A few words about the ancient pronunciation of the letter .

As is known, the pronunciation of many sounds differs greatly among different communities, and it is generally believed that the Jews who lived in Arab countries preserved the ancient pronunciation better, since many Hebrew consonants simply do not exist in European languages. For example, the letter Ayin (a strong guttural sound) is significantly different from Aleph (a silent consonant that takes only a vowel). The Talmud (Megillah 24b) even forbade people who do not distinguish between Ayin and Aleph to serve as a chazan in the synagogue.

Another example is stretching out the letter Dalet in the word Echad while reciting the Shema (see Berachot 13b). Only when pronouncing Dalet without Dagesh as voiced th (as some Sephardim pronounce it), can it be stretched, but stretching the sound D is physically impossible, for it becomes D-a-a-a (see Ben Ish Chai, first year, Vaera 10).

In this article, I want to discuss how Gimel was possibly pronounced without the Dagesh. In total, according to the rules of grammar there are 6 letters that accept the "light dagesh[1]" - [2]. Although in some places, the sound with and without the dagesh kal was similar[3], in many places the pronunciation was quite different. Today, the Ashkenazim have retained a difference in pronunciation with and without Dagesh of these letters: . But with regard to Tav, the pronunciation of Ashkenazim has changed over time, because the voiceless sound th does not exist in most European languages (except English), and it began to be pronounced as S (we know from Sefer Yetzira and Zohar that the sound "s" comes from a different group of sounds than ). Most modern Israelis do not distinguish with dagesh from tav without dagesh, but many Sephardic communities have retained the pronunciation of tav without dagesh as a voiceless th.

Most modern Israelis pronounce Reish as guttural French R. Still from the Sefer Yetzirah we see that in the ancient times was similar to the German/Spanish/Italian "R," since the Sefer Yetzirah and the Zohar[4] tell us that the letters " are pronounced with the help of teeth, and the French sound "R" is pronounced in the back of the vocal tract, just like the sounds ".

On the other hand, many Sephardim[5] pronounce Gimel without the dagesh as a guttural French R sound, and this seems to be the correct pronunciation[6]. To prove this, we note that for each voiced and voiceless sound, pronunciation with and without dagesh was symmetrical. The voiced b without a dagesh is v, and its voiceless pair p without a dagesh is f the voiceless pair of v. The voiced "d" without a dagesh was pronounced like voiced "th" and voiceless "t" without a dagesh was pronounced like voiceless "th". Voiceless "k" without dagesh - , which means voiced "g" without dagesh as equivalent to voiced pair of - i.e. guttural French "R".

This complete symmetry is reflected in the table below:

Voiceless with dagesh

Voiceless without dagesh

Voiced with dagesh

Voiced without dagesh

P

F

B

V

T

voiceless Th

D

voiced Th

K

German Ch

G

French R

 



[1] The strong dagesh that doubles the letter is accepted by most consonants.

[2] Although the Sefer Yetzirah also mentions Reish, and according to Professor Yehuda Liebes, Reish without Dagesh may have been pronounced with an exhalation, like Resh-Hey Rh.

[3] The GRA proves this from the fact that the Talmud teaches to make a short pause between the words Hakanaf and Petil, Esev and Besadha, so that the sounds f-p and v-b do not merge.

[4] Sefer Yetzirah (second chapter) and The Zohar (3:228a; Zohar Hadash Ruth)

[5] Note however that Yemenite Jews pronounce Gimel with dagesh as J but this also contradicts the Sefer Yetzirah and is probably due to the influence of their Arabic dialect.

[6] See Ohr LeTzion, vol. 2 45:5.