Monday, June 19, 2006

Inverted Nuns

While Mississippi Fred recently discussed the missing nun (that is the Hebrew letter and not the people), last week we were treated to those Oh, Inverted World Nuns. Although, today this odd textual device is standard at least in its use, although there are some variations as to exactly how one does it (Sefardim do it more like a z and Ashkenazim have the upside down backwards nuns -more about this later). You can see some examples here, including one where the text was changed.

In fact, it is far from clear whether one should do this at all. Most notably, R. Shlomo Luria (Maharshal) argued that the Talmudic passage this custom is based upon only mandates the typical break for a parsha and not any upside down or otherwise letters. The passage only states that a sign should be made for this parsha and nothing more. He argues that such letters in the Torah render the Torah passul (unfit for use). R. Luria also notes the lack of uniformity in presenting such nuns, there are 19 different ways he came across to make the nuns. Some even flip the nuns of the text of the Torah and do not place the strange letters prior to and after the parsha in question. Thus, according to R. Luria, all of our Torahs which contain such nuns are passul.

R. Yechezkial Landau (Noda B'Yehuda), however, among others, defends the custom. He claims that the use of such a non-letter i.e. an upside down or z shaped non-letter is the key to allowing such a practice. As since this is not a letter at all therefore it is just a sploch of ink which doesn't render the torah unfit for use.

Although the nuns in last weeks reading are almost universal, there is another inverted nun in the Torah that is attested to by R. Shlomo Yitzhaki (Rashi) which, it seems, is not accepted at all. Rashi at the end of Parshat Noach says that the name of Abraham's father, Haran has an inverted nun. But this doesn't appear at all. (Another missing nun as it was.)

For more on this topic see here and here. Read She'alot u'Teshuvot Maharshal, no. 73; She'alot u'Teshuvot Mahram m'Lublin, no 75; She'alot u'Teshuvot Noda B'Yehuda, vol. 1 yoreh Deah no. 73; R. Menachem Mendel Kasher, Torah Shelmah, vol. 29 p. 124-130 (where he provided pictures of the various methods of writing the nuns); C.D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massoretico Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible p. 341; Shnayer Z. Leiman, "The Inverted Nuns at Numbers 10:35-36 and the Book of Eldad and Medad" in Journal of Biblical Literature 93:3 (Sept. 1974): 348-55; Saul Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, 38-43; Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible p. 54-55.

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