I can’t remember which of you asked me about the word יששכר last week, but MarGavriel just sent me a translation of part of S. S. Boyarski’s work Ammudei Shesh and it had a tangent about יששכר in it, so here goes.
The question was “What’s the deal with there being two letter shins in יששכר but our only pronouncing one of them?” That is, why’s it pronounced yissåkhår rather than yissåsskhår or anything else you might come up with?
So, today I learned that it’s okay to be confused about it, because it’s confusing.
It’s kind of like the name Catherine (which started out as Greek Aikaterinẽ, according to Wikipedia) – Cath-er-ine and Cath-rin are both legitimate ways of saying it depending on what sort of attitude your dialect has towards extra syllables. Around the end of the first millennium CE there were at least two ways of saying יששכר floating about; yissåkhår and yish-såkhår.
This period is important because it’s when the masoretes were doing their enormous project of recording the scriptural canon. They went out and listened to people chanting the scriptures, and they wrote down what they heard.
In particular, they were very interested in how things sounded. Their job was one of listening to people, experts, reading the Torah and Nakh, and recording what they heard – aiming for the best, most accurate, most precise record of How The Torah Is Pronounced. We have them to thank for our vowel notations; before the Masoretes, we just didn’t have a way of recording vowels.
There were different centres of masoretic activity – in Babylon, Jerusalem, and Tiberias – and within the centres, different schools. And sometimes they heard different things. There are lists of Differences Between Masoretic Traditions which we still have.
For instance, the school of Ben Asher recorded a tradition of spoken Hebrew in which יששכר is pronounced yissåkhår, and the school of Ben Naphtali recorded a tradition of yish-såkhår.
I have a feeling that as the vowel notation became more canonical – more recognised as part of the apparatus accompanying the Written Torah – our comfort with having variant, equally valid traditions receded. It became important to us to have one, and just one, way of doing things.
Whether justly or no, the Tiberian centre came to be regarded as the most authoritative centre, and the school of Ben Asher its most authoritative school. Our manuscripts today are vocalised in accordance with Ben Asher; there are no surviving Ben Naphtali manuscripts, barring perhaps a few geniza fragments and the aforementioned lists.
Our friend Boyarski quotes one M. di Lonzano: “All Jews have the custom to rely on Ben-Asher, as if a heavenly voice had gone forth, and declared that the halakha was in accordance with Ben-Asher.”
Now, here’s a funny thing. MarGavriel says that Yossi Peretz says that in the early modern period, there was a new wave of interest in things masoretic. A general surge of faith in the wisdom of the ancients combined with said wisdom being newly accessible in print, and in particular people noticing that goodness, there used to be a tradition where יששכר was pronounced with two shins!
And so a custom arose among Ashkenazim sometimes to pronounce יששכר with two shins – perhaps as per Ben Naphtali, yish-sokhor, perhaps simply – intuitively – yisoschor. Some did it only for its first appearance in Torah, in Genesis 30:18. And some did it all the way up to – but not including – Parshat Pinchas.
Look at Genesis 46:13 and compare it to Numbers 26:23-24. Who are יששכר’s children?
In Genesis, his third child is יוב. But in Numbers, his third child is ישוב. Extra shin, see?
So here’s the story. Issachar named one of his sons יוב. Then, somebody told him that this was the name of an idol in some country, and he was upset.
In order to get rid of the idolatrous name, he took one of the shins from his own name, and generously gave it to his son. So Yishsåkhår became Yissåkhår and Yov became Yåshuv – but until he does that, in parshat Pinchas, you still have to pronounce the extra shin in the father’s name.
Cute, but in no way authoritative. In any case, it’s more common to say it with two shins just the first time, but don’t start doing either of them just because you read it here. You aren’t living in early modern Ashkenaz; you don’t live in historical circumstances which justify you mispronouncing a word to invoke a mostly-forgotten Tiberian Masorete. You start doing that, you’ll never stop.
I am sort-of considering, for my next sefer Torah, giving crowns to both letters shin in יששכר up to Pinchas, and then crowning only one of them thereafter, but that’s rather a liberty, so it may remain a dream. But one does have more leeway with crowns than with pronounciation.
Mirrored from hasoferet.com.