Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Ashkenazic pronunciation and a joke

I am on reserve duty in the army for the next few weeks, so my blogging routine will be even more erratic than it usually is.

The topic of Ashkenazic pronunciation and linguistic tradition seems to have sparked some interest. First, strictly about pronunciation, see Prof Asher Laufer's article, "Thoughts on pre-Ashkenazic pronunciation", Kol le-Yaakov: A Festschrift for Professor Ya'akov ben Tulila [=Eshel Be'er Sheva 8], Beer Sheva 2003, 259-275. His contention is that Yemenite pronunciation reflects the Babylonian tradition, Sephardic reflects the Palestinian punctuation system - and Ashkenazic is closest to the Tiberian system, which is the only one used for the past millenium. He also says that pre-Ashkenazic pronunciation (which was studied in depth by Ilan Eldar) is essentially Sephardic.

The Shamma Friedman article I was referring to is: Shamma Yehuda Friedman, 'Manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud - Typology of Spelling', Studies in the Hebrew Language and Jewish Languages: Shelomo Morag Festschrift, Jerusalem 1996, 163-189. He demonstrates that Ashkenazic manuscripts preserve ancient linguistic forms, specifically those which seem to reflect a more popular, "vulgar" language. Friedman suggests that the vaunted Spanish manuscripts (especially Hamburg 165) were "corrected", so that their language would be more uniform and formally correct.

For Zelda Kahan Newman's article, see 'The Jewish Sound of Speech: Talmudic Chant, Yiddish Intonation and the Origins of Early Ashkenaz', Jewish Quarterly Review XC (2000), 293-336.

All of which supports the point I was making - that Ashkenazic speech is more than an unfortunate by-product of exile. I think that such a deprecatory attitude towards Jewish life in the diaspora is completely inappropriate, and Yom ha-Shoah seems like a good opportunity to debunk it.

There is a famous story, about the Galician apikorus whose greatest pleasure was sitting back, after a good Shabbos meal, lighting up a cigar and learning Gemara. Today I discovered that this was actually told about someone specific.

I was looking through one of the chapters in Chaim Gertner's doctorate, Rabbinate and Dayyanut in Galicia during the first half of the 19th century: a typology of traditional leadership in crisis, Hebrew University 2004. On page 39 he brings a description of Lemberg, written by the historian Simon Berenfeld. The passage emphasizes the tolerance of the Lemberg community at the time.

Among other colourful characters, he mentions "a wise and learned man, a Ben Torah, of whom it was said that he was a student of R Nachman Krochmal. He was very wealthy, and lived on the outskirts of the city. Every day he sat and studied Torah and [general] knowledge. This was his custom: On Shabbat he would sit and smoke and study the decisors [to determine] whether "hotza'at machase" (?) on Shabbat is permitted or not. On Passover he would sit and eat hametz, while exploring the Acharonim, to see whether eating legumes could be permitted on Passover".

In a footnote, Gertner identifies this person, based on another statement by Berenfeld, as one Hillel Lechner.

It's still a good story, isn't it?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't it Gershom Scholem who told about his grandfather would say there's nothing better than learning Gemore on shabbes with a good cigar? I think he also made broche on it - boure peri hatobako. (And isn't it terrible that you, the reader of this comment, are musing about the fact that he didn't eat the cigar rather than the epikorses the whole thing implies?)


3:59 PM  
Blogger manuscriptboy said...

Gershom Scholem writes about religious holidays in his family: "On these occasions all the Scholems would get together at my grandmother's home... The Kiddush was still chanted but only half understood. That did not keep people from using the Sabbath candles to light a cigarette or cigar afterwards" (From Berlin to Jerusalem, New York 1980, p. 10)

Perhaps that is what you are thinking of? From the way he described his family, it's hard to believe his grandfather learnt Gemara, with or without a good cigar.

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are some interesting things in Lewis Glinert's (ed.) Hebrew in Ashkenaz : A Language in Exile (Oxford). He is out to combat the great prejudice against Ashkenazic Hebrew with it (proceedings of a conference).

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see today Prof. Y. Zussman, learning Gemara on shabat and be a mechalel shabat

7:00 PM  

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