Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A little-known zeikher vs zekher issue; Franz Delitzsch, Wolf Heidenheim and the Mishnah Berurah.

Every year around this time (or, more usually, in a couple of months) the issue of the proper pronunciation of the word זכר (Ex. 17:14) is raised. Five points =זֵכֶר vs six =זֶכֶר.

I assumed I had done a post about this, but searches revealed that I didn't, and I was shocked. There is little to add to a topic that is of great interest to Judeo-nitpickers like us (discussed on the mail lists here, here and here (sort of). It's been discussed on blogs too, see here. There is also a very good lecture by Dr. Sid Leiman here--if the audo is still active--' Major Implications of Pronounciation Controversies').

This topic presumably fascinates those who it fascinates because it would seem quite amazing that a verse which the Talmud itself discusses as being prone to misunderstanding based upon an erroneous pronunciation (see here) would then become subject to confusion as to proper pronunciation (although it is important to recognize that there is no practical difference in meaning between זֵכֶר and זֶכֶר). The second factor might be that this confusion led to such a far-reaching but very late change in practice.

So there is no need to add more, but actually, before I go on I will add one thing. Here in America many Orthodox Jews have become accustomed to the reading of this verse twice, to accommodate both possible readings (something which seems to be first recommended by the Mishneh Berurah (685:18)1 apparently based on the doubt about what the Gaon of Vilna read).

In the 5768 issue of Yerushaseinu there was an exchange between Robert Aumann and editor David Hirshaut about transliterating the Central European Ashkenazic pronunciation in English. The following is an excerpt by Aumann (thanks to Menachem):


In any event, this is obviously not the little-known zeikher vs zekher issue of the title. What is little-known is that the exact same doubt exists for Proverbs 7:10; זֵכֶר צַדִּיק לִבְרָכָה.

The great Hebraist Franz Delitzsch2 wrote the following in his commentary on Proverbs:

Apparently the manuscripts showed five and six points for this verse as well. It seems that a similar confusion exists in Ashrei (see here).

Delitzsch instructs the reader to "vid. Heidenheim in his ed. of the Pentateuch, Meor Enajim, under Ex. xvii. 14." So I thought it prudent to aid the reader to have a vid. for oneself; the masoretic commentary 'Eyn Ha-qore of Wolf Heidenheim in his edition of the Torah, the חומש מאור עינים (see here):

If anyone has the time, feel free to track down images of Proverbs 7:10 as found in various editions available online.

1 בנגינתם ובטעמם - דע דיש אומרים שצריך לקרות זכר עמלק בציר"י ויש אומרים שצריך לקרות זכר עמלק בסגו"ל וע"כ מהנכון שהקורא יקרא שניהם לצאת י"ש

2 Delitzsch was relatively unusual as far as Christian Hebraists of the 19th century went in that he was very well read in contemporary and recent Jewish Hebrew literature and commentaries. He was a big advocate of the excellence of the commentaries of Shadal and Malbim (and was personally in correspondence with the former). Not only was he familiar with all the work of Wolf Heidenheim, but also the Gaon of Vilna, whom he cited. With this description, it shouldn't be a surprise that he was a welcome font of philo-semitism in the 19th century world of German Bible scholarship.

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