The voice behind the online Tanakh

Many of you are familiar with the MP3 files of the Tanakh that are available online at Mechon Mamre (if you are not aware of them, stop reading this and go to the site right now and start downloading some Hebrew to listen to!). Mechon Mamre links to the files made available at the Israeli Snunit Kodesh site. You can download individual chapters or entire books. Explore around the site for many more resources. The Academy of Ancient Languages also makes the readings available. But I digress.

Abraham Schmuelof
Anyone who has listened to these audio files will forever be able to remember the cadence and pronunciation of the reader. But do you know who that reader is? His name is Abraham Shmueloff and he has quite a story! I found a short biography online a few years ago and I quote it below (the full bio can be accessed here). In classes, we referred to the reader as the “rabbi,” but as you can see from his story, it’s a little more complicated than that!

Abraham Shmuelof was born in 1913 in the Meah Shearim section of Jerusalem to a large Bucharan Ultraorthodox Jewish family which had migrated from Persia at the end of the 19th century. He would become a legendary figure in Jerusalem, moving from being an Ultraorthodox Jew to Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Trappist monk, Benedictine, returning to the Trappists and finally to serving in the Greek-Catholic Church in Galilee.

The youngest of sixteen children, he went to school at the “Collège des Frères,” and would become a companion of Menachem Begin in the Irgun (the military wing of Jewish Defense in Israel from 1935-1940). In World War II he joined the British army and fought in the famous Jewish legion. Captured in 1941, he became a prisoner of war. He was deeply moved by the reading of the New Testament which he had acquired in exchange for cigarettes. But only when he was released some four years later and returned to London, England, did he recognize Jesus as his Messiah and was baptized into the Anglican Faith. Back in Jerusalem, his family tried to persuade him to return to the Jewish faith, but he persisted and became a Roman Catholic and a Trappist monk. For a brief time he stayed at the Trappist Monastery in Latroun. But when it was taken by the Jordanian army in 1948, he became a Benedictine monk and studied briefly in Rome. Wanting to announce Christ as Messiah, Fr. Abraham joined the Greek Catholic Church. He was ordained priest by Archbishop Hakim in Nazareth in 1956 and served the Melkite community as a parish priest at Gush Chalav, (he spoke perfect Arabic as well as his native Hebrew) and helped the bishop as secretary for Jewish affairs. As he encountered more and more difficulties in serving the Arabic community, he found his true place at “La Maison d’Isaïe” in Jerusalem founded by the French Dominicans, where he collaborated on developing a Hebrew Liturgy with Fr. Jacques Fontaine. It was at this time that Fr. Abraham took on the task of recording the entire Tanak in Hebrew. Fr. Abraham always showed a great passion for the Hebrew language and often chided his young fellow Israelis for not speaking Hebrew well.

7 thoughts on “The voice behind the online Tanakh

  1. Rick

    I too looked him up after listening to his readings. Before translating a text I would cue up these tracks, then also listen to them on the way into class in the morning…very helpful.

  2. Bob MacDonald

    Thanks for the great story. I have used Mechon-Mamre for years. Over the next year I hope my hearing improves. Tomorrow I attempt to introduce the prophets – with a collection of Hebrew verses – to a collection of children ages 6-14. I never know who will show up but – children learn so much from so little. I have them for an hour tomorrow but usually just 5 minutes a week. Watch the next generation if we learn to teach the ancient tongues to children instead of flannel board and ecclesiastical behaviour patterns.

  3. Karyn Post author


    I’m teaching Biblical Hebrew to some 5-7 year olds this year. We’ll have to compare notes sometime!


  4. Tim Bulkeley

    I’ve wanted to find who holds the copyright, but have been unable to 🙁 for classes I usually use Audacity to slow the files down a bit to make them easier for non-native Hebraists to hear, you can do it so that the pitch does not change. He can read a bit fast for beginners.

  5. Karyn Post author

    Tim, the only info I can track down is this, “The diffusion of the Audio Recordings has been entrusted to the Carmelites in light of Fr. Abraham’s devotion to St. Theresa of Lisieux. The original tape recordings were transferred to digital audio by Audio Scriptures International, and then transferred to mp3 files, divided according to chapters, by the Academy of Ancient Languages.”

    I have never seen a “formal” copyright on the audio recordings, but I think if you provide a link back to one of the websites where you downloaded the files, that should suffice to satisfy your situation.

    I agree that some of the reading is a bit fast for new learners. I’d like to hear some of your “slowed down” versions that don’t alter the pitch.


  6. Hebrew Scholar

    Thanks for this post about the background of Abraham Shmueloff and hsi reading of the Hebrew Bible. I bought the cassette tapes of these in Jerusalem about 15 years ago, but since then they have been duplicated over the Internet in MP3 format. They are incredibly good recordings, spoken with all the differences between Hebrew letters such as alef and ayin, and the intonation correct according to the Hebrew accents (teamim). Every student of the Hebrew Bible should listen to these.

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