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dots- use

While we do not place vowel markings in a Torah scroll, there is a tradition to place dots over the letters of certain words in ten verses:

What is the purpose of these dots?

The Talmud Yerushalmi, Pesachim, 9:2 explains as follows:

“The Sages say, when there are more undotted letters than dotted letters, expound upon the undotted letters and don’t read the dotted letters, and when there are more dotted letters than undotted letters, expound the dots and don’t read the letters. Rabbi says, even when there is only one dot above them, expound the dot and don’t read the letters.”

The Medrash in Bereshit Rabba 48:16  and  Rashi to Bereshis 18:9 both quote the rule of the Yerushalmi, writing: “Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says, any place you find more  undotted letters than dotted ones, you expound the undotted letters; more dots than letters, you expound the dots.”

In other words, certain pesukim contain layers of meaning that are revealed by alternate, homiletical reading of certain words.  These alternative readings are indicated by our helpful friend: the Dot.

For example, in this section of the Torah, the three visiting angels who arrive at the tent of Avraham address their host: “…Vayomru eilav ayeh sarah…”  They inquired of him: ‘Where is Sarah…?”

In this passage, the word eilav, of him, has dots over the letters Alef, Yud, and Vov.   The letter Lamed is the only letter not dotted.  Based upon the aforementioned rules of interpreting dots, we can read the word eilav as if the Lamed is not present.  Read as such, the passage is: “… Vayomru ayo…” They said: Where is he?

Rashi interprets: not only did the angels ask Abraham, “Where is Sarah?” but they also asked Sarah, “Where is he; where is Avraham?”  For us, this teaches that one should always inquire of a man as to the welfare of his wife and of a woman as to the welfare of her husband.

There are other deeper, mystical interpretations of this reading, Where is he?,  in addition to Rashi’s interpretation, that reveal even further layers of meaning.

Now, you may have noticed that my dots over the word eilav in the above photo are shaped like small diamonds.   This was purely unintentional; the mere product of the placement of quill upon parchment.

The Kesses ha-Sofer 16:4 writes that there is no particular shape for the dots, only that they cannot resemble any of the the Hebrew letters – i.e. yud.

Check back tomorrow for pictures of columns 16 & 17!


  1. could you please translate the following ” חדשׁ בחדשׁו לחדשׁי “

    Comment by Jim Mitchell — June 19, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

  2. Is this an active site? I have a question regarding the letter Peh, and the bet that is contained within it. What is the reason for this please? If this is active, please email me an answer.


    Shmuel Levine

    Comment by Shmuel Levine — November 7, 2011 @ 10:36 pm

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