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The Middle Verse of the Torah

In the Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 30a, there are two sources which discuss different aspects of the text of the Tanakh. The first source relates to the middle verse of a number of sections of the Tanakh.

׳לפיכך נקראו ראשונים סופרים – שהיו סופרים כל האותיות שבתורה, שהיו אומרים: וא”ו דגחון (ויקרא יא:מב) – חציין של אותיות של ס”ת, דרש דרש (ויקרא י:טז)- חציין של תיבות, והתגלח (ויקרא יג:לג)- של פסוקים, יכרסמנה חזיר מיער (תהלים פ:יד)- עי”ן דיער חציין של תהלים, והוא רחום יכפר עון (תהלים עח:לח)- חציו דפסוקים

Therefore the ancients were called Scribes because they counted all the letters in the Torah. They said that the “vav” in גחון (Lev. 11:42) was the middle letter of the Torah, that דרש דרש/”And Moses diligently inquired” (Lev. 10:16) was the middle word of the Torah, that “then he shall be shaven” (Lev. 13:33) is the middle verse of the Torah, that the “ayin” of “יכרסמנה חזיר מיער” (Psalms 80:14) is the middle of Psalms, and that “But He, being full of compassion, forgiveth iniquity, and destroyeth not” (Psalms 78:38), is the middle verse of Psalms.

The comment in Masoret ha-Shas alerts the reader to a potential difficulty.

חדוש גדול כי בכל חומש וכן בתקונים המדויקים בפ’ צו סי’ ח’ סוף פסוק ז’ ויאפד לו בו נדפס על צדו חצי התורה בפסוקים

This is a big innovation, because in every chumash and in the reliable tikkunim in Parashat Tzav chap. 8, the end of verse 7, “And he put upon him the tunic”, it is printed in the margin “half the Torah in verses”.

According to the Talmud the middle verse of the Torah is Lev. 13:33, while according to the counting accepted today which is based upon the Masorah, the middle verse is Lev. 8:7. Not only do the Babylonian Talmud and the Masorah disagree, but there is a third tradition. In Massechet Soferim 9:2 the middle verse of the Torah is said to be “וישחט”. M. Higger in his edition of Soferim isn’t sure as to which verse this is referring. The possibilities that he gives are Lev. 8:15, 19, 23; 9:8, 12, 18. The Minchat Shai is understandably perplexed at the situation, concluding the we must wait for Elijah the Prophet to come sort things out (see his comments on Lev. 8:8). As modern scholars of the Masorah have shown, there were different traditions of the division of the Tanakh into verses. C.D. Ginsburg has said that “In the division of the verses, however, as is the case with other features of the Hebrew text, the different Schools had different traditions”. (Introduction, p. 69)

 

Bibliography:

Ludwig Blau, “Masoretic Studies, III-IV”, JQR 9 (1897) 122-144, 471-490; C.D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible; Jordan Penkower, “Verse Divisions in the Hebrew Bible”, VT 50 (3) 79-393; Emmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, pp. 50-53.

 

 

11 Responses to “The Middle Verse of the Torah”

  1. 1
    andy:

    The new Hakira, which I have not yet seen, has an article on this.

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel:

    Thanks. JTS has just started to get Hakira so I’ll look for it.

  3. 3
    More on the text of the Tanakh:

    [...] the sources I cited at the end of this post, I forgot to mention two important articles that are available [...]

  4. 4
    ephraim:

    Prof. Cohen has another article online where he specifically attacks some of the theories put out regarding the middle verse dilemma.

    Also, I think Gil Student has a little piece, which is basically the apologetic view denounced by Prof Cohen.

  5. 5
    Menachem Mendel:

    I think that you are referring to this article. I’ll add it. Thanks.

  6. 6
    The Artscroll English vs. Hebrew Talmud:

    [...] I decided to do a little comparison regarding the bottom of Kiddushin 30a, discussed partially here, and was surprised at the scope difference between them. A quick summary of the bottom half of this [...]

  7. 7
    JoelNothman.com » Abraham in discourse:

    [...] century or so, although there were certainly traditions regarding them before. See for instance Kiddushin 30a and other sources that disagree on the middle verse or count of verses in the bible in comparison to each other and [...]

  8. 8
    ephraim:

    Yosef Ofer has a section on Middle VErses in his book on the babylonian masorah

  9. 9
    Reuven Wolfeld:

    Dear Menachem Mendel,

    I have, on my own, recently discovered the letter at the exact middle of the Torah.

    As I am sure you are well aware, there are 5846 p’sukim in the Torah. Using the computer and programs I wrote I found that the middle letter of the whole Torah is an aleph. It is found in the next to the last word in Vayikra 8:28. The last word of this p’suk and the first five of the next (6 words in total) total 1118, which is the same as the lead p’suk of the Shema. Also they have the same number of words, 6, and the same number of letters, 25.

    The middle two words of the Torah are found in Vayikra 8:15. They are the words “el yesod” (the 6th and 5th words from the end of the p’suk). Their gematria is 111 = gematria of the word aleph. The four words to their right have roshei teivos which spell out Hashem’s name.

    I would appreciate your feedback.

    Sincerely,

    Reuven Wolfeld

  10. 10
    Avrohom:

    I wonder if any of you have ever asked Hashem what it all means? Wouldn’t He know, being God and all that? I came to this by having a dream about the middle of the Torah. I saw 2 Torah’s next to each other with red circles around what I understood to be the exact middle of the Torah. There was a long circle and next to it 2 smaller circles. I did not see the letters or words but only the outline of the red circles, which I understood in the dream to be referring to the middle (or heart?) of the Torah. Maybe one of you will tell me what that means and maybe Hashem will speak through you. It is shayich. Sholom to you. Avrohom

  11. 11
    Avrohom:

    oh, one more thing about the dream, the aitz chayim were not above the klaf but rather the klaf was level with the aitz chayim. This only happens when it is backwards (though I did not particularly notice it being backward).

    Could this relate to “kuzoo bimokhsooz kuzoo” on the back of the mezuza and how those leters come “after” the “Hashem Elokainu Hashem” of the Shema on the other side? I would still need to know the exact words that were encircled to decipher the letters which “follow” those words. It would seem that maybe it refers to the middle ‘words’ of the Torah, but which middle one’s? There are several. It can’t be dorosh dorash since there would not be the long middle word there, but only the 2 outside red circled words (the dream showed a long middle word and 2 shorter surrounding words). We can rule that out, it seems. But then I also don’t see the pattern of a long word surrounded by 2 shorter words if you use 8:15 El Yesod. What could it mean then?

    I also did not realize that today was Shabbos Shekolim where we actually read 2 Torah’s. I was not able to go to shule today but would have made a greater effort if I had realized this earlier! How would the red circles relate to the Shekels and to the middle of the Torah, which was what I understood while in the dream?

    Also can you point to a source or chart that shows the letter and word and verse counts and the exact middle of the Torah according to various traditions and also computerized counting? I just wanted to examine all the views in one chart, if possible. Thank you so much!

    Maybe one of you can see a pattern or symbol here? I am really asking Hashem but maybe He will show you something since this is where I came to do the “dorosh dorash” of this.

    Thanks! Sholom to you. Avrohom

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