Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rashi Vs. Rabbeinu Tam - Round 1

One of the fiercest rivalries among the commentators of the Talmud is between Rashi (11th century) and his nephews, known as the Tosafists. There are many famous discussion between them but in this blog we focus in Safrut and there are two classical discussions pertaining to this subject. We will deal with one of them in this post.

Rashi and Tosafos disagree in regards to the exact shape of the letter Chet in the Jewish Alphabet. A very short briefing: The Talmud says that there's a special "tag" (sketch) on top of the letter Chet, which points upwards symbolizing that God, who's up in the heavens, is eternal since the letter Chet is connected to the word "Chai", to be alive. Rashi and Tosafot explain differently the shape of this mystical sketch.

Rashi says that it is a simple sketch in the left side of the Chet like this while Tosafot says that there's a "pyramid" (a.k.a. "the hunch of a camel") in the very middle of the letter like this , essentially two connected Zains (you can see the original page of the Talmud, where this discussion is to be found, here)

That means that the grandsons (Tosafists) had a different Torah Scroll than their grandfather (Rashi), a striking fact. And the Halachic implication of these two versions is not simple - a Sefer Torah that has some Chets like Rashi and some like Tosafot might be pasul, so the rabbis decided to adopt a "blend" of the two versions, which we still use to this very day: (my own hand-writing). The Sephardim have a slightly different version -> .

But this is not the end of the story. A few hundred years later the Ariza"l (16th century), the most revered Kabbalist, introduced a few changes in the letters of the Torah and one of the affected letters is the Chet. Instead of two connected Zains, the Ari wrote the Chet with a Vav and a Zain, like this .

Clearly, the Chet is the most controversial letter of the Hebrew alphabet and now you know why!


Lion of Zion said...

"the Chet is the most controversial letter of the Hebrew alphabet"

and צ or א?

regarding the flat roof, i've seen edot ha-mizrah sifrei torah that have ח with a flat roof (usually with a single tag)

have you seen the funky chets in torah shelemah?

שבוע טוב

YK said...

Yes, I also saw the flat chet in the Ran's Torah and you can see the pic in my second post (Mitzva of writing Sefer Torah). This Torah is probably the most prized antique of Heb U's collection.

I also saw the funky Torah Shelema chet - one of them I call the "robot" chet since it looks like the transformers to me!


YK said...

why are the tzadikk and aleph so controversial? Just because of the Ari's changes?

Lion of Zion said...

yes, because of the ari's changes.
or is the ח more controversial because of the rashi-tosaphot dispute the presaged the ari?

(and concerning the ari, based on what did he alter the כתב?)

YK said...

rashi vs. tosafot + ari vs non-ari

Regarding the Ari question, I share the same question, and found no answer yet. It's just unbelievable that one day one Rabbi came, changed the Torah letters and everyone accepted it!
Additionally, he lived across the street of the Beit Yosef, who named the very other writing style. Those were interesting times.