Vowels

The classical Hebrew text is comprised of consonants alone, as is well known. While some passages include points over individual letters, words, or parts of words, there are no other marks added to the text of Tanach. But we’re taught yesh em lamasoret (Sanhedrin 4) — that there has long been a tradition as to the pronunciation of the printed text — and that implies the existence of a sort of titular vowel-system.

In fact we find the following stated in Macḥzor Vitry (120), “We’ve never heard it said that the Torah was pointed when it was given to Moshe. The punctuation-system itself wasn’t given on Sinai; the sages introduced it as a sign (i.e., as an aid to reading) afterwards. After all, we would be transgressing the prohibition against adding anything to the Torah (Deuteronomy. 8: 1) if we were to add the punctuation marks to the Biblical text. So, while the division of verses and the trope … have been transmitted (to us) from Sinai to this day, this tradition is, nevertheless, an oral one, and was not given to us by means of punctuation marks” [1].

Nonetheless it’s thought that somewhere between the 8th and 10th centuries of the Common Era scribes termed “Masorets” developed the system of marks above, in the middle of, or below the consonants that we term the nekuddot.

Note:

[1]       Also see Kuzari 3:31.

(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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