web analytics
August 28, 2014 / 2 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event

Q & A: Crowns On Letters Of The Torah


Question: We find coronets on top of certain letters in the Torah – namely shin, ayin, tet, nun, zayin, gimmel and tzaddi. What purpose, if any, do they serve?

(Via E-Mail)

Answer: Your question was discussed many years ago. As we now begin a new cycle of reading the weekly parashiyot of the Torah, it is quite appropriate to review this discussion.

The Gemara (Menachot 29b) quotes R. Yehudah, who said in the name of Rab: When Moses ascended to heaven to receive the Torah, he found G-d engaged in affixing taggin [three small upward strokes in the form of a crown] to the letters. Moses then asked, Master of the Universe, who is forcing Your hand [so that You have to add crowns to the letters – see Rashi ad loc.]? G-d replied: There will be a man, after many generations, whose name is Akiba b. Joseph, and he will expound a multitude of laws upon each stroke of these coronets. Moses asked to be permitted to see that man, and G-d instructed him to turn around.

Moses sat down behind eight rows [of Rabbi Akiba's disciples in the beit hamidrash – some say it was 10 rows – and listened to their discussions. He] found that he could not follow their arguments. He felt as if his strength had been sapped, but when they came to a certain topic, the students asked Rabbi Akiba [in reference to a law that was being discussed]: From where do we know this? Rabbi Akiba responded, “Halacha leMoshe miSinai – this is an oral law handed down to Moses at Sinai.” At that moment Moses was comforted [since his teaching was quoted, although he had not yet received the Torah – see Rashi]. Thereupon Moses said to G-d: You have such a man [i.e., Rabbi Akiba], and yet You give the Torah [to Israel] by me? G-d replied: Hush, this is My decree [literally, "So it has come to My mind"]. Moses then said: You have shown me his Torah scholarship; please show me his reward!

Moses was again instructed to turn around and he saw them weighing out his [Rabbi Akiba's] flesh [at the market stalls.]

[Rabbi Akiba was one of the Aseret Harugei Malchut, the ten martyrs written about in the Eleh Ezkera prayer recited during the Yom Kippur mussaf prayers as well as during the Kinnot of Tishah B’Av.]

Rashi (ibid. s.v. “b’makolin”) refers to another account of Rabbi Akiba’s martyrdom found in Tractate Berachot 61b, where it is stated that Rabbi Akiba was tortured with iron combs during the Hadrianic persecutions. [Upon seeing this,] Moses then cried out: Such Torah [knowledge], yet such a reward? To which G-d replied: Hush, this is My decree.

The Talmud then quotes Rava, who states that seven letters require three strokes [on top, forming a coronet]: shin, ayin, tet, nun, zayin [which together spells shatnez], as well as gimmel and tzaddi [interestingly, note that Rashi refers to the letter tzaddi as tzaddik]. The Talmud adds that the letter chet also has on its roof a vertical stroke [or strokes, depending on the opinion of Rashi or Tosafot, ibid.], and the letter heh has a suspended inner leg.

In fact, we find these seven letters in a short passage consisting of the first section of the Shema, followed by the verse “Vehaya ki yevi’acha – It shall be when G-d brings you to the Land…” (Deuteronomy 6:4-11).

The concept of Halacha leMoshe miSinai is usually defined as halachot [rules and laws] that have no basis in any specific verse of Scripture [the Tanakh, i.e., the Torah, Nevi'im or Prophets, and Ketuvim or Writings], but were given as oral laws to Moses on Mount Sinai. However, we can see from the Gemara quoted above that Halacha leMoshe miSinai also includes laws that are based on exposition alluding to the taggin found on letters in specific verses.

To better understand the importance we attach to interpretation or derush, let us consider the mitzvah of donning tefillin (phylacteries), as we are commanded (Deuteronomy 6:8): “U’keshartam le’ot al yadecha, ve’hayu letotafot bein eineicha – And you shall bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be ornaments [or frontlets, as per Dr. Jastrow's translation] between your eyes.” How are we to understand from that verse alone, without benefit of explanation, that passages of the Shema are to be written down and inserted in leather cases which are then to be tied, with the leather straps attached to them, to the left arm and the forehead during morning prayers?

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Q & A: Crowns On Letters Of The Torah”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Chief Hezbollah terrorist Hassan Nasrallah.
Israeli Arabs Arrested for Lebanon Ties
Latest Judaism Stories
Rabbi Sacks

Judaism is a religion of love but also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

The time immediately preceding Mashiach’s arrival is likened to the birth pangs of a woman in labor.


Eisenhower understood that motivated men will fight much harder and longer than unmotivated men.

Who does not want to get close to Hashem? Yet, how do we do that?

Hashem recalls everything – nothing is hidden from His eyes.

According to Rabbi Yishmael one was not permitted to eat such an animal prior to entering Eretz Yisrael, while according to Rabbi Akiva one was permitted to eat animals if he would perform nechirah.

‘Vendors Of Fruits And Clothing…May Sell In Private’
(Mo’ed Katan 13b)

Question: The Gemara in Berachot states that the sages authored our prayers. Does that mean we didn’t pray beforehand?

Via Email

If a man sins and follows his inclinations, he will find comfort in this world – but when he dies, he will go to a place that is all thorns.

Nothing is more effective to diminish envy than gratitude.

The first prayer of Moshe was Vayechal, where Moshe’s petition was that no matter how bad bnei Yisrael were, the Egyptians were worse.

“We’re leining now, and shouldn’t be talking,” Mr. Silver gently quieted his son. “At the Shabbos table we can discuss it at length.”

If we regard pain and suffering as mere coincidence, we will feel no motivation to examine our lives

Culture is not nature. There are causes in nature, but only in culture are there meanings.

More Articles from Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Question: The Gemara in Berachot states that the sages authored our prayers. Does that mean we didn’t pray beforehand?

Via Email

A CPE class at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn was tailor made for Orthodox participants.

Question: The Gemara in Berachot states that the sages authored our prayers. Does that mean we didn’t pray beforehand?

Via Email

Question: The Gemara in Berachot states that the sages authored our prayers. Does that mean we didn’t pray beforehand?

(Via E-Mail)

    Latest Poll

    Do you think the FAA ban on US flights to Israel is political?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/ask-the-rabbi/q-a-crowns-on-letters-of-the-torah/2013/10/03/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: