Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 16 January 2010 / 29 Tevet 5770

Sound Advice

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Benny

Dear Rabbi,

There’s a person who has been coming to our shul of late who is a normal, nice guy. He is clearly not a beginner to yiddishkeit. However he has a peculiar way of pronouncing his blessings which mixes the different customs of pronunciation between Ashkenazi, Sefardi and Israeli. This is most apparent when he’s called up to the Torah and makes the blessings out loud and everyone in the shul can hear him. To me, it doesn’t really matter (although I think whatever his custom is, it should be consistent), but other people find it amusing and are a bit derisive. My question is, since he’s not a beginner, should someone point out the inconsistency so that he can try to pronounce normally to avoid unnecessary embarrassment (if he were a beginner, it wouldn’t seem so strange); or on the contrary, since he’s already frum, he might get offended and feel unwelcome or uncomfortable and stop coming to our shul which would be a shame because he really is a good guy?

Dear Benny,

I commend you on your sensitivity and on your effort to seek advice before doing anything that might hurt another’s feelings.

First, I think you should talk to those who might be making fun of the new person and explain to them that despite this person’s inconsistency in pronunciation, he is nevertheless fulfilling the blessings, which itself is a great thing and not a joking matter.

In fact, the Midrash notes that G-d even finds such mispronunciations, if uttered with a pure heart, as endearing. Commenting on the verse “His banner (“diglo”) is for me a banner of love”, the Sages note that this is how the Jewish people refer to G-d. But in G-d’s referring to the Jewish people, He changes the word “diglo” to “dilugo” which effectively means “slip up”. So that G-d says of His Jewish children, “His slip up is for Me a slip up of love.” This can be compared to parent who adores his infant’s first jumbled words.

Since all of us are like children before G-d, and all of us also make mistakes, even slip ups of Jewishly-educated adults are beloved in G-d’s eyes, if we’re sincerely motivated.

That being said, we are required to make every effort not to slip up. And, in fact, we must do our best to beautify every mitzvah, which for prayer includes clearly enunciating and correctly pronouncing the words. Within any particular custom of pronunciation, one must be consistent so that the prayer is recited correctly and accurately according to that particular tradition.

So I think that someone who can tactfully point this out to the person without embarrassing or hurting him should do so. It should be done privately, and out of the context of prayers and no one else has to know about it. Assuming that there is no hearing or speech impediment (and maybe that should be looked into), he probably would want to correct his pronunciation if this were pointed out to him. Of course, initially he may be a bit uncomfortable, but I think he will ultimately appreciate the friendly gesture intended for the betterment of his own prayer.

And while he doesn’t (and shouldn’t) know that he is being derided, calling his attention to improving his pronunciation will spare him from being viewed askance not only in your shul, but wherever else he may daven as well. And this is certainly in his best interest.

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