Here’s some information I found about Sefer Torah scrolls. There’s quite a bit of conflicting information, so its kind of hard to summarize.
Web sites pretty consistently indicate there are 304,805 letters in a Sefer Torah. Try a Google search for How many letters are in a Sefer Torah?, and you’ll find a huge number of pages which show there are 304,805 letters in a Sefer Torah. Since the Torah has been checked so many times over the millennia, you’d think that’s an accurate number. As I was working on this article, I found some disagreement.
I found some web sites which claim to have actual counts of each letter, and they didn’t agree. I found four sites where the numbers the letters added up to 304,805, but I also found two sites where the number of letters added up to 305,805. How come there’s a difference of exactly 1,000 letters? I don’t know. When I first saw 305,805, I assumed it was a typo on the web page, but as I did more research I found some people accept it as the correct number. A Google search for Torah 305805 finds a number of sites which show a different number than the officially accepted one. How about another Google search, this time for Torah 304805 305805? Not much there, but I found charts on two sites which list 304,805 as the correct number, but when all the letters are added together the total is 305,805.12 Is all this confusing yet?
Letters in a Sefer Torah
Is this number of 304,805 letters in the Torah exact? Did G-d give Moshe [Moses] a Torah with precisely that number of letters? We do not know for sure but we know that it was very close to that number. The reason we cannot be certain is twofold. First, the Gemara in Kiddushin 30a3 says that we are not experts in chaser and yeter. There are certain vowel sounds in Hebrew that can be spelled with (yeter) or without (chaser) an assisting letter. It is important to note that the presence or absence of this letter make no difference in terms of meaning and pronunciation. The words and verses mean exactly the same whether they are spelled chaser or yeter, which may be how these uncertainties crept in. Because of this, there are certain discrepancies between even good versions of the Torah in this respect.4
There’s also disagreement on the number of words and verses in the Torah. This may occur because sometimes Hebrew is written without spaces, and words may be split in different places. For example, I used the word “sometimes” in the last sentence, but it can also be written “some times”. Both can be used, but the first one is one word and the second one is two words. Verses may also be split in different locations, which will affect the number of verses. The Talmud refers to this problem:
Books of the Torah statistics
Rav Yosef raises a dilemma: Does the midpoint of the verses in the Torah, which is “then he shall be shaven,” belong to this side or to this side? Abaye said to him: Even if we cannot count the letters, we can at least bring a Torah scroll to count the verses. Rav Yosef explained: We are not experts about verses either, as when Rav Aḥa bar Adda came from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia he said: In the West, i.e., Eretz Yisrael, they divide this following verse into three separate verses: “And the Lord said to Moses, behold I come to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever; And Moses told the words of the people to the Lord” (Exodus 19:9). Perhaps there are other verses that we do not know how to divide properly. (Kurdistan 30a:13)
|Parshiyot / Sidrot1617||Chapters|
Enough with the counting! Writing this article has been as confusing and frustrating was last week’s article What is the Middle of the Torah?. Here’s some information I found which may be slightly more interesting (although I’m not sure it’s more accurate):
- Longest scroll: 138 feet long5
- Smallest Kosher Sefer Torah: 2 inches tall6
- Oldest complete, Kosher Sefer Torah (still in use): A.D. 1250 (Biella, Italy)7
- Oldest complete, Pasul Sefer Torah scroll (not in use in a Synagogue): A.D. 1155 -1225 (University of Bologna [Italy] Library)8
- Oldest scroll fragments: Ketef Hinnom Silver Scroll Amulets, 650–587 B.C.9
- Largest collection of Torah Scrolls: Dead Sea Scrolls, estimated 200 B.C. to 100 A.D.
- The Duties of a Hebrew Scribe or Sofer (Scrolls4All.org; Website) Accessed 01-Apr-2019.
- Sefer Torah Information (eSofer; Website) Accessed 15-Apr-2019.
- They were experts in the deficient and plene forms of words and therefore could count the letters precisely. We are not experts in this regard, and therefore we would be unable to resolve the question even if we were to count the letters. (Kurdistan 30a:12)
- Pamphlet 9 – The Letters of the Torah (The AishDas Society; Website) Accessed 09-Apr-2019.
- Feasts of the Lord (Scrolls4All.org) Accessed 23-Mar-2019.
- World’s Smallest Torah Scroll Up for Auction (The Yeshiva World, March 10, 2014) Accessed 23-Mar-2019.
- Hoffman, Rafael. Italian Sefer Torah Believed to Be Oldest in Use (Hamodia, March 8, 2016) Accessed 23-Mar-2019).
- Weiner, Noah. A Sefer Torah in the Bologna Library May Be the Oldest Known Torah Scroll (Biblical Archaeology Society, 05/30/2013) Accessed 23-Mar-2019.
- Caesar, Stephan. The Blessing of the Silver Scrolls (Associates for Biblical Research, Jan 06, 2010) Accessed 23-Mar-2019.