Usually, when writing verses in Tanach Scrolls, words are written across the column from the right margin to the left (except, of course, for required Parsha spacing.)

I have seen two "special" formats:

The "brick" layout, which seems to be reserved for "songs". Examples:

  • Shirat Hayam (Song of the Sea) in Shemot
  • Devorah's song in Shoftim (Judges)
  • David's song in Shmuel II (Samuel II)

The 2 column straight layout. Examples:

  • Ha'azinu near the end of Sefer Devarim (Deut.)
  • Words beginning "To everything there is a time" in Kohelet (Ecclessiastes)
  • List of Haman's 10 sons in Esther
  • Tehillim, Mishlei, and most of Iyov

The 4 column straight layout. Example (the only one?):

  • The kings in Yehoshua

What common theme or criteria are used to decide which layout to use for which of these areas?

From what I can tell, the "brick" layout seems to reserved for "songs", though ha'azinu is called a "song" and it has the 2 column layout.

Why are these specific layouts appropriate for these areas? (I.e. - why choose one layout vs. the other?) Why does it get any layout at all? Why not leave the writing straight across as with everything else?

  • The kings in Yehoshua get a 4 column straight layout.
    – Heshy
    Sep 17, 2018 at 15:25
  • Using the brick layout for David's song is a modern innovation to make it be more song like. In all old manuscripts and early printings it's two columns like Haazinu. It's really just Devorah and Az Yashir have one type, and everything else is another.
    – Double AA
    Sep 17, 2018 at 15:44
  • SA YD 275:3 seems to hold (unless I’m misreading it) that while it’s passul if you write a shirah as an ordinary parshah, it’s kasher if you write it using the wrong shirah format. Take a look at §4-5 where he discusses Shiras HaYam and Shiras Haazinu.
    – DonielF
    Sep 17, 2018 at 15:45
  • Similar judaism.stackexchange.com/a/91846/759
    – Double AA
    Sep 17, 2018 at 15:46
  • @doniel he says explicitly you have to keep the right format אם שינה בפיזור ממה שנהגו לא פסל ובלבד שיהא אריח על גבי לבינה
    – Double AA
    Sep 17, 2018 at 15:49

2 Answers 2


When looking at sources from חז"ל regarding שירה sections and which get special formats, all of the sections above are mentioned except for the section in קהלת.

מסכת סופרים

1:10 - האזינו השמים שעשאה שירה, שירה שעשאה האזינו, רצוף שעשאה מסורג, מסורג שעשאה רצוף, או שעשאה את המסורג שלא כהלכתו: אל יקרא בו

12:10 - ר' זעירא רבי ירמיה בשם רב אמר שירת הים ושירת דבורה נכתבות אריח על גבי לבינה ולבינה על גבי אריח:

13:1 - אבל בשירת דוד שבשמואל ובתלים לא נתנו חכמים שיעור אבל לבלר מובהק מרצפן במפתחות באותיות וסוף וכן תהלים כולו ואיוב ומשלי:

13:3 - עשרת בני המן ומלכי כנען נכתבין אריח על גבי אריח ולבינה על לבינה כל בנין כדן לא קאים מאי כדין למצוה לעיכוב:

גמ' מגילה טז ע"ב

אמר רבי חנינא בר פפא, דרש רבי שילא איש כפר תמרתא: כל השירות כולן נכתבות אריח על גבי לבינה ולבינה על גבי אריח, חוץ משירה זו ומלכי כנען שאריח על גבי אריח ולבינה על גבי לבינה. מאי טעמא? שלא תהא תקומה למפלתן.

The summary we get from this is that:

  1. Sofrim 12:10 indicates that שירת הים and שירת דבורה get the "brick layout" / אריח על גבי לבינה
  2. Sofrim 13:3 indicates that בני המן and מלכי כנען get the "straight layout" / אריח על גבי אריח
  3. Sofrim 13:1 mentions that the חכמים left the decision in the hands of expert sofrim to configure שירת דוד and the ספרי אמ"ת as they see fit
  4. Sofrim 1:10 seems to imply that האזינו doesn't get the format of a normal שירה but also doesn't get the format of a regular section of the Torah
  5. Megilla 16b implies that any shira that doesn't contain the sole theme of a downfall for רשעים has potential to get a "brick format"

Related reasons given for the occasions with a "straight layout" are given in:

  • Sofrim 13:3 "a building like such can not last" (ie. it won't be a stable structure)
  • Megilla 16b "in the downfall (of evildoers) don't give a chance for rising up"

It seems to be the consensus among the ראשונים that האזינו also gets the "straight layout" for these reasons since it describes the downfall of evildoers.

See this article where in its section on האזינו, brings the opinions of the Ran, Mordechai, Rabbeinu Tam, Ritva and Meiri as to how this reasoning fits in.

See the section starting on page 15 in particular for האזינו in this lengthy article on aspects of שירה in general. There it offers the interesting possibility for the reason that in the Aleppo Codex (see the opening section of האזינו in the image below) that while there's an empty gap in the middle of all the rows, their inside edges are not evenly vertically aligned (unlike most ספרי תורה we have which are neatly aligned) that since the sins of כלל ישראל are also mentioned in שירת האזינו and the little bumps jutting out of the wall are to give opportunities for חוטאי ישראל to return from a downfall.

enter image description here

The reason that a שירה in general gets a different format from the rest of כתבי קודש can be due to what's mentioned in an earlier answer on this page, that it was done on merely in order to give a שירה a distinct look. But also see the lengthy article mentioned above which should discuss this.


Rabbi Mordechai Breuer dedicated an entire chapter to subject of shirot in Tanach in his book "כתר ארם צובה והנוסח המקובל של המקרא" (can be found in Otzar Hachochmah). It's important to note that there are differences, sometimes significant, between various manuscripts we have in terms of how each scribe wrote each song or song-like section.

He concludes from his analysis of the manuscripts1 and the differing views in the gemara that the key factor in deciding how to write the song section is the internal division of each of the verses of that section - how many groupings of words are there in a verse, and how many words in each grouping. The differences between manuscripts he puts down to there being no halachic need to write in any particular song-format; the scribe just had to follow his tradition of פתוחות and סתומות, and to make sure that internal verse division still made sense to some extent, as he saw fit. In other words, in most cases, it was up to the scribe to decide the exact format.

As for why not just write straight across, it seems that it was obvious to the ancient scribes that songs should be written in a special format, likely to emphasize that they were to be read as songs. Later on, as internal structural divisions in other lists in the Tanach became more apparent to the scribes, they were also written in special format - though what that format was exactly depended on the choice of the scribe.

1 He examined eight manuscripts, plus compared the original Mikraot Gedolot from Venice, and a few other editions of Tanach.

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