Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The number of letters and Pesukim in the Torah

The Gemara in Kiddushin (30) gives the following numbers/count:

The early Chachamim were called Sofrim (counters), for they would count all letters of the Torah:

1.The Vav of "Gachon" is the middle letter of the Torah;
2."Darash Darash" are the middle words;
3."V'Hisgalach" is the middle verse;
4.The Ayin of "mi'Ya'ar" is the middle letter of Tehilim.
5."V'Hu Rachum" is the middle verse of Tehilim.
6. There are 5,888 verses in the Torah.
7. Tehilim has eight additional verses [more then the Torah]
8. Divrei ha'Yamim lacks eight verses [less then the Torah].

Unfortunately, every single one of these is incorrect.

1. There are 304,805 letters in the Torah. The Vav of "Gachon" is not the midpoint letter (letter number 152,403). Rather, it appears nearly 5,000 letters later (letter number 157,336)!
2. The number of words in the Torah is 79890, and therefore the middle words would be 39990, 39991, however, Darash Darash areactually words 40921 and 40921
3. The middle verse is actually 160 pesukim before this (ויקרא ח,ח)
4. This is incorrect as well
5. The accepted number of pesukim in Tehllim is 2,527, the middle pasuk would be 1264, which is pasuk
 ויפתוהו בפיהם ובלשונם יכזבו לו
6. There are only 5845 pesukim in the Torah
7. As mentioned in 5 there are only 2527 pesukim in Tehillim less then half the number of pesukim in 
the Torah, even Tosfos cannot fathom how there can be so many verses in Tehilim. 
8. Divrei ha'Yamim has only about a third as many pesukim as the Torah

There are various answers to these problems (some more clever then others) none of them very satisfying. 


  1. Either they miscounted, or more likely, they had different versions. Tehillim is a collection of collections of poems. Perhaps at one point, it was much longer, with the collections inserted one after the other with no editing, and at some point someone went through it and removed most of the ones that were pretty much the same (though they missed one).

    What are the traditional answers?

    1. Traditional answers look something like, the vav of gahon is the middle of all the big and small letters in the Torah, not all leters total, and darosh darash is the middle of all the double words in the torah. These answers are bad.

      If you're interested, I wrote about this in more depth here: http://kefirahoftheweek.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-center-of-torah.html

      I don't actually think that having different versions explains the discrepancies well at all. I think it's much more likely to be explained by laziness. Someone told the Rabbis that this was where the middle was, and they just believed it.

  2. Do you have any suggestions. This has always seemed a real enigma to me. Surely the version of the Torah held by the amoraim could not be that different to ours (3% more letters etc.) as we would see that in the many many quotes throughout the talmud.

    I do remember once hearing that the mid-points are not the mid points of the actual letters of the torah etc. but rather e.g. darosh darash is the middle example of repeted words in the torah. It may not seem satisfying, but to me does at least smell of cryptic talmudic logic.

  3. Here is a very detailed analysis of the topic, along with some convoluted explanations of the Gemara: http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%205%20Epstein.pdf

  4. I wrote about this topic here: http://kefirahoftheweek.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-center-of-torah.html