Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 18 November 2017 / 29 Heshvan 5778

Geshem or Gashem?!

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
Library Library Library

As Sukkos drew to a close, Klal Yisroel geared up for the yearly minhag mêlée that is currently taking place as we speak in shuls worldwide. I’m referring to the Geshem / Gashem debate. This article sets out to address the who’s and the why’s behind this annual quarrel.

On Shemini Atzeres, as per the Mishna’s instruction[1] and codified by the Shulchan Aruch,[2] world Jewry started reciting “Gevuros Geshamim B’Tchiyas HaMeisim”, better known as the formulaic insert “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGashem”, in the second bracha of Shemoneh Esrei. This addition, showcasing the Might of G-d by mentioning the fact that He is the only One who has the power and ability to make rain, is considered so imperative that one who forgets to insert it must repeat the whole Shemoneh Esrei.[3]

As there are no vowels in the Gemara or Shulchan Aruch, an interesting question arises: what is the proper way to pronounce the Hebrew word for rain (גשם) in this sentence? Is it Ge shem (with a segol under the letter Gimmel; eh sound) or is it Ga shem (with a kamatz under the letter Gimmel; uh sound)? Although the word for rain is pronounced Ge shem when saying the word by itself, still, its proper pronunciation might be changed when part of a sentence.

Contemporary halachic authorities used various rules of Hebrew Grammar (dikduk) to come up with the proper solution.

Pausing Preference?

Rav Moshe Feinstein, quoting a rule of grammar that is cited by several Rishonim, including Tosafos, the Ran, and the Rosh,[4] explains that any word containing a double “segol” (eh sound) which is located before a pause (esnachta) or period (sof pasuk) becomes modified by changing the first of the two segols to a “kamatz”(uh sound). The example given by the Rishonim is the word “eretz” that, when it is the last word in a sentence or right before a pause, changes to “aretz”. This, Rav Moshe reasoned, is the very same thing that happens to the word Ge shem in this formula, that since it is the end of the sentence, the proper reading is “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGa shem”.[5]

Several other authorities, including the Vilna Gaon,[6] the Netziv,[7] and the Chafetz Chaim,[8] and more contemporarily, Rav Aharon Kotler,[9] Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv,[10] Rav Yisroel Yaakov Fischer,[11] and the Shaarim Metzuyanim B’Halacha[12], agreed with / akin to Rav Moshe’s psak and held that the proper pronunciation is indeed “Ga shem”. This is also how it’s presented in certain editions / versions of the siddur of the Arizal.[13] In fact, it is well known that in shuls where Rav Elyashiv zt”l’s talmidim serve as the rabbis, they are extremely makpid on this pronunciation.

Part and Parcel; Non-Stop

On the other hand, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky[14] was of the opinion that since this part of Shemoneh Esrei is called “Gevuros”, meaning strengths of G-d (plural), then the mentioning of the rain should not be considered the end of that sentence, but rather the beginning of the list of various strengths (making rain fall, sustaining life etc.). This should especially hold true since the falling of rain and sustaining of life are interrelated, as they are both referring to providing parnassah. Therefore, he explained, that the proper reading here is “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGe shem”,with the word “Geshem” maintaining its usual form. He adds that this pronunciation is found generations earlier, in the siddurim of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, and the VaYaas Avraham of Tchechnov. This is also the way it is presented in the siddur of Rav Yaakov Emden, known for its exacting dikduk.[15]

Though they did not expound on the reasoning behind their practice, several other contemporary authorities, including the Steipler Gaon,[16] Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach,[17] the Minchas Yitzchak,[18] Rav Chaim Kanievsky,[19] and Rav Moshe Sternbuch[20] ruled this way as well, that the correct pronunciation is “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGe shem. Many Tzaddikim of previous generations, including the Chozeh m’Lublin and the Maggid of Koznitz were known to have said “Geshem” as well.[21] This is also how it appears in the famed Siddur of Rav Shabsi Sofer of Premishlan.

Although some[22] opine that the pronunciation of the word as “Ga shem” was first introduced by Maskilim (ostensibly the VaYe’etar Yitzchak siddur by Yitzchak Satanov in 1784), Rav Yisroel Yaakov Fischer and Rav Moshe Sternbuch put this notion to rest, quoting earlier sources that also said “Ga shem”. Rav Fischer writes that he even refused to give a haskama to a sefer that claimed such.

Alternate Approaches

While some posit that “Ge shem” should be correct based on the Sefardic pronunciation of the bracha on wine, “Borei Pri haGe fen”, even though it is the end of the bracha, on the other hand, this comparison is not exact. In fact, Rav Ovadia Yosef wrote that Sefardim hold that the “Amen” is actually the end of the bracha, thus disproving any contrast. Although Sefardim generally do say “Ge shem”, the congregation immediately responds “l’vracha”, thereby making that the end of the sentence and not the word “Geshem”.[23]

The Levushei Mordechai[24] had a different take on this debate. He stated simply that “Ge shem” seems proper, and even though it seems that there should be a pause after that word, nevertheless, he concluded that it seems unclear whether the pronunciation of tefillos was established beholden to the rules of dikduk.

There is another interesting explanation that this author has heard in the name of Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, as to why many Chassidim say “Ge shem”, even if not necessarily correct grammatically. The word “kamatz” is also the root for the Hebrew word for constraining or miserliness (as in a ‘kamtzan’). When praying for material livelihood (gashmius - related to Geshem) one wants to use a segol (eh sound) instead of a kamatz (uh sound), as the segol has openings to allow the shefa (overabundance) of gashmius to flow through, and not to put constraints on this bracha ofparnassa.[25]

Dikduk Debate

This ‘dikduk debate’,[26] over which rule of grammar applies here, is a universal one,[27] which explains why one who walks into almost any shul in the world will find that there is no set rule; one chazzan might say Geshem and another might say Gashem. And even though there are shuls that follow the ruling of one set of poskim relating to this issue, another shul will follow the ruling of the others.Onedefinitely has what to rely upon no matter which version of the word one’s minhag is to recite.[28]

Practically speaking, according to Rav Moshe Sternbuch, if one’s custom is to say “Ga shem”, then one preferably should ensure to immediately pause after saying it. Ergo, the converse is true as well. If one’s minhag is to say “Ge shem”, then one should not pause after reciting the phrase, rather reading it as part and parcel of the next line, “Mechalkel Chaim”.[29]

So, whichever minhag one’s shul follows, at least we may finally gain an appreciation for all those dikduk lessons in elementary school.

Postscript: This is just one of a number of places where the majority consensus of Poskim maintain that dikduk decides the proper reading of tefillos.[30] Although many Gedolim through the ages spoke about dikduk’s importance,[31] unfortunately its study at present is much neglected. In the words of Rabbi Yisroel Reisman in his excellent book Pathways of the Prophets:[32] “The myth of the lack of importance of (at least) a minimal amount of knowledge of dikduk must be dispelled. This is an area where a small amount of time and effort go a long way. Let’s do it!”

This article was written L’Iluy Nishmas R’ Chaim Baruch Yehuda ben Dovid Tzvi, L’Refuah Sheleimah for R’ Shlomo Yoel ben Chaya Leah and Rochel Miriam bas Dreiza Liba and l’zechus Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam v’chol yotzei chalatzeha for a yeshua sheleimah!

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author:

Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Sho’el U' Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim. He also currently writes a contemporary halacha column for the Ohr Somayach website titled “Insights Into Halacha”.

[1] The very first Mishnah in Maseches Taanis, as well as the Mishnah in Maseches Brachos (33a).

[2] Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 114, 1).

[3] Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 5), based on the statement of Rabbi Chanina in Taanis 3b. For a comprehensive halachic viewpoint on what the one should do by a mistake with this formula, see mv”r Rav Yosef Yitzchak Lerner’s award winning Shgiyos Mi Yavin (vol. 1, Ch. 12), at length. However, those in Eretz Yisroel or those who daven Nusach Sefard and say “Morid HaTal” in the summer months (as opposed to the general minhag Ashkenaz in Chutz Laaretz), and did so instead of “Mashiv HaRuach”, are indeed yotzei and do not have to repeat Shemoneh Esrei.

[4] In their commentaries to Gemara Nedarim 37b, on the statement of Rabbi Yitzchak of an example of the rules of dikduk that were transmitted from Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai. See also Shu”t Rav Pe’alim (from the Ben Ish Chai – vol. 1, Orach Chaim end 11, s.v. mihu) who emphasizes that this rule only applies by these two of the ta’amim (trop).

[5] Shu”t Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim vol. 4, 40, 15). Also cited in Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3: 68). Interestingly, in the beginning of Kuntress Mechalkel Chaim B’Chessed (by Rav Chaim Krauss; printed 5741) it is written that after penning said teshuvah, Rav Moshe was chozer, acceding that “Ge shem” is indeed correct after being informed of all the Tzaddikim and Gedolim who preferred “Ge shem”. Nevertheless, in this author’s estimation, this does not seem entirely accurate, as Rav Moshe wrote his original teshuvah in 5739 and the sefer Shu”t Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim vol. 4) was only published in Bnei Brak two years later, in 5741, and then republished in New York in 5742. Yet, as mentioned previously, Kuntress Mechalkel Chaim B’Chessed was printed in 5741. If Rav Moshe was indeed chozer lema’aseh, I am puzzled as to why he would still have had the teshuvah maintaining his original stance and reasoning published a year later, and certainly reprinted two years later. Additionally, in Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (ibid.; printed 5740) it cites a different teshuvah of Rav Moshe’s, where he acknowledges that many Tzaddikim prefer “Ge shem”, even explaining that they must be of the opinion that “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGeshem” is the middle of that paragraph and not the end of the sentence; and even so he maintained preference for “Ga shem”. Hence, it appears that Rav Moshe’s true shittah seems to be as he himself published.

[6] Cited in Ashrei HaIsh (Orach Chaim vol. 1, Ch. 20, 30), quoting Kovetz Mevakshei Torah (vol. 43, pg. 57). This is also the way it appears in the “Siddur HaGaon m’Vilna” and “Siddur HaGr”a – Ishei Yisroel”. See also sefer Nichocha Shel Torah (pg. 19 - 20, par. Mesoras haTorah m’dor l’dor), who traces the minhag of Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, Rosh Yeshivas Be’er Yaakov, of saying “Ga shem”, back to the Vilna Gaon. [Thanks are due to Rav Shmuel Brazil, Rosh Yeshivas Zeev HaTorah in Yerushalayim,

for pointing out this source to me.] However, see Tefilla Kehilchasa (Ch. 12 footnote 61) who interestingly writes that there is a “kabbalah” from “Ziknei Yerushalayim” that the Gr”a actually said “Ge shem”. Although the editors of the Aizor Eliyahu Siddur write that it is probable that the Gr”a said “Ge shem”, as “Ga shem” was ostensibly introduced by later maskilim as claimed by Kuntress Birchos Chaim, nevertheless this theory has since been debunked by no less than Rav Yisroel Yaakov Fischer and Rav Moshe Sternbuch of the Eida Chareidis. See footnote 22.

[7] Quoted in Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 2, 58), in the brackets. Also cited in sefer Nichocha Shel Torah (ibid.). The Netziv adds a very compelling reason why the proper pronunciation should be “Ga shem”, based on where one must start over from if one erred by this formula.

[8] Cited in Ashrei HaIsh (Orach Chaim vol. 1, Ch. 20, 30), quoting Kovetz Mevakshei Torah (vol. 43, pg. 57).

[9] Cited in HaMispallel Kahalacha (pg. 24, footnote 2), quoting Rav Aharon’s noted talmid, Rav Yechiel Perr, Rosh Yeshivas Derech Ayson in Far Rockaway.

[10] Cited in Wake Up! (pg. 95 footnote 7), quoting sefer Peninei Tefillah (pg. 145). Also brought in Tefilla Kehilchasa (Ch.12, footnote 61), as well as in Ashrei HaIsh (Orach Chaim vol. 1, Ch. 20, 30), who states that this mesorah of Rav Elyashiv’s, comes from his grandfather, the Leshem Shvo V’Achlama, who held that “Ga shem” was correct. It is well known that in shuls where Rav Elyashiv’s talmidim are the rabbis, they are extremely makpid on this pronunciation.

[11] Shu”t Even Yisroel (vol. 8, 9), giving several compelling reasons.

[12] Quoted in Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3, 68), that although many Tzaddikim including the Chozeh m’Lublin and the Maggid of Koznitz said “Ge shem”, nevertheless, al pi dikduk, the proper pronunciation should be“Ga shem”.

[13] Cited in Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3, 68). Conversely, there are versions of the Arizal’s Siddur (such as the Chabad Tehillos Hashem Siddur ) where “Ge shem” is printed.

[14] Emes L’Yaakov al HaTorah (Bereishis Ch. 3, 19), and Emes L’Yaakov on Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 114, 1). [Interestingly, and in contrast to his position on Ge shem, Rav Yaakov maintained that regarding “Morid HaTa l”, a pause is mandated and should therefore be read as “Morid HaTu l” (with a kamatz and not a patach). He explains that since dew has connotations related to Techias HaMeisim, it should be considered part of the preceding paragraph, as opposed to“Morid HaGe shem“.] According to Rabbi Michel Shurkin (Mashgiach of Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim and author of Harerei Kedem), this was one of the times that Rav Yaakov was wont to remark that “Rav Moshe is a bigger Talmid Chacham than I, but I know dikduk better”. See also Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin’s Shu”t Gevuros Eliyahu (vol. 1 - Orach Chaim, 26) where, in a similar vein to Rav Yaakov’s explanation, elucidates why the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, in his siddur, places an esnachta after “Morid HaTu l”, but not after Ge shem.

[15] Cited in Shu”t Bais Avi (vol. 3, 45), as proof that “Ge shem” is correct. Astonishingly, in Rav Yaakov Emden’s original Siddur, “Ge shem” is indeed printed - along with a large esnachta, which seems to strongly contradict the basic rule of dikduk discussed above. Others who maintain that “Ge shem” is correct include the Pri Tevuah (cited in sefer Derech HaYashar V’Hatov pg. 28), the Shemen Rokach (Shu”t Tlita’i Orach Chaim 32), and the Afraksta D’Anya (Shu”t vol. 2, Orach Chaim 18). The Rivevos Efraim (ibid.) cites that he heard that Rav Elazar Menachem Mann Shach and Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner also maintained that “Ge shem” is correct.

[16] Orchos Rabbeinu (vol. 1, pg. 63, 213; new edition - 5775, vol. 1: pg. 121, 69). However, see Tefilla Kehilchasa (ibid.) who says that he heard that the Steipler Gaon said “Ga shem”.

[17] Halichos Shlomo (Tefilla, Ch. 8, 14), that after Rav Shlomo Zalman read Kuntress Birchos HaChaim (by Rav Chaim Krauss), who cites many proofs and opinions that “Ge shem” is correct, he changed his pronunciation to “Ge shem”.

[18] Quoted in Ishei Yisroel (Ch. 25, footnote 87).

[19] Teshuvos Rav Chaim Kanievsky (1500).

[20] Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 1, 81 and vol. 2, 58).

[21] Cited in Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3, 68).

[22] Although some (see Minhag Yisroel Torah vol. 1, 114, 1 and Kuntress Birchos HaChaim at length) opine that the pronouncing of the word as “Ga shem” was introduced by Maskilim (ostensibly the VaYe’etar Yitzchak siddur by Yitzchak Satanov in 1784), Rav Sternbuch puts this notion to rest, quoting earlier sources that also said “Ga shem” (although he personally prefers “Ge shem”). Similarly, Rav Yisroel Yaakov Fischer in his Shu”t Even Yisroel (ibid.) writes that he refused to give a haskama to the Kuntress Birchos Chaim since he felt it was misleading with the information presented, as the Kuntress Mashiv HaRuach found sources for saying “Ga shem” from Siddurim printed five years before Satanov was born! In the same vein, this author has recently been told by Rav Elyashiv’s noted talmid, Rav Nochum Eisenstein, that Rav Elyashiv likewise refused to give a haskama to said Kuntress for the same reasons.Conversely, Rav Elyashiv did give a haskama to Rav Shalom Marzel’s Kuntress Mashiv HaRuach, which goes to great lengths to prove that “Ga shem” is and was the correct pronunciation throughout the generations. See also footnote 27.

[23] Chazon Ovadia (vol. 1 - Haggada shel Pesach, Kadesh, pg. 128), who writes that Sefardim hold that the “Amen” is actually the end of the bracha; thus disproving any comparison. Although Sefardim generally do say “Ge shem”, the congregation immediately responds “l’vracha”, thereby making that the end of the sentence and not “Geshem”. Although Rav Ovadiah himself (ad loc.) questions his own assessment, he nonetheless concludes that it is correct. It is interesting to note that most Yemenites say “Ga shem” (or “Ja fen”).

[24] Shu”t Levushei Mordechai (vol. 4, Orach Chaim 213).

[25] This author has also heard this rationale in the name of Rav Aryeh Kaplan, as well as Rav Chaim Halpern. In a related interesting and inspired bit of wordplay, Rav Chaim Krauss, in his Kuntress Mechalkel Chaim B’Chessed (pg. 8) opines that it is certainly preferable to be of the ‘Yechidei Segulah’ and not of the ‘Kamtzanim’.

[26] See also Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol, 3, 68), Shu”t Az Nidbaru (vol. 12, 26), Ishei Yisroel (ibid), Tefilla Kehilchasa (Ch. 12, 27, footnote 61), and Daily Halachah Discussion (ppg. 21 - 22).

[27] Indeed, this seemingly simple debate over a single vowel triggered what became colloquially known as the “Kuntress Wars” around 40 years ago, with many Kuntressim written back and forth, each proving either “Ge shem” or “Ga shem” as the correct pronunciation and each citing proofs to their positions from Gedolim through the ages. Aside for the usual rhetoric, there were some very interesting and notable off-topic outcomes on both sides. I will present several: 1) Rav Fischer added a fascinating rationale in his teshuva on topic (Shu”t Even Yisroel ibid.), that in his opinion, even if it turns out that the recitation of “Ga shem”was actually introduced by a maskil, there is no problem with following it, if it proves correct from a dikduk perspective. As this debate has no halachic bearing, but rather simply about the more correct pronunciation, he asserts that it is irrelevant who first brought the issue to the public’s attention. 2) In the rebuttal Kuntress Mechalkel Chaim B’Chessed, Rav Krauss claims that the Siddur that Rav Fischer cites as printing “Ga shem” prior to Satanov’s birth, ‘Yad Kol Bo’, has outright Christian influences, especially in its commentary on Tehillim. 3) Rav Shalom Marzel, in his Kuntress Mashiv HaRuach, strongly advances that Yitzchak Satanov was not the prominent maskil history has shown him to be, but rather a true talmid chacham and Yarei Shomayaim, a writer and grammarian whose reputation he claims Rav Krauss was trying to besmirch.

[28] See Shu”t Az Nidberu (vol. 11, 48 s.v. siman 68) who writes that regarding this machlokes, ‘nahara u’nahara u’pashtei’, and one cannot refer to another’s minhag as incorrect. As an interesting side point, this author has heard numerous times that this debate, at least in frum America from the 1950s throughout the 1990s, used to follow along the Nusach Sefard / Ashkenaz divide: Nusach Sefard said “Ge shem” while Nusach Ashkenaz said “Ga shem”. It has been posited that the reason why many nowadays who daven Nusach Ashkenaz nonetheless say “Ge shem”, is due to the advent of the popularity of the ArtscrollSiddur, which has become the main Shul Siddur in many Nusach Ashkenaz American congregations. As the Artscroll Siddur prints “Ge shem” as standard, whereas “Ga shem” is cited exclusively in brackets or footnotes as a possible alternative in both their Hebrew and English editions, this certainly seems a distinct possibility.

[29] Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 2, 58). This is also born out from Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky’s explanation in Emes L’Yaakov (ibid.).

[30] See at length Rabbi Yisroel Reisman’s Pathways of the Prophets, “Rules of Dikduk” starting on pg. 312.

[31] For example see the Rambam’s Peirush HaMishnayos (Avos Ch. 2, 1), Beis Yosef (Orach Chaim 142, 1), Yesod V’Shoresh HaAvodah (Ch. 5, 3), Shu”t Chavos Yair (124), Shu”t Sheilas Ya’avetz (vol. 1, 10), and Bnei Yisaschar (Introduction to Igra D’Kallah and Mayon Ganim 13, 6), all cited in the aforementioned chapter.

[32] Pathways of the Prophets (pg. 325).

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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