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diary of a sofer - part 7

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer
Hebrew excerpt from Lishkat Hasofer

An extract from Lishkat Hasofer explaining the secret of Sha’atnez Gats - that they contain the names of three demons, Satan, Ez and Gats, and the taggin are daggers that protect us from them!

Taggin are the little crownlets that make much of the difference between what is merely Hebrew block lettering and what one sees in the holy texts (K’tav Ashurit). No-one really knows what these embellishments really mean and the Rambam argues that their absence does not invalidate the writing as the core of the letter form is there. However, the halacha dictates that certain letters should have these decorative flourishes, which the sofer creates by drawing ink upwards from the roof of the letter with the very thin tip of the quill (or down from little blobs towards the roof of the letter).

The mnemonic is Sha’atnez Gats showing the letters that have three taggin (see above). Others only have one and some have none at all.

One of the readers of my off-line articles questioned why the upside-down Kuzo phrase on the reverse of my first mezuzah (see diary 3) had taggin as she had not seen this before. In fact the omission of the entire phrase itself would not make the mezuzah pasul (invalid) and having checked on-line with a sofer in Israel, there is no halachic statement as to whether there should be taggin or not. His view is that there normally are - though many small mezuzot don’t have - indeed many of these have no, or very poorly formed taggin in the text.

Taggin perhaps represent the scribes best chance of individual expression and shows that despite the vast amount of rules and regulations the individualism of the scribe can shine through. I have used this to good effect in my megillah where when there are two or three letters with taggin together you can create a sort of bridge or rainbow effect.

Kabbalistic sofrut shows taggin run wild in the paragraphs in the tefillin and mezuzah, though these are now written as rules in the work Baruch Sheamar.

Multiple taggin

An extract from a mezuzah. There are no less than seven tagginon the ‘shin’ in ‘b’shivt’cha’ and‘ l’totofot’ has multiple taggin on letters that don’t normally even have one!

Considerable creative license can be seen with the splayed or dotted taggin that can be seen opposite, though many sofrim would frown on such a thing.

Bridging taggin

Above: a bridging effect.  Right: a fantastic splayed lamed on the word Hamelech (the king) from a megillah belonging to a synagogue in Edgware. Much freedom is allowed when working on a megillah than with other works.

Splayed taggin

From an 18th century polish Torah. The splayed taggin are very unusual and are attempts by Kabbalistic scribes to increase the Shechinah (Divine Presence) in the work. Note the strange Kabbalistic form of the letter ‘pey’

The taggin themselves are said to originate directly from Sinai, as when Moses ascended the mountain he found God engaged in affixing them to the letters. When asked why, God replies that a man will arise - Rabbi Akiva - who will derive from each tag heaps and heaps of laws. Moses asks to see him and is transported to the future to Akiva’s classroom where he is unable to understand a thing and is somewhat disturbed to learn about Akiva’s painful end as a matyr. (Menachot 29b)

More splayed taggin

Can one really write a whole article on a few decorative flourishes? Well, you can, and you just read it!

Mordechai Pinchas 

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