- - , Algemeen, October 23rd, 2007,
The Middle Verse of the Torah
In the Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 30a, there are two sources which discuss different aspects of the text of the Tanakh. The first source relates to the middle verse of a number of sections of the Tanakh.
׳לפיכך נקראו ראשונים סופרים – שהיו סופרים כל האותיות שבתורה, שהיו אומרים: וא”ו דגחון (ויקרא יא:מב) – חציין של אותיות של ס”ת, דרש דרש (ויקרא י:טז)- חציין של תיבות, והתגלח (ויקרא יג:לג)- של פסוקים, יכרסמנה חזיר מיער (תהלים פ:יד)- עי”ן דיער חציין של תהלים, והוא רחום יכפר עון (תהלים עח:לח)- חציו דפסוקים
Therefore the ancients were called Scribes because they counted all the letters in the Torah. They said that the “vav” in גחון (Lev. 11:42) was the middle letter of the Torah, that דרש דרש/”And Moses diligently inquired” (Lev. 10:16) was the middle word of the Torah, that “then he shall be shaven” (Lev. 13:33) is the middle verse of the Torah, that the “ayin” of “יכרסמנה חזיר מיער” (Psalms 80:14) is the middle of Psalms, and that “But He, being full of compassion, forgiveth iniquity, and destroyeth not” (Psalms 78:38), is the middle verse of Psalms.
The comment in Masoret ha-Shas alerts the reader to a potential difficulty.
חדוש גדול כי בכל חומש וכן בתקונים המדויקים בפ’ צו סי’ ח’ סוף פסוק ז’ ויאפד לו בו נדפס על צדו חצי התורה בפסוקים
This is a big innovation, because in every chumash and in the reliable tikkunim in Parashat Tzav chap. 8, the end of verse 7, “And he put upon him the tunic”, it is printed in the margin “half the Torah in verses”.
According to the Talmud the middle verse of the Torah is Lev. 13:33, while according to the counting accepted today which is based upon the Masorah, the middle verse is Lev. 8:7. Not only do the Babylonian Talmud and the Masorah disagree, but there is a third tradition. In Massechet Soferim 9:2 the middle verse of the Torah is said to be “וישחט”. M. Higger in his edition of Soferim isn’t sure as to which verse this is referring. The possibilities that he gives are Lev. 8:15, 19, 23; 9:8, 12, 18. The Minchat Shai is understandably perplexed at the situation, concluding the we must wait for Elijah the Prophet to come sort things out (see his comments on Lev. 8:8). As modern scholars of the Masorah have shown, there were different traditions of the division of the Tanakh into verses. C.D. Ginsburg has said that “In the division of the verses, however, as is the case with other features of the Hebrew text, the different Schools had different traditions”. (Introduction, p. 69)
Ludwig Blau, “Masoretic Studies, III-IV”, JQR 9 (1897) 122-144, 471-490; C.D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible; Jordan Penkower, “Verse Divisions in the Hebrew Bible”, VT 50 (3) 79-393; Emmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, pp. 50-53.