R. Z. Hannau.

  21. I should add that a review of those sources yields no consensus as to which type of pronunciation stands. It is certainly not the case that Elo-wah is more precise that Elo-ah.

  22. Since it’s nitpicking season: it’s chokhma and not chachma. A chet is not a khaf and even for non-Ashkenazim a qamatz in a closed vowel is o, not a. My guess is that, since it would be strange to assume that the Masoretes or whoever instituted the nekudos used the same sign for two different sounds, the original qamatz was between an a and a o.

  23. abba's rantings

    MICHA:

    “I agree with RBA’s warning about mapiq hei, but don’t be so punctilious (since it’s the season for vidui, I’ll confess the pun is intended) as to shift the word’s emphasis to the hei.”

    i don’t know where a word’s “emphasis” is (i assume you mean in the sense of essence rather than accent/stress?), but i would just like to point out (heh, heh) that in the case of patah genuvah cum mapik heh it is probably the hei that historically, morphologically and halakhically (?) has the “emphasis” (at least i understant it)

  24. abba's rantings

    “i would just like to point out (heh, heh)”

    highlighting my own intended pun with an unintended one! i better say hah, hah this time.

  25. I didn’t meant to knock R’ Enkin. I too enjoy much of his content and learn a lot from his posts. I just thought the tone of this one was a little presumptuous.

  26. abba's rantings

    S:

    “But all this is about religious struggles in the mid-19th century. What excuse is there today?”

    the zionists?
    (and who said the religious struggles are over?)
    btw, the minchas shai warns people not to spend so much time studying dikduk, and there were no zionists or maskilim in his day.
    of course he wrote this after he mastered it himself 🙂

  27. “Since it’s nitpicking season: it’s chokhma and not chachma. ”

    Right, but it’s English and there is no official, accurate spelling. Someone may claim that you failed to add an H at the end to indicate the ה, or that ח should not be written as “ch” altogether, or that if you did use “ch”, then it can’t be justified if you also use “kh” for כ, indicating that you are pronouncing the two consonants the same way.

    I’m not going to do the whole transliteration spiel, but basically I think the only key is consistency, possibly a sense of who the audience is, and this is only necessary for writing that is more permanent than comments on a blog.

  28. “the zionists?”

    This is far more remote in America, at least in places like Lakewood or New York. As you know, Religious (or secular!) Zionists are like wallpaper in Brooklyn nowadays.

    >(and who said the religious struggles are over?)

    I just meant that it’s not as if legions of epikorsim are surreptitiously reading Talmud Leshon Ivri and using their yarmulkes to hold their pitas filled with pork schawarmas.

    Actually, there is an interesting comment attributed to R. Yaakov Kamenetzky in Rabbi Yisroel Reisman’s book Pathways of the Prophets about how this issue (struggling with the maskilim) is over now, and dikduk is not safe for the Torah world. Of course that’s not true, since the real issue wasn’t and isn’t maskilim, but the kind of mindset which accompanies a didkuk or philological oriented personality, which is antagonistic to many norms in traditional Ashkenazic society.

    >btw, the minchas shai warns people not to spend so much time studying dikduk, and there were no zionists or maskilim in his day.
    of course he wrote this after he mastered it himself :)”

    This too is an old trope. There is an interesting bit in Mekor Baruch about how the Neziv schooled a grammarian in how he, a Talmudist, was able to master dikduk incidentally, while the grammarian needs to expend all his effort to achieve the same level of proficiency.

    Also see the introduction to the Tishbi, where R. Eliyah writes (a bit disingenuously, in my opinion) that “ואף שבעונותי כבר עברו רוב שנתי ולא ראיתי בטובה בהויות דאביי ורבא “

  29. “and dikduk is not safe for the Torah world”

    Should read “is now safe”

  30. This is something that if you asked me, I would answer correctly, but when I say the word and don’t think about it specifically, I probably pronounce wrong. So, good to be reminded.

  31. He answered that it is like a matzevah, which in the time of the Avos was wonderful, but when the Torah was given it was toevah.

    A note on that, by the way. Is it really possible that matzevah is OK not just for Yaakov but also at matan torah (12 matzevot for 12 tribes), but immediately afterwards it becomes terrible?

    R’ Yaakov Medan explains as follows. The matzevah is a location marker. In a religious context, it marks the location of a Divine revelation, as with Yaakov, and similarly at matan torah.

    In the Mishkan and Temple, though, building a matzevah suddenly becomes problematic. This is because we know that God reveals himself in one specific place – bein hakeruvim. If we put a matzevah elsewhere, the implication is that it marks revelation from a different deity. Thus it is “hated” by God. The context of the verses in which matzevah is prohibited (asherah, pesel, even maskit) makes this implication clear.

    In fact, though, the basic idea of matzevah still exists in Judaism post-Sinai. Right underneath the aron is a stone which we call “even hashtiyah”. That stone functions as a matzevah, marking the exact location of Divine revelation.

  32. I found R’ Enkin’s post to be a useful reminder. Although I have been aware for years now of the correct (Ashkenazi) pronounciation, it often slips my mind when I actually recite it. It is a failing of the traditional teaching of reading loshen kodesh that only the pronounciation of a final ‘chet’ with a patach is commonly remembered (or taught) and not that of a corresponding ‘heh’.

    Kudos to Guest for his citation of Rav Yaakov Medan’s explanation of the matzeiva issue. The prohibition for the generation about to enter the land (and their descendents) appears to be a reflection of lower expectations following the sin of the golden calf.

  33. Coincidentally, I only learned of eloah this Shabbat while sharing a Chumash with a more learned neighbor.
    Quick… in the name “Yishmael”, the tzeireh is placed under which letter?

  34. The patach genuvah is also true for an ayin at the end of a word. If you do the Sefardic ayin, the name is Yehoshuagh, not Yehoshugha.

    A more common misconception than Yishmael is Daniel. It is actually Daniyeil, not Dani-eil

  35. Abba's Rantings

    an even more common misconception is peisach/pesach

  36. Noam Hayman (your Amishav talmid)

    R’ Enkin,

    Thanks for the post. How do we know that the ‘stolen patach’ pronunciation isn’t unique for the chet; as the provided examples don’t provide other letters in their conclusion.

    Thanks,
    Noam

  37. Noam-

    Good question. I dont know anything authorotative on the issue other than the link I included in the post.

    Ari Enkin

  38. “How do we know that the ‘stolen patach’ pronunciation isn’t unique for the chet; as the provided examples don’t provide other letters in their conclusion.”

    Sure they do. That’s the importance, for example, of the mappik heh. If there is a patach under the heh with a mappik, it is almost impossible to pronounce it any other way. How would you do it? “Hahh?” But that’s a heh followed by a heh with a mappik.

  39. abba's rantings

    “How do we know that the ‘stolen patach’ pronunciation isn’t unique for the chet; as the provided examples don’t provide other letters in their conclusion.”

    1) in tiberian manuscripts the patah genuva is written before all these letters
    2) patach genuva is not considered a full tenu’a for these letters for nasog achor (e.g., BO-tzei-a batza rather than bo-TZEI-a batza)

  40. ever notice that lakewood spells their yeshiva “Beth Medrash Govoha”

  41. Actually, i once heard a lecture from a Hebrew grammarian who implied that the patach genuvah was in fact unique to the chet.

  42. Black,
    You must have misunderstood the grammarian. There is no debate on this issue. Unless he/she was discussing modern Israeli pronunciation. There is, I am sure, a descriptive case to be made that in current pronunciation the patach genuva has been forgotten from heh and is therefore not operative. But I am sure the academia would disagree, and for leining etc., it would still apply.

  43. i dont understand all the criticism to r. enkin. it was a noteworthy post and i actually never paid attention to it, although i do consider myself somewhat educated
    YK

  44. “condescending”? not at all. Ari is correct that this is a little-known factoid. It drives me nuts every time Hallel is said and the Baal Tefilla does not pronounce it correctly and that is the case 99% of the time. I’ve davened in all sorts of shuls but none Sefardi so that may be the difference, but c’mon – the guy pointed out a mistake that is very common.

  45. lawrence kaplan

    S. To state the point of the Lev Ivri more fully: IIRC, it was R. David Deutch, and his point was that while the matzevah was beloved in the days of the avot, once the Canaanites made it an ikkar of their avodah zarah, it became a to’evah. The nimshal: Didkduk was originally fine, but once the apikorsishe medakdekim made it into an ikkar of their avodah zarah, it became a to’evah. Nice.

  46. The father of the current Rov of Beis Tefillah in Monsey, Rav Breslauer zt”l of Washington Heights was a “kanoi” in all matters, including dikduk. It disturbed him greatly that the stationery of Lakrwood Yeshiva and its sign says “govoha” and not “govoah”. He offered R’ Shneur Kotler zt”l to pay all costs involved in correcting it; the offer was refused.

  47. Where, besides “Val Kulam” of the Yom Kippur viduy, is God referred to as elo-ah? Everywhere else isn’t it “Elohim” (where, I assume, we do pronounce the “h”)?

  48. Moshe-

    Lot’s of times.

    Hallel, Nishamt, the pesukim before Ein Kelokeinu…….

    Ari Enkin

  49. lawrence kaplan

    Perhaps Moshe was referring specifically to the Hazan pronouncing Elo-ah (in)correctly during the Yamim Noraim. There is no Hallel, Nishmat is recited privately, etc. Of course, Sukkot is just around the corner! Everyone, hazzanim in particular, better get that Elo-ah in Hallel straight. We’re going to be reciting it lots of times.

  50. “How do we know that the ‘stolen patach’ pronunciation isn’t unique for the chet; as the provided examples don’t provide other letters in their conclusion.”

    1) in tiberian manuscripts the patah genuva is written before all these letters
    2) patach genuva is not considered a full tenu’a for these letters for nasog achor (e.g., BO-tzei-a batza rather than bo-TZEI-a batza

    In addition to these I mentioned above also:

    3) a beged kefes letter following these heh, ayin, etc with patach genuva retains the dagesh kal even with conjunctive trop (ie it is a closed syllable)

  51. Another reason to add to abba’s is the mappik in the heh. If the heh were followed by a tenu’a, it would not need a mappik. The vowel would do the job. But because this vowel is effectively under the letter before the heh, it needs the mappik. Admittedly, this strictly applies only to heh, but once we know that it is not unique to chet, there is no reason to think that it doesn’t also apply to ayin (in prinicple, if you pronounce it properly.)

  52. It’s also important to remember that it’s mile’el, not mil’ra. Thus “e-LO-ah” and not “e-lo-AH.”

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