[b-hebrew] "th" and "b"

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Sat Jun 14 16:42:10 EDT 2008

Dear Yakov,

I'll try to re-phrase Yitzhak's answer. Since the earliest translation of 
the Bible that we know of was into Greek, names and phrases that were 
transliterated were done so in a way that matched how the Greek of the time 
"heard" the way Hebrew was pronounced at the time. Since Hebrew at the time 
pronounced a "soft" Tav as "th", and Greek had an equivalent sound (theta), 
this is what was used. Thus: Beth-lehem, Sabbath (Greek does not have a 
"sh") etc. Greek did not have a "v" sound, so "soft" Bet remained "b". Thus 
Ya'akov became Iakob, which eventually became Latin Jacob. These forms 
became standard in the English speaking world.

Jewish pronunciation of Hebrew, however, also changed over time. As Yitzhak 
mentioned, there are communities that did retain the "th". Ashkenazi 
communities at one point shifted to "s" (as in "Shabbos"). Over the past 
generation, many communities have adopted the modern Israeli pronounciation, 
itself based on Sephardic pronounciation. Here, "soft" Tav is still "t".

In the past, it was very common for Jews in the English-speaking world to 
use the standard English forms when writing in English, even if these did 
not represent the way they actually pronounced the Hebrew. You mentioned a 
"Temple Beth Shalom" - I also know of at least one "Beth Jacob". In today's 
more multi-cultural climate, many communities actually do spell their 
transliterations the way they pronounce them, so that it would be either 
"Bet Ya'akov" or "Beis Yakov".

Academia, on the other hand, has its own rules, based on modern scholarly 
conventions. Here the "soft" forms are often considered to be secondary and 
historically late, and are often ignored.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Yakov Hadash" <yakov.hadash at gmail.com>
To: "b-hebrew" <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Friday, June 13, 2008 5:54 PM
Subject: [b-hebrew] "th" and "b"

> Hi everyone. Sorry if this question has been discussed many times or
> if everyone already knows the answer already but this is something
> I've been wondering about for YEARS and I think you guys probably
> know the answer...
> Two transliteration things I see a lot are:
> -Taf without a dagesh transliterated as "TH" as in "B'nai BriTH,"
> "Temple BeTH Shalom" - I see this most often in names of older Jewish
> organizations
> -Bet without a dagesh transliterated as "B" as in "JacoB" (for my
> name) - I see this a lot in "scholarly" and non-Jewish contexts
> I've spent my whole life going to synagogues around the world as well
> as speaking Modern Hebrew and I've never encountered anyone who
> actually pronounces Hebrew this way ("...mekadesh eTH haShabbat?"
> "Haaretz hayita tohu vaBohu?) so where does this transliteration come
> from? Is there someone, somewhere, who actually would say "tohu
> vabohu" or lisp his soft tafs?
> Yakov Hadash.
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> b-hebrew mailing list
> b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> http://lists.ibiblio.org/mailman/listinfo/b-hebrew


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