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Jekuthiel ben Judah Ha-Kohen

JEKUTHIEL BEN JUDAH HA-KOHEN (first half of the 13th century), Hebrew grammarian. He was known as YAHBI (Heb. יהב״י; the acronym of his Hebrew name, Yekuthiel Ha-Kohen Ben Judah), by which he referred to himself. Elijah *Levita refers to him as the "Punctuator of Prague," giving rise to the supposition that he lived in Prague; from his warnings against certain exactly described pronunciations of consonants in the reading of the Torah which he expressly addressed to his pupils, it would seem, however, that he lived in the Rhineland and not in "Canaan" (Prague). These instructions are an important source of information on the pronunciation of Hebrew in his time, in Germany, Bohemia, and France. His citations of the opinions of different grammarians, the last of which is Abraham *Ibn Ezra, led to the hypothesis that he lived in about the first half of the 13th century. Little else is known about his life.

Ein ha-Kore, of which a critical edition of the first part, The Grammar, has been published by Rivka Yarkoni (1985), is probably his only work. According to Yarkoni, it is divided into two parts: (a) a grammatical study which also includes the above-mentioned instructions; and (b) notes on the vocalization and cantillation of the Pentateuch, the haftarot, and the Books of Lamentations and Esther.

The first part of Ein ha-Kore cannot be compared to the earlier works of grammarians of the Spanish school which attempted to present the reader with a methodical study of grammatical forms; its purpose was a practical one – to give instructions to those reading the Torah. He starts with the question: "When is a word mille'eil [penultimate accent; the stress being on the syllable before the last], and when millera [ultima accent; the stress being on the last syllable]?" This leads him to further questions on rhythm: the rule governing the meteg, called gaya in earlier literature (secondary accent; see *Masorah); and the rule of the makkaf (hyphen). Through his analysis of the meteg system, Jekuthiel became the first Hebrew grammarian in Europe to formulate the concepts of the open and closed syllables in Hebrew. He also discovered the law of the "heavy" meteg. His meteg system was published in Mishpetei ha-Te'amim (1801), by Wolf *Heidenheim. S. *Baer's German rendition (1869) is an attempt at a more scientific treatment of Jekuthiel's system (see bibliography). As a result of Baer's misunderstanding his meteg system was attributed to Aaron *Ben-Asher in works on Hebrew grammar published in other languages. W. Heidenheim also published the notes of Ein ha-Kore in the Me'or Einayim edition of the Pentateuch (1818–21) and in his edition of the Book of Esther, Seder Yemei ha-Purim (1822). Gumpertz published "Sha'ar ha-Metigot" (which is the chapter on the meteg), with an introduction and notes in Leshonenu (see bibl.).

The Orientalist P. *Kahle rejected Baer's editions of the books of the Bible which had been vocalized according to the "so-called Ben Asher system," in reality the system of Jekuthiel.

A new light was shed on Yahbi's meteg-rules by Aharon Dotan in his research and annotations to the newly-published authentic texts. At the end of his chapter on the meteg-rules, Yahbi writes expressly that, in his hundreds of examples, he decided on the use of the meteg neither in accordance with Ben Asher, nor with Ben Naphtali, but only on the basis of model Bible codices of Sephardi origin (of which six were in his possession), as far as their writing was in conformity with his "inspired" rules. On the basis of this statement by Jekuthiel himself all attempts to identify his punctuation with other systems are, of course, void. These rules are contained in Yahbi's statement that the majority of metagim were placed in words accentuated by disjunctive accents (called melekh), whereas no meteg was used in words accentuated by a conjunctive accent (mesharet).

The earliest Hebrew grammarians of the Tiberian school gave instructions on the use of the diacritical marks over complete words and word-blocks, and also of the gaya (over one syllable), adding that the gaya does not belong to the family of the genuine te'amim (cantillation accents). Only Dotan's study made it possible to fully understand the uniqueness of Jekuthiel's system. The fact that in the oldest fragments of Bibles with complete Tiberian punctuation the scarcity of (written) gayot is striking corresponds to the cautiousness of the Masoretic grammarians. On the other hand, the synagogal practice of the cantillating recitation – i.e., according to the te'amim – provokes the gaya, which is but the counterstress to the accented syllable of a word or word-block. Theoretically, Jekuthiel attributed this provocative power only to disjunctive accents (melekh), not to the conjunctive (mesharet). The fact that he introduced the gaya also into a minority of words with conjunctive accents was due, in Dotan's opinion, to his respect for the authoritative scribes from earlier generations.

A Palestinian punctuator of Ben Asher's time could not elaborate a comprehensive system because of the traditions in reading Hebrew, which was then a spoken language – and a spoken language cannot implement speech and reading according to abstract rules. Jekuthiel did not have any past connection with spoken Hebrew and, therefore, had the right to accentuate words according to the rhythmic laws which he had discovered, even when he did not find any model patterns to this accentuation. He therefore decided for himself "to follow the general rule and the opinion which was in conflict," that is to say, not only to punctuate according to the authority of Ben Asher, but also according to the opinion of an opponent such as Ben Naphtali, when the latter's opinions were in accordance with his rules. Thus he punctuated בְּיִצְחָק, לְיִשְׂרָאֵל according to the punctuation rules of Ben Asher and not לִישְׂרָאֵל, בִּיצְחָק on the basis of the spoken language as Ben Naphtali. He also punctuated הַֽמַּעשה מִֽיַּעקב according to his own rules, while Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali canceled the second meteg, because they knew from their experience of the spoken language that it is impossible to accentuate two neighboring syllables in the flow of speech.


Elijah Baḥur, Masoret ha-Masoret (Venice, 1538), 71–87 (Sha'ar Shivrei Luḥot); Zunz, Gesch, 115–6; Biblia Hebraica, ed. by S. Baer and F. Delitzsch, 1 (1869), viii (introd.); S. Baer, in Archiv fuer wissenschaftliche Erforschung des Alten Testaments (1869), 55–67, 194–207; P. Kahle, Masoreten des Westens (1927), 19–20; Gumpertz, in: Leshonenu, 22 (1957/58), 36–47, 137–46; A. Dotan, in: Textus, 4 (1964); idem (ed.), The diqduqé haṭṭěʿamim of Aḥron ben Moše ben Ašér (3 pts., 1967), Heb. with Eng. Introduction. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Yarkoni, "Ein Hakore li-Yekuti'el ha-Cohen," 1–2 (dissertation, Tel Aviv Univ., 1985); I. Eldar, in: Leshonenu, 40, 190–210; idem, Masoret ha-Keri'ah ha-Kedam Ashkenzit, 1 (1979), 191–196; idem, in: Massorot, 5–6, 10–16.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.