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Someone told me that before Ezra Hasofer the Torahs did not have spaces (he said that according to some opinions not even between words).

It was just given over when learned where the parshas (paragraphs) were and if they were setuma (now Separated by a space) or pesucha (now on a separate line).

I am looking for sources for this (if it is true) and other opinions on this matter.

Related: Which alphabet were the original Torah scrolls in?

I always thought that the Torah was given on Har Sinai with the spaces.

Even though I showed him Rambam Hilchot Tefilin 7:11 he still said that it was Ezrah who decided for there to be spaces.

וכל הדברים האלו למצוה מן המובחר ואם שינה לא פסל. אבל אם כתב המלא חסר או החסר מלא. או שכתב מלה שהיא קרי וכתב כקריאתה כגון שכתב ישכבנה במקום ישגלנה ובטחורים במקום ובעפולים וכיוצא בהן. או שכתב פרשה פתוחה סתומה או סתומה פתוחה. או שכתב השירה כשאר הכתב. או שכתב פרשה אחת כשירה הרי זה פסול ואין בו קדושת ספר תורה כלל אלא כחומש מן החומשין שמלמדין בה התינוקות

From http://m.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/925429/jewish/Tefillin-Mezuzah-and-Sefer-Torah-Chapter-Seven.htm

All the above matters [were mentioned] only because this is the most perfect way of performing the mitzvah. If one deviated from them, [the scroll] is not disqualified. In contrast, if one wrote the short form of a word that should be spelled using a long form, or the long form of one that should be spelled using a short form, [the scroll] is disqualified. [The same ruling applies if, in circumstances where one word is written in the Torah scroll and a different word is read] - e.g.,yishkavenah is read instead of yishgalenah (Deuteronomy 28:30), and uvat'chorim is read instead of uva'folim (Deuteronomy 28:27) - one writes the word that is read [instead of the word that is written]. Similarly, if one wrote a passage that should be p'tuchah as s'tumah, or one that should be s'tumah as p'tuchah, or if one wrote another passage from the Torah in the form of one of the songs, or wrote one of the songs in the form of another passage, [the scroll is disqualified]. It does not have the holiness of a Torah scroll and, instead, is considered as one of the chumashim from which children are taught.

3 Answers 3

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This video references what may be the source of this misconception:

הקדמת רמב"ן לספר בראשית

שהיתה הכתיבה רצופה בלי הפסק תיבות, והיה אפשר בקריאתה שתקרא על דרך השמות, ותקרא על דרך קריאתנו בענין התורה והמצוה, ונתנה למשה רבינו על דרך קריאת המצות, ונמסר לו על פה קריאתה בשמות

My translation attempt:

The writing was continous without spaces, so it was possible [to put the spaces and thus] to read it as names or as the Torah and the Mitzvah. And, it was given to Moshe Rabbeinu with the spaces for the mitzvot, and how to read the names was transmitted to him orally.

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  • The emphasis being that how it was transmitted to Moshe was in a continuous stream of letters, but there were auditory and visual elements to the revelation. This is also what is described at the 10 commandments. Senses of sound & sight were reversed & they heard the entire 10 commandments directly from G-d in a single word. See the Mechilta on this and also Lecha Dodi. Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 22:51
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I will have to dig up the exact video; but, HaRav Zamir Kohen of Hidabroot touched on this exact question. He said that, in fact, the Torah was given to Moshe without spaces. And that, when HaShem wanted to reveal a certain part of the Torah to Moshe and Bene'i Yisra'el, He would tell Moshe where to place spaces in order for the strings of letters to forms words and concepts.

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I've been to Israel and looked at several ancient Hebrew writings and can share the following.

The Paleo Hebrew script does not have special ending letters. Not only that, they will skip to the next line right in the middle of a word. It is SO much more difficult to read a text this way. And if I had to guess as to one of the major reasons the Jews adopted the Ashurit font is because it has final ending letters. These final endings letters are usually the most common ending letters for words, whether they be nouns or verb conjugations. By having mem-sofit, nun sofit, kaf sofit, etc. you are able to read a text that has no spaces much easier. Even today we have proven that in modern languages most people read words by quickly reading the first letter and last letter of a word

"Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

This paragraph was circulated on the Internet several years ago. The phenomenon it describes, known as typoglycemia, is the ability to understand words when the first and last letters are stable, but the intermediate letters are scrambled. Your brain puts the letters back into a sequence again.

According to Ashwini Nadkarni, MD, director of Digital Integrated Care in Psychiatry and Instructor at Harvard Medical School, typoglycemia is a neologism (a newly coined word) made up from the prefix “typo” and the suffix “glycemia.” Typoglycemia enables us to recognize words by matching inner letter content guided by a few clues, such as exterior letters. “As long as the exterior letters of the words remain the same, typoglycemia captures our preserved ability to comprehend them,” she says. "

Source: https://observer.com/2017/03/chunking-typoglycemia-brain-consume-information/

When you have the ending letters of "ךםןףץ" you are able to quickly identify first letters and last letters of words when there are no spaces. "בניםשלךבחוץ" . In this sentence with no spaces you can quickly tell the first word ends with mem, and the next word begins with shin. You can also quickly tell the word that begins with shin ands with khaf, and that the last word begins with bet and ends with tzaddi all because of those ending letters.

Therefore my argument is as follows. The Torah was originally Given in K'tav Ivri, which most semitic cultures in the time and area used without any kind of spacing. When the Jews went to Babylon and were introduced to the Ashurit script that contains ending letters, they adopted it because it made literacy much easier for most people. By adopting Ashurit they opened the door for more people to be able to read and understand the Torah, not just a specific scholar or scribal class. And then as time went on, as most languages started adding spaces, Jews themselves also started adding spaces, even though it makes the final letters superfluous now.

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  • Why only the letters מנצפכ?
    – shmosel
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 21:46
  • Not being an Aramaic language expert I would assume in the Aramaic language used by Jews in Babylon and in Israel often had those words as the most common endings. It's worth noting we have Old Aramaic texts that look like Ktav Ivri, and we have Aramaic texts that are entirely different fonts altogether such as the aramaic of Pamyra,
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 22:23
  • @shmosel if you want to see the many different forms of Aramaic and how they were written, this is a great collection: mnamon.sns.it/index.php?page=Esempi&id=2&lang=en#232
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 22:23
  • As you can see from your link, Aramaic already had a word separator long ago, even in the paleo-Hebrew script, so why was this an issue?
    – magicker72
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 22:28
  • The five final letters together represent about 25% of all word endings in Tanakh (sorry the denominator of my previous comment was wrong). It's higher than proportional for 5 letters, but still not super high. Although ם is the top word ender, the next highest from the five is in 8th place.
    – magicker72
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 22:35

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