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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Zaykher and Zekher

There is no halakhic requirement to repeat the words תִּמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק in Parashat Zakhor.

The origins and history of what has become common practice, to repeat the verse and read זכר with a double segol, are summarized in a 1998 article by Yosef Peretz on a Bar Ilan website, based on the work of M. Breuer and Y. Penkower.

The story is briefly as follows:

Radak is the first to make the claim to have seen both zaykher ("five dots") zekher ("six dots") in various biblical manuscripts.

Maaseh Rav (134) of R. Issachar Baer of Vilna, the earliest anthology of the Vilna Gaon's minhagim, claims that the GRA pronounced the word זכר as zekher when he recited the verse on Shabbat Zakhor.  However, R. Issachar Baer immediately cites the contradictory testimony of R. Hayyim Volozhiner -- the GRA's close disciple -- that the GRA in fact pronounced the word as zaykher, the same vocalization found in all standard chumashim; i.e., five dots, not six (R. Hayyim repeats this claim in a haskamah for Maaseh Rav dated 1817).  The Mishnah Berurah recommends reading both pronunciations.

However, the oldest and most reliable versions of the Masoretic text of the Bible all read zaykher -- with five dots.

The custom of repeating זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק only became widespread in the late twentieth century.  It seems to me that out of respect for the Masoretic text -- in the entire yearly Torah reading, this is the only instance of a repeated variant pronunciation -- and to avoid what is most likely a מנהג טעות, there is far more reason not to repeat the verse than there is to repeat it.

Closely related to this discussion is ArtScroll's usage of zekher in the Ashrei prayer, in every edition of their Siddur (the Chabad Siddur also uses this pronunciation).  This too is based on a purported custom of the GRA, as recorded in Maaseh Rav (28), and here too R. Hayyim Volozhiner refutes the testimony of R. Issachar Baer.  

There is no textual basis for this vocalization, either in the Masoretic Bible or in any variant manuscript, all of which have זֵכֶר in Psalms 145:7.  Like the zaykher/zekher repetition of Parashat Zakhor, the ArtScroll Siddur imposes an obscure practice on mainstream traditional Judaism, without due reverence for its centuries-old liturgical tradition.


Postscripts - אחר כך מצאתי:

See also R. Menachem M. Poliakoff, Minhagei Lita - Customs of Lithuanian Jewry (Baltimore: 2009), p. 53:

Despite the suggestion of the Mishnah Berurah to repeat the word zeicher to accommodate the opinion that the reading is zecher, in the Telshe Yeshivah and most other places in Lithuania they did not repeat it.  In fact, according to former talmidim, they did not observe this custom even in Radin, where the Chafetz Chaim (author of the Mishnah Berurah -dsz) had his Yeshivah.

My humble opinion is even if this repetition is permitted, it is certainly bad practice because it publicly introduces an element of doubt into the accuracy of the mesorah.

See, however, R. Hershel Schachter, Nefesh Ha-Rav (Jerusalem: 1994), p. 111 and Yom Kippur Machzor with Commentary Adapted from the Teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (New York: 2006), p. xxxv.  Rabbi Soloveitchik is said to have repeated the verse beginning זֵכֶר in Ashrei with the alternate vocalization (note that the positions attributed to Maaseh Rav and R. Hayyim Volozhiner in the Yom Kippur Machzor are incorrectly reversed).  With rare exception, Rabbi Soloveitchik did not recommend his personal liturgical or halakhic practices to his students.  See Schachter, Nefesh Ha-Rav, pp. 3-4.


  1. Interesting question, David. I'm just wondering what the Chofetz Chaim's reason was to not hold by the Masoretic text. Just wondering.

    Thanks so much for helping us try to connect the halakhic dots................

    1. Nathan, thanks for your comment.

      I would not say that the Chofetz Chaim minimized the authority of the Masoretic text. Rather, his solution was a “peshara” which upheld both readings. I'm not qualified to speak for the CC, but I suspect that he considered the variant reading of "zekher" – perhaps because it was attributed to the Vilna Gaon – more important in the context of mitzvat zekhirat amalek than following the Masoretic "zaykher" exclusively.

      Note, however, that even those who testify that the Gaon said "zekher" do NOT claim that he read the verse twice. Whether he said "zaykher" or "zekher," the Gaon was confident that the version he read was correct.

  2. Rav Breuer's work on this can be found in one of the early issues of Megadim. I believe he has a note there where he points out that the only time we ever repeats words or psukim because we are unsure about the text is with regard to Amalek (zecher/zaicher and the two psukim in Megillat Esther). Unfortunately, he does not explain why this should be the case.