I have been looking at photos of old (pre-1300'sCE) Torah scroll fragments, most notably the Song of The Sea pictures of the 700-800CE Ashkar-Gilson fragment and the 1150-1225CE Bologna complete scroll at the end of this article. The Ashkar-Gilson fragment has been described as part of a "model scroll" for the Massoretes a little later on, mainly due to its arrangement of the Song. Both those examples, however, have Chets that are extremely difficult to tell from Hays-or maybe more properly stated as the reverse, since the Hays look more like Chets. I've noticed the same thing in the Aleppo and Leningrad Codexes(never mind the Dead Sea Scrolls), but those weren't meant for public reading like official Torah scrolls are. I don't know when the "ask a child when letter identity is in doubt" rule took effect, but it seems like the kids were kept pretty busy until around the 1400's, when it looks like the problem was fixed by making the Chets look like bridged Vavs/Zayins, and detaching the left leg of the Hays.

So how/when/by whom did this change occur and spread to become the norm, and make the kid's(and sofer's?) lives easier?

Here's part of the Song from the Askar-Gilson fragment using infrared for clarity:

Infrared photo of part of the Askar=Gilson Manuscript

And here's the Perani photo of the Song from the Bologna Scroll: Perani pic

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    Even until modern times there were Edot haMizrah Torah scrolls that have Chet's that look like hei's. I've got a Tunisian Scroll with a normal Chet. And I've got an Italian scroll with a normal Chet
    – Aaron
    Dec 24, 2016 at 6:15
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    Look carefully...The difference in the chet and hei in many of the examples you pointed it is the placement of the left "regel" of the letter. In the case of a Chet the regel is all the way to the left coming down from the "gag". In a Hei however it's somewhat on the inside towards the right.
    – Yehoshua
    Dec 24, 2016 at 18:53
  • @Yehoshua - You're right! That sort of helps--definitely a noticeable but very subtle difference..that seems to go way back to some of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nash papyrus. Maybe it was obvious to leiners of those times, but it's hard for my eyes. Making sure the Hay's left leg's not connected to the top piece seems easier, though-or bridging the top bar of the Chet--or both, as they seem to have ended up doing. Maybe there's an expert paleographer here somewhere that can clear up the history of the forms. It's much easier to tell the difference in Ktav Ivri than Ktav Ashuri, btw.
    – Gary
    Dec 24, 2016 at 21:32
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    The classic difference is if the leg a pushes through the roof, called חוטר
    – Double AA
    Dec 24, 2016 at 23:29
  • @Yehoshua If I understand what you're saying about the regel of chet and hei, it's not universal. This Italian scroll (no more than 200 years old) has the regels both being mostly to the left, as well as the tagin: drive.google.com/…
    – Aaron
    Dec 25, 2016 at 3:00

1 Answer 1


I believe that it is a machlokes between Rashi and Tosefos in tractate menachos 29b how a ches looks. Tosefos prints a picture of each way. Rashi has a flat roof with a projection above the left leg. Meiri in kiryat sefer mamar bais chelek alef and talmidie rabinu yona at the beginning of the second perek of brachos have a flat roof with a projection upward in the middle of the roof. Tosefos in the name of rabbeinu tam, the yereim 399, rosh in hilchos sefer torah have a ches made of two zayins

Rashi and rabbeinu tam are early rishonim, Rashi died in 1104 and RT in 1171, so the double zayins would have to be at least that old, and not as late as the 1400s as the OP states.

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    You need to add a little description as to where you saw this. Jan 18, 2017 at 3:16
  • Indeed, sabbahillel. Did any fragments between their days and the 1400's survive(pretty much miraculously, given the conditions) that used the double zayins?
    – Gary
    Jan 31, 2017 at 19:08
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    The Nabatæan Aramaic alef-beit has a ח which adheres to R' Tam's shitta, despite predating him by several hundred years en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabataean_alphabet May 18, 2017 at 14:04
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    @NoachMiFrankfurt - Good find! Now all we need are some old Nabatean Torah scraps:)
    – Gary
    May 19, 2017 at 2:02

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