By Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
Two weeks ago, on Shmini Atzeres, as per the Mishna’s instruction and codified by the Shulchan Aruch, world Jewry started 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.
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, quotes a rule cited by several Rishonim, including Tosafos, the Ran and the Rosh, that any word before a pause (esnachta) or period (sof pasuk) becomes vowelized with a kametz (uh sound), instead of a segol (eh sound). 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, the Netziv, the Chafetz Chaim, Rav Aharon Kotler, the Shaarim Metzuyanim B’Halacha, and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, agree with Rav Moshe’s analysis and hold that the proper pronunciation is “Gashem”. This is also how it’s presented in the siddur of the Arizal.
On the other hand, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky is 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.), especially 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 Levushei Mordechai, the Steipler Gaon, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, the Minchas Yitzchak, and Rav Moshe Sternbuch rule this way as well, that the correct pronunciation is “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGeshem.
This ‘dikduk debate’, over which rule of grammar applies here, is a 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, 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, 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 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: “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 originally appeared on the Ohr Somayach website: www.ohr.edu.
For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Shaul U’ Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim. He also currently writes a contemporary halacha column for the Ohr Somayach website titled “Insights Into Halacha”. http://ohr.edu/this_week/insights_into_halacha/.
 The very first Mishna in Maseches Taanis, as well as the Mishna in Maseches Brachos 33a.
2 O.C. 114, 1.
3 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 Shgiyos Mi Yavin vol. 1, Ch. 12, at length.
4 Shu”t Igros Moshe O.C. 4, 40: 15.
5 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 Mount Sinai.
6 Cited in Ashrei HaIsh Ch. 20, 30, quoting Kovetz Mevakshei Torah vol. 43 pg. 57. However, see Tefilla Khilchasa Ch. 12 footnote 61 who writes that there is a “kabbalah” from “Ziknei Yerushalayim” that the Gr”a actually said “Geshem“.
7 Quoted in Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 2, 58, in the brackets. The Netziv adds a very compelling reason why the proper pronunciation should be “Gashem“, based on where one must start over from if one erred by this formula.
8 Cited in Ashrei HaIsh Ch. 20, 30, quoting Kovetz Mevakshei Torah vol. 43 pg. 57.
9 Cited in HaMispallel Kahalacha pg. 24, footnote 2, quoting Rav Yechiel Perr, Rosh Yeshivas Derech Ayson in Far Rockaway.
10 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”. I heard an interesting explanation in the name of Rav Chaim Halpern of London, as to why many Chassidim say “Geshem“, even if 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.
11 Cited in Wake Up! pg. 95 footnote 7, quoting sefer Pninei Tefillah pg. 145. Also brought in Tefilla Khilchasa Ch.12 footnote 61, as well as in Ashrei HaIsh Ch. 20, 30, who states that this mesorah of Rav Elyashiv’s, comes from his grandfather, the Leshem Shvo V’Achlama, who held that “Gashem” was correct. It is well known that in shuls where Rav Elyashiv’s talmidim are the rabbis, they are extremely makpid on this pronunciation.
12 Cited in Shu”t Rivevos Efraim vol, 3, 68.
13 Emes L’Yaakov al HaTorah Bereishis 3:19, also brought in Emes L’Yaakov on Shulchan Aruch O.C. 114, 1.
14 Cited in Shu”t Bais Avi vol. 3, 45, as proof that “Geshem” is correct.
15 Shu”t Levushei Mordechai vol. 4, 213. He simply states that “Geshem” seems proper, and even though it seems that there should be a pause after that word, nevertheless, it seems unclear whether the pronunciation of tefillos were established beholden to the rules of dikduk. He also cites another example of this.
16 Orchos Rabbeinu vol. 1, pg 63: 213. However, see Tefilla Khilchasa (cited above) who says that he heard that the Steipler said “Gashem“.
17 Halichos Shlomo, Tefilla Ch. 8: 14, that after he read Kuntress Birchos HaChaim (by Rav Chaim Krauss), who cites many proofs and opinions that “Geshem” is correct, he changed his pronunciation to “Geshem“.
18 Quoted in Ishei Yisrael Ch. 25, footnote 87.
19 Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 1, 81. Although some (see Minhag Yisrael Torah vol. 1, 114: 1) opine that the pronouncing of the word as “Gashem” was introduced by Maskilim, Rav Sternbuch puts this notion to rest, quoting earlier sources that also said “Gashem”.
20 See also Shu”t Rivevos Efraim vol, 3, 68; Shu”t Az Nidbaru vol. 12, 26; Ishei Yisrael ibid; Tefilla Khilchasa Ch. 12, 27, footnote 61; and Daily Halachah Discussion ppg. 21 – 22. 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 Chazon Ovadia vol. 2 – Haggada shel Pesach, Kadesh, pg. 128, that Sefardim hold that the “Amen” is actually the end of the bracha; thus disproving any comparison.
21 See Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 2, 58.
22 See at length Rabbi Yisroel Reisman’s Pathways of the Prophets “Rules of Dikduk” starting on pg. 312.
23 For example see Rambam – Pirush HaMishnayos, Avos 2:1; Beis Yosef O.C. 142:1, Yesod V’Shoresh HaAvodah 5: 3; Shu”t Chavos Yair 124; Shu”t Sheilas Yaavetz vol. 1, 10; Bnei Yisaschar – Introduction to Igra D’Kallah and Mayon Ganim 13: 6, all cited in the aforementioned chapter.
24 Pg. 325.