Shvuyes

27 May

I am categorically opposed to the Zionist tyranny of neo-Hebrew pronunciation, though I don’t know what gives me the right to such a strong opinion on the subject since I’m not even Jewish.  But I am a New Yorker, and pretty proprietary about at least my city’s Jewish and Yiddish-speaking heritage, and it bugs me to no end that most young New York Jews now say: “L’Shan-ah To-vah” in their best Hebrew school accents, instead of “Lu-sha-nuh To-vuh,” or “Sim-chat To-rah” instead of “Sim-ches Toy-ruh” like they used to.

We have no idea how ancient, pre-Babylonian Hebrew was pronounced; the Jews returning from exile having thoroughly become Aramaic speakers.  The pronunciation of Modern Hebrew was constructed on the basis of Sephardic liturgical pronunciation of the language, on the flimsy assumption of some kind of Semitic purity to be found in Sephardic usage, which the nineteenth-century Zionists in Europe who formulated the pronunciation and other structures of Modern Hebrew were probably attracted to mostly as an exotic escape from Galizianer shtetl-stigma and not any serious linguistic or historical considerations — the lost Golden Age of Jewish Spain being a nobler basis for Zionism’s new start than the muddy reality of Poland.  The old Ashkenazi-Yiddish pronunciations served the vast majority of the world’s Jews perfectly fine for many centuries and there was no need to “correct” them.

But Zionism is so often about reducing the entire Jewish historical experience — before the success of its ethically problematic project — to shame, though it was through the diaspora that Jews were forced to cultivate their greatest and most extraordinary gifts and share them with the rest of humanity as well.  That’s why I feel there’s an anti-diaspora shame in this pronunciation issue too that I don’t like.  And an Israeli colonization of the diaspora Jewish mind and soul, culturally and politically, that I like even less, but which is probably now irreversible.  Worse — a victim-shame which, combined with genuine, horrific trauma, has all kinds of negative and destructive consequences for Jews and everyone around them.  While Joseph Massad’s claim that Zionism is an: “anti-Semitic project of destroying Jewish cultures and languages in the diaspora,” is a bit hyperbolic, that’s pretty close to how I feel as well.

On a lighter note, Shvuyes is when you eat blintzes – and other dairy.  I don’t know why.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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