Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

How to Spell “Tu biShvat”

January 18, 2011

Although there are many different conventions for Hebrew transliteration in general — e.g., the various ways to spell Hanukkah — using apostrophes in “Tu biShvat” indicates a misunderstanding of sh’va na’ versus sh’va nah (“mobile” or “voiced” sh’va versus “resting” or “silent” sh’va). This is a matter of correct dikduk (Hebrew grammar), not convention.

I am on a mission to correct this in the English-speaking Jewish world because so many Jewish organizations get this wrong!  They mistakenly use apostrophes and frequently mistransliterate the holiday’s name as “Tu b’Shvat” or, even worse, with two apostrophes, as in “Tu b’Sh’vat.”  Another incorrect transliteration uses ‘e’ instead of apostrophes, resulting in “Tu b’Shevat,” “Tu beSh’vat,” and the like.  These are all wrong, for the same reason.

When you spell Tu biShvat in Hebrew, there’s no voiced sh’va anywhere.  This is because:

  1. Hebrew words can never have two sh’vas in a row at the beginning of a word.  In the middle, yes.  At the end, yes.  But at the beginning, no.
  2. In the situation where you have a word whose first vowel is a sh’va — such as Sh’vat (a Hebrew month), Y’rushalayim (“Jerusalem”), b’heimah (“beast,” “a large domesticated mammal, potentially kosher”), sh’mot (“names of”), etc. — and then you want to add a prefix whose vowel is also a sh’va, a couple of things happen:

a) The sh’va that was at the beginning of the original word changes from sh’va na’ to sh’va nahTherefore, the sh’va under the shin in “Sh’vat” changes from being voiced to being silent.
b) The sh’va that would have been under the prefix changes into a hirik. This phenomenon happens every time.
c) If the original word happened to start with a yud, such as in Y’rushalayim, not only do (a) and (b) occur, but also (c) the sh’va that was under the yud disappears altogether.

Thus, the proper pronunciation of our upcoming Hag ha-Ilanot (“Festival of the Trees”) is, divided into syllables, “TOO-BEESH-VAT.”  There’s no voiced sh’va, so there shouldn’t be any apostrophe in the transliteration.

Likewise, “in Jerusalem” is “BEE-ROO-SHA-LA-YEEM.”  Once again, the sh’va is no longer in the word once the prepositional prefix is added.

If you have contact with the English-speaking Jewish world in any way, please help me with this mission by politely correcting the transliteration wherever you come across it.  If anyone gives you any trouble, just send ’em to me.

Warning: Although Wikipedia gets it right, their detailed information is not for the faint of heart.  But if you love L’shon ha-Kodesh (“the language of the Holy”) as much as I do, you’ll have a field day.

Note: I have deliberately left actual Hebrew lettering out of this post to make it easy to copy and forward by email.  Please share!

Tu biShvat 5771

January 17, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011, 7:00-8:30 PM

“Celebrating Tu biShvat: Birthday of the Trees” – an interactive program with Natasha Nataniela Shabat, Biblical Hebrew Teacher. Everyone is invited to participate in this annual birthday of the trees during which we will explore the significance of trees and our relationships with them — in the world, in Jewish tradition, and in the history of Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Please bring a poem or writing that reflects your own appreciation of trees; readings will also be provided. This celebration will also include traditional Tu biShvat nuts, fruits, and juice. Mount Auburn will open just for us on Wednesday evening; come share the enchantment of the trees.  Seating is limited. Preregistration is required. Admission: $5, members; $10, non-members.

Sh’mini ‘Atzeret: Remember, remember!

September 30, 2010

As if Gd is swirling around inside the sukkah, saying “Remember, remember!”

The seasonal, agrarian rhythm of the Jewish festival holidays is based on the weather and climate of the land of Israel, not New England.  I know this.  Nevertheless, in seven years of annual dwelling in my own sukkah, it always seems so windy on Sh’mini ‘Atzeret.

As if Gd is swirling around inside the sukkah, saying “Remember, remember!”

Because this is our challenge today: to distill all our new insight and energy into the rest of the year, now that the Tishrei holiday season is almost over.  To take the spiritual shelter of the sukkah into ourselves, and remember.

Remember the soul-searching of Elul, the wake-up call of the shofar. Remember the Melting Heart of Tashlikh, remember teshuvah, the return to our Purist Selves.  Remember Forgiveness.  Remember Joy.  Remember getting back together, with Gd and with each other.

The flimsy structure of the sukkah, with its skhakh-roof  full of holes, reminded us of our vulnerability in life, that even our solid-seeming homes can’t ultimately protect us.  As we read in Kohelet (the Hebrew name for the Book of Ecclesiastes), “Ha-kol havel!” Everything is vapor, vanity, futility.  As if to underscore this point, the electric power is going on and off, my digital clocks are all blinking.  Wake up!  Pay attention!   The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory for the Boston area.    There’s rain and thunder and a dramatic WIND.

The season is changing.  The energy is shifting.  Remember, remember!

Jewish Holiday Greetings: Sukkot

September 27, 2010
sukkot harvest

lulav, etrog, Hallah, freshly harvested vegetables, Ecclesiastes

It is still perfectly appropriate to wish each other a Happy New Year (or Shana Tovah in Hebrew), just as people continue saying Happy (Gregorian) New Year for many weeks into January and beyond.

But maybe you’re looking for a Jewish holiday greeting more specific to the actual current Jewish holiday and wondering, What is the proper Hebrew greeting during these intermediary days of Sukkot? (September 26-29 this year) and what is the proper response?

Answer: Both come from the Festival Kiddush, as follows:

Person who initiates the greeting says: Mo’adim l’simhah!
Person who replies: Hagim u’z’manim l’sasson!

Hint about pronunciation: Each of the Hebrew words above puts the emphasis/stress on the last syllable.

Try it!

Hebrew Vocabulary:

Mo’adim = moments, “festivals,” “appointed times”
(singular: mo’eid)

l’ = for/to

simhah = joy, gladness, happy occasion

Hagim = holidays, celebrations
(singular: hag)

u’ = and

z’manim = seasons, times
(singular: z’man)

sasson = joy, happiness