Monday, August 15, 2011

Shadal series #5 - What does Morenu really mean?

In Julius Furst's Der Orient (Literaturblatt des Orients No. 7, February 15, 1840) pg. 108 we find the following short note by Shadal asking a very fair question: Was the rabbinic title originally מוֹרֵנוּ, that is "our Teacher," or מֳרֵנוּ, that is "our Lord?"


Shadal says that of course we find Morenu (מורנו) all the time, but the question arises from older manuscripts where there is something which gives rise to his question. For example, in Rabbi Yehuda Ha-levi's Diwan (a rare manuscript which he purchased and was about to publish) we always find מרנו (lacking a vav). Sometimes we even find it abbreviated and including nekkudot, like this: ' מֳרֵ. He points out that very old manuscripts sometimes have older readings, so such things are not mistakes at all.

In fact he concludes that this is the primary reading, and we see from this that the term מורנו is really מֳרנו and derives from the word denoting lordship rather than teacher. The term actually comes from the Aramaic phrase מרנא ורבנא, where the absolute form of the word is מָר, master, not מוֹרֶה, teacher. The "German-Polish" (Ashkenazic) pronunciation of the kametz with each failure to differentiate between the two kinds of kametz lead to the pronunciation as Morenu, rather than Marenu. From this it was but a small step to spell it maleh with a vav, מורנו, and this implied that the word means to say "Our Teacher." This is essentially what happened with the word haftarah (הפטרה) which is often pronounced and written haftorah (הפטורה), but there is no doubt whatsoever that the correct reading is the former.

Shadal included this, slightly expanded, as a footnote to his edition of the Diwan (link), which I will get to soon.

What he did not mention (or know) is that there is actually a whole spiel about the correct pointing of the word מר, which undoubtedly means 'master.' Although we Ashkenazim pronounce it "Mar" the Sephardim pronounce it "Mor," with a holem. The first explicit reference to this I could find says it's a mistake (naturally). In R. Elijah Levita's Tishby we find the following entry:


He says that there are those who write it מֹר, but this must be a mistake, because if this were the correct reading why not [ever] write it with a vav?

The answer to his objection is that they definitely do write it with a vav, he just never saw it.

Although many people will want to point to the writings of the ge'onim (as I will) you can actually find it numerous times in the Mishnah commentary of R. Ovadiah Bertinoro. Here is one example from the first printed edition (Venice 1548):


If you don't find it in your copy - it is spelled מר rather than מור in the Bar Ilan database - it's because later editions corrected it, but this is how Bertinoro always spelled it (or at least how it is spelled in the earliest printed editions).

We can find it spelled מור in numerous manuscripts from the time of the ge'onim. Here are but two examples:


The first is a description of a manuscript in Ohel Dawid, the catalog of the Sassoon collection. The second, below, is from Halakhot Pesukot. There are many more such examples, including the Sefardic rescension of Iggereth Rav Sherira Ga'on.


Thus we see that Shadal did not seem to realize that pointing with a holem (Mor) is undoubtedly possible. Practically speaking I'm nor sure what difference that makes, since he'd be right in any case that it meant "master" and not "teacher." Actually the Sefardic pointing supports him.



Interestingly one can find a clear support for Shadal in Rashi on Kiddushin 31b which discusses the proper way a person should refer to his father. Rashi ד"ה ואמוריה explains אבא מרי to mean אביו ואדוניו. Not only that, as it happens in our texts of Rashi מרי is written with a vav, מורי. I will leave it to the text experts to get to the bottom of it and determine if this is the correct reading of Rashi. Incidentally, Soncino translations מרי as "teacher" and Artscroll translates it as "master." Also see Rashi Bava Kamma 49b where he gives the exact same translation for מורי (this time the Gemara reads it with a vav).

Interstingly enough in the 2005 edition of the Tishbi there is a note in this entry by Rabbi Meir Mazuz which says that he heard from his father R. Mazliach that the Ashkenazic reading "Mar" is correct, but the Sefardim changed it to "Mor" because "Mar" connotes bitterness. And, I would add, "Mor" means "myrrh." Actually, he brings a quotation from the Tikkunei Zohar which makes a play on "Mor" as both "master" and "myrrh," which implies that the Zohar (*coughSpaincough*) read "Mor." (Link; this wordplay is very sbutle, but I agree with him. It is a nice catch. Almost as if sensing that the wordplay doesn't really work with Ashkenazic pointing, the editor of this 1909 edition with nekkudot doesn't point "Mar," seemingly the only unpointed word on the page! That's pretty cool, except that he was Sefardi. צ"ע.) I also want to point out that this edition (Machon Harav Mazliach 2005) is the one to get, if you ever wanted a Tishbi. The only criticism I have is that for some reason they changed R. Elijah's unique vowelization of many of the entries, a major major error on their part. I can't begin to fathom why they did that, and if they had to do it they should have noted each change in the notes. Apart for that, it is simply the edition to own with its manifold notes and supplements.

Here's Shadal's comment in his Betulat Bat Yehudah (Vienna 1840) pg. 111:


I would just note that the typesetter spelled the book Besulath Bath Jehuda, as you can see. In other words, in the same word (בתולת) he renders a תי"ו רפויה as /s/ and also /th/. That's enough to drive a pedant crazy.

In this footnote he expands his thought, mentioned only briefly in German, that we have a great source in old manuscripts to teach us how the ancients read, and from this we can learn many things. He gives another example which I admit that I find puzzling. The example is גאוון, which he says is a faulty modern spelling, for in old spellings it is always גאון with one vav. He says that the old readings prove that the traditional spelling with one vav is correct. I think I'd have a better idea of what he was getting at if I could find many examples of "גאוון" in print but I cannot. So I'm not sure which moderns he has in mind. I guess unwittingly his own writing became an example of what he is talking about. We now see that in 1840 people were spelling it "גאוון," evidently a passing fad.

29 comments:

  1. Paging Mor Gavriel

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  2. Here you can request readings in Rashi from manuscripts up through Bava Kamma:

    http://www.yadharavherzog.org/contact-us/request-for-manuscript-form-rashi

    I just requested Kiddushin 31b. I'll post or mail results. Sometimes it takes them a while.

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  3. "The "German-Polish" (Ashkenazic) pronunciation of the kametz with each failure to differentiate between the two kinds of kametz lead to the pronunciation as Morenu, rather than Marenu."

    No. He says nothing about "two kinds of kametz". (The idea that there are such things is due merely to an artificial attempt to superimpose Sephardic pronunciation on Masoretic orthography. It is useless for descriptive scholarship of any pronunciation, or for prescriptive discussion of Ashkenazic pronunciation.)

    All that he says is: "First the German-Polish pronunciation of the kametz transformed 'Marenu' onto 'Morenu', and then the vulgar [=common] orthography fixed the spelling of this pronunciation as מורנו."

    And why do you keep vocalizing מרנו with a composite shva (chatef-qametz), when your scan of the Tishbi clearly vocalizes the relevant Aramaic parallel with a (normative) qametz?

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  4. >No. He says nothing about "two kinds of kametz".

    He doesn't say ואשכנזים אשר אינם מבדילים בקריאתם בין קמץ רחב לחטוף?

    > (The idea that there are such things is due merely to an artificial attempt to superimpose Sephardic pronunciation on Masoretic orthography. It is useless for descriptive scholarship of any pronunciation, or for prescriptive discussion of Ashkenazic pronunciation.)

    That's interesting but irrelevant to this post. He says what he says. The history of nonsense is scholarship.

    >And why do you keep vocalizing מרנו with a composite shva (chatef-qametz), when your scan of the Tishbi clearly vocalizes the relevant Aramaic parallel with a (normative) qametz?

    Because I used the Virtual Hebrew Keyboard at Mechon Mamre and I can't make it stop.

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  5. He doesn't say ואשכנזים אשר אינם מבדילים בקריאתם בין קמץ רחב לחטוף?

    Huh? He says: "die deutsch-polnische Ausprache des Kamez hat wahrscheinlich zuerst 'Marenu' in 'Morenu' verwandelt, welche Ausprache dann die vulgäre Schreibart durch מורנו fixirt hat."

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  6. Read the whole post.

    Okay, maybe I shouldn't have combined both versions, but I did. Sue me.

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  7. Now that's interesting -- in these two documents which he published in the same year (1840), he says practically the same thing, except that in one, he says the bit about "not distinguishing the two types of kametz", and in the other, he doesn't.

    I still think it was irresponsible of you to display the German, translate the Hebrew, and then print the Hebrew only at the end of the post.

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  8. >Now that's interesting -- in these two documents which he published in the same year (1840), he says practically the same thing, except that in one, he says the bit about "not distinguishing the two types of kametz", and in the other, he doesn't.

    I assume he thought about it more. The first is a blurb in a newspaper, the second is a permanent comment in his printed work. See my next comment.

    >I still think it was irresponsible of you to display the German, translate the Hebrew, and then print the Hebrew only at the end of the post.

    It's only a blog. I wouldn't have done that in a less ephemeral medium. I also didn't think anyone was actually looking at the German.

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  9. I also didn't think anyone was actually looking at the German.

    That's davke why it was irresponsible, I think. (And I mean this in a friendly way. If I do something similar, you may certainly call me out for it.)

    Far more of your readers can read German than Hebrew, so you have less of a responsibility to translate the Hebrew accurately.

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  10. I mean, far more can read Hebrew than German. Of course.

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  11. Of course.

    Mussar accepted lovingly.

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  12. Did Shadal really write that "blurb" in German, or did Fuerst or someone else translate it for Der Orient? I'd say the latter is more likely.

    Interesting to see that the pronunciation "Haftorah" was already in use in 1840. Somehow I had assumed that it was a more modern, probably American corruption. A similar example would be "kosher" instead of "kasher" or "kawsher."

    As for "gaon" with two vavs, I assume that some 19th century grammarians were reading and interpreting it as "ga'avan," meaning something like "proud or exalted one."

    One of my rebbeim at YU spoke a beautiful "Sephardic" Hebrew, except for one word, which always came out "besuLAH." Apparently we Ashkenazim have a tough time giving up the "s" in that particular word.

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  13. This I received courtesy of Yad HaRav Herzog. I guess that S's suspicions were confirmed.

    בכל שלשת כה"י ובשני דפו"ר: אבא מרי. (אומנם בכ"י אוקספורד כתוב גם לקמן: אמר רבי ומר (בלא ו')



    בדפוס קושטא: אבא מר.

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  14. A similar example would be "kosher" instead of "kasher" or "kawsher."

    "Kosher" is just normal Ashkenazzis. The pronunciation with the diphthong, [kousher], which is used in English, is just a normalization to the ordinary phonemics of the English language. (The other option would have been [kʌsher], which is not at all uncommon in frum circles, especially in non-food meanings.)

    One of my rebbeim at YU spoke a beautiful "Sephardic" Hebrew, except for one word, which always came out "besuLAH." Apparently we Ashkenazim have a tough time giving up the "s" in that particular word.

    Perhaps because s*x is taboo.

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  15. Dan, it's possible that Fuerst translated it, as I'm aware that he did that for writings by Chajes, Reifmann and others.

    As for the pronunciation "haftorah," it is very old. I've seen it spelled with a vav on 500 year old editions.

    When my father was a kid, although of course liking Israel (he even occasionally joined a Bnai Akiva group on Shabbos), his family and circle was not what you would call Zionist. He says that the kids used to call it "Eretz Yitrael" making fun of the Israeli pronunciation (yes, they knew it was a sin, not a sav, no pun intended).

    Mar G, I'm pretty sure Dan means "kousher" or however you want to spell it. I think it is simply based on how it is spelled, originally using the germanic /o/ in conformity with the Ashkenazic qometz, but interpreted as an American o as in "home."

    Zohar, thanks. My suspicion is just that you can't trust any one printed text or manuscript and you really have to see at least a few of them to know if any particular spelling is meaningful.

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  16. Mar Gavriel is right about "kosher", of course. Don't forget many of these terms were taken over from German into English in the 19th ct - you'll often find spellings like "koscher". The mapping of German long o to the vowel of (American) English "goat" is still productive; people don't even realise it.

    As an aside, in Alsatian (South West) Ashkenazzic, it actually is kousher.

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  17. Maybe he's right, maybe he's not right. I think that a person who doesn't know Hebrew says "kosher" and will read it the way it is in English, even if כָּשֵׁר was meant by people who transliterated the qometz with an /o/. Not everything is a sound shift.

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  18. Yes. I didn't mean to say you weren't right; there's no contradiction there.

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  19. Sholem (rhymes with חולם) al yisrael! ;-)

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  20. have you ever written anything on the use of טו rather than יה?

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  21. Only in passing. The bottom line is that you find יה into the 19th century. I've also seen it in many old mss. including the Aleppo Codex. (Actually, now I'm not 100% sure. It may have been יו which is in the Aleppo Codex, not necessarily יה.)

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  22. S.

    Check out my comment to your previous post on mishna cantillations.

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  23. Check out Rambam and Ra'avad as to whether יה is nimhak or not. Also Tosafos' unusual interpretation of the Mishna in Heleq, ההוגה את השם, who goes so far as to be extremely makpid not to pronunce even this (nick)name.

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  24. Do you know, by chance, when the appellation אדמו"ר first came into use?

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  25. I can't pinpoint it exactly, but probably early 19th century, maybe a little in the 18th. An earlier version, which persisted until well into the 19th century, was אדמ"ו.

    See the cover here for one example.

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  26. Question: Why would the correct transliteration of הפטרה be "haftarah" if it is a קמץ קטן? True, it shouldn't be haf-tow-rah, but haftarah is not as close as haftorah, no?

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  27. It's a judgment call, but the point would be to pointedly differentiate from Torah, with a cholem. "Haftorah" is almost a trap, causing people to say it like that; "Haf-torah." People are, however, used to seeing a qometz written as an "a." No one who pronounces in Ashkenazis that I know is thrown by the fact that "Torah" ends in an "ah." They pronounce it as they are accustomed.

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