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nun sofit hafucha  (the upside down final nun)

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

One of the scribal oddities that has fallen into disuse, but is specifically mentioned in the Massoretic notes and many other sources is the upside down nun sofit (final nun) in the word Charan right at the end of parshat Noach (Bereshit 11:32).

That it was once universally accepted is attested to by Rashi who comments on the verse as follows: ‘IN CHARAN - the nun is inverted to tell you that until the time of Abraham, the fierce anger (charon) of the Omnipresent [was kindled against the world]’.

Above: the section from Minchat Shai - you can see the odd nun sofit shape with the bending head in the centre.

Minchat Shai quotes Rashi and also explains that the Or Torah doesn’t know how it is ‘upside down’ because in all the Sifrey it is the right way up. But he notes that he has seen in old Sifrey examples where the head is inclined and mentions he had seen it in Sefer Taggin also. He says that the Midrash Rabbi Akiva refers to this as a nun m’gulgolet and links the idea to great humility

Torah Sh’lemah also brings this tradition ...

... and brings a number of possible variants (shown above) that he has seen in Sifrey Torah.


Above: Charan with a nun sofit where the tail comes out of the left of the gag (roof) rather than the middle (from a Kabbalistic Czech Torah that I checked in 2008)

mishnat avraham charan

Indeed Mishnat Avraham notes that there are those that say one must be careful to make an upside down nun in Charan (though if one doesn't do it, it is still kasher) and quotes a number of sources. He states that he has seen it actually upside down (see picture below) and has also seen a very odd double headed 'trident' shape. There are those however who don't accept but quite rightly he points out that if you do see it you can't pasul (invalidate) the Torah and you shouldn't correct it.

So there is some discussion over whether it was truly upside down or whether the roof of the letters was slanted or whether there were some special taggin that were themselves upside down..In most Sifrey Torah this visual midrash is not marked at all and I was despairing of seeing anything interesting until within the space of a couple of weeks, two Sifrey passed my way that did indeed mark this and in a rather excellent way, which I think should become a special feature as it manages to mark the letter in such a way that it looks both upside down and the right way up at the same time. Mishnat Avraham also references this custom to place a long tag in the centre of the roof that looks like the leg of the nun sofit (but upside down) according to the Or Torah (see left).

A special ‘flame shaped’ tag on the nun sofit serves both to mark the letter but also resembles the leg of the nun sofit in reflection - i.e. upside down.

To really get the best out of this, one would want to try and get the letter at the top of the amud (column) as is the case of with the picture on the left, as that way one doesn’t have to curtail its length too much. Also, I would argue that it should be a little finer than the actual leg so that it is a tag and not part of the letter.

It is a shame that this scribal oddity is no longer preserved. Let’s bring it back!

Images and text © Mordechai Pinchas

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