Hebrew Voices #106 – Why it’s YEhovah, but HalleluYAh

In this episode of Hebrew Voices, Why it's YEhovah, but HalleluYAh, I explain why the vowel in "Yehovah" changes in "Yah" and why people who don't understand this Hebrew rule are pronouncing Yeshua's name wrong. Kiruv wrote: "Thank you for this clear explanation!"

I look forward to reading your comments!


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Hebrew Voices #106 - Why it's YEhovah, but HalleluYAh

You are listening to Hebrew Voices with Nehemia Gordon. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon's Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

Michael: Nehemia, I have a question here. How is halleluyah related to the name?

Benjamin Netanyahu: Le ma’an Zion lo ekhesheh, u’l’ma’an Yerushalayim lo eshkot. (For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. Isaiah 62:1)

Nehemia: That's a really good question, Michael, I get that a lot. People say, “Well, if it's "Yehovah" with an eh in the beginning, why isn't it hallelu-yeh? And then, we have all these names that end in yah. For example, my name, “Nehem-yah.” And there's Eli-ya-hu, is Elijah. Why isn't it Eli-yeh, Nehem-yeh? Okay, great question.

This question was answered by a Rabbi in 1834 named Samuel David Luzzatto. And what he explains is actually something every Jew learns in kindergarten. He explained this to the German scholar Gesenius, who probably did know it but was ignoring what he knew. And the rule is that when you have a long vowel in the accented syllable in Hebrew, that becomes a short vowel called “shva” or a semi-vowel, when it's not in the accented syllable.

In other words, the pronunciation of the word changes based on where the emphasis is in the word. And so, here's what Samuel David Luzzatto wrote in 1834. He says, “The kamatz of yah…” that's the name of the vowel there, kamatz, “…changes to shva when the word is elongated.” So, an example of that would be the Hebrew word “gadol” which means “big.” When you add a suffix to that, it's gedolim, not gadolim, right? It's just like yah becomes yeh, same exact thing happening. Same vowel, actually, same vowel shift.

And then he says, “The proof is Yehonatan and his friends.” It's a great statement, right? Poetic, but what does he mean? Every name where yud-heh-vav appears at the beginning of the name, it's always “yeho.” And nobody disputes that in the history of the Jewish people, because there's never been a ban on speaking those names. Let me read you some of those names. Yeho'akhaz, Yeho'ash. It's not Yaho'ash, Yaho'akhaz. That's made up Hebrew from people who don't know what they're talking about.

It's your Yehozabad, Yehokhanan, Yehoyada. And you see those names in English, like in the name Jonathan, which is Yehonatan, right? They drop the H there because of what's happening in Greek, Greek doesn't have an H. There are 20 names that begin with yeho, approximately 20 names. There are many names that end in yahu. Now, in the Father's name, is the yud-heh-vav at the beginning of His name or the end of His name? It’s at the beginning.

Michael: At the beginning.

Nehemia: And more importantly, where's the emphasis of the word? The emphasis of the word is in the final syllable. It's marked that way in all Hebrew manuscripts with vowels, no question about it. All the Hebrew manuscripts with vowels mark it as “Yehovah.” And what happens because of that is the kamatz of yah, yah is always the emphasized syllable, it's hallelu-yah, that then shifts to a shva, or vice versa. You could look at it both ways.

In other words, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? You have this relationship between shva and kamatz, between eh and ah, based on the emphasis of the syllable. Now, yah appears in the Tanakh 49 times as a poetic form of God's name. It appears in the New Testament in the Book of Revelation four times. People don't realize that, but it's in the phrase halleluyah, which is actually two words that mean, “Praise Yah.” I do want to show something, Michael, about the relationship between Yah and Yahweh. Can I show that, Michael?

Michael: Certainly.

Nehemia: You know, people say, “Well, surely it should be Yahweh, because it's hallelu-yah.” What they're not telling you is, they're kind of pulling a fast one. What you could see in the word Yah is that it has the vowel called kamatz. It's like a little T. That Yah is different than the Yah in Yahweh.

Now, here's the really interesting part, Michael. When I created this graphic, I wanted to verify that what I was saying was right. So, I looked up in my printed Bible and it had the kamatz, the little T. And the one in Yahweh is a single line, right? And then I looked up in the Aleppo Codex and I found the little T, the kamatz, underneath the first letter. And then I looked up in the Leningrad Codex, and I found the little T, the kamatz. Every manuscript that I could find has halleluyah with the little T, the kamatz.

And then I said, “How do I know Yahweh has this other vowel that's a single line called ‘patakh?’ How do I know that? I need to look that up in a manuscript.” There weren't any Hebrew manuscripts to look it up in. It doesn't exist in Hebrew manuscripts. So, where did I have to look it up? I had to look it up in Gesenius' Hebrew grammar in Gesenius' lexicon from the 1830s. And I had to look it up in Brown–Driver–Briggs, Hebrew and English lexicon from the 20th century, and the Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament from the 20th century. I couldn't find it in any Hebrew Jewish sources, I could only find it in English and German sources, and that's really interesting.

And what happens here is you can see yah has a vowel, a little T that's pronounced “ah” and then the Yahweh has a little vowel called the patakh, which is also pronounced “yah” and “ah.” However, those “ahs” are different, right? You think they're the same in English, but they're not. There's no question whatsoever that those two vowels had a different pronunciation. And so, the yah of hallelu-yah is different than the yah in Yahweh. In fact, in English churches, they pronounce the yah of halleluyah correctly. They don't say hallelu-yah, they say halle-LU-yah. And think of the vowel, the yah of halleluyah, that actually is the kamatz. That is the pronunciation of that vowel, kamatz. And that vowel is different than the vowel in Yahweh.

And so, when people are saying, “Oh, it's Yahweh, because halleluyah,” they're pulling a fast one. They're hoping that people don't know that it's two different vowels in Hebrew. And to be honest, they probably don't know themselves. Same thing with if you say Yashua. Yashua? Which vowel is that, a kamatz or a patakh? You can't have a kamatz there, because that's a long vowel. You can't have that so far away from the emphasized syllable.

How do I know where this emphasized syllable is in Yeshua? Well, because it can only be the final or second to last syllables, the only possibilities in Hebrew. You can't have Yahoshua or Yashua, it has to be Yehoshua. It becomes what's called a “truncated vowel,” or a pre-tonal shortening, to give a technical linguistic term.

So, there's clearly a difference in the Hebrew language when you read it in Hebrew, between the yah in hallelu-yah and the yah of Yahweh. And the hallelu-yah, that yah naturally turns into an eh at the beginning of a word, like Yehovah, Yehoshua, Yehonatan. That's what this Rabbi in 1834 means when he says, “Jonathan and his friends.”

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  • Ørjan Myhre says:

    Way over my understanding but i know you feed people with avinu Yehovah’s truth, cause that’s your calling
    Shalom from a Zionist in Norway

  • Oh my goodness!!! Thank you so much for clearing that up! That has been a nagging mystery for me. 🙂 Love this!!!

  • Catherine says:

    Thank you for sharing your extensive knowledge. I have spent years reading commentaries from others. Through your encouragement to dig deep for ourselves, I am only beginning to scratch the surface. Thank you for showing us the resources to use and giving us guidance to assist in our own research.

    I grew up in a Lutheran church, so my Christian Roots run deep. Learning the history of some of those traditions is eye opening. Enjoyed this segment.

  • Anita says:

    Thank-you Nehemia! Appreciate the simple clarity with which you presented the grammatical rules of Biblical Hebrew.

  • MaryAnne says:

    I always love hearing your explanations! Funny question tho, at the end when you said “Jonathan and his friends” (jAH) and according to your explanation not sure why it wouldn’t it be pronounced Jenathan ? (jEH) no need to answer really, it would take too long 😉

    • Anita says:

      I listened again and I heard “Yehonatan” (no J in Hebrew). Try listening again.

  • Kalev says:

    Shalom Nehemia
    With all the controversy on our creators Name Rachel and I have been looking at halleluyah as the surest way of saying His Name no one then should have a problem with that keep up the good work mate there is another Karaite group called Jews for Karaite Judaism what can you tell me about them they the W and not the Y do you know what is there proof of this version may Yah bless us both

  • russell budlong says:

    Thank you,I always learn something detailed that I don’t hear else where!

  • Sidney Moser says:

    Totally blew me away, I knew that Yod He Vau He could not equal Yahweh, but was stuck on the correct vowels… I am somewhat amazed that Jehovah is actually closer to the truth than the more popular Yahweh.

    Sadly I only studied Greek in Bible College and have no access to the Hebrew Version of the Gospel of Matthew. I have a question about Matt 28:19 according to the best Hebrew manuscripts. Was wondering if they contain the Traditional Baptismal formula or does the confirm the wording contained in the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea… who had copied of the Hebrew Gospel in his library?

    • Pono says:

      Sidney, the last three verses, in my copy (George Howard), of The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew go as follows:

      V. 18 Jesus (Yeshua) drew near to them and said to them: To me has been given all power in heaven and earth.

      V. 19 Go

      V. 20 and (teach) them to carry out all the things
      which I have commanded you forever.

      Hope this throws a little light on the subject.
      Shalom…