A story and a thought

Everyone in the sefer Torah industry knows about the machlokes in Parshas Ki Tzetzei on how to spell the word "dakkah" from the words "pitzuei dakkah". I am forever fixing this (both ways) for customers.

Today, the general minhag is to spell it with a hay, with the exception of Chabad and Temanim, who have the custom to spell it with an Aleph.

There is a lot of material on this machlokes including the well known Chabad argument that in the Maharam M'Rottenberg's sefer, it's spelled with an Aleph.

Putting reasoning aside, I want to relate a story that happened to me once.

There is an old, dying Anglo Saxon shul that has about 3 or 4 old sifrei torah. This shul employed a part time Chabad rabbi some years ago. The rabbi came to see me after reading Ki Tzeitze one year and asked me to change the "Dakkos" from hey to alef, which I did. A few years later, the Chabad rabbi moved on and the shul employed a part time Yeshivish rabbi as his replacement. The new rabbi came to see me after laining ki Tzeitzei becase he, in turn,  did not want the alef, he wanted them spelled with the hay.

I obliged and changed the seforim back to the original hay. However in one of the seforim the klaf was so thin because I had already done a mechikah on the spot before, that I made a hole and ruined the sefer. I had to fix it with a matlis, which was a shame because the sefer was otherwise in very good condition.

A shame also because at the end of the day no one in that shul cared or new the difference, except for the rabbi. I'd be surprised if anyone in the shul knew how to read the word dakkah, let alone how to spell it. Most of the remaining Jews in that shul are married out, the fact that they are hearing kriyas hatorah is itself a chiddush.

So was it really necessary for either of these rabbi's to be such akshanim and kanoim to go out of their way and change it? I'm sure if they would have consulted a higher authority the Chabad rabbi would have been told that if it was good enough for the shul until now, he should just leave it. And if the Yeshivish rabbi would have asked a reasonable rov, I'm sure he would have been told that if the Aleph was good enough for the Mharam M'Rottenberg, then its good enough for these secular Jews.

I  marvel on how appropriate it is that the only major machlokes on the spelling of a letter in the sefer Torah, appears in the parsha beginning with the words Ki Tzetzei L'milchama. Because sadly, this argument is a source of disunity and potential sinas achim, and just an example of  of far greater arguments and sinas achim that occur between different groups of yidden in the Torah world.

And when there is disunity between yidden, our common bond, Torah, its advancement and its teachings, becomes the ultimate casualty. And while I mean this figuratively, in this story, it happened in actuality (with the sefer Torah getting ruined).

Just something to think about....


  1. As unfortunate of an incident that it was the story is still very good to tell over to prove a few important points. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Marvelous story and insight, although I think that the Rabbi's wanted the changes for themselves (lav davka for the secular crowd)since they were reading and using from it as well.

    But that just goes to show you that sometimes personal hiddurim can also be costly.

  3. I just wanted to correct one point. It is the sefardim who always wrote with a hey. Among the Ashkenazim there were some places where it was with a hey and others with an aleph. It is interesting that the Temanim also have an aleph as well as the keter aram tzova. Chabad has preserved the version with an aleph that used to be very widespread in the Ashkenazi world.

    1. This subject is discussed in Hayom Yom - 7 Elul, and at length in the Rebbe's Igros Kodesh vol. 14, letter 4926 (אגרות קודש - כרך יד - ד'תתקכו)

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  5. Aaron, you are correct is is the Temanim (not Sephardim as a whole) who spell it with an Aleph.

  6. It would seem to me to be problematic to change a sefer Torah either way. By changing it to a hey or an alef, one is potentially taking a kosher sefer torah and making it passul. It would seem to me that since the correct way is unclear, a sefer torah should be left however the sofer wrote it.

    Furthermore, a sefer torah has to be written based on the mesorah as found in a good tikkun, chumash, or another sefer torah, and by changing the letter, it seems to me that one would be tampering with the mesorah the sefer was based upon.

    1. Totally agree - it is really important to preserve the massorah of the original sofer. The teymanim have a number of specific differences and if it is a teymani sefer then it should be preserved as such regardless of who might have ownership of that torah at the time. In all likelihood given the keter aram tsova and the teymani tradition being more ancient - aleph was probably more accurate, so to change it is simply wrong.

    2. In the chabadpedia of chabad.info about R' S.Z. Gurary ob"m, is written the following:

      בהיות ר' שניאור זלמן גוראריה בעיר דרוזקניק (עיירת מרפא), על גבול פולין וליטא, שהה כ"ק אדמו"ר מהוריי"צ במלון, והיה זקוק למניין. על ר’ זלמן הוטל לדאוג לספר תורה, אך דא עקא שבעיר זו היה בנמצא רק ספר תורה שהיה כתוב בו "פצוע דכה" בה"א, שלא כמנהג חב"ד.

      ר’ זלמן שאל את כ"ק אדמו"ר מהוריי"צ -באמצעות חתנו, הרב שמריהו גוראריה ז"ל -מה לעשות, והשיב לו, שקבלה בידינו שאדמו"ר הזקן שהה פעם בעיר בה היה רק ספר תורה שכתוב בו "פצוע דכה" בה"א, הוא קרא בספר זה, או עלה לתורה כשקראו בו.

    3. I saw in the Minchas Chinuch on the 613th mitzvah that he discusses this case and says that either way is kosher as is since it does not change the meaning or pronunciation of the word.

  7. Yes! And that is the halakha. Even if we are reading in a Temani Sefer Torah with several differences from the currently accepted version we must read with a berakha if called up to an aliya.

    Any sort of dis-unity, such as stating things like "your Torah is not kosher for me to read from", does more harm than good. The Torah is the only thing that binds us together.

    As hindsight has shown, some of the arbitrators making textual decisions in Europe were not infallible. If they would have had wider access to older texts such as the Keter and other traditions they would have likely resolved to write DAKA with an Alef instead of a Hei.

    Once the Sefer is written, the best policy in this case is to respect the decision of the original sofer.


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