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Halachically is ש a single letter with two pronunciations or are there 2 different letters in the Hebrew alphabet (shin and cin) which happen to be draw the same in the torah, have the same gematria etc. For example if the wrong letter is used in a legal document would the document validity be in question? Or if a scribe writing a torah intends to write a cin instead of a shin for God's name (sha-kai).

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  • I am not sure what halachic ramification there could be. They do have the same gematriya, but gemattriya isnt really halachic. – mevaqesh Aug 10 '15 at 0:53
  • Like @mevaqesh, I don't know what you mean by "halachically". Can you clarify by means of an edit to the question, please? – msh210 Aug 10 '15 at 1:04
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    @DanF to be accurate (what others call nitpicky) that doesnt prove the existence of halachic letter differentiation. One could have the same issue with, for example, two words with identical spellings, but different vowels. – mevaqesh Aug 10 '15 at 1:22
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    "For example if the wrong letter is used in a legal document would the document validity be in question" In general the validity of documents, e.g. an IOU is dependent on a person being able to understand it. Thus, if one substituted a shin for a sin, it would be fine, as long as it is understandable. The exception is gittin; divorce documents which must be written correctly. They are not writtn with nekudot so I am not sure how anyone would know. If they did write in nekudot they might have a problem. But, that wouldnt necessarily be that the wrong letter was used halachicaly, but rather – mevaqesh Aug 10 '15 at 1:29
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    That a different person has been identified. E.g. calling "shimon" "Simon" this is a different name, because it is a different name, not because the letters have discrete halachic identities (I think that makes sense). – mevaqesh Aug 10 '15 at 1:30
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Torah, mezuzot and tefillin, or legal documents are written without nekudot (vowels). This includes the dot of the shin/sin. So there would be no halachic difference, being that there's no difference of the letter.

This is only for writing. When praying, reading the Torah, etc., you'll need to say it correctly.

Edit: I just realised that you wrote 'intends' for the Torah. I never heard of a sofer needing to know how the word is pronounced before writing it. As long as he writes it correctly, and his intention is l'shem mitzvah, I don't see why there should any problem.

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  • I have seen a legal document (ketuba) where cin and shin are clearly delineated (name of the town, and name of a witness). Also, now that you mentioned it and i'm curious what is the name of the nekuda that is used to differentiate between these two letters? – rikitikitembo Aug 10 '15 at 10:41
  • @rikitikitembo Interesting. Not usually the case, AFAIK. I don't think it has a name, just shin or sin. – user613 Aug 10 '15 at 10:45
  • @rikitikitembo, according to the preface in the Koren Jerusalem Bible, it is merely referred to as a "shin/sin dot" – Noach MiFrankfurt Aug 10 '15 at 11:55
  • As a Ba'al Kri'ah (Torah reader), I am curious if you can further support the claim in the last paragraph. I am not as concerned about pronumciation, per se. But, I think I read that a sofer must be fully aware of each word that he writes, which may imply that he needs to know its meaning. There are cases where a shin vs. sin (or vice versa) changes the word meaning. If, in fact, the sofer must be aware of the exact word he's writing, than he may have the wrong intent. – DanF Aug 10 '15 at 14:17
  • Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32(30) says that someone who cannot read, may not be a sofer. The nosei keilim say he will easily make mistakes and not realize it. I don't see why that would require the sofer to know much about the meaning, just that he recognizes the word. – MichoelR Jan 4 at 17:15
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I'm skipping the "halachically" part of the question, which others answered well, and just discussing whether they are two letters or one.
Yoma 75b "The word quail is written shlav, with the letter shin, but we read it as slav, with the letter samekh. What does this teach us?..." The gemara treats it as a kri/ksiv, as if the real letter is a shin, except - it is [always] pronounced as a S.
Similarly: Sanhedrin 70a “'And wine that gladdens the heart of man' (Psalms 104:15). The word for gladdens is written yeshamaḥ, meaning that wine makes one crazy, but we read it as yesamaḥ, gladdens the heart, meaning..."
And Sotah 3a: 'Reish Lakish says: A man commits a transgression only if a spirit of folly [shetut] enters him, as it is stated: “If any man’s wife goes aside [tisteh]” (Numbers 5:12). The word tisteh is written with the Hebrew letter shin...'
These examples make it sound like any sin is really a shin, only it is [always for that root] read differently.
Note that these are different from the more common ___ אל תקרי ___ אלא , "Don't read it ___, but as ___", where we are comparing an alternate reading with the standard reading (i.e., vowels).

Note also that for many piyutim that are in alphabetical order, the letter Sin appears in the place for Samech. (I do not think this ever happens in Tanach; see for example Psalm 119.)

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  • These are aggadic drashos, where we can change שטחו to שחטו, as in Sanhedrin there. So I don't think this is a proof. – Mordechai Jan 4 at 23:38
  • Not proof, no. Interesting indications. – MichoelR Jan 4 at 23:42
  • But Mordechai, aggadic drashos are awesome. I think you get a picture from them of Chazal's take on a topic. – MichoelR Jan 5 at 14:30
  • Aggadic drashos are קדוש ונורא, and חס ושלום for me to say a word against them. I just don't think they are relevant to the question. – Mordechai Jan 6 at 12:53
  • I guess that depends on the question. Asking about halachically being two different letters. I think the right answer was given: What exactly are you asking? Some people talked about what the sofer is thinking, and I think the right answer was given to that as well: It doesn't matter, except for obscure issues of shemos kedoshim. – MichoelR Jan 7 at 2:42

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