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Perhaps I'm among the last to have found this out, but it took me quite a while to understand why, in a signature, the name was preceeded by a הק׳. THe Ozar Rashei Tevot book has 31 different interpretations and this one is at position #28, meaning "hakatan." A good friend who obtained his Smicha in Czechoslovakia explained that in "that part of the world" people would humbly sign their letters, books, etc., as being "hakatan" הקטן even if they were gedolim.

My question is: When did this practice start and how widespread is it?

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Is it ה״ק or הק׳? I've more often seen the latter for הקטן, I think. –  msh210 Jan 12 '12 at 1:20
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I don't think I've ever seen ה"ק used this way, so I took the liberty of changing it to הק'. If that's not what you meant, please forgive me and change it back. –  Dave Jan 12 '12 at 2:13
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Wasn't there a tanna named Shemuel HaKatan? –  Double AA Jan 12 '12 at 2:44
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@DoubleAA, that's following the name, not preceding it; and we don't know (or do we?) that he called himself that first, which is what this question's about. –  msh210 Jan 12 '12 at 3:05
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I seem to recall that Rabbi Menashe Klein's signature was מנשה הק׳ (I assume because Klein means "small"). –  msh210 Jan 12 '12 at 18:55

2 Answers 2

The first reference to someone being known as HaKatan is most likely Shmuel HaKatan - a Tanna who lived according to some towards the end of the second Bais HaMikdash. The Yerushalmi in Sotah Perek 9 Halacha 13 brings 2 reasons why he was known as HaKatan. One is because he acted humbly and the other is because he was smaller than Shmuel HaRamasi.

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See my and msh210's comments to the question above. –  Double AA Jan 12 '12 at 18:25

In Gemara Chulin 60b it refers to Yaakov Hakoton, Shmuel Hakoton (the Tanaah), and Dovid Hakoton. For Yaakov and Dovid it quotes Pesukim as proof.

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See Double AA's comment of Jan 12 '12 at 2:44 to the question above, and my comment immediately beneath that comment. –  msh210 Apr 7 '13 at 1:58
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See this page of Haskomos to Siddur Sha'ar Hashomayim from the Shelah Hakodesh and you will see that some put Katan before the name and some after. hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=22560&st=&pgnum=3 –  Meir Zirkind Apr 9 '13 at 21:49

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