כ״א בתמוז ה׳תשע״ד (July 19, 2014)

Megilla 8a-b: Ancient Writings

The Mishna (6b) teaches, “Ein bein Adar ha-Rishon la-Adar ha-Sheni, ela keri’at haMegilla u-matanot la-evyonim – there is no difference between the first Adar and the second, aside from reading the Megilla and distributing presents to the poor.”

This teaching leads to a series of Mishnayot that contrast two similar issues of halakha including:

  • Shabbat and Yom Tov (cooking is allowed on Yom Tovim)
  • Shabbat and Yom Kippur (punishment on Shabbat is meted out by the courts)
  • Oaths
  • Ritual impurity involving seminal emissions
  • Different levels of leprosy

The last Mishna on our daf discusses differences between writing Torah scrolls and writing tefillin and mezuzot, teaching that a Torah scroll can be written in any language, while tefillin and mezuzot can only be written in Ashurit.

In the language of , ketav Ashuri is the square writing that is used in ritual objects today, as opposed to ketav , which is the ancient script used by the Samaritans. We find differences of opinion with regard to the name Ashuri, whether it is called by that name because the Jews brought it back to Israel from their exile in Babylon (Ashur), or if it is called by that name because of its fine, straight writing (yashar).

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s opinion quoted in the Mishna limits foreign writing in Sifrei Torah to Greek, based on the passage in Sefer Bereshit (9:27) that invites Yefet to dwell in the tents of Shem. This pasuk is understood to recognize the beauty of Greek, which would be appropriate to use to enhance Jewish practice. The Gemara rules like Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, a position accepted by the Rambam, who argues that the original Greek has become corrupted and has effectively been lost. Therefore today all of our ritual objects, including Sifrei Torah, are only written with ketav Ashuri.

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