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Qere and Ketiv: Wikis


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Qere and Ketiv, from the Aramaic qere or q're, קרי ("[what is] read") and ketiv, or ketib, kethib, kethibh, kethiv, כְּתִיב ("[what is] written"), refer to a small number of differences between what is written in the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, as preserved by scribal tradition, and what is read. In such situations, the Qere is the technical orthographic device used to indicate the pronunciation of the words in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), while the Ketiv indicates their original written form, as inherited from tradition.

The Masoretic tradition

Torah scrolls for use in public reading in synagogues contain only the Hebrew consonantal text, handed down by tradition (with only a very limited and ambiguous indication of vowels by means of matres lectionis). However, in the Masoretic codices of the 9th-10th centuries, and most subsequent manuscripts and published editions of the Tanakh, intended for personal study, the pure consonantal text is annotated with vowel points and other diacritic symbols invented by the Masoretes to indicate how it should be read, besides marginal notes serving various functions.

Though the basic consonantal text written in the Hebrew alphabet was never altered, sometimes the Masoretes preferred a different reading of a word than that found in the pre-Masoretic consonantal text. The qere/ketiv represent an attempt by the Masoretic scribes to show, without changing the received consonantal text, that in their opinion or by tradition a different reading of the text is to be preferred. That preferred Masoretic reading is known as the Qere (Aramaic קרי "to be read"), while the pre-Masoretic consonantal spelling is known as the Ketiv (Aramaic כתיב "(what is) written").

In such cases, the vowel diacritics of the qere (their alternate, but preferred reading or correction) would be placed in the main text, added around the consonantal letters of the ketiv (the masoretically-disapproved variant to be substituted — even if it contains a completely different number of letters), with a special sign indicating that there was a marginal note for this word. In the margins there would be a ק sign (for qere), followed by the consonants of the qere reading. In this way, the vowel points of the qere were separated from the consonant letters of the qere — but they were meant to be read together (even though the vowel points of the qere are located on the consonant letters of ketiv).

The emendations can be considered matters of scribal opinion, but nevertheless by tradition they are what is followed when the scroll is read in synagogue, and modern translators also tend to follow the qere rather than the ketiv.

In a few cases a change may be marked solely by the adjustment of the vowels written on the consonants, without any notes in the margin, if it is common enough that this will suffice for the reader to recognize it. For example, the form *הִוא appears throughout the Torah. This is the result of the consonantal text bearing the letters הוא, which are normally pointed as הוּא hu, which means "he." However, whenever the antecedent is feminine, the text has been marked הִוא to instruct the reader to read it as the consonantally different הִיא hi, which means "she."

This way of marking the text by adjusting the vowels only is known as a qere perpetuum (see more below). Another example of an important qere perpetuum in the text of the Bible is the name of the God of Israel -- יהוה (cf. Tetragrammaton) -- which is marked with the vowels of אֲדֹנָי adonai (meaning "my Lord") rather than with its own vowels (sometimes with the vowels of אֱלֹהִים elohim).

Qere perpetuum

A Qere perpetuum ("perpetual" Qere) differs from an ordinary Qere in that there is no note marker and no accompanying marginal note — these are certain commonly-occurring cases of Qere/Ketiv in which the reader is expected to understand that a Qere exists merely from seeing the vowel points of the Qere in the consonantal letters of the Ketiv.

Qere perpetuum of the 3rd. fem. singular pronoun

For example, in the Pentateuch, the third-person singular feminine pronoun היא is usually spelled the same as the third-person singular masculine pronoun הוא . The masoretes indicated this situation by adding a written diacritic symbol for the vowel [i] to the pre-masoretic consonantal spelling h-w-' הוא (see diagram). The resulting orthography would seem to indicate a pronunciation hiw, but this is meaningless in Biblical Hebrew, and a knowledgeable reader of the Biblical text would know to read the feminine pronoun here.

Many scholars hold the view that "Yehowah" (or in Latin transcription "Jehovah") is a pseudo-Hebrew form which was mistakenly created when Medieval and/or Renaissance Christian scholars misunderstood the common Qere perpetuum of the partial vowel points of Adonai written together with the consonants of the Tetragrammaton YHWH (in order to indicate that written YHWH should be pronounced aloud as "Adonai", as was the usual Jewish practice at the time of the Masoretes). This would be a mistake of exactly the same type as reading hiw for the Qere perpetuum of the third-person singular feminine pronoun.

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