Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 23 February 2013 / 12 Adar I 5773

Megillah Mysteries: Situations of Spacing

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Can you feel Purim just around the corner? Who isn’t eagerly anticipating this annual Yom Tov extravaganza, featuring joyous dancing, Mishloach Manos, colorful costumes, and of course, the Megillah reading? This timeless scroll describes in detail the incredible turnabout how the Jewish nation was saved from the scheming machinations of the wicked and contemptible Haman by the self-sacrifice of the noble and courageous Queen Esther and the brave and righteous Mordechai.

Hang ‘Em High!

One of the highlights of the Megillah reading is the breathless recitation of the despicable Ten Sons of Haman getting their just deserts, swaying in the breeze, all in a straight line[1], at the end of the hangman’s noose[2]. In fact, this exceptional passage has an exclusive set of halachos pertaining to it[3].

The Gemara explains that since this passage refers to the downfall of the wicked, it must be written in a manner found in only one other place throughout Tanach[4], referred to as ‘ariach al gabei ariach andlevina al gabei levina’ (more on this soon). The Tur and Shulchan Aruch[5] rule that when writing a Megillah, a sofer must put in adequate spacing between the words listing the names of the ten sons of Haman. If not, it will invalidate the entire Megillah, rendering it unfit for use.

Double or Nothing?

The Mishna Berura[6], when explaining this halacha, cryptically states simply three words: “Kiflayim Min HaKsav”, or double the size of the script. His intent seems to be to rule that in order for a Megillah to be considered kosher, the amount of spacing needed in the column dealing with the Ten Sons of Haman is double the size of the print next to it.

‘O.K.”, one might say, “that’s nice, no big deal; isn’t that standard in all Megillos?” The resounding answer is No! In fact, over 90% of all Megillos do not meet this requirement! But before we entertain the possibility that the majority of Megillos in the world are pasul according to the Mishna Berura, some background is in order, a whole megillah in and of itself.

Shuros of Shira

The Gemara[7] explains that the Shiros, Songs in the Torah (i.e. Az Yashir, Shiras Devora) need to be written ‘ariach al gabei levina’, literally a half-brick over a full brick[8]. However, the Ten Sons of Haman and the Kings of Canaan, which exemplify the downfall of the wicked, need to be written ‘ariach al gabei ariach andlevina al gabei levina’, a half-brick over a half-brick and a full brick over a full brick. Although the Gemara uses masonry terms borrowed from Bava Basra, the basic meaning refers to the sizing and spacing of said column in the actual Torah, Navi or Megillah.

Rashi[9] explains that the term ‘ariach’, half-brick, refers to the actual text, while ‘levina’, the full brick, refers to size of the space following it, needed between the words. Therefore, by the Ten Sons of Haman, if the text is required to be exclusively on top of text and space on top of space, it will appear like a double column[10]. Rashi continues that since the ‘levina’ is twice the size of an ‘ariach’, the spacing in the Megillah will be “Kiflayim Min Haksav”, or double the size of the text.

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Rabbeinu Tam[11], however, understands the requirement of ‘ariach al gabei ariach andlevina al gabei levina’ to be referring to text only, that no matter whether a long word or short word, the text must be symmetrical. Meaning that, although the Ten Sons of Haman have different amount of letters in their names, still, when the sofer writes it he must make their names appear equal in length, throughout the column.

Authorities throughout the ages have cited each of these opinions when explaining this issue with no clear-cut consensus[12]. Interestingly, the Rambam does not cite either opinion as halachic requirement. In fact, it was not until centuries later, when the Mishna Berura[13], without mentioning any precedent from earlier codifiers, cited Rashi’s opinion of “Kiflayim Min HaKsav” as the defining factor of the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling of a space requirement in the writing of the Ten Sons of Haman.

Spacing In

However, although it might seem that most Megillos might be problematic according to the Mishna Berura, nevertheless, many contemporary authorities explain that even if a Megillah is not “Kiflayim Min Haksav”, it cannot invalidate the Megillah due to various reasons, including:

  1. The Rambam does not make any mention of such a requirement when writing the Ten Sons of Haman[14].
  2. Although the Tur and Shulchan Aruch imply that they follow Rashi’s opinion, they only rule that there must be a noticeable space, and make no mention of a double spacing obligation[15]. Additionally, none of the later codifiers (from the Chayei Adam through the Kaf HaChaim) mention such a prerequisite either[16].
  3. Most other Rishonim seem to follow Rabbeinu Tam’s position, and not Rashi’s[17].
  4. Much of the Laws pertaining to writing Megillos are gleaned from the Laws of writing a Sefer Torah, and such a clause is not mentioned there[18]
  5. It is quite probable that Rashi, and therefore the Mishna Berura, did not truly intend that the spacing needs to be exactly double, rather that it just needs to be noticeably larger than the text[19].
  6. Even if they did mean that the space must be double[20], nevertheless, they never meant that it might actually invalidate a Megillah; rather only as a ‘Mitzvah Min HaMuvchar[21].

Therefore, many contemporary authorities, including the Netziv, the Har Tzvi, the Minchas Yitzchak, the Shevet HaKehasi and Rav Ovadia Yosef[22] conclude that although it would be Mitzvah Min HaMuvchar to obtain a Megillah that is written “Kiflayim Min Haksav” - taking Rashi’s opinion into account, all the same, if a Megillah does not, it is still 100% perfectly kosher to be used[23]. To sum it up, when people say they need more space, this time of year they just might be referring to their Megillos.

Postscript: A similar question arises regarding the other half of this machlokes, as most Megillos do not take Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion into account either and the names of the Ten Sons of Haman are quite commonly not written symmetrically. Contemporary poskim, using similar lines of reasoning and halachic rationale, conclude that if at all possible, it would be Mitzvah Min HaMuvchar to obtain a Megillah that follows this opinion as well[24].



[1]See Gemara Megillah 16b. FYI, the one at the end was not Madeline; it was Vayzasa.

[2]Esther Ch. 9, verses 7 - 10.

[3]See Gemara Megillah 16b, Yerushalmi Megillah Ch. 3, 7, Tur / Shulchan Aruch and relevant commentaries (O.C. 690, 15 and 691, 3 & 4).

[4]By the listing of the thirty-one kings of Canaanwhom Yehoshua conquered - Yehoshua (Ch. 12, verses 9 - 24).

[5]Tur & Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 691, 3); also cited by the Mordechai (Megillah 790), Beis Yosef (O.C. 691, 3 s.v. aseres), and Biur HaGra (ad loc. s.v. v’im lo). This ruling is based on the Yerushalmi (ibid.) that not having proper spacing by the Ten Sons of Haman is ‘l’akeiv’. However, the Bach (ad loc. 2 s.v. u’ma”sh) cites the minority opinion of the Agudah (Megillah 9) that the Yerushalmi was referring to reading their names in one breath and not the writing, that if not done correctly will be me’akev.

[6]Mishna Berura (O.C. 691, 17).

[7]Megillah 16b.

[8]See Gemara Bava Basra 3b.

[9]Rashi (Megillah 16b s.v. levina).

[10]This is to showcase that the wicked ‘should not be able to rise from their downfall’. (Gemara Megillah ad loc). Interestingly, the Bach (ibid.) opines that according to Rashi, there does not necessarily have to be two columns; three should also be fine as long as the spacing is double the size of the text. He maintains that that Megillos are generally written with two columns is due to Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion.

[11]Rabbeinu Tam’s shitta is cited by the Ran (Megillah 4a s.v. kol) as the correct one; as well as by the Mordechai (Megillah 790), and later the Beis Yosef (O.C. 691, 3 s.v. aseres).

[12]For example, see Mordechai (Megillah 790), Beis Yosef (O.C. 691, 3 s.v. aseres), Bach (ad loc. 2), and Biur HaGra (ad loc. s.v. shechalak).

[13]This is quite uncharacteristic, as in the Shaar HaTziyun (ad loc. 13), the Mishna Berura only cites Rashi’s opinion as the source of his ruling, without mentioning any precedent from early codifiers. The Gr”a (ad loc. s.v. shechalak) does however mention that it seems that the Tur and Shulchan Aruch seem to followRashi’s opinion.

[14]See Maggid Mishna (commentary on Rambam Hilchos Megillah Ch. 2, 12) who wonders why the Rambam makes no mention of halachos pertaining to the writing of the Ten Sons of Haman. See also Sefer HaKovetz (on the Rambam ad loc.) who attempts an explanation.

[15]Although several poskim, including the Shevet Sofer (Shu”t O.C. 27) and his son the Daas Sofer (Shu”t O.C. 126), rule that a Megillah that has no noticeable spacing difference by the Ten Sons of Haman than the rest of the Megillah is still kosher b’dieved (and not like the pashut understanding of the Tur and Shulchan Aruch that it would be ‘pasul’), many poskim including the Netziv (Shu”t Meishiv Davar O.C. 42), the Butchatcher Rav (Eshel Avraham (O.C. 691), and the Kaf Hachaim (Kol Yaakov 691, 21) rule that the space should be at least 9 letters worth. This is based on the psak of the Rivash (Shu”t 286; cited in beis Yosef Y”D 275, 5 s.v. kasav HaRivash) that the spacing in a Shira should be the amount of a Parsha Stuma, which is 9 letters worth. This is similarly ruled regarding Parshas Haazinu in Maseches Sofrim (Ch.12, 8) and by the Rambam (Hilchos Sefer Torah end Ch. 8), Rosh (Hilchos Sefer Torah 14), Tur (Y”D 275, 5), and Levush (Y”D 275, 9).

[16]In addition, this requirement is noticeably absent from the Ben Ish Chai, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, and Aruch Hashulchan.

[17]Including the Ran (ibid.), Rashba (Shu”t vol. 1, 435), Ravya (Megillah pg. 253), Ohr Zarua (end 373), Tashbatz (Shu”t vol. 3, end 273) and the BeHaG, cited by the AbuDraham (pg. 56a) as ikar.

[18]See Magen Avraham (O.C. 691, 3). In fact, the Rambam writes explicitly in Hilchos Sefer Torah (Ch.3, 8) that even in a Sefer Torah similar spacing issues would not disqualify a Sefer Torah. Certainly they will not be able to invalidate a Megillah! See Shu”t Meishiv Davar (O.C. 42).

[19]The Shach (Y”D 275, 7), explaining what an ‘ariach’ and ‘levina’ are, writes the ‘levina’ has to be bigger than an ‘ariach’, and not that it needs to actually be double. Similarly, the Pri Megadim (Rosh Yosef on Megillah 16b) that according to Rashi the space does not have to be actually double the size of the text, rather noticeably larger. Interestingly, the Tzemach Tzedek (Shu”t 206, 3) maintains that Rashi meant to include all blank space of the entire page of the Ten Sons of Haman that all accumulate to be at least double the amount of text.

[20]For example, it seems from the words of the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t O.C. 190) that he understood Rashi to mean actually double. See Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak (vol. 3, 55).

[21]See footnote 18. Additionally, the Shulchan Aruch (Y”D 275, 3) rules that in a Shira as long as the text has the proper tzura, even without the proper spacing, it is still fine. Also, we do not find any specific instructions that will invalidate Sefer Yehoshua, even though the downfall of the thirty-one kings shares similar halachos with the Ten Sons of Haman. Furthermore, by Shiras HaYam it would be nearly impossible to write “Kiflayim Min Haksav”. Therefore, lack of this cannot possibly invalidate a Megillah.

[22]Netziv (Shu”t Meishiv Davar O.C. 42), the Har Tzvi (Mikraei Kodesh on Purim 32), the Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t vol. 3, 55 at length), the Shevet HaKehasi (Shu”t vol. 2, 238), and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Chazon Ovadia on Purim, pg. 257 inthe brackets).

[23]Still, several authorities, including Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Shu”t Moadim U’Zmanim vol. 1, Ibud U’Kesiva L’Sama B’Megillah s.v. amnam, in the parenthesis) and the Ohr Yitzchak (Shu”t vol. 1, O.C. 229), as well as several contemporary authorities mentioned in the last footnote, wonder why more Megillos worldwide are not written “Kiflayim Min Haksav”.

[24]Although the Chessed L’Alafim (Shu”t Kamma 67) writes that he cannot understand why most Megillos are not written with the text in columns symmetrical, especially as it was known that the Chavas Daas was makpid on this, and the Beis Shlomo (Shu”t vol. 2, 124 & 131) writes that it should even invalidate a Megillah, nevertheless many poskim, including Rav Shlomo Kluger (Shu”t Shnos Chaim, Hilchos Sta”m end 52), the Netziv (Shu”t Meishiv Davar ibid.), the Emek Sheilah (Shu”t O.C. 15), the Butchatcher Rav (Eshel Avraham ibid.), the Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t vol. 7, 49), the Shevet HaKehasi (Shu”t vol. 2, 238), and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Chazon Ovadia on Purim, pg. 256 - 257) all maintain that following Rabbeinu Tam’s shitta would similarly be considered Mitzvah Min HaMuvchar, but its absence would not invalidate a Megillah.


Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.


L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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