Devorah Learns Masorah

Discover the mysteries of the Torah one letter at a time

About Masorah & Devorah

Welcome. I am are glad you are here.

Masorah 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. I like to think of it as the “Quality Assurance System” for the Torah*. The body of Masoretic texts were compiled over many centuries (6th – 10th c. CE) by the Masoretes.

The Masoretes were a group of thousands of transgenerational 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 studied or taught in Jewish day school as part of the average 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 was undertaken in order to standardize the pronunciation, layout, and mode of public reading of the TaNaKh (Jewish Hebrew Bible) for worldwide Jewry. These systems were also designed to prevent human error from altering the Torah scroll as it is copied and recopied by Jewish scribes over millennia. 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.” 

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 Distinct, Irregular, or Atypical Letters, and represents a sea of deep and uncharted meaning within the realm of Masorah.

It is these atypical letters which have captured and held my attention since first I noticed them. Otiot Meshunot contain hidden truths and timeless lessons for us, the readers. In my research and study, I am committed to discovering and exploring the meanings of some of the most rare and forgotten of these letters, which are as old as the Torah itself. 

So come along with me on my journey of discovery and learn just how much wisdom is contained within each and every Hebrew word in the Torah scroll…one letter at a time.

Devorah is a scholar of Jewish History and an intergenerational educator. She is quite fortunate, and deeply grateful, to have had the opportunity to study directly from a Torah scroll in preparation for her Bat Mitzvah. So enjoyable and meaningful was her Bat Mitzvah ceremony, that she was determined it should be the beginning, not the capstone, of her involvement with Judaism and with the scroll of the law itself.

From that day to this, Devorah has been continuing to learn in order to understand, but more than that, she learns in order to teach. Like many generations of her family before her, she is a dedicated educator.

As a scholar of Jewish Art & history, Masorah, sofrut (Jewish scribal arts), calligraphy, typography, print culture, manuscripts and books; Hebrew, linguistics, philology; archaeology, paleography, and more, she possesses an abiding passion for Torah study. Devorah finds that when she approaches Torah with questions, an open mind, and an open heart, she can come to understand, and appreciate, the biblical text even more deeply.

This is especially true with her particular interdisciplinary approach to Torah study.

Topics that inspire Devorah, and may at first seem unrelated to Torah & Masorah, such as her study of the natural world through astronomy; botany and paleobotany; biology, geology, anatomy, ornithology, entomology and lepidopterology; paired with her study of human history and culture, Eastern & Western philosophies and more, serve to enrich her understanding of these ancient and sacred biblical texts.

As much as she brings to her study of Masorah, Devorah still feels like a beginner in this work. Even so, it was Rabbi Noah Weinberg who said “If you know aleph, teach aleph. Whatever you know, share and teach.” This is the approach of Devorah Learns Masorah.

Want to know more? 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



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