Parashat Zachor with Different Pronunciations

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: My shul has always read Parashat Zachor once, with our regular havara (pronunciation). Some people now complain that we do not follow other shuls and read multiple times with different havarot to fulfill the mitzva according to more opinions and to do the mitzva properly for Sephardim. Should we change our minhag?

Answer: Let us start with those Ashkenazim who want to fulfill the mitzva according to as many havarot as possible. Is there some logic to do this for Zachor and not for any other lainings and mitzvot? Among lainings, this is the (almost?) only one with a Torah-level obligation, which may warrant more strictness (see Yabia Omer, VI, Orach Chayim 11).

It may be different from the common Torah-level mitzvot involving speech. Most of them may be recited in any language, including Birkat Hamazon, Kri’at Shema, and tefilla (Sota 32a). Reciting a text in lashon hakodesh (halachically recognized Hebrew) with a different, recognized pronunciation is no worse than doing so in a different language (Teshuvot V’hanhagot I:154). In contrast, there seems to be an open question whether kri’at haTorah (see Berachot 13a), and especially Parashat Zachor (see Tosafot ad loc.), may be done in any language or only in lashon hakodesh. Thus, perhaps we have to be more careful about pronunciation in Parashat Zachor than Kri’at Shema for example.

However, besides the possibility that Parashat Zachor does not require lashon hakodesh at all, there are other reasons for leniency. The Magen Avraham (685, accepted by some) , says that one fulfills the mitzva of Zachor by reading the story of Amalek’s treachery from Parashat Beshalach. If no exact text is required to fulfill the mitzva, it is likely that the mitzva does not need to be performed in an exact manner but in one that gets the idea across.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, OC III,5) brings a strong proof that there is fundamental flexibility regarding havarot for mitzvot. The recitations that are part of chalitza must be recited in lashon hakodesh (Sota 32a). If the “wrong” havara is not a valid recitation, then if a woman did chalitza, with, for example, a Polish pronunciation, then a man from another eida would not be allowed to marry her. We should then be required to train women to do chalitza in many havarot to secure her future. Since this idea is not found in the poskim or practiced, we must count all havarot as lashon hakodesh.

The logic is that if this is the way people pronounce the words, it is considered a legitimate expression of the language. It is similar to the halacha (Megilla 24b) that one may not appoint a chazan who does not distinguish between the letters aleph and ayin (like almost all Ashkenazim), but it is permitted for the whole community to pronounce it that way (Mishna Berura 53:37). The approach that one is yotzei with a havara unlike one’s own is accepted by the great majority of poskim (see Yechaveh Da’at VI:19: Igrot Moshe ibid.; Moadim U’zmanim VI:97; Halichot Shlomo, Moadim I, 18:1; Yashiv Moshe [in the name of Rav Elyashiv] p. 11).

Actually, many of these poskim recommend, as a chumra, to try to hear Parashat Zachor in one’s own havara. What they suggest, though, is to go to a shul of one’s eida, to make a separate Sephardi minyan in an Ashkenazi yeshiva for Zachor, and to make sure the ba’al korei conforms to the shul’s minhag. We do not find in writing a major posek suggesting doing multiple readings in the same minyan. Several (Teshuvot V’hanhagot ibid.; Halichot Shlomo ibid.; Aseh Lecha Rav VI:22) mention hearing of such a new practice and consider it strange. They reject it as being disrespectful to the tzibbur, to the rest of our lainings, and/or to past generations who did not do such things. I would not criticize a minyan that decides to do so anyway (some fine places do), and there are circumstances in which there is a stronger argument (e.g., there is no minyan in the area of other eidot), but it is wrong to criticize the normal minhag for not adopting this innovation.


About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

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