Guest post by Ellie Ash, recent Stanford graduate
There are two major systems of Hebrew pronunciation, the Ashkenazic and the Sephardic/Sephardic-influenced, pronunciations, which originally reflected regional and ethnic distinctions in the Jewish community. In the twentieth century, however, the more progressive Ashkenazi branches of Judaism started using a pronunciation influenced by the Sephardic system. As a result, in contemporary America the choice of Ashkenazic vs. Sephardicized pronunciation reflects the speaker’s religious position, namely, whether they are (non-Modern) Orthodox or not.
I recently examined the transliteration of tav-without-dagesh in the website Ohr.edu, which is the website of the kiruv (outreach) organization Ohr Somayach. Ohr Somayach is a Haredi Orthodox organization which, according to their mission statement, aims to “instill Jewish pride in university students…through knowledge” of traditional Jewish text and belief. It is fair to assume that as members of a Haredi community, the rabbis and other staff of Ohr Somayach consistently pronounce tav as /s/ among themselves. However, both “t” and “s” are used to transliterate tav on Ohr.edu.
Ohr.edu is primarily composed of regular columns about specific topics. Each column is consistent in its use of “t” or “s” in transliterating tav. The columns that use only “t” are Ask!, TalmuDigest, Torah Weekly, Parsha Q&A, Ethics, Israel Forever, Love of the Land, The Human Side of the Story, and @OHR. The columns that use only “s” are The Weekly Daf, Insights into Halacha, and Kinder Torah (for children). The only column that uses both “s” and “t” is B’Yachad, the alumni magazine.
It turns out that the “s” spelling is used only by columns which are directed at people who have been involved with Ohr.edu longer and are already invested in Orthodox Judaism, while the rest use “t”. For example, the TalmuDigest and The Weekly Daf columns are both about Talmud, but the former uses the “t” spelling for tav and the latter uses the “s” spelling. This is because the first is intended to be for beginners, as reflected in the title, which is in English and implies that the material has been predigested. In contrast, “The Weekly Daf” includes the Hebrew word for “page”, daf, and is directed at more advanced students. Therefore only The Weekly Daf uses “s” spellings for tav.