Welcome back! I hope you all had a wonderful winter break.
For the first week of January, our letter of the week is ע (ayin). What sound does it make? No sound. It’s one of the two Hebrew letters that are silent.
Why does Hebrew have two silent letters? The first reason is that in ancient times, the letter ע did make a sound. It had a more guttural sound than the א (alef). But, just as with English, the Hebrew language has changed over hundreds of years, and we can no longer differentiate between the ע and the א.
So why does Hebrew keep a letter that is silent? Modern Hebrew letters are the same ancient letters that we see in Torah scrolls. We’ve kept all the letters even though some of the sounds may have changed.
Another reason is due to the fact that Hebrew is usually phonetic – what you see is what you read. This is unlike English. In English we often don’t know how to spell a word correctly based on how it sounds. For example, say aloud the word “laff”. But how do we spell that word in English – “laugh”! Once you know the alphabet, it’s much easier to read Hebrew than to read English.
שבוע טוב! shavu’ah tov
Gayle A. Kaplan