...however you want to spell it; the places in Torah where the received tradition says we write one thing and read another.

I'm sure there are squillions of scholarly theories regarding these, knocking about. I've not read them. This is strictly experiential, from a scribal perspective. There is a gigantic table of them under the cut.

There are two of these in Torah. Euphemisms are easily understood - at some point, we decided that certain words were too rude to be read out loud in shul, so we substituted politer ones. From a scribal perspective, that's the end of the story, but it does raise the wider question of why it's okay to pretend the Torah says something it doesn't. I mean, we spend so much time insisting that every word is deeply significant; how is it okay to make these changes?

These are super-easy to understand. I've done most of them myself, except that when I do them they're errors to be corrected. When you write, you're looking at what you're writing, and holding the words in your head. Most people do that by saying the phrase to themselves, so it's easy enough to mix up lo-with-a-vav with lo-with-an-aleph. People with snapshot memories are at an advantage here, I suppose. I've listed six of these.

Missing yud - vav instead of yud-vav
I could have listed these as homophones, I suppose, but they're very specific - all instances where the word should finish yud-vav, with the sound "v," and have been written without the yud. This is understandable: you might have had "v" in your brain, and attached "vav" to that thought, and written that. This happens 13 times.

Hey instead of vav
Sometimes a hey at the end of a word carries the "o" sound, like in Shlomo (שלמה). So things like בְּעִירוֹ, which ought to have a vav on the end, could have בעירה substituted for them relatively easily, since they'd be homophones. I don't understand why this substitution might happen when the vav carries the "u" sound, though, unless the two used to sound the same. Anyway, there are seven of these.

Missing vav
There are plenty of places in Torah - words like חדש - which could perfectly plausibly be spelled with an extra vav, חודש. Rabbinic Judaism takes it for granted that whatever these may have been on Sinai, we've completely lost the tradition for when that happens, so we just do the best we can. We're not talking about those missing vavs here. These ones are stranger. There are three of these.

A yud where a vav ought to be, or a vav where a yud ought to be
There's a reason scribes are cautioned to be very careful about making their vavs sufficiently long and their yuds sufficiently short, and this is it. This is the most common sort of difference, there are 18 of them.

Jen hasn't the faintest

We insist that Torah is copied very carefully, from a copy, and proofread before use, and we insist that a Torah with a single error is removed from use until the error is fixed. I suspect this is basically how the text has managed to stay in pretty good shape over time. We don't have similar rules for the rest of the Bible, and those texts are far more corrupt. Apart from the euphemisms, the craziest Torah gets is a rogue letter here and there. Prophets and Writings have whole words doing crazy things, up to and including not even being there any more (so you write nothing, but read a word). This is a very nice example of how texts get more corrupt if you are less careful about their transmission.

The Rogue Letters themselves, under a cut because it's a 51-line table )

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 27th, 2006 06:51 pm)
Well, the past few days have been interesting. [livejournal.com profile] jimotron, [livejournal.com profile] tircha, listen up!

Early last week I posted about having a Bad Quill day. The next day, I cut a quill of consumnate awesomeness, so when it failed to write Torah well I realised that it was actually a Bad Klaf issue.

Bad Klaf makes writing very laborious. Have you ever tried writing on suede with a marker? Like that. The ink doesn't flow nicely, and it's awfully hard to make nice-looking letters, never mind get things like spacing right. But I have a quota, and if I'm to stay on schedule, I have to fill my quota.

As it happens, in order to keep the place livable, there's also rather a lot of housework which has to get done, and it's very difficult to do the housework, keep up to quota, fulfil my teaching obligations, and find time to eat and sleep. I was feeling awfully weary and weepy, and like I was struggling hopelessly against impossible odds. For days, you understand.

Then it struck me - I'm writing the bit where Pharoah says to the children of Israel that he's going to increase their workload quite horrendously without a corresponding reduction in their quotas. The children of Israel struggle hopelessly against impossible odds.

What'm I to make of this? Can what one is writing really have such a tremendous effect on one's circumstances? It was surely just coincidence that I picked a piece of Bad Klaf for this bit when I was labelling the sheets months ago, wasn't it? Surely. I mean, I didn't know what was going to be on that sheet vis-a-vis text, I was just writing numbers in the margins.

I mean, if my having a tricky week connects to my writing the bit of Torah where Israel are having the roughest time they've ever had, what does that say about a) me b) writing Torah? If I buy into that, does that make me some kind of Bible Codes fanatic? I mean, this is me we're talking about, you know, the practical one, the realist, the cynic. Does having that kind of resonance with the text make me a sissy? Does it make you Spiritual? But I am deeply suspicious of Spiritual; it seems to entail getting all drifty and woozy for an hour on Friday nights, which doesn't seem very useful. I don't think I want that kind of Spiritual.

This could segue into the broader question I hear a lot, which is "How does it feel to write the Torah?" and the answer to which is not "Like I'm channelling the Word of God through my pen," which seems to disappoint people. But we'll stick with this for the moment. Any useful ideas from you religious types? I think this idea could use developing, but heaven knows I haven't the tools to go it alone.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 19th, 2006 09:41 pm)
On Shabbat, one may not carry objects in the public domain, but if a building is on fire, certain things may be carried into the public domain to save them. Holy books are one of the things which may be carried; you can carry a sefer Torah out of a burning building on Shabbat although you may not carry Harry Potter.

The Talmud asks, what constitutes a holy book? Is a translation of Torah holy enough that one may break Shabbat to carry it out of a burning building? What about one written in impermanent ink? Transliterated? Perhaps only Torah and Prophets, but not that frivolous section, the Writings?

Read all about it! )

Is this good for the Jews? Discuss.

* You can look this up in the Beit Yosef, if you feel inclined. OH334.
** from a search on Bar-Ilan's database; if you happen to know a Rashba expert who knows the answer, do please tell me about it.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 9th, 2006 09:23 am)
So I wrote this huge long article about why exactly women can write sifrei Torah from a non-egalitarian halakhic perspective.* I didn't want to put it in the public domain until it'd been read by people I respect who are friendly, in case I'd made terrific clangers, since I'd rather have that pointed out by my friendly teachers than by enraged persons who want to tear me apart (I mean, anyone can pick holes in an argument, but it would just be embarrassing to have one's argument destroyed because of a clanger).

Anyway, I sent it to various people, and today I got a response from Ross Singer, he of Women and Writing the Megillah fame, who said he was impressed with the scholarship, if not entirely convinced by the conclusion. And he used various complimentary adjectives, which I won't quote here since I haven't asked him if I may, but suffice it to say my confidence was boosted.

* look at me being post-denominational. I could have just said "Orthodox." Am I good?
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Feb. 28th, 2006 10:39 pm)
The Rosh has an interesting modification of the mitzvah to write a sefer Torah; he says that sifrei Torah aren't the issue so much, the point is to have books from which to learn, and so the mitzvah is to acquire Mishnah, Gemara, commentaries, and generally a Jewish library. Later decisors of halakha express some surprise at this - how could Rosh possibly have decided to throw out the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah? and decide that Rosh meant that one should acquire a Jewish library in addition to one's sefer Torah.

It occurred to me last week that it makes perfect sense for Rosh to have made this innovation. Copies of the Talmud were scarce enough anyway - it happens when you have to write everything by hand - but Rosh lived in Germany in the period c. 1250-1300.

In 1239, the Pope decided that the Talmud was a Bad Naughty Book, and issued edicts that all copies of it should be collected and burned. In 1244 in Paris, an absolutely stupendous number of manuscripts - twenty cartloads - were destroyed, and this was repeated on a smaller scale throughout Europe in subsequent decades. Rosh was surely affected by this; the availability of Jewish texts must have decreased drastically, and this is pretty likely to have made any scholar's life rather difficult, not to mention distressing.

Rosh could see that some texts were in danger of being lost forever, and not any old text - the Talmud itself. The Talmud is the central text of rabbinic Judaism; it appears to have more authority than the Bible itself, which contributed to its being banned in the first place. Without the Talmud, the chain of rabbinic tradition would be permanently severed. In this context, one can see why Rosh would place every Jew under the obligation to copy the central texts of Judaism - they were in very real and immediate danger of being lost forever. Rosh chose to prioritise saving the Talmud from obliteration over the biblically-ordained commandment to write a sefer Torah, and given the circumstances, it's hardly surprising.

I should continue and discuss the significance of the mitzvah in our day, but it's bedtime and has been for some time.


hatam_soferet: (Default)

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