New York - Halachic Musings: Geshem or Gashem?!

Published on: September 25th, 2013 at 10:15 AM

New York - As Sukkos draws to a close, we are gearing up for the annual minhag mêlée that is taking place as we speak in shuls wordwide; I’m referring to the Geshem / Gashem debate. This article sets out to address the who’s and the why’s behind this yearly quarrel.

On Shmini Atzeres, as per the Mishna’s instruction (in the very first Mishna in Maseches Taanis, as well as the Mishna in Maseches Brachos 33a) and codified by the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 114, 1), world Jewry will start reciting “Gevuros Geshamim B’Tchiyas HaMeisim”, better known as the formulaic insert “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGashem”, in the second bracha of Shmoneh 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 Shmoneh Esrei (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 Y.Y. Lerner’s excellent Shgiyos Mi Yavin (vol. 1, Ch. 12, at length).]

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 Geshem (with a segol under the letter Gimmel) or is it Gashem (with a kamatz under the letter Gimmel)? Although the word for rain is pronounced Geshem 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.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe O.C. 4, 40, 15), quotes a rule cited by several Rishonim, including Tosafos, the Ran and the Rosh 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) that directly before a pause (esnachta) or period (sof pasuk), any word whose first vowel is a segol (eh sound) becomes vowelized with a kametz (uh sound) instead. The example given 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 reasons, is the very same thing that happens to the word Geshem in this formula: that since it is the end of the sentence, the proper reading is “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGashem”.

Several other authorities, including the Vilna Gaon (cited in Ashrei HaIsh O.C. 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 in sefer Nichocha Shel Torah pg. 19 - 20, par. Mesoras haTorah m’dor l’dor), the Netziv (quoted in Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 2, 58, in the brackets), the Chafetz Chaim (cited in Ashrei HaIsh ibid. quoting Kovetz Mevakshei Torah ibid.), Rav Aharon Kotler (cited in HaMispallel Kahalacha pg. 24, footnote 2, quoting Rav Yechiel Perr, Rosh Yeshivas Derech Ayson in Far Rockaway), Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (who referred to saying “Gashem” as a mesorah from his grandfather the Leshem Shevo V’Achlama - cited in Pninei Tefillah pg. 145, Tefilla Khilchasa Ch.12 footnote 61, Wake Up! pg. 95 footnote 7, and Ashrei HaIsh ibid.), the Shaarim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (quoted in Shu”t Rivevos Efraim vol. 3, 68) that although many Tzaddikim including the Chozeh m’Lublin and the Maggid of Koznitz said “Geshem”, nevertheless, al pi dikduk, the proper pronunciation should be “Gashem”), and Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fischer (Shu”t Even Yisrael vol. 8, 9, giving several compelling reasons) agree with Rav Moshe’s ruling and hold that the proper pronunciation is “Gashem”. This is also how it’s presented in the siddur of the Arizal (Shu”t Rivevos Efraim ibid.). It is well known that in shuls where Rav Elyashiv zt”l’s talmidim are the rabbis, they are extremely makpid on this pronunciation.

On the other hand, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky (Emes L’Yaakov al HaTorah Bereishis Ch. 3, 19; Emes L’Yaakov on Shulchan Aruch O.C. 114, 1) who known as a master grammarian, was of the opinion that since this part of Shmoneh 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, he held, is especially true, as the falling of rain and sustaining of life are interrelated, as they are both referring to providing parnassah. Therefore, he posits that the proper reading here is “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGeshem”, 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.

Although they do not expound on the reasoning behind their practice, several other contemporary authorities, including the Steipler Gaon (Orchos Rabbeinu vol. 1, pg 63: 213), Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Tefilla Ch. 8, 14), the Minchas Yitzchak (quoted in Ishei Yisrael Ch. 25, footnote 87), and Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 1, 81) rule this way as well, that the correct pronunciation is “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGeshem. Although some (see Minhag Yisrael Torah vol. 1, 114: 1) opine that the pronouncing of the word as “Gashem” was first introduced by Maskilim (ostensibly the Vaye’etar Yitzchak siddur by Yitzchak Satanov in 1784), Rav Fischer and Rav Sternbuch put this notion to rest, quoting earlier sources that also said “Gashem”; Rav Fischer even refusing to give a haskama to a sefer that claimed such.

Other authorities who maintain that “Geshem” is correct include the Pri Tevuah (cited in sefer Derech HaYashar V’Hatov pg. 28), the Shemen Rokach (Shu”t Tlita’i O.C. 32), the Afraksta D’Anya (Shu”t vol. 2, O.C. 18), and the Bais Avi (Shu”t vol. 3, 45).

Other Reasonings

Although some posit that “Geshem” is correct based on the Sefardic pronunciation of the bracha on wine, “Borei Pri haGefen”, even though it is the end of the bracha, see however Rav Ovadia Yosef’s Chazon Ovadia (vol. 2 - 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 “Geshem”, the congregation immediately responds “lvracha”, thereby making that the end of the sentence and not the word “Geshem”.

The Levushei Mordechai (Shu”t vol. 4, 213) has a different take on this debate. He simply states that “Geshem” seems proper, and even though it seems that there should be a pause after that word, nevertheless, he concludes that it seems unclear whether the pronunciation of tefillos were established beholden to the rules of dikduk.

There is another interesting explanation that this author has heard in the name of Rav Aryeh Kaplan, as to why many Chassidim say “Geshem”, even if it’s not necessarily correct grammatically. The word “kamatz” is also the root for the Hebrew word for constraining or miserliness. 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 of parnassa.

Dikduk Debate

This ‘dikduk debate’, over which rule of grammar applies here, is a near-universal one, 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.

Practically speaking, according to Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 2, 58), if one’s minhag is to say “Gashem”, then one should ensure to immediately pause after saying it; ergo, the converse is true as well. If one’s minhag is to say “Geshem”, then one should not pause after saying it, rather reading it as part and parcel of the next line, “Mechalkel Chaim”.

So, whichever minhag one’s synagogue follows, at least he may finally gain an appreciation for all those Hebrew Grammar lessons in elementary school.

Postscript: This is just one of a number of places where according to many authorities, dikduk decides the proper reading of tefillos. Although many Gedolim through the ages spoke about dikduk’s importance, unfortunately its study at present is much neglected. In the words of Rabbi Yisroel Reisman in his excellent recent book, Pathways of the Prophets (pg. 325): “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 the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga and l’zechus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam v’chol yotzei chalatzeha for a yeshua teikif umiyad!

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