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diary of a sofer - part 42 - space the final frontier ...

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

Well actually no, this diary isnít about Star Trek. It isnít even about the Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy - though it is diary number 42 and by a staggering coincidence (by the way there is no such thing as a coincidence - or have I said that already) the answer to life the universe and everything is exactly the same number as the lines in a standard tikkun for a Sefer Torah. Amazing.


Instead this diary is about spaces - the absence of letters. And in particular it is about a tradition that has died out regarding spacing between písukim (verses).

Measurements for the Torah are very proscribed. There is a space of two fingers between the amudim (columns) and there is a space of of at least three fingers for the top margin and four fingers for the bottom margin. Between each line there is the space of a line. Between each word there is a the space of a small letter (at least a yud but usually more) and between each letters the space of a hair. Between each section there is a space of 9 letters either sítumah (closed) or pítucha (open) - a complex area as Rambam and Rosh donít agree what this is. Before the start of each book of the Torah (excepting Bíreshit) one leaves the space of four lines and before each book of Prophets (if you join them) three lines.

And ... according to the Machzor Vitri and the Yemenite community (and others) a space of a word between each pasuk (sentence). Except that there isnít!

Well there has been in the past, except that the space left is closer to two letter spaces. And this idea is jolly clever as one of the hardest things in leining Torah is not knowing the end of the pasuk. This is particularly difficult if in between the písukim one is supposed to read the Targum (Aramaic translation) as one is supposed to and as one does in the Yemenite shuls even today. Hence the idea of a gap between sentences is a jolly good one. So why isnít it generally done. Well one reason might be that the verse divisions are apparently a Christian invention which Jews adopted. One reason might be that having the sentences break like that may prevent midrash that comes from joining verses together. Who knows.

I only ask because recently I checked an Ashkenazi Torah and surprisingly, as well as having all the large letters (not just the accepted ones) it also had extra spaces for the verse divisions. Also, in my researches on Megillat Esther I came across a photo of old Megillah that also had these breaks between písukim. Reading one of my newer sofrut book acquisitions STaM Kíhilchatan I came across a debate about the validity of these spaces and finally, in I opened a copy of the Machzor Vitri to see how he laid out his Mezuzah and it has very pronounced spaces between sentences. Coincidence - I donít think so. Spaces between sentences is clearly something about which I am being prompted to find out more..

Right: two examples from the Ashkenazi Torah showing larger gaps between písukim. Look at the spaces between víhaíarets, va-yar, vayikra, víHevel, ha-lo.

Right: The nun hafuchot section from the same Torah - but look at the space between mipanecha and uívínucho. Below: Machzor Vitri Shíma - note the huge spaces between písukim.

machzor vitri shema

Above far right: Similarly the space before víyahas (which only sometimes has a large samech). Above left and centre: two sections from an old manuscript of Megillat Esther which also shows the same enlarged spaces between verses.

Why has the tradition been abandoned? Given it makes reading so much easier why doesnít it come back?   

Mordechai Pinchas

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