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Hebrew or English

Rabbi Yair Kobernick

HEBREW

Even those who don't know much or any Hebrew should aim towards trying to say some of the basic prayers and blessings in Hebrew. For example, reciting the Sh'ma - it's short and basically anyone, even a beginner, can learn to say and read it in Hebrew. There is something unique about our language. Using Hebrew has advantages that can't be attained in other languages. This is not to say that we cannot pray in our native tongue, it's just that the Hebrew adds an extra dimension that we wouldn't get otherwise.

For sure the best thing is to recite the prayers in Hebrew and understand the words at the same time. True, Prayer is allowed in any language. However this is not a blanket permission, nor does it suggest that other languages are equal to Hebrew, the Holy Tongue. Interestingly, if one prays in any other language he does not fulfill his obligation unless he understands what is being said. Not so in Hebrew. In Hebrew he fulfills his obligation even if he doesn't understand. This is because Hebrew has special virtues that other languages just don't have.

The story is told of an illiterate boy in the time of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement. The boy knew nothing but the letters of the Aleph Bet. While everyone else in the synagogue was praying fervently, he repeated the Aleph Bet over and over again. Then he said to God: "I don't know the words of the prayers. All I know is the Aleph Bet. You take the letters and form them into the proper words." The Baal Shem Tov said this boy's prayers broke through all the barriers and lifted up the prayers of all the others in the synagogue. So, say what you can in Hebrew and leave the rest up to God.

ENGLISH

(The following was sent to me - I think it fits right in here to show the contrast between Hebrew and English)

Let's face it -- English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.

English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce, and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese? One index, two indices?

Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why not preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue?

Copyright 2000 by Yair Kobernick and Project Genesis, Inc.

 


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