Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 25 October 2014 / 1 Heshvan 5775

Geshem or Gashem?!

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

This past week, on Shmini Atzeres, as per the Mishna’s instruction[1] and codified by the Shulchan Aruch[2], world Jewry started reciting “Gevuros Geshamim B’Tchiyas HaMeisim”, better known as the formulaic insert “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGashem”, in the second bracha of Shmoneh Esrei. This addition, showcasing the Might of G-d by mentioning the fact that He is the only One who has the power and ability to make rain, is considered so imperative, that one who forgets to insert it must repeat the whole Shmoneh Esrei[3].

As there are no vowels in the Gemara or Shulchan Aruch, an interesting question arises: what is the proper way to pronounce the Hebrew word for rain (גשם)in this sentence? Is it Ge shem (with a segol under the letter Gimmel; eh sound) or is it Ga shem (with a kamatz under the letter Gimmel; uh sound)? Although the word for rain is pronounced Ge shem when saying the word by itself, still, its proper pronunciation might be changed when part of a sentence.

Contemporary halachic authorities used various rules of Hebrew Grammar (dikduk) to come up with the proper solution.

Pausing Preference ?

Rav Moshe Feinstein[4], quotes a rule cited by several Rishonim, including Tosafos, the Ran and the Rosh[5], that any word containing a double “segol” (eh sound) which is located before a pause (esnachta) or period (sof pasuk) becomes modified by changing the first of the two segols to a “kamatz”(uh sound). The example given is the word “eretz”, that when it is the last word in a sentence or right before a pause, changes to “aretz”. This, Rav Moshe reasons, is the very same thing that happens to the word Ge shem in this formula, that since it is the end of the sentence, the proper reading is “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGa shem”.

Several other authorities, including the Vilna Gaon[6], the Netziv[7], the Chafetz Chaim[8], Rav Aharon Kotler[9], Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv[10], Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fischer[11], and the Shaarim Metzuyanim B’Halacha[12], agree with Rav Moshe’s reasoning and hold that the proper pronunciation is “Ga shem”. This is also how it’s presented in the siddur of the Arizal[13]. In fact, it is well known that in shuls where Rav Elyashiv zt”l’s talmidim are the rabbis, they are extremely makpid on this pronunciation.

On the other hand, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky[14] is of the opinion that since this part of Shmoneh Esrei is called “Gevuros”, meaning strengths of G-d (plural), then the mentioning of the rain should not be considered the end of that sentence, but rather the beginning of the list of various strengths (making rain fall, sustaining life etc.), especially as the falling of rain and sustaining of life are interrelated, as they are both referring to providing parnassah. Therefore, he posits that the proper reading here is “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGe shem”,with the word “Geshem” maintaining its usual form. He adds that this pronunciation is found generations earlier, in the siddurim of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, and the VaYaas Avraham of Tchechnov. This is also the way it is presented in the siddur of Rav Yaakov Emden, known for its exacting dikduk[15].

Though they do not expound on the reasoning behind their practice, several other contemporary authorities, including the the Steipler Gaon[16], Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach[17], the Minchas Yitzchak[18], and Rav Moshe Sternbuch[19] rule this way as well, that the correct pronunciation is “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGe shem.

Although some[20] opine that the pronouncing of the word as “Ga shem” was first introduced by Maskilim (ostensibly the VaYe’etar Yitzchak siddur by Yitzchak Satanov in 1784), Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fischer and Rav Moshe Sternbuch put this notion to rest, quoting earlier sources that also said “Ga shem”; Rav Fischer even refused to give a haskama to a sefer that claimed such.

Alternate Approaches

Even though some posit that “Ge shem” should be correct based on the Sefardic pronunciation of the bracha on wine, “Borei Pri haGe fen”, even though it is the end of the bracha, on the other hand, this comparison is not exact. In fact, Rav Ovadia Yosef wrote that Sefardim hold that the “Amen” is actually the end of the bracha; thus disproving any contrast. Although Sefardim generally do say “Ge shem”, the congregation immediately responds “l’vracha”, thereby making that the end of the sentence and not the word “Geshem”.[21]

The Levushei Mordechai[22] had a different take on this debate. He simply stated that “Ge shem” seems proper, and even though it seems that there should be a pause after that word, nevertheless, he concluded that it seems unclear whether the pronunciation of tefillos were established beholden to the rules of dikduk.

There is another interesting explanation that this author has heard in the name of Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, [I have also seen it quoted from Rav Aryeh Kaplan, as well as Rav Chaim Halpern of London], as to why many Chassidim say “Ge shem”, even if not necessarily correct grammatically. The word “kamatz” is also the root for the Hebrew word for constraining or miserliness (as in a ‘kamtzan’). When praying for material livelihood (gashmius - related to Geshem) one wants to use a segol (eh sound) instead of a kamatz (uh sound), as the segol has openings to allow the shefa (overabundance) of gashmius to flow through, and not to put constraints on this bracha of parnassa.

Dikduk Debate

This ‘dikduk debate’[23], over which rule of grammar applies here, is a universal one, which explains why one who walks into almost any shul in the world will find that there is no set rule; one chazzan might say Geshem and another might say Gashem. And even though there are shuls that follow the ruling of one set of poskim relating to this issue, another shul will follow the ruling of the others.Onedefinitely has what to rely upon no matter which version of the word one’s minhag is to say[24].

Practically speaking, according to Rav Moshe Sternbuch, if one’s minhag is to say “Ga shem”, then one preferably should ensure to immediately pause after saying it; ergo, the converse is true as well. If one’s minhag is to say “Ge shem”, then one should not pause after, rather reading it as part and parcel of the next line, “Mechalkel Chaim[25].

So, whichever minhag one’s synagogue follows, at least he may finally gain an appreciation for all those Hebrew Grammar lessons in elementary school.

Postscript: This is just one of a number of places where dikduk decides the proper reading of tefillos[26]. Although many Gedolim through the ages spoke about dikduk’s importance[27], unfortunately its study at present is much neglected. In the words of Rabbi Yisroel Reisman in his excellent recent book, Pathways of the Prophets[28]: “The myth of the lack of importance of (at least) a minimal amount of knowledge of dikduk must be dispelled. This is an area where a small amount of time and effort go a long way. Let’s do it!”



[1]The very first Mishna in Maseches Taanis, as well as the Mishna in Maseches Brachos (33a).

[2]Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 114, 1).

[3]Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 5), based on the statement of Rabbi Chanina in Taanis 3b. For a comprehensive halachic viewpoint on what the one should do by a mistake with this formula, see Shgiyos Mi Yavin (vol. 1, Ch. 12), at length.

[4]Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. 4, 40, 15).

[5]In their commentaries to Gemara Nedarim 37b, on the statement of Rabbi Yitzchak of an example of the rules of dikduk that were transmitted from Moshe Rabbeinu at Mount Sinai. See also Shu”t Rav Pe’alim (from the Ben Ish Chai – vol. 1, O.C. end 11, s.v. mihu) who emphasizes that this rule only applies by these two of the ta’amim (trop).

[6]Cited in Ashrei HaIsh (O.C. vol. 1, Ch. 20, 30), quoting Kovetz Mevakshei Torah (vol. 43 pg. 57). This is also the way it appears in the “Siddur HaGaon m’Vilna” and “Siddur HaGr”a”. See also sefer Nichocha Shel Torah (pg. 19 - 20, par. Mesoras haTorah m’dor l’dor), who traces the minhag of Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, Rosh Yeshivas Be’er Yaakov, of saying “Ga shem”, back to the Vilna Gaon. [Thanks are due to Rav Shmuel Brazil, Rosh Yeshivas Zeev HaTorah in Yerushalayim, for pointing out this source to me.] However, see Tefilla Khilchasa (Ch. 12 footnote 61) who interestingly writes that there is a “kabbalah” from “Ziknei Yerushalayim” that the Gr”a actually said “Ge shem”. Although the editors of the Aizor Eliyahu Siddur write that it is probable that the Gr”a said “Ge shem”, as “Ga shem” was ostensibly introduced by later maskilim as claimed by Kuntress Birchos Chaim, nevertheless this theory has since been debunked by no less than Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fischer and Rav Moshe Sternbuch of the Eida Chareidis. See footnote 20.

[7]Quoted in Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 2, 58), in the brackets. Also brought in sefer Nichocha Shel Torah (ibid.). The Netziv adds a very compelling reason why the proper pronunciation should be “Ga shem”, based on where one must start over from if one erred by this formula.

[8]Cited in Ashrei HaIsh (O.C. vol. 1, Ch. 20, 30), quoting Kovetz Mevakshei Torah (vol. 43, pg. 57).

[9]Cited in HaMispallel Kahalacha (pg. 24, footnote 2), quoting Rav Aharon’s talmid, Rav Yechiel Perr, Rosh Yeshivas Derech Ayson in Far Rockaway.

[10]Cited in Wake Up! (pg. 95 footnote 7), quoting sefer Pninei Tefillah (pg. 145). Also brought in Tefilla Khilchasa (Ch.12 footnote 61), as well as in Ashrei HaIsh (O.C. vol. 1, Ch. 20, 30), who states that this mesorah of Rav Elyashiv’s, comes from his grandfather, the Leshem Shvo V’Achlama, who held that “Ga shem” was correct. It is well known that in shuls where Rav Elyashiv’s talmidim are the rabbis, they are extremely makpid on this pronunciation.

[11]Shu”t Even Yisrael (vol. 8, 9), giving several compelling reasons.

[12]Quoted in Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3, 68), that although many Tzaddikim including the Chozeh m’Lublin and the Maggid of Koznitz said “Ge shem”, nevertheless, al pi dikduk, the proper pronunciation should be“Ga shem”.

[13]Cited in Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3, 68).

[14]Emes L’Yaakov al HaTorah (Bereishis Ch. 3, 19), and Emes L’Yaakov on Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 114, 1). [Interestingly, and in contrast to his position on Ge shem, Rav Yaakov maintained that regarding “Morid HaTa l”, a pause is mandated and should therefore be read as “Morid HaTu l” (with a kamatz and not a patach). He explains that since dew has connotations related to Techias HaMeisim, it should be considered part of the preceding paragraph, as opposed to“Morid HaGe shem“.] According to Rabbi Michel Shurkin (Mashgiach of Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim and author of Harerei Kedem), this was one of the times that Rav Yaakov was wont to remark that “Rav Moshe is a bigger Talmid Chacham than I, but I know dikduk better”. See also Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin’s Shu”t Gevuros Eliyahu (vol. 1, 26) where, in a similar vein to Rav Yaakov’s explanation, elucidates why the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, in his siddur, places an esnachta after “Morid HaTu l”, but not after Ge shem.

[15]Cited in Shu”t Bais Avi (vol. 3, 45), as proof that “Ge shem” is correct. Others who feel that “Ge shem” is correct include the Pri Tevuah (cited in sefer Derech HaYashar V’Hatov pg. 28), the Shemen Rokach (Shu”t Tlita’i O.C. 32), and the Afraksta D’Anya (Shu”t vol. 2, O.C. 18).

[16]Orchos Rabbeinu (vol. 1, pg 63, 213). However, see Tefilla Khilchasa (ibid.) who says that he heard that the Steipler said “Ga shem”.

[17]Halichos Shlomo (Tefilla Ch. 8, 14), that after Rav Shlomo Zalman read Kuntress Birchos HaChaim (by Rav Chaim Krauss), who cites many proofs and opinions that “Ge shem” is correct, he changed his pronunciation to “Ge shem”.

[18]Quoted in Ishei Yisrael (Ch. 25, footnote 87).

[19]Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 1, 81 and vol. 2, 58).

[20]Although some (see Minhag Yisrael Torah vol. 1, 114, 1 and Kuntress Birchos HaChaim at length) opine that the pronouncing of the word as “Ga shem” was introduced by Maskilim (ostensibly the Vaye’etar Yitzchak siddur by Yitzchak Satanov in 1784), Rav Sternbuch puts this notion to rest, quoting earlier sources that also said “Ga shem” (although he personally prefers “Ge shem”). Similarly, Dayan Y.Y. Fischer in his Shu”t Even Yisrael (ibid.) writes that he refused to give a haskama to the Kuntress Birchos Chaim since he felt it was misleading with the information presented, as the Kuntress Mashiv HaRuach found sources for saying “Ga shem” from Siddurim printed five years before Satanov was born!

[21]Chazon Ovadia (vol. 2 - Haggada shel Pesach, Kadesh, pg. 128), who writes that Sefardim hold that the “Amen” is actually the end of the bracha; thus disproving any comparison. Although Sefardim generally do say “Ge shem”, the congregation immediately responds “l’vracha”, thereby making that the end of the sentence and not “Geshem”. Although Rav Ovadiah himself (ad loc.) questions his own assessment, he nonetheless concludes with it. It is interesting to note that most Yemenites say “Ga shem” (or “Ja fen”).

[22]Shu”t Levushei Mordechai (vol. 4, 213).

[23]See also Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol, 3, 68); Shu”t Az Nidbaru (vol. 12, 26); Ishei Yisrael (ibid); Tefilla Khilchasa (Ch. 12, 27, footnote 61); and Daily Halachah Discussion (ppg. 21 - 22).

[24]See Shu”t Az Nidberu (vol. 11, 48 s.v. siman 68) who writes that regarding this machlokes, ‘nahara u’nahara u’pashtei’, and one cannot refer to another’s minhag as incorrect.

[25]Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 2, 58).

[26]See at length Rabbi Yisroel Reisman’s Pathways of the Prophets “Rules of Dikduk” starting on pg. 312.

[27]For example see the Rambam’s Pirush HaMishnayos (Avos 2, 1), Beis Yosef (O.C. 142, 1), Yesod V’Shoresh HaAvodah (Ch. 5, 3), Shu”t Chavos Yair (124), Shu”t Sheilas Ya’avetz (vol. 1, 10), and Bnei Yisaschar (Introduction to Igra D’Kallah and Mayon Ganim 13, 6), all cited in the aforementioned chapter.

[28]Pathways of the Prophets pg. 325.


Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.


L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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