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Thought for the Day: Simple Letters, Oodles of Problem; Complex Letters, Interesting Problems

When talking about making letters in a sefer torah, t'fillin, and mezuzah -- affectionately known as STA"M (סת"ם‎) -- we are going to be using the "font" known as כְּתָב אַשּׁוּרִי.  The letters in that font by and large look the same as "regular" Hebrew letters; the main exception being the ח (ches), which is כְּתָב אַשּׁוּרִי is constructed from two ז's connected from above by a חטוטרת (literally, "hump"; looks like a little hat/tent, similar to this: ^).  More about that later.  In the meantime, let's see what kind of trouble we can muster.

Simple letter: ך
What could possibly go wrong with a ך?  That's what I thought, till I saw the long Biur Halacha in Mishnas Sofrim.  The problem is precisely its simplicity.  Make that roof too long and you have a big ר.  Make the roof too small and you have a long ו.  True, you can tell from context -- that is, the size of the other letters -- that they those letters are not really candidates.  However, when one letter looks "off", either too big or too small or just "too", then we show it to a child who recognizes his letters, but doesn't really know how to read.  Since he just sees a bunch of letters on the page, he may very well read that ך as a ר or a ו.  Moreover, make that corner too sharp and have something that may look like a ד to our young scholar.  Don't forget, we are talking about letters that millimeters (tenths of inches for you philistines) in height and width.  Not a lot of wiggle room there.

Complex letter: א
א is kind of a cool letter.  It is the first letter and its gematria is one; often used to refer to the One.  Here's the cool part: the א is comprised of two י's (gematria 10 each) and a slanty ו (gematria six); and that sums to 26 which is the gematria or the tetragammon (the way we spell HaShem ineffable name).  Interestingly, because of its complexity, there are some leniencies in what a sofer can get away with/fix up later -- even in תפילין ומזוזות which have the concern of שלא כסידרן.  Howso?  Imagine one of the י's either looks more like a straight line than a י, or it doesn't quite touch the central, slanty ו.  In that case, you can show it to a child who recognizes his letters, but doesn't really know how to read.  If he (or she, of course, sheesh) reads it as an א, then it can -- and definately should -- be fixed; no problem with שלא כסידרן.  That leniency is precisely because the formation can't really look like anything else.

Even more complex letter: ח
So now let's discuss ח.  Suppose the חטוטרת (^) is just barely not touching the two ז's.  That is without doubt פסול/invalid; in the words of the Mishnas Sofrim: how can a ^ floating above the line transform two ז's into a ח?!  Similarly, since a צ is a tilty נ with a י on its back, if the י is not touching the נ -- even ever so slightly separated -- then it is certainly פסול.  Again, it is two recognizable letters as is.  That leads to Mishnas Sofrim to at least entertain the suggestion that it might be possible to fix a ח which has the חטוטרת a bit separated from only one ז; after all, the other half is not a letter at all.  He leaves that question with a "requires investigation".

Now for the good news!  I finish learning about ש this morning on the train coming to work.  That means I only have ת left.  And that means that I'll be moving onto another topic, so you won't have to suffer more of these musings about the details of writing the letters for STA"M (סת"ם‎).  Well... maybe just one more.


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