Rabbi Noah Weinberg once said, “If you know aleph, teach aleph. Whatever you know, share and teach.”
This is the approach of Devorah Learns Masorah.
Masorah has a double meaning: The first refers to the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition and practices going back to the ancient times of the Hebrew forefathers and foremothers.
The second meaning, which is the way the term ‘Masorah’ is used in this blog, refers to the system of notes and signs used to preserve the text of the Hebrew Bible, and the way it is written, from change. Think of Masorah as the “Quality Assurance System” for the Torah.1 The body of Masoretic texts, including the Aleppo Codex, the Leningrad Codex, etc. were compiled over many centuries (6th – 10th c. CE) by the Masoretes.
The Masoretes were families and constellations of generational scribes, many of whom hailed from the ben Asher family. These scribes dedicated themselves to the extraordinary work of compiling a system of pronunciation guides (nequdot), creating cantillation marks (ta`amei ha-mikra), and scribing shorthand lists of diacritical notes on the margins of biblical manuscripts that comment upon the architecture, grammar, intertextuality, and meaning of the text (Note: manuscripts are handwritten books or codices, as opposed to scrolls).
These diacritical notes, which are not currently studied or taught in Jewish day schools or university courses as part of the curriculum, enumerate and comment upon every single letter, word, and phrase in the Hebrew Bible. What’s more, they also comment upon every space between the words and every paragraph break of every line in every book of the Bible.
This monumental effort by the Masoretes was undertaken, in part, to standardize the scribal traditions, spelling, pronunciation, textual layout, and cantillation (mode of public reading) of the TaNaKh (Jewish Hebrew Bible) for worldwide Jewry.
These Masoretic systems were also designed and applied to prevent human error from altering the Torah scroll as it is copied and recopied by Jewish scribes over millennia.
Within the ocean of knowledge that is Masorah, there is a category of Hebrew letters found in the Torah scroll called “Otiot Meshunot”. This category can be translated as unusual, atypical, or Extraordinary Letters, and represents a sea of deep and, to some extent, uncharted meaning within the realm of Masorah and Torah.2
As Professor David Marcus writes, “Our engagement with the Masorah, with its appreciation for the smallest details in the text, can inspire us to connect in a profoundly spiritual way with that sacred text.”
Masorah broadly, and Otiot Meshunot specifically, represent countless practical and timeless lessons, and multilayers of hidden spiritual meaning meant for us, the readers of Torah, if we but hearken to them.
Devorah is a scholar and educator of Torah and Masorah, Jewish History and Culture, Jewish Art & Visual Culture, the history of the Hebrew book, and the invention and impact of printing.
In her research and study, Devorah Learns Masorah is committed to learning, understanding, discovering, exploring, and sharing Masorah in all its many forms. Specifically, she focuses on the history and meaning of the Aleph Bet and the meanings of some of the most rare and forgotten of the Otiot Meshunot, Extraordinary Scribal Hebrew Letters, which are as old as the Torah itself.
Truly, it is these Extraordinary Letters that have captured and held Devorah’s attention as a student of Torah, as a scholar, and as a seeker of meaning, since first she noticed them.
So come along with Devorah on her journey of discovery. Learn just how much wisdom is contained within each and every Hebrew word in the Torah…one letter at a time.
Want to know more? Explore:
- What is Masorah?
- A Brief History of the Aleph Bet: Ancient to Modern
- Devorah’s Library of Masorah Books
- Masorah Texts, Websites & Study Sources
- Ask a question
- With thanks to Sam Gustman for this concept, suggested in conversation with Devorah on the topic of her Masoretic research in November of 2014.
- Further Reading about “The Large” and “Small” Masorah