In Ruth 1:1, there is a Masoretic note on שְׁפֹט which I do not understand:

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The picture is a little unclear, but the note says (I have highlighted the letters with a dot above them):

ב חד מל וחד חס

I read this as:

Twice, once spelled plene and once spelled defectively

However, I don't understand how this applies to this word. The form (a qal infinitive construct of שׁפט) occurs more than twice (13 times, if my count is correct: Ex. 18:13; 1 Sam. 8:5, 6; 1 Kgs. 3:9 [2x]; Joel 4:12; Ob. 1:21; Ps. 10:18; 51:6; 96:13; 98:9; Ruth 1:1; 1 Chr. 16:33).

(If the form is interpreted as a qal infinitive absolute I can understand (this form occurs only once elsewhere and is spelled plene there: Gn. 19:9). But I really don't see how this form could be read as an infinitive absolute. Also I would expect a reference to Gn. 19:9 in that case.)

How should I interpret this note?


2 Answers 2


The Masoretic note you have is from the Leningrad Codex. However, the Aleppo Codex indicates in the masorah gedolah in Chronicles that there are 3 instances of the word (see also Mikraot Gedolot haKeter):

Aleppo Codex

Masorah gedolah

These are:

  • Ruth 1:1 (short):
    וַיְהִ֗י בִּימֵי֙ שְׁפֹ֣ט הַשֹּׁפְטִ֔ים וַיְהִ֥י רָעָ֖ב בָּאָ֑רֶץ וַיֵּ֨לֶךְ אִ֜ישׁ מִבֵּ֧ית לֶ֣חֶם יְהוּדָ֗ה לָגוּר֙ בִּשְׂדֵ֣י מוֹאָ֔ב ה֥וּא וְאִשְׁתּ֖וֹ וּשְׁנֵ֥י בָנָֽיו׃
  • Proverbs 31:9 (short)
    פְּתַח־פִּ֥יךָ שְׁפָט־צֶ֑דֶק וְ֝דִ֗ין עָנִ֥י וְאֶבְיֽוֹן׃
  • Chronicles II 20:9 (long):
    אִם־תָּב֨וֹא עָלֵ֜ינוּ רָעָ֗ה חֶרֶב֮ שְׁפוֹט֮ וְדֶ֣בֶר וְרָעָב֒ נַֽעַמְדָ֞ה לִפְנֵ֨י הַבַּ֤יִת הַזֶּה֙ וּלְפָנֶ֔יךָ כִּ֥י שִׁמְךָ֖ בַּבַּ֣יִת הַזֶּ֑ה וְנִזְעַ֥ק אֵלֶ֛יךָ מִצָּרָתֵ֖נוּ וְתִשְׁמַ֥ע וְתוֹשִֽׁיעַ׃

See in Aleppo Codex respectively: here (top right column), here (right column) and here (centre of page, first word).

See in Leningrad Codex respectively: here (first row of bottom right column), here (last row of top left block) and here (left column, row 11)

These masoretic notes are usually based on identical pronunciation (here shefot) rather than grammatical considerations. The example in Bereishit 19:9 is pronounced shafot, so it couldn't be listed here. That means the Leningrad Codex either didn't consider the case in Proverbs a kamatz katan or it might be that the masoretic note there is mistaken.

  • Just speculating here: is it possible that the author of the masorah in the Leningrad Codex distinguished between pronunciation of holam and kamatz katan (as is common in ashkenazi pronunciation today)?
    – Joel K
    Jan 12, 2021 at 11:54
  • @JoelK I've been thinking about it a lot, but once I saw a Babylonian manuscript that had the equivalent of cholam at a kamatz katan. So, despite the different tradition, I have doubts about such distinction. And it's also not promising that the MGhK omitted this note. Jan 12, 2021 at 11:57
  • In Tiberian Hebrew, which is reflected in these manuscripts, cholem and kamats katan were pronounced differently. A kamatz katan was pronounced literally as a short kamatz, hence they shared a graphic sign. A kamatz katan was used however in some situations where a cholem became unstressed, e.g. כל with a makkef or שְׁפָט־צֶ֑דֶק above. However, all three instances of שפט included in the answer above are "construct infinitives" of שפט and in that sense are the same word.
    – Argon
    Jan 12, 2021 at 13:46
  • 1
    @user24663 The instance in Proverbs is an imperative, in Ruth it's possessive and in Chronicles it's a noun in my view. Only the pronunciation matters. (This is why Strong's 8196 and 8199 are not distinguished.) Jan 12, 2021 at 14:25
  • 1
    @user24663 Sorry, did not look close enough. Only Ruth has an infinitive, it would seem. Anyways: check out pgs. 262ff, 268ff. It would certainly have been odd for Masoretes to invent a system where hatef patah is a short patah, hatef segol is a short segol, hatef hirik is a short hirik and hatef qamats is a short holem!
    – Argon
    Jan 12, 2021 at 15:07

My understanding here is that the masorah here is relating to the word שְׁפֹט / שְׁפוֹט without any prefixes.

That word does appear only twice in Tanach: here (spelled defective) and plene in II Chronicles 20:9

אִם־תָּב֨וֹא עָלֵ֜ינוּ רָעָ֗ה חֶרֶב֮ שְׁפוֹט֮ וְדֶ֣בֶר וְרָעָב֒ נַֽעַמְדָ֞ה לִפְנֵ֨י הַבַּ֤יִת הַזֶּה֙ וּלְפָנֶ֔יךָ כִּ֥י שִׁמְךָ֖ בַּבַּ֣יִת הַזֶּ֑ה וְנִזְעַ֥ק אֵלֶ֛יךָ מִצָּרָתֵ֖נוּ וְתִשְׁמַ֥ע וְתוֹשִֽׁיעַ׃

where, interestingly, it would seem to be a straightforward noun (equivalent to the word מִשְׁפָּט).

(There also seem to be other versions of the masorah which quote a third instance: the word שְׁפָט appearing in Proverbs 31:9.)

  • Thanks! My source for the other cases of the infinitive treats the case in 2 Chr. 20:9 as a separate lemma, so it didn't show up in my list. Is there any way I could have found it, other than using a modern concordance? It seems slightly odd that the Masoretes would remark that there exists a second instance, but not where to find it.
    – user24663
    Jan 12, 2021 at 12:15
  • 1
    @user24663 Again, this is based on pronunciation rather than grammar, and it is listed in the masorah gedolah of the Aleppo Codex. I couldn't figure out, whether that note was also in the Leningrad Codex. Jan 12, 2021 at 12:19
  • @Kazibácsi Yes, I have read your answer, it was very helpful as I did not expect it to be based on pronounciation. But apart from the case in Proverbs (which indeed has ל for me), how would I have found the reference to 2 Chr. 20:9 from Ruth 1:1?
    – user24663
    Jan 12, 2021 at 12:26
  • 1
    @user Haha! That is the trick! In the codex the note is usually placed only at one of the instances. Therefore, I really recommend using the Mikraot Gedolot haKeter, which lists them all. Jan 12, 2021 at 12:30
  • @Kazibácsi that's... yeah, that's great! In my Bible, the BHS, the reference is given in neither direction (but that's not much less helpful than a reference in one direction). Other bidirectional references are given at both places (e.g. וְתִשְׁמַע in Dt. 32:1 and 2 Chr. 20:9), but I know now that I cannot rely on that. Thanks for the MGhK resource, that will be very helpful!
    – user24663
    Jan 12, 2021 at 12:42

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