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Age-Old Questions; Modern-Day Solution

Rabbi David Kleiner

For centuries, scholars struggled to understand the discrepancies between the gemara’s account of the middle letters, words, and verses of the Torah and Tehillim, and what seems to be the reality in our versions. A modern-day talmid chacham, once a mathematician in the Soviet Union, found some astonishingly simple answers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

torah

Even great scholars versed in all areas of Torah occasionally come across a Talmudic sugya (topic) that is difficult to understand. This is most common with aggadic passages, which people will often study once ortwice and then give up, realizing that they haven’t reached a true understanding of the passage. One passage that has baffled great scholars throughout the ages seems at first glance to be straightforward. In Kiddushin 30a, the Sages record several rules of mesorah, the tradition of how Scripture should read. The Gemara specifies which letter is at the exact midpoint of all the letters in the Torah; which word is at the midpoint of all the words; which verse is at the midpoint of all the verses; and some other information related to the number of words in Torah, Neviim, and Kesuvim.

While we can read this passage without difficulty, when we examine the data closely, it seems that the numbers don’t add up. We know that some details of the mesorah have gotten lost or confused — but that would only account for minor discrepancies in the numbers. The actual discrepancies we face in some of these cases number in the thousands of letters.

It would seem, then, that there must be an alternative explanation for this passage.

 

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