[b-hebrew] Lev 13:33

Gerrit de Blaauw g.de.blaauw2 at chello.nl
Fri Aug 6 10:05:58 EDT 2004

Bill Rea wrote:
> B-Hebrewers,
> In the first word of Leviticus 13:33, hithgallach, there is a
> very large gimel. Can anyone enlighten me as to why the gimel
> is of exaggerated size within a word which essentially means
> to shave?


Although I have no expertise whatsoever on the matter (still working my
way through Kelley), I'll share what I found on the magic Web, seeing
that no other replies are forthcoming (maybe because you set a Reply-To
your own email address?). The question seemed interesting enough to do
some Googleing.
Here are a few quotations from the sites I found; I refer you to the
links for a fuller discussion of the "unusual letters" in Tanak:

"Many apparent puerilities, such as the counting of letters and the
marking of the middle point of books, had a practical use in enabling
copyists of MSS. to determine the amount of work done. The registration
of anomalies, such as the suspended letters, inverted nuns and larger
letters, enabled any one to test the accuracy of a copy." (Enc. Brit.

"The Encyclopedia Judaica tells us that there are 17 places in the Torah
where a letter is written extra-large or extra-small: the scribal
terminology is majuscule and miniscule. There are six miniscules and
eleven majuscules. For example, the first letter in the Torah, the beth
in the word bereshit, is a majuscule (this is probably the origin of the
illuminated capital of medieval manuscripts). The most famous majuscules
are certainly the ones from the Shema in Deut 6:4. In this case, the
letters are large to avoid confusion: a large ayin in the word shema to
avoid confusion with aleph: 'perhaps O Israel.' The large daleth to
avoid confusion with resh: 'the Lord is another'. ... The large letters
are used mainly to call attention to certain Talmudic and midrashic
homilies and citations, or as guards against errors."

"The middle word of the Torah is said to be v'hitgaleach (Lev 13:33)
'and he will be shaven' and thus the gimel is enlarged."

"And this is the language of the Talmud in Kidushin 30a:
'Therefore the first ones were called Soferim, for they counted every
letter in the Pentateuch, for they said the vav of Gachon (Leviticus
11:42) is the middle of the letters of the Pentateuch scroll, darosh
darash (Leviticus 10:16) is the middle of the words, and v'hitgalach
(Leviticus 13:33) is the middle of the verses, yecharsemena chazir
mi'yaar (Psalms 80:14) - the ayin of ya'ar is the middle of Psalms, v'hu
rachum yechaper avon (Psalms 78:38) is the middle of the verses.'"
(From an extensive study of the theory of "middles", On the Number of
Words, Verses and Letters in the Bible, by Menachem Cohen (Bar-Ilan
University); an interesting paper that can be found at

On a lighter note:

"In the parshah of tzora'as in the place of hair, the Torah writes
"ve'Hisgalach" (13:33), 'And he shall shave', with a big 'gimel'. This
is a hint, explains the Ba'al ha'Turim, to the three people who require
all the hair on their body to be shaved - a nozir, a metzora and the
Levi'im (on the day that they were inaugurated)."

"Even more clever was a tradition ascribed to Rabbi Isaac Luria himself,
based on the Torah's procedures for purifying one afflicted with a skin
disease. At a certain stage in the process, the Torah (Leviticus 13:33)
requires that the patient's hair be shaved. The Hebrew word for "shave"
[vehitgaleah] is standardly written with an oversized gimel, a letter
that has the numerical value of three. This calligraphic peculiarity was
seized upon as a biblical mandate for the practice of cutting a the hair
of three-year-old boys!"


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