Thursday, July 24, 2008

Confessing gratitude

Release yourselves from tenterhooks, DovBear has something new to gripe about. We complain today about the language found on most every invitation the Bear family receives.

The standard opening formula for the typical Jewish invitation goes like this: ברוב שבח והודיה להשי״ת This translates as: With praise and gratitude to Hashem

Most of the invitations around here substitute an aleph for a yud in the third word resulting in ברוב שבח והודאה להשי״ת or with praise and confession to Hashem. To my ears, this is nonsense.

My first thought was that the aleph version is an error, resulting from poor Hebrew skills or a pious desire to avoid spelling out God's name by putting the letter yud next to the letter hay. Turns out there is more to the story. A google search at shows the aleph version is very common, though twice as many yud versions of "shevach v'hodaya." appear (~4000 with yud vs. ~2000 with aleph)

Jameel (from the muqata) tells me that the aleph version for gratitude/praise appears frequently in Babylonian rabbinic literature, where it may have crossed over into Hebrew from the Aramaic. He also points out that on Friday night we praise the "Kel HaHodaot" which we translate as God of Praises, and that in the alenu prayer we say "vaanachau korim,umishtachavim umodim" where an aleph version of the word translates as "praise" as well, though some (notably RYBS) do take it as "confess."

Additionally, the Talmud Yershalmi (קידושין א,א) at times uses the yud version for confession.

So it seems there's traditionally been some fluidity between the two versions. Nowadays, I think the breakdown is between Hebrew speakiers, and non Hebrew speakers. In modern Hebrew the yud version (and only the yud version) means gratitude, so Hebrew speakers are careful to use it on invitations. Non Hebrew speakers tend to write in "loshon hakodosh" the written dialect of Hebrew used by yeshivish and hasidic types, and this is the community which, in my experience, seems more likely to use the aleph.

[Thanks to those who contributed to this post.]

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