Why are there tags and crowns on some of the letters in the Torah tefillin and mezuzot?
The source for this is explained in the Gemora in Menachot chof tet: Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Rav, "When Moshe ascended on high he found the Holy One, blessed be He, engaged in affixing crowns to the letters (of the Torah). Said Moshe, 'L-rd of the Universe, who stays Thy hand?'
He answered, 'There will arise a man, at the end of many generations, Akiva ben Yosef by name, who will expound upon each point (in every crown) multitudes and multitudes of laws.'
There are secrets here that Rabbi Akiva was entrusted with, as he was the only one who exited safely from the parde”s (Hebrew acronym for: pshat = literal meaning, remez = hint, drash = homiletic/ sermonizing interpretation, and sode = implication). In any case, the tags are an inseparable element of the halachic laws of the STAM.
What are the tags and where do they appear?
Is their use mandatory?
Tags consist of three thin lines, the tip of each has a small circle, placed like flags at the top of the letter. On the letters shin ayin tzaddik and tet, the tags will be above the left of the handle of the letter. Since the tags are part of the letter, they must be attached to the “roof” of the letter, and care should be taken that they do not touch each other. While the absence of tags does not invalidate, it does require correction in both tefillin and mezuzot. This involves a special halacha to be explained forthwith.
One can tag the letters, both in tefillin and in mezuzot, after completing the writing, although their writing must be done consecutively, or, in halachic jargon, “in the proper (chronological) order”.
A sefer Torah that is known to be missing tags cannot be read from, but if tags are found to be missing during reading, the Torah does not have to be switched in order to complete the reading.
In any case, one must insist that every piece written by the sofer STAM contains the necessary tags. If we find that the mezuzah or the portions in the tefillin are missing tags, these must be added.
Following are the letters that must be tagged with crowns, as specified in the Tractate Menachot 29: shin ayin tet nun zayin gimmel and tzaddik sofit.
Every so often, the tags of the letter zayin are close to each other and sometimes even touch each other, forming the letter chet, because the letter chet when written in the sefer Torah or tefillin or mezuzot looks like two zayins attached by a small bridge above them, thus: ח. This can occur, for instance, in the word mezuzot. In tefillin and mezuzot this condition would invalidate the letter and it cannot be corrected.
There are sofrim (scribes) who make the three tags to look like the letter shin, or who draw them hanging in the air. This situation is worse than not having any tags at all, because it is as if additional letters have been added to the text.
In the letters bet, dalet, kuf, chet, yud and heh, it is customary to make a single tag. The absence of these tags lowers the quality of the article.
The remaining letters, men, lamed, aleph, chof, tav, samech, vav, peh and reish, do not have tags.
An additional acceptable “decoration,” in Ashkenazic practice, is to write a single or a double skelf (calligraphic ornament) on the letter lamed.
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The letters figure in Stam , ashkenazic,Sefaradic,Chasidik.To enlarge, click here
A very nice Stam writing.To enlarge, click here