Friday, April 01, 2011

The large gimmel in Tazriah... and what it tells us about the Mesorah, and the fallibility of the Sages

A word from Leviticus 13:33 is traditionally written with a large gimel as so:

Why is it written this way?

Emanuel Tov [here page 57] suggests that the letter is written this way to emphasize a certain detail, namely that this word appears in what it believed to be the Torah's middle verse. Here's a breita quoted on BT Kiddushin 30a:
Therefore the ancients were called Scribes [=sofrim] because they counted every letter in the Torah...“then he shall be shaven” (Lev. 13:33) is the middle verse
(1) Why emphasize this with a large letter?  If you're going to emphasize this with a large letter, why choose the gimmel? Seems random.
(2) Mesechet Soferim says the middle verse is vayishchaht (Leviticus 8:15?)
(3) Mesorat Hashas (18th century) reports that all of the authoritative books in his possession have a note in the margin indicating that Lev 8:7 is the middle verse.

Take away points:
(1) The Talmud and the Mesorah disagree. Read that again: The Talmud and the Mesorah disagree
(2) The author of Mesechet Soferim 9:2 entertained the possibility that the author of the breita quoted on BT Kiddushin 30a made a mistake, which he endeavored to correct with a new count of the verses. He did not think the author of the breita was infallibly correct.
(3) Likewise, the Masorites corrected the count reported on BT Kiddushin 30a following their own examination of the subject. They did not think the author of the breita, or the author of Seforim 9:2  was infallibly correct.

Other theories on the giant gimmel later today.

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