Submitted by Ken Braiterman
on October 16, 2010 - 01:16. Concord and around
| Greater Concord Hebrew, as spoken by native Israelis, is one high, piercing pitch that never changes. It comes out in a rapid-fire staccato rhythm that never varies. About 40 percent of the language is phegm. Three of the 22 consonants in the Hebrew alphabet, including the R, are what linguists call the “vilar fricative.” It's the sound that comes when the back of your tongue vibrates against the soft palate.
We don't have this sound in English, and we can't even agree on how to spell it. There is no letter in our alphabet that stands for that sound. English speakers often can't say it. It comes out as a plain H, as in Ha, or a guttural sound that is obviously forced and unnatural.
Arabic has a beautiful, soft vilar fricative that sounds like the wind rustling through the cedars of Lebanon.A native Israeli’s vilar fricative sounds like coughing up a big loogie to spit somewhere.
There just aren't many Hebrew words that don't have a Chet, Choff, or Raish. Many Hebrew words have two vilar fricatives, and practically all sentences have at least a few. These are frequently used letters, unlike our Q, X or Z.
Israeli Hebrew is so ugly, and Arabic so beautiful, that it might be one of the reasons Arabs hate Israelis so much.
I had no idea why I was writing or thinking about this until Friday afternoon, Oct. 15. I looked at the temple calendar and saw that the Torah portion for this week is Lech L’cha, Genesis, Chapters 12-17. That meant it was the 49th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah. I read Lech L’cha from the pulpit at my Bar Mitzvah.
Jews divide the Five Books of Moses into roughly equal portions. We read one a week, and get from Creation to the end of Deuteronomy in a year. Then, we have a big celebration where we read the end of the Torah, and roll the big scroll all the way back and start over, at Genesis Chapter 1, where God creates the universe.
Lech L’cha is the third Torah portion in the year, after In the Beginning and Noah.
Through a trick of Hebrew grammar I won’t explain, readers can choose from a couple of possible meanings for the phrase Lech L’cha. It can mean “get our for you own good,” “for your own benefit,” or simply “get the hell out.”
In Genesis: 12, God tells young Abraham to get out of his homeland, his birthplace, his father’s house, and follow God to a place God will show him. There, God will make Abraham a great nation.
As a teen-ager, I went to a Jewish summer camp, where we read a chapter of the Bible aloud in the original Hebrew before supper on Friday night. They always gave the reading job to one of the Israelis.
One week, they decided to read Genesis: 12. I feel connected to, and protective, of my Bar Mitzvah chapter. The Biblical Hebrew is to modern Israeli Hebrew about what the Iliad is to modern, grocery store Greek.
So the Israeli native who read my chapter ripped through it in a few minutes, like yesterday’s newspaper, in that loathsome, piercing monotone, rapid-fire Israeli accent.Later, I mentioned to someone that I didn’t care for the way she read that. “She’s from Israel,” I was told, “so it’s right.” That’s like saying any high school kid from England can read Shakespeare aloud, and get it right.
I think that’s when I started to hate the Israeli accent.
Lech L’cha ends in Chapter 17, when 99-year-old Abraham circumcises himself (OUCH!) “in the flesh of his foreskin,” along with his 13-year-old son Ishmael. On the same day Abraham and Ishmael were circumcised, Abraham circumcised all the men in his household, whether they were born in it, or bought with money from a stranger in the flesh of their foreskins. (OUCH! OUCH! OUCH!)
To this day, Jewish boys are circumcised in the flesh of their foreskins when they are eight days old. (OUCH!) It’s disgusting. We make a party, a big celebration, out of the occasion. A dear friend of the family gets the honor of holding the baby in his lap while the mohel
, a Jewish functionary who cuts ***** parts off innocent babies, does his job.
He's trained to do it in one motion, so fast you hardly see it. But the baby feels it. In my grandfather's time, they killed the babies' pain by letting them suck on a handkerchief soaked in whiskey. (But in that immigrant generation, Jews had notably less alcoholism than other ethnic groups, for a variety of sociological reasons. As we become more Americanized, our alcoholism rate gets steadily closer to the national average.)
Years ago, an old college friend invited me to his son’s bris (ritual circumcision party) at his apartment in Manhattan. He offered me the honor of holding the baby. Somehow, I weaseled out of it.
So father and mother asked their other close friend, Itzhak Perlman, the concert violinist. Perlman is a very funny, down-to-earth guy in person. So he’s wandering around the large apartment aimlessly, while we’re waiting for the mohel to arrive, saying to no one in general, everyone in particular, “Why do we do this? I don’t like this. Does anybody like this? Do you like this?”
Judaism has many beautiful traditions and celebrations in the annual cycle and life cycle. The bris is not one of them.
And to think, it all started with Lech L’cha, my Bar Mitzvah portion, Genesis, Chapters 12-17.