Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bet of Bereishit and the Masechet Sofrim

The Mesechet Sofrim, one of the mini-Tractates of the Talmud, says:

The second statement is well known and all Sifrei Torahs have the large-type Bet at the start. However the commentary of the Masechet Sofrim, "Shehi Takim Leolam", is difficult to understand but I will leave it to you to come up with explanations.

I want to focus in the first statement - that the Bet should have four Tagim. The only time I saw this bet was in an old Tikkun, but the fact is that all modern day Torahs do not have these Taguim. This is how it should look, according to the Masechet Sofrim:

What's strange is that this Masechet Sofrim is a prime source and I had a tough time understanding how can we afford ignore it. For instance, the Gemara says that the "foot" of the Daled should be slightly bent and according to many opinions a Daled that has a straight "foot" will invalidate the Torah scroll. If we are so stringent about what's mentioned in the Gemara, why do we ignore what's mentioned in the Masechet Sofrim?

The answer to this question is interesting. Aside from the Masechet Sofrim, there's another even smaller Tractate called Masechet Sefer Torah. Most of the content of this little Masechta is anyways mentioned in its "big brother", the Masechet Sofrim, which includes Halachot of Sefer Torah, Mezuza, Tefillin and Mesora. Rabbi Chaim Kanievski, in his work on the small Tractates of the Talmud, asks why there's a need for both Masechtas if they are essentially dealing with the same topic.

His answer is quite radical. He says that the Masechet Sofrim is not part of the Talmud (written between 300 and 400 CE), but a later addition by the Geonim, who lived in the 6th century. Basically, the Geonim took one of the little Tractates of the Talmud - the Masechet Sefer Torah - and expanded it, creating the Masechet Sofrim, which deals with all Safrut related Halachot.

If so, Halachot only brought in the Masechet Sofrim do have less weight than the Halachot mentioned in the Talmud. The four Tagim of the Bet of Bereishit is a telling example of this phenomena and that's why we don't have them in our scrolls today.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pic: Zoomed Shin

Aside from Safrut, I love photography and I wanted to post this cool pic, which I took using my diamond lupe. This is my soon-to-be-completed Meggilat Shir Hashirim and I zoomed in the Shin because I just love this letter, and with the lupe you can take a deeper look in it. It's very easy to mess-up this letter since everything is "squashed" together - the three Yuds and the Taguim. Next to it you can see a Yud and it's lower Tag (lower left side), which is mandatory according to Rabbeinu Tam.

I hope to finish this Megilla in the next two weeks and I will post more pictures.

Chag Sameach