The Aramaic word tagin, meaning crowns, refers to the decorative crown-like flourishes added by a scribe on the upper left-hand corner of certain letters in Torah scrolls. A tag is generally composed of three flourishes or strokes, each of which resembles a small "zayin" - thick on top with a thin line extending downward to the letter. The center stroke is slightly higher than the two end ones. The letters which receive the tagin are, including (final nun and tzadi).[1]

According to Maimonides the omission of tagin does not invalidate the scroll since its inclusion is considered as an "exceptionally beautiful fulfillment of the mizvah."[2] Ashkenazi custom, however, holds that the scrolls are invalid without the appropriate tagin.[3] Tagin are added to the letters on mezuzah and tefillin (phylacteries) scrolls as well, but not in printed texts of the Bible.

Legend ascribes the origin of the tagin to Sinaitic revelation. The Talmud vividly describes Moses ascending on high to find God engaged in affixing tagin to the letters of the Torah.

"When Moses went up to God, he found God sitting and putting little crowns on the top of the letters of the Law. He said to God, 'Who is it that forces You to put crowns to the letters of the Law [which You have already written]? He replied, 'A man is to appear on earth after many generations, Akiba b. Joseph by name, who will expound for each top of every letter of the Law heaps and heaps of rulings'...."[4]

The book of Joshua describes how Joshua set up twelve stones in the Jordan River and later transferred them to Gilgal.[5] According to tradition, these stones were inscribed not only with the books of Moses but also held the proper usage of the tagin. A medieval work called Sefer Tagin, written by the student of Rashi, Simhah ben Shmuel of Vitry (d.1105) in his encyclopaediac work Mahzor Vitry, sets out the rules for their correct application.

Talmudic, midrashic and kabbalistic sources place great stress on the mystical meanings of the tagin. Together with the letters and words of the Torah, every additional stroke or sign is interpreted as a symbol revealing extraordinary secrets of the universe and creation.

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Men. 29b [back]
[2] Yad, Sefer Torah 7:9 [back]
[3] Magen Avraham and Ba'er Heitev to Shulkhan Arukh OH 36:3 [back]
[4] Men. 29b [back]
[5] Joshua 4:9, 20 [back]

CROWN Table of Contents



Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend