It’s a Sin!


siddurBy CJ Srullowitz

The other Motzaei Shabbos, it happened again. An accomplished, articulate, and learned man-in a shul full of accomplished, articulate, and learned people-took the amud to daven. Maariv passed uneventfully. Until the end, that is, when, in the extra pesukim we read after the Shemoneh Esrei, the chazzan concluded: “Orech yamim ashbi’eihu ve’areihu bishu’asi.”

Arrgh. It’s a sin!

This was not the first time I’d heard this particular mistake, and I sincerely doubt it will be the last. Nor is this example the only mistake of its kind that my tender ears have been exposed to over the years. I hear it again in the concluding verse of the shir shel yomfor Thursday: “…umitzur devash ashbi’eka“; or sometimes “asbi’echa“; or else the doubly wrong “ashbiecha.” For some People of the Book simply reading the Book correctly proves problematic.

Are people paying attention? Should someone say something?

The Tanach warns us of the problem. In the book of Shoftim, the people of Ephraim started up with Yiftach Hagiladi. War broke out and Yiftach’s side won. Subsequently, Yiftach’s men stood guard by the Jordan river and would not let the people of Ephraim cross back over to get to their homes. In order to determine who was from Ephraim, they seized upon a speech pattern unique to the Ephraimites-replacing a “sh” with “s.” When someone approached, “they said to him, please say shibboles, and he said sibboles for he could not pronounce it properly, and they took him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand from Ephraim fell at that time” (12:6).

While I’m not suggesting capital punishment for textual misreadings, it is clear that proper pronunciation does count for something.

And while we’re on the subject, am I the only one who cringes when the person saying Kaddish refers to G-d’s Name as “Shemei dekedushah Berich Hu,” instead of “deKudsha.” Here’s another favorite from the birchas haminim in Shemoneh Esrei: “Vechol oh-vecha meheirah yikareisu.” While I understand that there are people who are preternaturally incapable of pronouncing the sound,”oy” under any and all circumstances, there remains in the word a yud that demands to be recognized. Not to worry. As it is coupled with a sheva nah, it can be rendered, with a little effort, “oh-yehvecha, your enemies.” Ovecha, on the other hand, simply means, “your necromancers.” And while cutting off necromancers may not be a bad idea, it’s not the idea of this particular berachah.

Likewise, whenever I attend a siyum, I squirm in my seat, hoping it won’t come. But too often it does. Nearing the end, the mesayeimwill declare, “Vehakitzosa hi teshichecha.” Someone needs to give a shichah about this problem. It’s wonderful to finish a mesechta in Shasor a seder of mishnayos, but would it hurt to first learn the pesukim?

I’m not even addressing the evils of slurring words or of alternating between muttering and mumbling while davening, or, worse, whileleining from the Torah. Nor am I getting on anyone’s case about the difference between the sheva na and the shva nach. Or the mapik hei. Not today anyway.

Today I simply want to point out that when a shin has a dot on the left end, it’s a sin.

Perhaps the best use of my perturbation (other than writing about it) is further introspection. For lest anyone think that I am Mr. High and Mighty, condescending upon the lowly, befuddled masses with their troubled tongues and marbly mouths, I have, on occasion, caught the malapropic bug myself. For instance, it was decades before I recognized that the phrase in the shir shel yom for Wedensday was “veyesomim yeratzeichu.” For years, I had been saying (ahem) “yeracheitzu“-and while I’m quite sure that most orphans would far prefer to be washed than murdered, it was still incorrect.

Besides for watching out for my pronunciation and that of others I also should be careful with what I’m saying. I’m not talking about putting on “kavanah face”-but about increasing focus on pirush hamilos, or avoidance of daydreaming at the very least.

We all make mistakes-some more important than others. When it comes to tefillah, it behooves us to pronounce the words diligently, even if it slows us down. But when we catch someone else making an error, it also pays to be forgiving. After all, we are asking no less for ourselves from God.

CJ Srullowitz is a financial adviser in New Jersey and blogs at

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  1. Aderaba! Your “raya” from shoftim shows pronounciatio doesn’t matter, since benei ephrsim routinely mispronoinced shin as sin, not that there is anything wrong with that per se!!!!!

  2. Yes, very true and correct. Why wonder if our prayers will be accepted if we can’t bother to pronounce them correctly.
    Also, you left out one of my “all-time” favorites…
    (from Ashrei): Aynay chol aylecha YESHABEYRU (?!) when it should always be YESABEIRU! (Also found in the perek of tehillim following (#146), SIVRO not SHIVRO).
    Of course errors are not limited to “sin-shin”. In dozens of places people are not careful about correct nikud. It would be terrific if a list of the common ones could be put together.

  3. With so much pain and hardship in the world, I believe that if this message is meant to help people, the title and tone of this article does nor represent love for a fellow yid.
    Yes pronouncing words are critical- but as an effective educator we want people to learn how to correct themselves not to blow them up.

  4. great article! luv it
    i will hang it up in my shul. maybe people can stop saying “le’oylom ulalmei almaya” instead of le’olam

  5. I hear Vayehi Noam every single motz”sh instead of Veehee Noam. Also I hear Hodu Al Eretz V’Shamayim during psukei d’zimra instead of Hodo…

  6. #2 What you just posted is apikorsis. What seems insignificant in our eyes doesn’t mean it’s insignificant in shemayim. The question is do you or don’t you take davening seriously. Would you mispronounce words indiscriminately if you were talking to a melech basar v’dam? In other words, when you shtell zich to daven, do you really believe that you’re davening to the melech malchai hamlachim.

  7. “An accomplished, articulate, and learned man-in a shul full of accomplished, articulate, and learned people” – doubt it??

    Except for the one regarding the siyum, I have never heard any adult make these mistakes. The siyum mistake is only because it’s not said often & usually said quickly.

  8. You found the reason for the mispronounciations all by yourself. In the last paragraph- “even if it slows us down.” That’s the problem. Everyone is in such a hurry. I do not daven while having in mind esoteric kavanos, or kabbalistic ideas, but I do make an effort to look into my siddur and actually say the words. Almost everywhere I daven I have problems, minor or sometimes major, keeping up with the tzibbur. And I’m always left wondering- How could they possibly have said all those words SO QUICKLY????

  9. Whose prayer do you think hashem cherishes more, the one who with full kavona davens and makes some grammatical mistakes or the one who davens perfectly without any mistake and in his head is thinking how much he cant stand the way the chazan is davening.

  10. ??? ?????? ??? ???? ?

    ??? ????? ???? ??? ????? ??? ????, ??? ?’ ??? ?? ???? ????? ????? ???? ???? ????? ?????? ??? ????? ???? ??? ??????? ??? ????

  11. why dont you just pray in a sephardic minyan which DOES HAVE correct pronunciation and then you wont have to write this article and have all your worries.

  12. what about the guy who yells “y’hei shmei rabbah M’VOIRACH (and/or) L’OILUM ….”? and why does he always have to be the loudest guy in shul?

  13. it should also be noted that in krias shema to make sure to seperate between the words vsmtam,ureisem,uksavtam and es to note pronnounce it as vsmtam mas… making it sound like you should place,see,write your death chas vshalom
    the same appplies with elokaichem emes not elokaicham mes chas vshalom

  14. Ive heard Mish’an u’Mitvoch Latzadikim! (Wednesday!)
    Beroz Ov Veshalom (nusach sfard)instead of berov oz
    In Lamenatzeach mizmor l’David it is beshem Elokeinu Nidgol and not Nigdol!
    Ive Heard VAYatzmach purkanei vekareiv Meshichei- Past Tense!! (is he christian???)

  15. Oh no, we now have another CRISIS in Klal Ysrael. The dikduk/kria crisis!!! Lates make a whole aguda convention about it to brainstorm for solutions.

  16. erm just move to Israel. People hear tend to understand what they’re saying when davening…time to pick up and move home Jews.

  17. See Aruch HaShulchan Orech Chaim 62:2 that several apikorsuyot come from not pronouncing the ayin properly. For example, “???? ?’ ????????” comes out “????”. His maskana is that Hashem wants the heart and knows what we mean. See also Mishna Berura 53:37 that in a place where everyone pronounces in like an alef such a person can even be Shatz.

    Regarding shin/sin there is a joke about the person who says “kol hasoneh halachot bechol yom” but I heard a good vort about why Ephraim did not differentiate. The Tora says that when Yisrael put his left hand on Menashe he “sikel” which means that he did it deliberately (Rashi). “Shikel” would have menat that it was a mistake. Thus Ephraim had an interest in the sin.

  18. need to tell these people
    the gemara says “shabeshta kivan deul ul”
    if you dont tell them they will do it for the rest of their lives

    there is a guy in my shule who davens pesukie dzimra all the time on shabbos and in nishmas he says me yeshave loch

    they mean well and their heart is in the right place and “rachmana leeba boey”
    however they need to be corrected in a diplomatic way

  19. in kadish one should say mivArach lAlam liolmey .. ..
    my father AH used to go over nicely and corect the person and when saying KADISH
    and there was talking he would stop until it was quit.

  20. Great article. How about Modim Anachnu loch…..what’s the next word? Look it up and you will see if you say it right or not.

    (answer is…. Sho-atah not sheh-atoh)

  21. To those (few) claiming this is not such a big deal I only wonder if they would say the same to their children who mispronounced words when they talk to people. We all are so concerned with how our kids learn to speak and speak correctly and the speech therapists are so busy correcting the ones who cannot speak right. Like those who use a “W” in place of and “L” (ie: wazy instead of lazy or weft instead of left). And the ones who use a “TH” instead of an “S” and other what we call speech impediments. For some reason those concern people but mispronouncing words of Teffila are all of a sudden not so critical.

    Yes it is true Hashem knows what we mean in our heart when we daven even if we say the word wrong just like a parent also knows what their child means when they say the word(s) wrong. Yet, the parent is still concerned and wants their child to speak properly so why can’t our father in heaven get the same courtesy for the words we speak to him?

  22. The real problem with Motzie Shabbos davening is that it goes way too fast! I can’t understand why, otherwise sane people, feel the need to fly thru Maariv. They are basically telling HKB”H, I hate Shabbos & can’t wait to be “patterveren” from it! I have more important things to do!


  24. OK. But since you are pointing out mispronunciations, the sh’va under the pay in shofetim is na, not nach, so it is Shofetim, not shoftim. Ditto for parhas Toledos.

  25. Spelling and proper pronunciation are very important and have a spiritual effect.

    I once read a story where the 2 sets of parents of an engaged couple were fighting over the arrangements. A Rov asked to see the Tenaim and found that a word had been misspelled and translated to something like “they will fight.”

    After the Tenaim was corrected, the arrangements went smoothly.

  26. what aout Hayom Haras olem said on the yomim noraim. “HARAS” (destroyed) Hashem Yishmor. The only way out of this one is to pronounce it as the Yemenite Jews HARATH and not HARAS.

  27. Interestingly, this is mentioned in the poskim, and have a very different perspective. In Sefer Hachasidim of R’ Yehuda Hachasid, it tells of a big Talmid Chacham who heard a baal tefila mispronouncing words as he was davening for the amud, and so he approached him and told him not to pronounce it that way. The man was discouraged, and stopped davening for the amud.

    Later that week, the Talmid Chacham had a dream, and they came to him and said “What did you do to stop the beautiful davening?” They explained to him that Hashem even loves our mistakes, based on the pasuk “Bediglo alay ahava”, which can be read “Bedigulo”, when they skip (words), I still have love for them.

    The Elya Raba, a prominent acharon brought down often in the Mishna Berura, actually quotes this from the Sefer Hachasidim. So apparently, Hashem loves the tefila even with the mistakes. I’m not saying there isn’t a way to correct; I’m saying that it’s worth keeping it in perspective.

  28. Yahser koach.
    I would, if I wanted to, just post a one sentence
    note in shuls stating the improper and proper way to pronounce the word and the other mistakes. It is not necessary to read a long article, and many people will not read it. However, I suppose that some people have to be appealed to by such an article, which was written well imo.

  29. Do people really get worked up over this? One or two misprounced words cannot throw people off. I have no patience for a Shiliach Tzibbur who Dreis. Tircha Dzibura is something I believe in.

    Years ago, when I was in Yeshiva, I had davened Shcaris one morning. Later, I was the last one to arrive in Shiur. As soon as I walked in the Rosh Yeshiva complained about the person who davened Scharis and mispronounced the word “Da’as”. He was referring to me. I kind of took it in stride only becuase I was already very self conscious as I tended to slur my words. The Rosh Yeshiva did not mean to demean me; however, people tend to take these things negatively. For years the ability to speak publicly was a major problem for me due to this and other incidents. I took public speaking in college and took a Dale Carnegie course. Nothing helped until I was 42 and realized that few people speaking at public functions had anything worthwhile to say. I also discovered that there were 5 basic speeches. I marvel at Rabbis who are able to say a 5 to 10 minute speech, say nothing at all, and sound good saying it. I also discovered that most Torah thoughts are Dirush and not Pshat. It is all about how well you say it. At this point for me, I want a Shilach Tzibbur to be quick.

  30. That explains why I could’t pronounce Sh ever.
    Yhey smei raba, …yistabach, mesihei. etc.
    I can never twist my tongue.
    And yet the B’nei Yehudah let me cross east river every night so I can get home to Borough Park, without challenging my impediment after all is not my fault.

    That is why Jews should call us Ephrews for we are so different, technically not from your tribe. Wait till you hear how the Menashews says Baruch Ata it goes something like Borich Otu, go figure.
    To the author I’d say. At least they daven, you have shuls that have something like 1 out 50 actually davens the others simply talk gashmius, or as I say gasmius.

  31. don’t have the exact Loshon, but saw it in print, “Huva MeMeam Loez: Karov Hashem Lchol Kor’vo Lchol Asher Yikra’uhu Be’emes – Oisios, Milos, Tnu’ois…V’yavo Eliyohu…” The gist of it that the letters of Emes stand for Oisios etc and that if we are careful to “call out” that is to Daven correctly, HKB”H will answer our Tefilos and bring the Geula!How’s that for anyone who thinks this is not a big deal!?!?

  32. Ok, everybody take it easy, Lemme aks you a question- How do you pronounce sukain (an old man)? How do you pronounce Sutton (the devil)? Ok then, how do you pronounce torah (the bible))? and how do you pronounce Tov (good)? etc…. There are sevens such questions, with the obvious point being that if you are pronouncing two different letters the very same way, well then by definition/perforce you are mispronouncing one of them. II fact if/when one studies language development you will find that pronunciation always eventually follow the civilization in which you live, hence, Sephardic vs German vs litvitch etc… The only segment of the Jewish people who have been insulated since the second bayis is the tay-mu-nim, hence the only group that still has an authentic mesorah and hence who has different pronunciations for each and every letter. So than… to pick out one particular mispronunciation from a hay stack of jumbled linguini is …cute.

  33. #47 The posuk is Korov Hashem lchol kor’ov
    ??”? klal yisroel has minhogim, and each chelek of klal yisroel has there own minhogim. I think a good mehalech how to deal with this is:
    1. be mechanech the kinder to read properly (according to their own minhogim)
    2. we should learn to daven from a siddur
    3. particularly for people who lain occasionally, let people who are mumchim in dikduk listen to you before you lain, so that you might learn something and lain properly.