Thursday, December 27, 2007

Vayechi: My Own Thoughts On The Gap Issue

Note: Not intended halacha lemaaseh, really. Especially since I have only just grazed the surface. Still, I think I have some interesting insights.

I thought I would share my thoughts at this point, now that we have finished with the teshuva of the Minchas Eluzer. As he notes, there is upon what to rely in order to permit a brief gap, where one is compelled to do so -- such as not invalidating old sifrei Torah written by holy people of previous generations, or where one would have to be gonez -- hide away -- a parchment sheet, because it cannot be reworked, e.g. due to proximity to Divine Names. Yet in the general case, one should not do this lechatchila, and should rework existing problematic texts.

Personally, I agree that this is, in overwhelming likelihood, an error based on misinterpreting the Masoretic directive to leave only a gap of one letter, which was interpreted to mean a gap of one letter besides the inter-word gap of a letter. (And even intuited that there must have been such a masoretic note, based on the one-letter, two-letter gap variants.)

Still, I am not sure I agree with his conclusions of invalidating and prohibiting in all the cases in which he does so. This illustrates the issue of heeding opinions you think are wrong, out of respect from the one propounding it (Bet Yosef). And also illustrates what happens when you try to satisfy a group of competing opinions simultaneously. You end up with the union of all the rules, and thus the intersection of all possible acceptable opinions, with a highly restrictive end result. This is not only so by writing sifrei Torah, but in every other realm of halacha as well.

We should set out, first and foremost, that there is a difference between Talmudic and post-Talmudic requirements for writing sifrei Torah. And Masechet Soferim is post-Talmudic, from the Savoraim. That is why, while generally it is accepted that Bavli trumps Yerushalmi, Rosh states that in dispute between Yerushalmi and Masechet Soferim we rule like the Yerushalmi.

And Rambam, as we saw, restricts post-Talmudic restrictions similarly. As the Michnas Eluzer summarized:
according to the opinion of the Rambam, that he requires 9 letters {gap} also by setuma, that the Rambam writes there himself that there are things which are not stated in the Talmud, but was received via the hands of the scribes, one man from the mouth of the previous man, and such as the space of 9 letters -- that all of these matters are for fulfilling the precept at its best {mitzvah min hamuvchar}, and if he changed, he did not invalidate.
That is, petucha and setuma are mentioned in Bavli (see Shabbat 103b) and Yerushalmi (see Megillah 11b), but the particular definition of length of the gap of a setuma as 9 letters is post-Talmudic -- not stated in the Talmud -- and are not meakev, though it is an issue of min hamuvchar.

As Minchas Eluzer quotes the Bet Yosef, this statement is restricted somewhat:
that where is does not invalidate, this is specifically where he did not leave a gap of less than 3 times "asher" {??}, but wherever there is not a gap of 9 letters, even of small letters, then it is invalid as well.
Thus, that there is some minimum level of gap for setuma. But Rambam does not actually state this, and Bet Yosef often, in other places as well, "reinterprets" the Rambam against its plain meaning to accord with the halachic conclusions of others (within the trio). It is possible to read that there is some basic thing called a setuma no matter what, but the (post-Talmudic) insistence upon 9 letters as a convention is just for min hamuvchar.

On the other hand, it is also possible to say as follows: Both the setuma and the petucha are gaps, and they are distinguishable from one another based on whether text closes in on both sides or not. But it is up to the particular scribe, or school of scribes, to decide on what the convention for the length of a petucha and a setuma will be. But once they decide upon this convention, that becomes the definition, within that school or within that sefer Torah, for a setuma.

The repercussions of the latter is that if indeed we decide that a setuma in a place it is wholly unwarranted invalidates the sefer Torah, then a minimal gap, which is much less than a regular setuma, is not a setuma. Even though it might accord with some rejected opinions, or minority opinions, as to what a valid setuma is, within this sefer Torah, it is no setuma, but rather a gap. Length of the gap is not given a Talmudic definition. And no matter what definition is given by whatever girsa in Maseches Sofrim, or in other sources, for defining whether something is a petucha or setuma, we follow the established length of setuma for that sefer Torah. The gap by Vayechi, where present, does not approach that length.

There is a gemara in Shabbos 103b which states:
מיתיבי (דברים ו) וכתבתם שתהא כתיבה תמה שלא יכתוב אלפין עיינין עיינין אלפין ביתין כפין כפין ביתין גמין צדין צדין גמין דלתין רישין רישין דלתין היהין חיתין חיתין היהין ווין יודין יודין ווין זיינין נונין נונין זיינין טיתין פיפין פיפין טיתין כפופין פשוטין פשוטין כפופין מימין סמכין סמכין מימין סתומין פתוחין פתוחין סתומין פרשה פתוחה לא יעשנה סתומה סתומה לא יעשנה פתוחה כתבה כשירה או שכתב את השירה כיוצא בה או שכתב שלא בדיו או שכתב את האזכרות בזהב הרי אלו יגנזו

Thus, these appear to be causes to invalidate, and among them is listed פרשה פתוחה לא יעשנה סתומה סתומה לא יעשנה פתוחה. We see a definition (not in terms of length) in Yerushalmi Megillah 11b:

פתוחה מראשית סתימה פתוחה מסופה פתוחה פתוחה מיכן ומיכן סתומה

The context of the restriction, in gemara Shabbat 103b, is based on the derasha on וכתבתם שתהא כתיבה תמה. All the examples show how not to confuse phonologically similar letters (aleph and ayin), orthographically similar letters (bet and kaf), and middle letters with their final equivalents (mem and mem sofit). Similarly, just because both petucha and setuma are gaps, one should not make one into the other. All this because confusion between one type and the other is a violation of כתיבה תמה.

Perhaps one can extend this to placing setuma or petucha gaps where they are not required, but this is not necessitated from the reading of the gemara. True, the Rambam does say this, and it might come out of this gemara (or from the aforementioned Yerushalmi, a bit higher up there, about halachot of petucha or not in tefillin). But equally we might say that this is only a matter of confusion between similar items, as a violation of כתיבה תמה, but otherwise, a setuma-sized gap does not matter. Without going into their reasoning, Bach, based on Rivah says it is no problem having extra setuma gaps -- and they argue on the Rambam. This opinion of Bach is rejected by Shach and Taz, but I think Bach's position may well be correct.

Digression: Note that Radvaz wrote that one could put gaps of up to three letters between words. But , as summarized in the preceding posts, this could be either was with Bach, that he argues on the Rambam. But it could also be that he argues on Masechet Soferim as to the side of the gap. And this dispute need not be as astounding as Minchas Eluzer makes it out to be, if we simply say that this is not a setuma because of how the sofer is generally using a setuma, and the convention being used is meakev, while the definition in Masechet Soferim was their own convention (which Rambam says in not meakev). (Unless we read in Bet Yosef's interpretation of Rambam, which is how all these restrictions build on one another, as they do everywhere.)

There is also a difference between a petucha or setuma which is unwarranted, and one which is warranted by some tradition. The fact is, the lack of setuma here, with the "gap of one letter," is the matter of Masoretic note. But there are all sorts of Masoretic traditions. Thus, what started this whole investigation was a statement by Aharon ben Yosef the Karaite that Vayeitzei also was satum {and thus lacked the setuma}, which is not true in Ben Asher codices but may well be in Ben Naftali ones. It is true that Rambam makes note of this dispute amongst traditions, and says to rely on Ben Asher, juxtaposing it with the statement that an unwarranted petucha or setuma invalidates:
אבל אם טעה בריוח הפרשייות וכתב פתוחה סתומה, או סתומה פתוחה, או שהפסיק בריוח והניח פנוי במקום שאין בו פרשה, או שכתב כדרכו ולא הפסיק בריוח במקום הפרשה, או ששינה צורת השירות--הרי זה פסול, ואין לו תקנה, אלא לסלק את כל הדף שטעה בו

ד ולפי שראיתי שיבוש גדול בכל הספרים שראיתי בדברים אלו, וכן בעלי המסורות שכותבין ומחברין להודיע הסתומות והפתוחות, נחלקין בדברים אלו, במחלוקת הספרים שסומכין עליהן--ראיתי לכתוב הנה כל פרשייות התורה, הסתומות והפתוחות, וצורות השירות, כדי לתקן עליהן כל הספרים ולהגיה מהן.

ה וספר שסמכנו עליו בדברים אלו, הוא הספר הידוע במצריים, שהוא כולל ארבעה ועשרים ספרים, שהיה בירושלים מכמה שנים להגיה ממנו הספרים; ועליו, היו הכול סומכין, לפי שהגיהו בן אשר ודיקדק בו שנים הרבה, והגיהו פעמים רבות כמו שהעתיקו. ועליו, סמכתי בספר תורה שכתבתי כהלכתו.

ו ספר בראשית--יהי רקיע, יקוו המים, יהי מארת, ישרצו המים, תוצא הארץ, ויכלו, אלה תולדות השמים, כולן פתוחות, והן שבע פרשייות; אל האשה אמר, ולאדם אמר

It would certainly seem that he invalidates these sifrei Torah which rely on alternate traditions (which he held was based on simply seeing the sefer Torah before them).

But all this is based on tradition. Rambam does not mention the gap at Vayechi. And we don't have that portion of the Allepo codex (of Ben Asher tradition) to see whether a gap of one or two letters is left. But perhaps one can say that when basing oneself on masoretic notes, albeit with a different interpretation, one should not reckon this gap as the minimal setuma {even if we have a concept of minimal setuma} to invalidate {if we would invalidate}. Rambam would say otherwise, it would seem.

One final thought. Masechet Soferim indeed invalidates with gaps between verses, or with dots over the last letter. As we saw:
In the girsa of Masechet Soferim which is before us: "A sefer shepasak veshenakad rashei hapesukim, one should not read it in." And this is that it has separations between the verses.
and another girsa:
this girsa brought down in the Aguda: ספר שנפסקו ואוקרעו, etc., and in Semak he writes, "between one verse to the next verse like the length of a small word."
But is this really based on a setuma in a place it should not be? It would seem not. Rather, think for a moment about the hava amina of those who wanted to do this. For if there was no thought to do this, there would be no reason to oppose it.

I think the thought process was as follows. We cannot make any marks in the sefer Torah about this, or add words or letters to denote this. (Such a statement: stop here.) This is Masechet Soferim, and the orthography for nikkud and trup have not yet been invented (depending on who you ask), but even if it did exist at the time, we are not about to start adding all this to a sefer Torah. But there is something which seems not to invalidate.

There is a midrash about how Ezra the Scribe was uncertain whether certain letters and words should be present in the sefer Torah, and he decided to put them in but with dots. That way, if they should be there, they are there. And if not, behold, there are dots over them. (See e.g. Talmudic manuscripts with dots over letters or words that were put in in error.) Thus, there would seem to be no problem with putting dots over letters that should be there. That would not invalidate. So some genius decided to put dots over every last word. It would not invalidate, for it did not by Ezra, and this way the baal koreh knows where to stop. But in Masechet Soferim, they say this is invalid. The same for leaving a gap between one verse and the next. The hava amina was that these are not words or letters, but merely gaps. And these gaps would presumably be distinguishable than the convention of a setuma. But in both cases, it is encoding new information in the sefer Torah, and so Masechet Soferim says not to read from such a sefer Torah. Now, Rema says one can, and indeed in practice he made such gaps. But this need not have anything to do with unwarranted setumot.

For a gap such as the one we have by Vayechi, would Masechet Soferim really have a problem with that. Assuming it for some reason is not a setuma, would it be invalid just like an inter-pasuk gap? I am not so convinced it is so. There is a difference between trying to encode additional information all over Tanach, taking advantage of gaps, and trying to follow an interpretation of a Masoretic note (whether or not interpreted correctly) in one particular location in Tanach. One is innovation, while the other is (perhaps misguided) tradition of a special type of gap.

I also do not see why one should extend anything whatsoever in terms of gaps between pesukim and between aliyot in printed Chumashim and Tanachs! Masechet Soferim which is concerned about inter-pasuk gaps is concerned because this is a method of encoding additional information about pasuk pauses. And presumably, even though the orthography of nikkud and trup had not yet been invented, they would have invalidated writing trup and nikkud inside. But that is for a sefer Torah! We already have -- and Rambam spoke about -- the Allepo Codex, with nikkud, and trup, and masoretic notes. If we can have nikkud and trup outside of a sefer Torah, why can we not make a gap as well in a chumash, outside a sefer Torah?

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