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There are two Hebrew words used regarding counting:

מונה as a form, the 10 people minimum needed to say Kaddish, etc. is called a מנין.

סופר as a form as in ספירת העומר .

This past Shabbat, my rav gave a "midrash" on why we call it ספירת העומר and not מנין העומר . I am seeking a more generalized, prefereably non "midrashic" explanation on the difference and nuances in meaning between these two words, as they are used in Tanac"h and / or halacha.

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    Paging R' Hirsch ... R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, would you please check in at the words tag? Your assistance is needed. ... – Isaac Moses May 7 '18 at 16:57
  • In the meanwhile, this is certainly thorough: img.tapuz.co.il/forums/22919196.doc “ספירה ומניה” – Dr. Shmuel May 7 '18 at 17:01
  • I’ll see if I can find my R’ Hirsch dictionary. In the meantime, note that the word סופר also means to tell a story, or to scribe. To further complicate things, note the passuk מונה מספר לכוכבים. – DonielF May 7 '18 at 17:51
  • @DonielF That was the exact pasuk I was thinking of. I'm thinking, offhand, that in view of that verse, מספר gives credit to each individual number whereas מונה is viewing that number in tersm of its position to the final count. – DanF May 7 '18 at 18:10
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    @DanF Not bad. To support that, the סופרים were called as such because they tallied up the letters and pesukim in the Torah and other Sefarim (Kiddushin 30a). – DonielF May 7 '18 at 18:12
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Ibn Ezra on Tehillim 147:4

סופר refers to the individual number, whereas מונה refers to the number in relation to the final count.

My analysis:

This would explain why it is called a מנין. We are counting each person in relation to the final total of 10. Less than that, doesn't mean anything, as we can't say Kaddish, etc. We need to reach the goal of 10.

ספירת העומר - We know that each day has its own counting. Apparently, it seems that each day has its own importance, and it seems to imply that each day when we count, we have a separate mitzvah. See this M.Y. question that I asked a while ago, regarding this concept.


Of curiosity of the use of סופר is Breishit 41:49 which uses this word in the context of Yosef counting how much grain he stored. The word makes sense, here, because he was trying to come up with an exact number. He didn't know what the total was beforehand. The verse says that "He gathered so much grain that he stopped counting because there was no number!" What does it mean to "not have a number?" See Siftei Chachamim #6 on this verse.

  • R’ Hirsch seems to say the opposite, interestingly. מנה means to “apportion, divide and limit,” while ספר means to “combine separate items, tally sums.” – DonielF May 7 '18 at 21:02
  • @DonielF I think you should make that an answer. After all, there's enough room for both of them to be right. – DanF May 7 '18 at 21:17
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    @DonielF when you said " מנה means to “apportion," were you alluding to the rootword (noun) מנה, meaning a portion, as in משלוח מנות? – RibbisRabbiAndMore May 7 '18 at 21:20
  • @RibbisRabbiAndMore מנה and ספר are both the root words. So yes, מנין and מנות come from the same word. – DonielF May 7 '18 at 21:22
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    Maybe the word "מין" - a kind or type or species- is also related to that, since that is also a type of "dividing and portioning". – RibbisRabbiAndMore May 7 '18 at 21:50
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S. D. Luzzatto differentiates between the two (Iggros Shadal here) in that מספר is when the count is minor and מונה is when the count is major.

In his Bet HaOtzar (vol. 2 pg. 194) he repeats this differentiation but embellishes a bit and quotes Ibn Ezra on Gen. 34:30 (not the source quoted in DanF's answer) who appears to draw this distinction too.

On a related note, R. Abraham Bedersi (Chotem Tochnit pg. 143) submits that מונה is a cognate of מנה (share/portion) and the former is used in the context of counting a divisible entity, rendering it a "portion".

  • What do minor and major mean here? – Double AA May 10 '18 at 0:55
  • @DoubleAA I understand Shadal to be speaking of im/measurable counts; quantitively. – Oliver May 10 '18 at 1:55
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In this essay (also published here), I offered several different ways of differentiating between sofer/mispar and moneh/minyan:

  1. The Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) explains that minyan is a general count, while mispar refers to the specific number in the count.
  2. Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) writes the word moneh is related to the word maneh, which means, “a respectable portion”. Thus, the connotation of the word moneh is that whatever is included in the set that is counted must be something respectable or important — something worth counting. In contrast, the word mispar also means “number,” but especially connotes the use of a number as a limit... For this reason the Aramaic word for a nation’s border is sfar (which limits a nation’s territorial domain), and the Aramaic word for barber is sapar (because by giving his client a haircut, he limits the growth of his hair). By this rubric, Rabbi Mecklenburg explains that Sefirat Ha’Omer uses the word sefirah because wording of that commandment reads: “Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count.” The verb “to count” in this context is being limited to forty-nine days, so the word used is sefirah instead of moneh.
  3. Additionally, Rabbi Mecklenberg suggests that the counting of sefirah differs from the counting of moneh in that the latter is simply the counting of numbers, while the former denotes something extra deliberately done or required to mark each unit. Sefirah is not just a count of quantity, but a count of quality as well. The goal of a sefirah-type counting is not just to count the raw numbers, but to also qualitatively improve oneself, to cleanse oneself of impurities. He connects the word sefirah to the Hebrew word sapir (“sapphire” in English) in that sefirah cleanses a person, just as a precious gem is free from impurities.

SOURCE: What's in a Word?, "When Just Counting Doesn't Count"

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