What is the Hebrew pronunciation of Isaiah?

I know that in Hebrew it begins with the consonant yud but I’ve heard all kinds of pronunciations ranging from “yee-ZIE-yah” to “YEE-say-ah”. Just curious because I heard two different pronunciations on History Channel earlier today.

What’s the SDMB law about posting a question like this on the Sabbath called again? :slight_smile:

To the best of my knowledge and memory, it’s yeh-sha’a-YA or yeh-sha-YA with the stress on the final syllable.

Not QUITE the same…it’s not a question about Orthodox Judaism, but about the Hebrew language, which even secular Israelis speak.

I know, and I’m living proof of that, but it does cut down the odds for a quick reply. :slight_smile:

Here’s the secular Jew with the answer. A link to the first chapter, in Hebrew and English, with the vowels even so I can’t screw it up:



With the vowels, this is yeshahyahu (ben-amotz or son of Amos). If you want to get technical, the first “ah” is guttural (being the ayin) and kind of pronounced in the back of the throat.

I always forget that Jews copied the Seventh Day Adventists in their Holy Day. (Don’t flame, I keeed, I keed.)

I’m studying to convert to Judaism, and I’m wondering about this.

Within the book of Isaiah, the prophet’s name is pronounced Yishayahu, as edwino noted. The title of the book is the shortened form *Yishayah. * I’m not sure which form is preferred or “correct,” although I think Chabad pronounces it as Yeshayahu. We’ll probably have to wait until after nightfall to get a definitive answer.

Not to hijack the OP, but I’ve noticed the same thing with the name Jeremiah: the title of the book is *Yirmiyah * but within the prophet is referred to as Yirmayahu. I haven’t seen this shortening with any other Hebrew names (maybe I haven’t been paying attention?), and I’m curious why it happens. I’ll be watching this thread.

Hijack away. I’ve always found Hebrew to be a fascinating and strangely beautiful language. Out of curiosity, how much Hebrew do you have to learn in order to convert? Is it the same as a bar-mitzvah recitation? (I’m not considering converting, I’m just curious.)

Easier to say the modern Israeli form of the name - Shai (pronounced shy)

Israelis seem to find a way to shorten many biblical names; must sound cooler I guess.

Shai is nice, I agree, but I thought it was a name in itself, meaning ‘gift’. It’s true what you say about modernising biblical names - I knew a ‘Rami’ whose real name was Jeremiah.

I’ve heard my parents mentioning men they know or are related to, called ‘Shaya’, which sounds like it could be a Sephardi form of Isaiah.

Huh. My copy of the Tanach (the JPS Hebrew-English version) has it as

yud-shin-ayn-yud-heh. No vav at the end.

Hmm, but as I look at the actual text of the book, I see that the vav is included. Intriguing. I’m going to assume that we have some wacky Biblical Hebrew grammar thing going on here. Maybe someone with a better knowledge of Biblical Hebrew than myself will pop in and explain the difference, especially now that it’s motzei Shabbat.

Sampiro, to the best of my knowledge, you do not need an extensive knowledge of Hebrew to convert, although it’s certainly helpful to be able to read it. Some prayerbooks have the prayers written out in transliteration, although imho it’s harder to read Hebrew in Latin characters than it is in Hebrew characters. (And I didn’t learn to read Hebrew til I was an adult; there are fifth graders who couldn’t formulate a sentence in Hebrew to save their lives who can read more fluently than I can.) An adult convert wouldn’t be expected to have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, so it probably wouldn’t come up, unless they were called to do an aliyah. Reading the Torah in shul requires more than just the ability to read Hebrew, though, you have to be able to read the tropes, a series of little swoops and signs around the letters that signify how the words are supposed to be recited.

The OP probably knows that the biblical name is only recorded with consonants, and that the vowel points were only supplied centuries later, formalized by the Massoretes in the 7th century.

While the consonants are "Y-Sh-(ayin)-Y-H, when one adds the vowels in, you get: Yi-sha’-ya-hu . The final “H” sound (the letter hey) actually carries under it the Hebrew vowel called “kubutz”, pronounced “oo”. (The three diagonal dots)

The word breaks down as “Yisha’” from the word root “yood/shin/ayin” meaning, to save or bring salvation. “Yahu” refers to God, so the name means something like “God saves” or “God shall bring salvation” or “It is God who brings salvation”

Same with “Yir-mi-yahu” the final “hey” carries the vowel kubutz.

Here the word root is most likely “r/vav/hey” which means “exalt” or “raise up”. The meaning would be something like “God is exalted” or “God raises up”, or maybe even “God raises me up”

We have been given two different spellings. I still haven’t seen the questions answered about why there are two different spellings, but we’ve established that one person spells it with a final vav for the “long” vowel u, and another spells it without the vav, and the vowel indication is for “short” u. (In modern Hebrew the distinction of vowel length seems to have been lost.

In ancient Hebrew, scribes felt a need to write some vowels using matres lectionis (from Arabic ummahât al-qirâ’ah ‘mothers of reading’): the letters aleph, heh, yod, and vav. In Arabic this same method is used to distinguish quantitatively long vowels from unmarked short vowels, so I think it’s reasonable that the Hebrew matres lectionis were originally used to indicate vowels of longer duration. It’s common in Hebrew to end a word with one of these long vowels, for example the final -vav for the long vowel u cited by edwino, the one with a single dot placed at medium height inside the vav, not the three slanting dots under it, that’s the short u that Lynwood Slim cited. I’m remarking this because it isn’t usual to end Hebrew words with short vowels. It happens sometimes, but when I seen an example like this I wonder if an ancient orthographic adjustment, some scribal modification, was the reason for it.

I would transliterate it as Yish‘ayahu, using the mark ‘ to stand for the letter ‘ayin. Maybe it isn’t pronounced in Modern Hebrew, except by native Arabic speakers in Jewish communities of the Arab world which are mostly depleted in population by now. But anyway it must have been pronounced long ago and that’s why there’s a letter for it.

I admit I’m influenced by my Arabic studies where the letter ‘ayn still has a distinct sound in everyday speech, and seems more like a something than a nothing. I studied Arabic and Hebrew together and noticed how much they share in common. This is no accident. Hebrew was deliberately Arabized by Arabic-speaking Jewish grammarians in the Middle Ages, but that was on the basis of their close cognate relationship to begin with.

Someone please explain how the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet got its name changed from yod to yud.


It is in fact very common in Hebrew names that the name ending “-yahu” is interchangeable with “-yah.” Other examples are Elijah (Eliyahu or Eliyah) and Hezekiah (Chizkiyahu or Chizkiyah).

Not 100% certain why this is common practice, but it’s not limited to the two examples of Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Hijacking my own thread, but here’s a probably stupid question I’ve always wanted to ask:

In ancient Hebrew- the Dead Sea scrolls, say- ca. 1st century- if two names have the same consonants, how do you know which is being used? For example, what is to distinguish the name Saul from the name Sala from the name Sula? And was there a reason for not recording the vowels prior to the early medieval era? Would the Jews in 1st Century Egypt have used the same vowel sounds as their contemporaries in Israel and Persia and if so how would the standardization have been imparted?

I realize these probably have very complicated answers, but any info appreciated.

I am not familiar with the name Sula, but if you can point to a chapter and verse, I could look it up and see how it’s spelled in Hebrew. My first instinct is to say that it wouldn’t be spelled the same as Saul in Hebrew anyway. Saul (in Hebrew, Shaul), is spelled: shin-alef-vav-lamed. There could be a number of ways to reread that with varied vowels, but Sala isn’t one of them.

Regarding your other question: I am not an expert on Biblical Hebrew by any means (I look forward to someone answering your specific question), but even in more modern times people it’s not been possible to keep people pronouncing various vowels (and even consonants) the same way. There are very noticeable differences between Ashkenazi and Mizrachi pronunciations. Standard Israeli Modern Hebrew pronunciation is sort of a combination of the two, and IME, has sort of taken over as the version of Hebrew people actually converse in. I’ve seen people who read the Torah with the Ashkenazi sav switch to the Modern Hebrew tav in conversation. (The letter tav/sav is the final letter of the word for the Sabbath, which is why you’ll sometimes see it written as Shabbat and sometimes as Shabbos.)

I was brought up in a very Ashkenazi shul and I always say the sav. Yisgadal v’yisgadach, and so forth. Of course, in the 6 years of conversational Hebrew I took, there was no chance I was going to say “awnee roytzeh l’shtos mayim” or some crap like that (as opposed to the “anee rotzeh l’shot mayim” – I want to drink water). It is not uncommon to pray the way you learned, especially since the Hebrew is archaic enough (and many of the prayers are in Aramaic, which is worse), that I didn’t really feel like I had to give the effort to understand what I was praying. See “secular Jew” in my first post in this thread, and this may make a bit more sense…

That said, the vowel/consonant mispronounciation does come up in Hebrew from time to time. Generally, it is not an issue, because there are often two ways of spelling things, like Johanna alluded to – a short way (generally used with vowels) and a long way, substituting vavs for kubutzes and yoods for chiriks and stuff. So the verb “write” - c,t,b in the present tense may be written as caf-tav-bet (pronounced cotev) with IIRC a cholam over the caf and a segol under the tav and dageshes to indicate that the caf is pronounced “c” versus “kh” and the bet pronounced “v” versus “b”, or as caf-vav-tav-bet (still pronounced cotev), which is a regular enough conjugation in modern Hebrew that nobody would mistake it for the other ambiguous pronounciations (caf-vav-tav-bet can be pronounced a lot of ways, including khoteb, cotav, cootab, etc.).

Your ambiguity of course does play a central role in Judaism, to a point. Namely, the spelled out name of God, the four letter word in the Torah that is not pronounced (a substitute meaning “my Lord” is said in its place) that others have pronounced “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “JHVH-1.” I was taught that this was because since nobody knew how to pronounce it, one didn’t want to take the chance of mispronouncing it…

I’ve also run into mispronounciations in modern Hebrew, but this was usually mangling English transliteration into Hebrew. Especially food products (I’ve heard some interesting takes on “hot dog”). My uncle used to call the Israeli brand Snowcrest “Snooker-set” but that was mainly for humor value.

I once spent ten minutes trying to decipher a word, eventually working out that it was…Chicago. D’oh.

In this regard, I find it instructive to mention that “Gaza” is spelt in Hebrew “ayin-gimmel-hey”

When the Hebrew consonants are taught to English speakers, students are usually taught incorrectly, as J indicated, that ayin is a silent letter. It is actually a glottal stop, close to the chet, the gimmel and the resh, i.e., a “gronit” (consonant pronounced in the throat).

Ayin is used as a mater lectiones in Yiddish (it is used for the “eh” sound, as aleph is used for the “ah” sound), so that may have influenced the corruption of the teaching regarding the ayin.

CORRECTION: in spelling Gaza, I of course meant “ayin-zayin-hey”