The "perakim" (chapters) of tanach were established by non-Jews. Why do we continue to use them? Many of the chapter breaks do not correspond to our petucha/setumah paragraph system, and they often seem arbitrary.

If the answer is simply they are helpful and we've had them for a long time, wouldn't it have made sense for Jews to set up a better system of chapters by now?

Why do we still use the non-Jewish way of delineating chapters in tanach?

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    Old habits die hard.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 14:22
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    @PM - so how would you indicate that you are referring to the "new" (i.e., old) chapter divisions? If you don't, most people will get really confused, which is a hefty price to pay for whatever benefit is gained by using the new system. Even if you are confident that your movement will change the world, it will definitely take time, and you'll also need to deal with several hundred years' worth of seforim (the Vilna Shas, for example) printed according to the old system...
    – Dave
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 16:02
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    @PM This system was created so the Non-Jews could know where their sources were to debate against the Jews the validity of their religion based on our Torah. The system must have worked out since it has been around for well over 1,000 years.
    – user1292
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 16:02
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    Koren has its own chapter division system that's based on the Masoretic paragraph divisions.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 16:03
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    Note that this question only works here to the extent that it's asking, objectively, why the Jews have not adopted a different system to date. To the extent that it's advocating doing so, it's "not constructive" in the SE sense.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 16:05

5 Answers 5



I asked the same question to a local Rabbi not to long ago and he gave me an answer along these lines of

To change the numeration of the Miqra at this point in time would be a costly and troublesome thing to do. Costly because every sepharim publisher would have to stop all their printings in every language and redo all their master copies. Troublesome because it would invalidate (academically speaking) literally hundreds of thousands of sepharim that have references, in many cases it would make cross checking nearly impossible (for example in Shamu'el).

But all that is not to say that it won't happen: in fact it already has. There is the Shiva Le'Bitzaron which seeks to return to the ancient mesora of the text and not the adopted xtian counting. Here is an article and video about it.

Hope that helps.


The first Jew to use chapter/verse was probably Rav Shlomo ben Yishmael (c. 1330), who did it so that the Jews would be able to quickly reply to any argument the Christians made when they quoted chapters and verses in order to do their missionary work.

The non-Jew Daniel Bomber (author of Mikraos Gedolos, 1518) used the chapter/verse system as well. Its editor, Chacham Yaakov ben Chaim, says that he was basing it on another early text and needed to use it so that people would know which pasuk he was referring to. Because of the popularity of Mikraos Gedolos, it has lasted even until now.

Incidentally, Rabbi Pesach Finfer condemned (1903) the system, and insists that it be removed.

Source: http://www.yated.com/content.asp?contentid=178


Koren Tanakhs print both the Christian-derived chapters and the ancient Jewish system of sedarim. It's interesting to see where the sedarim break up differently than the chapters (once a teacher told me that the number is such that if you read one a day, exempting Shabbat, Yom Tov [I think counting one day for Yom Tov as it's an Eretz Yisraeli system] and Tisha B'Av, it takes you throuh Tanakh in one year). However, the presence of both reference numbers on the page is extremely confusing and difficult to follow.


It says in the beginning of Chapter 4 of Pirkei Avot that a wise person who is a person who learns from all other people (not just from rabbis). It is therefore wise to acknowledge the positive aspects of Christianity, and perhaps the Biblical chapter divisions is one of the wisest of these aspects. This is also known as "nullifying the kelipot." It is possible sometimes to find good wine in bad vessels.

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    The number of examples where the chapter divisions are not wisely done would be problematic for you then.
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 1:32
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    @DoubleAA Even where the chapter divisions are not wisely done, we can consider it as what the author of those chapters thought were wisely done, and learn how he understands it from there. But then again, we usually don't look at non-Jewish commentaries to the Torah.
    – b a
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 16:52
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    @ba Assuming that the Divisor was thinking primarily about content and not about length.
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 16:54
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    @DoubleAA He left the chapters of tehilim untouched. He also kept all of the nesi'im at the end of Naso together in one chapter (although we have each nasi as a separate parshah)
    – b a
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 17:07
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    @AdamMosheh It was divided when they added VeLaMalshinim (I think it says that in Brachos somewhere)
    – b a
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 23:44

The Jews used to have a very well designed way, but in Europe when the non-Jews and sometimes the Maskilim would debate with the Jews, the Jews were lost because a priest might call out "Deuteronomy 8:13," and the Jew would have no idea what that meant. So they learned the non-Jewish way and the original version was forgotten. The non-Jews of course had no idea about when the Torah should be broken up, so their system came out crooked. And it is true, some people have tried making their own versions but they have never been accepted by most if not all Jews. I have heard that some Gedolei Hador wanted to make their own but they never got around to it.

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    A few things: (1) What's your source for the idea that Jews adopted the presently-used system so that they could be on the same page, as it were, during disputations? (2) The Haskalah took place hundreds of years after Jews had already adopted the Christian-derived system of chapters. Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 14:56

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