Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 16 March 2019 / 9 Adar II 5779

Megillah Mysteries: Situations of Spacing

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
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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 desserts, swaying in the breeze, all in a straight line,[1] at the end of the hangman’s noose (Esther Ch. 9: verses 7 - 10). In fact, this exceptional passage has an exclusive set of halachos pertaining to it.[2]

The Gemara (Megillah 16b) 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,[3] referred to as ‘ariach al gabei ariach andlevina al gabei levina’ (more on this soon). The Tur and Shulchan Aruch[4] 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 Mishnah Berurah,[5] 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, including those of many Gedolei Yisrael through the ages,do not meet this requirement! But before we entertain the possibility that the majority of Megillos in the world are pasul according to the Mishnah Berurah, some background is in order, a whole megillah in and of itself.

Shuros of Shira

The Gemara[6] details 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.[7] 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 [8] explains that the term ‘ariach’, half-brick, refers to the actual text, while ‘levina’, the full brick, refers to size of the space 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.[9] 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.




Rabbeinu Tam[10] 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.[11] Interestingly, the Rambam does not cite either opinion as halachic requirement. In fact, it was not until centuries later, when the Mishnah Berurah,[12] uncharacteristically and 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 by the writing of the Ten Sons of Haman.

Spacing In

However, and although it might seem that most Megillos might be problematic according to the Mishnah Berurah, nevertheless, many contemporary authorities explain that even if a Megillah is lacking “Kiflayim Min HaKsav”, this detail 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.[13]

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.[14] Additionally, none of the later codifiers (from the Chayei Adam through the Kaf Hachaim) mention such a prerequisite either.[15]

3. Most other Rishonim seem to follow Rabbeinu Tam’s position, and not Rashi’s.[16]

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.[17]

5. It is quite possible that Rashi, and therefore the Mishnah Berurah, did not truly intend that the spacing needs to be exactly double, rather that it just needs to be noticeably larger than the text.[18]

6. Even if they did mean that the space must be double,[19] nevertheless, they never meant that it might actually invalidate a Megillah; rather only as a ‘Mitzvah Min HaMuvchar’.[20]

Therefore, many contemporary authorities, including the Netziv, the Har Tzvi, the Minchas Yitzchok, the Shevet HaKehasi, and Rav Ovadia Yosef, zichronam l’vracha, conclude that although it might be considered a 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.[21]

On the other hand, Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fischer zt”l maintained that as the majority of Rishonim argued on the inyan of “Kiflayim Min HaKsav”, the halacha certainly follows them, and hence “Kiflayim Min HaKsav” is practically deemed unnecessary, Mishnah Berurah’s assessment notwithstanding.[22]

Conversely, several contemporary authorities, including Rav Moshe Sternbuch, as well as those mentioned previously, wonder why more Megillos worldwide are not written to satisfy the Mishnah Berurah’s opinion lechatchilla.[23]

Additionally, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l was extremely makpid about hearing Krias HaMegillah from one written “Kiflayim Min HaKsav”.[24]Moreover, it is rumored that after Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l was niftar, his talmidim checked his Megillah and upon finding that it was not written “Kiflayim Min HaKsav”, had it redone to satisfy the Mishnah Berurah’s opinion lechatchilla.

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 satisfies this opinion as well.[25]

For more on this fascinating topic, see Rabbi Reuvain Mendlowitz’s excellent sefer ‘Inside STa”M’,as well as his recent Hebrew edition, titled ‘STa”M’.

This article was L’Refuah Sheleimah for R’ Shlomo Yoel ben Chaya Leah, Shoshana Leah bas Dreiza Liba, Rina Geulah bas Dreiza Liba, Rochel Miriam bas Dreiza Liba, Mordechai ben Sarah, Shayna bas Feiga and l’zechus Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam v’chol yotzei chalatzeha for a yeshua sheleimah teikif u’miyad!

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author:

Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Sho’el U' Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim. He also currently writes a contemporary halacha column for the Ohr Somayach website titled “Insights Into Halacha”.

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

[2] See Gemara Megillah (16b), Yerushalmi (Megillah Ch. 3: 7), Tur and Shulchan Aruch and relevant commentaries (Orach Chaim 690: 15 and 691: 3 and 4).

[3] Regarding the listing of the thirty-one kings of Canaan whom Yehoshua conquered (Yehoshua Ch. 12: verses 9 - 24). Practically, ‘Shiras HaLeviim’, otherwise known as Shiras Haazinu, also shares similar structural requirements (of two columns, as opposed to other Shiros; albeit 70 rows) [see Maseches Sofrim (Ch. 12: 8), Rambam (Hilchos Sefer Torah, end Ch. 8), Rosh (Hilchos Sefer Torah 14), Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 275: 5)], but inexplicably, is nonetheless not mentioned by this Gemara.

[4] Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 691: 3). This ruling is also cited by the Mordechai (Megillah 790), Beis Yosef (Orach Chaim 691: 3 s.v. aseres), and Biur HaGr”a (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. However, it is important to note that this is not the actual normative halacha. As the Rema (Orach Chaim 695: 15) citing several Rishonim, including Tosafos (Megillah 16b s.v. tzarich), the Abudraham (Hilchos Pur im), and Maharil (Hilchos Purim 13),paskens, reading the Ten Sons of Haman in one breath, while optimal, would not be me’akev b’dieved if the reader did not do so, and would not impugn fulfilling one’s Megillah requirement. However, it would be preferable to try again, to ‘nail it’ the second time in one breath. See Levush (ad loc. 15) and Elyah Rabba (ad loc. 11; citing the Shiyarei Knesses Hagedolah, Hagahos on Beis Yosef ad loc. 9).

[5] Mishnah Berurah (691: 17).

[6] Megillah 16b.

[7] See Gemara Bava Basra (3b).

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

[9] 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 (as will be explained further).

[10] 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 (Orach Chaim 691: 3 s.v. aseres). Interestingly, we do not have record of his shitta in Tosafos. The reason he holds this way is that which is that while Rashi holds that the chalak (space)is the levina, Rabbeinu Tam holds that the shaimos (names of Haman’s sons)are the levina. This is opposed to the all the words ‘v’es’ which he considers the ariach.

[11] For example, see Mordechai (Megillah 790), Beis Yosef (Orach Chaim 691: 3 s.v. aseres), Bach (ad loc. 2), and Biur HaGr”a (ad loc. s.v. shechalak).

[12] This is quite uncharacteristic, as in the Shaar Hatziyun (ad loc. 13), the Mishnah Berurah 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.

[13] 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.

[14] Although several poskim, including the Shevet Sofer (Shu”t Orach Chaim 27) and his son the Daas Sofer (Shu”t Orach Chaim 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, Orach Chaim 42), the Butchatcher Rav (Eshel Avrohom, Orach Chaim 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 by the Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 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 (Yoreh Deah 275: 5), and Levush (Yoreh Deah 275: 9).

[15] In addition, this requirement is noticeably absent from the Ben Ish Chai, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, and Aruch Hashulchan. The Kaf Hachaim (Kol Yaakov 691: 21) does however mention this shittah as a ‘Yeish Omrim’, but not as an obligation.

[16] 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.

[17] Megillos share basic halachos of Sifrei Torah, as in the Megillah itself (Esther Ch. 9: 32) it is referred to as a ‘sefer’. See Hagahos Maimoniyos (Hilchos Megillah Ch. 2: 50), and Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Levush, and main commentaries to Orach Chaim 691 (1 and 2), including Magen Avraham (ad loc. 3). In fact, the Rambam writes explicitly in Hilchos Sefer Torah (Ch. 3: 8) that even regarding 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 (Orach Chaim 42).

[18] The Shach (Yoreh Deah 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.

[19] For example, it seems from the words of the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Orach Chaim 190) that he understood Rashi to mean actually double. See Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok (vol. 3: 55).

[20] See footnote 18. Additionally, the Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 275: 3) rule that regarding a Shira, as long as the text has the proper tzura (meaning ‘ariach al gabei levina’), 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.

[21] Shu”t Meishiv Davar (Orach Chaim 42), Mikraei Kodesh (Purim 32), Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok (vol. 3: 55 at length), Shu”t Shevet HaKehasi (vol. 2: 238), Chazon Ovadia (Purim, pg. 257 in the brackets). The Mishnas HaSofer (Ch. 28: 17) states simply ‘ulam sifrei didan ain medakdekim b’zeh’.

[22] Shu”t Even Yisrael (vol. 8: 51) and Halichos Even Yisrael (Moadim vol. 2, pg. 432: 6).

[23] Moadim U’Zmanim (vol. 1, Ibud U’Kesiva L’Sama B’Megillah s.v. amnam, in the parenthesis).See also Shu”t Ohr Yitzchok (Shu”t vol. 1: Orach Chaim 229), as well as several contemporary authorities mentioned in the previous footnotes, who wonder why more Megillos worldwide are not written “Kiflayim Min HaKsav”.

[24] It is known that Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l was extremely makpid about the Megillah being written “Kiflayim Min HaKsav”. According to his talmidim, Rav Nochum Eisenstein and Rav Dovid Aryeh Morgenstern, Rav Elyashiv held that it would be very b’dieved to hear Krias HaMegillah from a Megillah that does not take this into account and could possibly even be me’akev.

[25] 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 and 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 Eimek Sheilah (Shu”t Orach Chaim 15), the Butchatcher Rav (Eshel Avrohom ibid.), the Minchas Yitzchok (Shu”t vol. 7: 49), the Shevet HaKehasi (Shu”t vol. 2: 238), and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Chazon Ovadiaon 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.

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