DR8-R12b is a Tribute to Nathan Marcus Adler, from the Jewish community of Hanover. (Check out Wikipedia; he has an epic hat, and even more epic sideburns.)

The Tribute is dated 1879, the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination (according to the JTS catalogue). As well as the numerical date, it has a nice Hebrew chronogram:

Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission.

That is, שפתי כהן ישמרו דעת, four words from Malakhi 2:7, For the priest’s lips guard knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. The large letters with dots over them–שכהישד–add up to 639, and 5639 in the Jewish calendar corresponds to 1879 in the Christian one.

My alma mater has a chronogram; one of its alumni went on to build the Dyson-Perrins laboratory building in Oxford, and it has a plaque saying baLLIoLensIs feCI hyDatoeCVs o sI MeLIVs. This means “I, Waterhouse of Balliol, made this. Would it were better.” (Note that this is an extreme of pretentiousness; Waterhouse had to render his name into Latin to get it to work.) Date comes out to 1914.

Latin ones have a different feel; some (or preferably all) of the Roman-numeral letters (you know, IVXLCDM) make up the date. If you can’t get it such that all the number-letters make the date, you have to indicate which ones you want people to read. Since all letters in Hebrew have a numeric value, if you want to do it most elegantly such that all the letters make the date, you have a lot more flexibility in how you compose your date, but much less ability to pad your sentence with filler words.

Anyway, Adler was the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire 1845-1890. He was a scholarly type, with a university degree and all. He was also a cohen. So this is a great verse to attach to him.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

Isn’t this sweet? It’s the little letter aleph in “Vayikra,” but it’s a particularly tiny version, where the height of the whole letter aleph is same as the width of the quill used for the other letters.


The regular letters in this sefer, by the way, were 7mm high. Huge!

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

A question from someone typesetting a ketubah:

“I’m using typefaces that have a hand-done feel to them, but obviously they are mechanical. There are some typefaces (Guttman Stam and Guttman Stam 1) that recreate a sofrut look. One of these uses taggin and one is plain. I have no pretension to be following sofrut laws, but I’d prefer to use a typeface that won’t look completely ridiculous or pretentious to somebody familiar with the customs of how these documents are traditionally written… Is it appropriate to use the font with the taggin as the general typeface, or are those letters with taggin only reserved for special instances of letters?”

That is…instead of going for something instantly identifiable as “font that came with your computer,” like this:


she’s going for something that is both prettier and evokes some of our more cherished solemn traditions, like this:


“I just had this nightmare scenario in mind where I had my beatuiful, tag-saturated ketubah on my wall and then became friends with someone savvy in sofrut who looked at it and saw the equivalent of an entire contract composed entirely of those giant gothic storybook letters that are supposed to come at the beginning of a paragraph in an illuminated manuscript”

Like this, that is to say:


where it ought to look like this:


The answer: in our days, tagin are letter-specific, not context-specific; they generally occur on the letters שעטנז גץ only. You can use a font with tagin without looking like an utter chump.

Now, some people do hold that since this is the script used for sifrei torah, tefillin, and mezuzot, it should be reserved exclusively for use on those documents; that using sta”m script on things such as ketubot isn’t appropriate. I don’t hold that way personally, and this isn’t even a script we’re talking, it’s a font, so it’s not really even the same thing since you basically can’t use it for sta”m anyway.* Still, something to bear in mind; if one’s community fetishises the script, best not to use it for a ketubah.

I’ve even heard the view that since this is the script used for gittin, tagin aren’t appropriate for ketubot – gittin being divorce documents and tagin apparently being a kind of bad-luck talisman when employed in wedding contexts. Except that we don’t put tagin on the letters in gittin, so that one kind of falls down at the starting post, but underneath what it’s saying, again, is that there’s a desire to keep these letters apart and special – “gittin” is just the language used to clothe that concept.

But some people** take it in the other direction, and say that since this is the script used for our most important and significant documents, it makes sense to use it for a ketubah.

Which is fair enough, so long as one does it with awareness.

* Not without some innovative responsa, anyway
** I haven’t got published sources for either of these views. This is just “I talked to some rabbi, and he said…” territory.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

This is one of my favourite letter-halakhot, from the rules of how to make straight nun:
animated nun

אות נו”ן פשוטה תואר צורתה כמו זיי”ן וג’ תגין על ראשה אך שהיא ארוכה כשיעור שתהא ראויה להעשות נו”ן כפופה אם תכפפנה Its form is like a zayin, with three tagin on its head, but it is long, such that one could make bent nun out of it if it were bent round…

And from the rules of straight khaf, clarifying the point:

שאין חילוק בין פשוטה לכפופה רק שזה פשוטה וזה כפופה… …there is no difference between the straight and bent form save that one is straight and one is bent…

Many people have difficulty visualising (and remembering) this. I hope that the animation displayed here will help.

My favourite favourite letter halakaha, though, has to do with tagin.

Tagin on right head of tzaddiTzaddi with taginThe very best sorts of people do mitzvot as soon as the opportunity presents itself, correct? And we read Hebrew from right to left, so surely we should put tagin on the right-hand head of letters such as tzaddi, which have more than one head? Like the image at left, in fact.

We don’t, though. We put them on the left-hand head, like the image at right. Why’s that?

Because if you put them on the right-hand head, they’d fall off. (Keset haSofer, 5:2, letter tet.)

Tzaddi and taggin

And this is why we make the right-hand heads curvy and upward-tilted.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

I’ve not posted much on the Big and Little Letters in Torah, have I? And now I’m posting on the Little Letters in Eicha – well, I’m between Torahs at the moment, and indulging in a spate of megillot, Eicha amongst them, which has something to do with it.

Little Lamed in Eicha
(Sofer Boyfriend wrote this one.)
לוא אליכם כל עברי דרך הביטו וראו אם יש מכאוב כמכאבי אשר עולל לי אשר הוגה יקוק ביום חרון אפו Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.

There’s a whole tradition of interpreting the Big and Small letters. A few of them are in the Gemara, where the context is Explaining Something Everyone Knows more than Telling You How To Do This New Thing; the rest of them have been around for something like a thousand years but mostly we didn’t write down explanations, so they’ve suffered the usual fates of verbal explanations — ambition, distraction, uglification and derision — as you might imagine.

Anyway. Sometimes a Little Letter is interpreted as suggesting a particular Littleness. You may be familar with one from Torah, explained thus: “The conceits of the Cabalistic writers are most curious; for instance, they suppose that Abraham wept but little for Sarah, because a remarkably small letter — “Caph” — is used in the Hebrew word which describes Abraham’s tears, thus evincing that his grief was also small.” (That’s a footnote in a book from 1862 about anagrams; don’t take it too strongly to heart. I just liked the style.)

What would be the Littleness here? I’m going to quote from a book by one Tzvi Ron, ספר קטן וגדול, Gush Etzion, 2006, translated by G. Wasserman:

R. Shelomo Alqabes explains that the allusion is to the smallness of the Jews’ prayer to be spared from punishment: “Their prayer was not offered בעין טובה [generously], for there is no goodness for the wicked.” In Sefer Elyashiv, it explains the smallness as being the smallness of learning a lesson, for the gentile nations did not learn a lesson from seeing that God had punished the Jewish people for their sins.

Tzvi Ron also says “According to Midrash R. ‘Aqiva, it is a hint to words which begin with lamed, for the Jewish people had once been לראש, and now were לזנב.”

You might reasonably point out that lots of words begin with lamed and this concept cannot be uniformly applied, yes. So you might reasonably conclude either that there’s more to it than that but we’ve lost the tradition, or that you should go read the Midrash R. ‘Aqiva and see if it addresses that point.

What I want to take away from this particular point is the idea that a Little Letter is not just a mouseover interpretation, it’s a sort of ambiguation — like a Wikipedia disambiguation, but the other way over — the suggestion that there are vague links here to other instances of that letter. This point to be developed in part 2, coming soon.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.



hatam_soferet: (Default)

February 2017

1920 2122232425


RSS Atom

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags