To celebrate the end of Passover this evening, a discussion of a prounciation controversy that has raged among American Jews for years:
As the most casual of grocery store visitors knows, every year around Passover, a large display of items not eaten the rest of the year show up shortly before the holiday. The names tend to be rather ethnic: Manischewitz, Streit, Goodman's, Barton's, Rokeach. It's that last one that SC wishes to focus on.
Rokeach is the source of gefilte fish, an evil product called Nyafat, and much argument. The question is whether it is pronounced [ro.ke.ax] -- for non-IPA readers, as though it was "ro-kay-ach", with that last syllable involving a guttural sound made in the back of the throat and not found in English -- or whether it rhymes with "peach".
Your host's considered opinion is that the latter is the case. Several arguments militate in favor of this interpretation, and he considers them overwhelming. First, for many years (although not at present), the company employed a slogan which cannot be pronounced in English unless the "peach" pronunciation prevails: "Reach for Rokeach". Second, this slogan was often placed in the mouth of a comic book-style character, with the caption "Rokie says, 'Reach for Rokeach'", which again does not comport well with the guttural, Hebraic pronunciation -- it would never result in the hypocoristic ([he means "nickname" -- ed.]) "Rokie". Third, the Library of Congress maintains a pronunciation guide for brand names, and although it uses a highly nonstandard notation system, it clearly indicates that the "ea" sequence should rhyme with the "e" in "evil" or "reel", not with the "a" in "okay" or anything else remotely close to that vowel.
But a Talmudic story suffices to illustrate the insufficiency of merely overhwelming evidence for some people in this debate:
Rabbi Eliezer, a proponent of unchanging tradition--"a well-lined cistern that doesn't lose a drop," as his teacher characterized him--was engaged in a legal disputation with his colleagues. "He brought all the reasons in the world," but the majority would not accept his view. Said Rabbi Eliezer, "If the law is as I hold it to be, let this tree prove it," and the tree uprooted itself a hundred amma, but they said, "Proof cannot be brought from a tree." Rabbi Eliezer persisted, saying, "Let these waters determine it," and the waters began to flow backwards, but his colleagues responded that waters cannot determine the law. Once again Rabbi Eliezer tried, asking the walls of the study house to support him. They began to totter, whereupon the spokesman for the majority, Rabbi Joshua, admonished them, "when rabbis are engaged in legal discussion what right have ye to interfere!" So the walls did not fall in respect for Rabbi Joshua, nor did they return to their upright position, in respect for Rabbi Eliezer-and "they remain thus to this day!" But Rabbi Eliezer would not surrender and cried out: "Let Heaven decide." A voice was heard from Heaven saying: "Why do ye dispute with Rabbi Eliezer; the law is always as he says it to be."
Thus it is with the partisans of the Hebraic pronunciation, who have one simple fact on their side against the entire array of irrefutable arguments: in the original Hebrew, they're right.