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October 10, 2015 | 27th Tishrei 5776

Including discussions on
  • Usefulness of it
  • Booklets
  • Laminated sheets
  • Side-by-side with prayers
  • Web resource

  1. For the High Holy Days my congregation makes available a mini-songbook that includes transliteration of the songs the congregation is invited to sing along with the choir. Since this includes many of the prayers and blessings, a goodly part of the services' Hebrew is available. We have a different songbook for each of the services. In each, the songs / prayers are printed in the order in which they appear in that service.
    55 Families

  2. To help congregants participate in Hebrew read prayers we created an 8 1/2 x 11 laminated transliteration sheet of the main prayers in the Shabbat service. Very few people use the sheets. Someone told me they think people do not like others to know they need the sheets so a large sheet is too obvious. In our small minyan service where we do more Hebrew than in the main service, in order to be more inclusive I transliterated all the prayers we did in Hebrew. I created the whole service by cutting and pasting so the transliteration was right next to the prayers. This book was a loose-leaf size book. After having a few people use it to catch the errors, no one ever used it again even though there are a few regular minyan members who do not read Hebrew. In the minyan we've all known each other for years and we know who reads Hebrew and who doesn't. They seem to like the regular (Gates of Prayer) prayer book and do not like transliterations.
    450 Families

  3. I recently put together a brief Shabbat a.m. service that we incorporated into our Shabbat Torah Study Group for the summer while the Rabbi is on vacation and we do not hold a formal Shabbat morning service (which we do the other 11 months of the year). I included transliteration of all of the prayers. I think it is appreciated. By the way, I found the entire siddur (an Orthodox version) in transliteration on the web at It is organized by service and you can edit as necessary.

  4. I don't happen to be a fan of cut and paste services, with or without transliterations in position. But if you created one, the only way to get it used is to give it to everybody and remove the GOP option.

    Best argument I've heard against transliterating: you remove incentive to learning Hebrew, which should be an important goal.


  5. I have personally found transliterations in Gates of Prayer helpful. I cannot always maintain the reading rate when using the Hebrew. After becoming familiar with a prayer transliterated, however, I am able to start using only the Hebrew version. I believe the printed transliterations are a very useful training tool.

  6. We have recently switched from the blue GOP to the gray. This has been a positive change for us for several reasons. The presence of transliteration has increased participation in the singing, chanting and reciting of Hebrew passages tremendously. While this obviously does not help anyone's comprehension of the prayer, it allows those who do not read Hebrew to participate and feel comfortable in services - something whose importance is often underestimated. It is also possible that being able to pronounce the Hebrew has made people more open to embarking on study to learn more about the prayers. We have seen a substantial increase in interest in adult Hebrew classes since introducing the book. Though it should be noted that there were other factors (new rabbi, new educator, increased focus on adult education in general) which, along with the book, were probably responsible for this.
    200 Families

  7. I disagree with the train of thought that transliteration prevents people from learning to read Hebrew. Having grown up Jewishly illiterate, I speak from the context of coming into worship services with no clue about what was going on. Transliteration helped me to "blend in."

    When we have responsive readings in English, anybody who doesn't read aloud stands out because they aren't participating. When we read in Hebrew with transliteration, there are some people who don't read because they don't have the Hebrew memorized and don't know how to (or don't want to) read the transliteration. In those places where the GOP doesn't have transliteration, there are a lot of people who are unable to participate.

    I learned the Hebrew parts of the service because the transliteration made it possible for me to read along--which allowed me to participate in the service. Later, when I did learn to read Hebrew, I was able to follow along because the transliteration had caused the words to become familiar to me; without it, I would not have been able to keep up with the pace of the reading.

    My opinion is that transliteration is an aid to learning Hebrew--when and if the congregation provides the opportunity to learn. If we want people to learn how to read Hebrew, we need to provide classes that aren't tied into wider contexts such as Conversion Class or Adult B'nei Mitzvah Class. And we need to provide options that meet peoples' schedules. And we have to find ways to get them into class--but don't get me started on that topic!


  8. I was a Hebrew illiterate when I first joined our congregation 31+ years ago. A sheet of tranliterated prayers and songs enabled me to participate in services and rather than it being a deterrent to learning Hebrew, it actually helped me tremendously when I did learn because of my familiarity with the service. If we want to be truly inclusive, then we have a good opportunity to be so with transliteration. Diana
  9. I could not read Hebrew until about eight years ago. I found the transliteration in the back of Gates of Prayer to be very helpful. I wanted to say the prayers with everyone else and sing the songs but couldn't until I discovered the transliteration in the back of GOP. About ten years ago, our temple bought about twenty-five copies of the paperback Gates of Shabbat. It has the transliteration under most of the prayers. We use it for about half of our services. It seems to have helped those who struggle with Hebrew.

    I am glad I can read Hebrew now. It comes in handy when there are prayers without the transliteration or if I am visiting a synagogue that does not use the same prayer books that we use. Every year I volunteer to teach the "Read Hebrew America" Course, but usually only get one student a year.

    Some of our older congregants (70's and 80's) can't read Hebrew and don't think they can learn it now. One couple told me they don't like all the Hebrew that has been added to the service. They prefer the way it was done in the 1950's and 60's when the service was almost all in English. In the twenty years I have been here, it has been about half English and half Hebrew.

    20 families

  10. I believe transliteration should be present in-line as it helps those unable to recognize Hebrew letters to participate in worship. I have never seen the presence of transliteration stop someone from wanting to learn Hebrew, but I have seen the absence of transliteration create counter-productive feelings of inadequacy, frustration and alienation.

    I take very strong exception with the view that having transliteration mitigates the need to "learn Hebrew", not for the reasons I've seen written here, but because it implies that "learning Hebrew" means merely being able to pronounce and recite Hebrew prayers correctly--a competence typically featured at bar/bat mitzvah.

    The unspoken assumption that those who can decode and pronounce the Hebrew letters have somehow "made it" in terms of participating in Hebrew prayer is frightening. I accept that this is the maximum level that the overwhelming majority of our congregants reach, and I applaud the effort that our adults and kids put into reaching this level, but we must work harder to view this as an intermediate step in the process of understanding the words we are praying. This is critical because babbling nonsense syllables--even the cherished nonsense of our childhood--ultimately comes up short.

    If we believe that the future of our prayer should remain in Hebrew, I believe our siddur must provide an inclined, but manageable ramp for those looking to ascend to deeper connection to worship. This means including transliteration as a starting step, but ensuring that it is done in a way that pushes one towards learning to read the Hebrew (interlinear approaches with the Hebrew, smaller type). Similarly, the literal Hebrew prayer translation should be provided as a next step in a way that pushes one toward understanding the Hebrew (see the Artscroll interlinear siddur for a great attempt at this).

    250 Families

  11. There are people who are neither inclined to learn Hebrew nor have time to learn Hebrew. Not only should transliteration be provided in the siddur, but so should the English, and the choreography and the davening instructions.

    There is a Chasidic tale telling of the congregants who are angry because a young man knows only the alef-bet, and recites the letters at services. The tzaddik advises the complainers that God will put the letters together, and know what the young man is praying. I would submit the same holds true for those who pray either in English or using the transliteration.

    We need to recognize that Reform Judaism is still home to significant numbers of secular, humanist and Classic Reform Jews, and is likely to continue to attract the children and grandchildren of these Jews, who themselves may not be inclined to learn Hebrew, providing we make the Sanctuary wide enough to include them. They may just want a temple where they can go and be Jews, and have a siddur which allows them to daven comfortably. Removing the transliteration and the other instructions is surely not going to attract such Jews to affiliate or to attend services or to take a serious interest in learning a language they are not interested in learning.

    The new dance in Reform Judaism is as disconcerting and unwelcoming as the old Classic Reform Judaism. A Reform temple should be a place where every Reform Jew feels welcome, regardless of whether the temple is gushing over and rushing in the new direction, or still adhering to Classic Reform Judaism. If the temple affiliates as Reform, then the person who davens without tallis and yarmulke should feel as comfortable as the person who davens wearing tallis and yarmulke. Printing a siddur which caters only to the Hebrew literate, the service knowledgeable, and the "nouveau" Jews is as insulting to Reform Judaism as was the old Classic Reform Judaism which did not welcome men wearing yarmulke.


  12. I'm now teaching my third class of adult b'nei Torah students and was saddened to find out that Edith Samuel's paperback Your Jewish Lexicon is now out of print.

    One-third of our class time is Hebrew, taught with Aleph Isn't Tough. We're using Rabbi Harvey Field's B'chol L'vavcha, plus Gates of Prayer and other siddurim, traditional (Hertz annotated), Reconstructionist and UPB (still used on Shabbat mornings here) for comparisons and discussions.

    Your Jewish Lexicon (I always thought it misnamed--Hebrew Lexicon might have been better) is a marvelous bridge to basic Hebrew values, blessings, daily phrases and text name understanding, lacking having a regular Hebrew course with vocabulary being added each time.

    The book gives facing pages of important shoreshim, explanations, and both the Hebrew and transliterations of words derived from each shoresh. My past experience is that, through its connected study use, adults became like kids with the old Captain Midnight decoder rings. They started to recognize words, terms and concepts, both when reading the siddur and even when listening to some Torah portions being read. Their delight was almost palpable!

    I hope the publishing arm of the Union will see fit to republish that little book.


  13. Digest #2006-127
    …"minhag" is spelled mem nun hey gimel--so the question of choosing between transliterating as "kh" and "ch" is moot…

  14. Dec 2005 Digest 200

                There's an even better way to represent the Hebrew spelling, as well as the sounds.

                For the letter hey, write "h."

                For the letter het, write "h" and underline it.

                For the letter kaf, write "k."

                For the letter khaf, write "kh."

                For the letter quf, write "q."

  15. Dec 2005 Digest 200 and Jan 2006 Digest 001

                Re: The use of the ch instead of h in the word minhag.  Sometimes the h is used in the transliteration of the guttural sound as in Hannukkah. It is precisely because of this confusion between ch and h that a current mode of transliteration is to use kh for that sound. One result of this is that the h in minhag would not be mispronounced by someone unfamiliar with the Hebrew word…

                The National Yiddish Book Center, YIVO (Institute for Jewish Research), and the Workmen's Circle all organizations involved in transliterating Yiddish, which uses the Hebrew alphabet, all use the "kh" instead of the formerly used "ch" to reflect the guttural sound.

                See also: Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky and Born to Kvetch by Michael Wex.

  16. Oct 2007 Digest 200

          The rules for pronouncing transliteration appear in Gates of Prayer on page 728. I got used to those transliterations, and assorted others that are common in English, for many years without any understanding of their origin.

                Then one day, the light dawned. Most of it comes from German!

                In German, all those weird pronunciations work just fine:

    a long "a" is spelled "ei",

    a long "i" is "ai",

    a long "e" is "i",

    "a" sounds like "ah", and

    "ch" is a fair approximation of a chet or chaf.

                Even more striking, a German speaker would pronounce "Zion" as "Tziyon", and "Jonah" as "Yonah"--both exactly like the Hebrew! Happily, English transliterators dropped the troublesome "z" and "j" at some point, but we're still stuck with all the rest.

                Maybe it's a reflection of how much we all cling to tradition, especially when it comes to prayer. Or maybe it's just that those of us who spend a lot of time transliterating are so comfortable, with both the Hebrew and the style we first learned, that we have trouble imagining the difficulties of a beginner. I know that when I see transliterations that are unambiguous in English, they look terribly clunky to me ("Heenay Mah Tove"), although I do like using "kh"

    instead of "ch."


    1700 families
  17. Oct 2007 Digest 200

                An interesting footnote on the issue of transliteration. An Israeli professor of Hebrew language proposed as early as the late 1960's that modern Hebrew should be written in Latin characters, period. Suffice it to say, that suggestion went nowhere fast.

                The very first prayer book of a Reform congregation in Germany, that of the Hamburg Temple (1819), included transliteration of all the short Hebrew congregational responses--in Sephardic pronunciation (that as a conscious break from medieval Ashkenazic practice). The very first Union Prayer Book (1892; discontinued in 1893 and replaced by the 1895 text) included transliterations of the major short Hebrew congregational responses in Ashkenazic pronunciation (Bar'chu, Shema, Mi chamocha, Kedusha verses, Va'anachnu, Bayom hahu), but not of the longer Hebrew texts, and not of the Kaddish. The 1895 text, which served as the basis for subsequent revisions in 1918 and 1940, did not include any transliterations. The 1940 newly revised edition (which many of us grew up with) introduced transliteration (in Ashkenazic) of the Kaddish only.

                Transliteration can be a useful learning tool. Hopefully it will also motivate people to learn how to read Hebrew characters. The transliterations in MT conform to the style laid down by the URJ Press. The only flaw in this system--at least for use in a prayer book--is that it does not indicate accentuation, which is a major part of articulation (and, in Hebrew, can change the meaning of a word!). In Sephardic pronunciation, the norm is for words to be accented on their final syllable (unlike Ashenazic-Yiddish pronunciation where, under the influence of European languages, the accent is usually penultimate)--but there are numerous exceptions to that norm, for both syntactic and morphological reasons. In virtually all Hebrew prayer books, including GOP and MT, those exceptions are marked by a meteg (a thin vertical line) next to the accented syllable--so that a Hebrew reader will know where the "irregular" accent falls. That is what, unfortunately, is lacking in our transliteration system in MT. The transliterated text thereby is visually "cleaner," but it doesn't provide a complete indication of how the words should be pronounced.

                In most Reform congregations, you still hear a lot of Ashkefardic--and many musical settings also misrepresent accentuation because of lingering Yiddishisms (Ashkenazisms). The second word in "Mi sh'berakh," for example, in Sephardic, is accented on the LAST syllable. So the present transliteration in MT in fact is incomplete and (unfortunately) will still allow/foster mispronunciations! It's like trying to read the Torah without the accent marks (which, BTW, were not included in the first-run printing of the Plaut Commentary back in the 1980's--they were re-entered in all subsequent printings). So this is still, ironically, a halfway measure. Maybe subsequent printings of MT will also indicate non-ultimate stresses in the transliteration.

    Rick Sarason

    HUC-JIR, Cincinnati


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