In order to transgress "writing" (כותב) on Shabbos, (m'd'oraysah) one must write two letters. (See for example here.)

Why is this so? Shouldn't writing anything still be considered writing?

For example, the letter "a" may be one character, but it is actually a whole word, with meaning...

2 Answers 2


The source for all the melachos comes from the actions done to build (or operate) the Mishkan. Writing was used to make symbols on the boards that made up the outer walls. They were used so that when the Mishkan was disassembled and reassembled they would know which boards went where. Two letters (one on each board) were used to mark which boards matched each other.

As an aside, having to write two letters is only m'd'oraysah (from the Written Torah). M'd'rabanan (by rabbinical decree) any number of letters is forbidden, as well as writing anything at all, i.e. even non-letters.

Source for writing in the Mishkan: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t01/t0124.htm
(search for "One who writes two letters")

Source for all writing being assur: http://www.dailyhalacha.com/Display.asp?ClipDate=7/28/2010

  • 2
    small grammar correction that changes the meaning: "These symbols were made up of two letters", should read "Two letters were used to match up the symbols" The symbols themselves only used 1 letter. Like we do today. A goes to A , B goes to B.
    – avi
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 12:47

I've heard the following explanation:

The shiur (minimal amount of work to be done in order to be punished) for melacha of the writing is to write a word. The shortest word in Hebrew has 2 letters. Therefore only writing at least 2 letters can be punishable.

The statement the letter "a" may be one character, but it is actually a whole word doesn't work in the case of Hebrew.

Haven't found a source for this, however.

  • 3
    According to this, writing "a" in English would be chayev?
    – yydl
    Commented Sep 18, 2011 at 0:54
  • 2
    In Devarim 32:6 “ה לה׳ תגמלו־זאת” the ‘ה’ is a distinct word. Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 5:13

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