Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Two Columns of Shirat Haazinu

The Mitzva of writing a Sefer Torah comes from this past week's Parsha, Haazinu. In the preceding Parsha, G-d says to Moshe that the Jews should "write this song", in a reference to Haazinu, one of the Torah's two songs (the other one is Az Yashir). Although the commandment refers only to Haazinu the commentators note that it's prohibited to divide the Torah and write it in a form of "megillot, megillot" i.e. in fragments, since all the Torah is one. So the commentators all conclude that the commandment must have been to write the whole Torah, which will contain the song of Haazinu.

This highlights how important this intricate song is in relation to the whole Torah.

Also aesthetically, Haazinu stands out with its special two-column layout. In the modern Torahs, the two columns are perfectly even, like two towers, and usually are two pages long. I wanted to post a picture of the whole thing but I only found this one:

We find the same layout in the Megillat Esther, in which the ten sons of Haman are listed in the same fashion. Like in Haazinu, most sofrim (not me!) stretch the letters so every column will start and end in the same place:

But if you look in the old Torahs and in the Torahs of the Yemenite Jews you will see that the columns there aren't uniform at all. Below is a picture from a Yemenite tikkun:

I guess the Ashkenazi sofrim took the liberty to strectch the lines in order to make the scrolls look nicer, on the grounds of "zeh keli veanveiu".

But there's another thing that really puzzled me. Aside from the layout, the Yemenite scrolls also differ in the actual poem structure and that's the real reason why their columns aren't simetrical - there are less lines and thus some of the lines are longer.

For instance, look in the 17th line in the above picture, "zechor yemot olam.." - this is a long line. In the Ashkenzai scrolls this long line is divided in two, enabling our sofrim to justify the lines. Now that's odd! There are two other places where there's a difference in the poem structure but I will leave it for you to figure it out.

Which is the right structure?

That's where the Aleppo Codex comes to the scene. This is a topic for another post, but it suffices to say that the Aleppo Codex, guarded by the Aleppo Jews until 1948, is the most accurate Tikkun ever. Unfortunately, this Tikkun only covers the Nach; the Torah pages were mysteriously lost in a Arab riot in Aleppo. That is, all the Torah pages were lost besides..... that's right, the pages of Shirat Haazinu! And if you guessed that the Yemenite scrolls are identical to it, you are right. I got this image from the Aleppo Codex website:

This would imply that the Ahskenazi structure of Shirat Hazinu is problematic. Halacha says that if there's a pause (parsha setuma or petucha) in a wrong place, this will invalidate a Sefer Torah. If the Ashkenazi scrolls have a different poem structure, some of the open spaces are in the wrong place!

The answer is simple: the open spaces in Shirat Haazinu (and Az Yashir) are not open and separate Parshas, but a special layout of a song. The halachot of Parsha Petucha and Setuma don't apply here and whatever layout you have - Yemenite or Ashkenazi - will be Kosher for all intents and purposes. So although it's clear that the Yemenite arrangement is more reliable, you should not start complaining about our modern-day structure.

This is the story of the layout of Shirat Haazinu. I hope you enjoyed and I wish you a Gmar Hatima Tova!


Lion of Zion said...

you might be interested in the chapter in r. breuer's book כתר ארם צובה that deals with song layouts.

"make the scrolls look nicer"

to the contrary, i think it looks distorted with all the grossly dilated letters. i leined this past week and i found all the dilated letters very distracting and more difficult to read.

YK said...

I only have the intro of that book in my possesion.. I couldn't find it when I was in Israel last year.

I see where you are coming from. But dont forget that throughout the Torah there are often times very dilated letters in order to justify the lines perfectly. Few scribes, notably Davidovic, are known for not stretching any letter but the rest of us are forced to do that. So this aesthetic concern is present not only here in Haazinu but in the whole scroll.

In fact, some authorities (i think the Tur) don't like this practice and say that the scribe must leave empty spaces if he cannot reach the end of the line (as long as it's not too big).

btw, how is Haazinu in your old Torah??


MG said...

FYI The Yemenite layout also differs from the Keter on one begins "Gam Bachur Gam Betulah" when the Keter has "Gam Bachur" ending the previous line and "Gam Betulah" beginning the next line.

andurar said...

Dear all,

Please clarify for me why in Esth 9:6-9 Aleppo codex has the letters resh after each ואת? It must be an abbreviation?