Thursday, December 24, 2009

Proofreading, part 10

We saw an example of one sort of thing which proofreading turns up – where the text is Just Wrong:

torah proofreading – just wrong
Text should read שמנה מאת שנה.

That was a case where the extra letter vav completely changed the meaning - “eight hundred" became “one hundred and eight." But in some cases, an extra or missing yud or vav doesn't actually change the meaning, thanks to the accommodating nature of Hebrew vowels. These are known as haser (deficient) or malei (overblown) spellings. Like this:

Haser spelling
This is a word spelled haser - lacking a vav - where it should be spelled with a vav, ויולד.

If you're reading in the Torah and you find the first kind of Wrong, it's a problem, and you have to stop and switch Torahs. But if you find the second sort, you don't have to switch Torahs. The mistake ought to be fixed soon, because thinking "oh, it doesn't matter" is the first step on the road to propagating mistakes which jolly well do matter, but you don't have to stop reading.

This has to do with the extent to which we think the text of the Torah is incorruptible. I simplified a bit earlier – the integrity of the text is a theological principle except for these kinds of spellings. These ones we're not exactly certain of, and haven't been since Talmudic times.

So we weigh values. Stopping and switching out Torahs is not good, for various reasons; reading from a Torah with wrong spelling is not good either. With very egregious misspellings, the badness of the mistake outweighs the badness of switching Torahs. But haser and malei misspellings, since we're not absolutely certain they're actually wrong, there's a chance our spelling could be the right one, and on the strength of that chance we swing the balance the other way. Interesting, huh?

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