CfP: Origin, History, & Interpretation of Tagin and Otiyyot Meshunnot for Writing the STaM

6-8 Nov 2023, Freie Universität Berlin

A paleographical particularity of Jewish scribal tradition is that some letters of the strongly standardized square script featured within scrolls are adorned with crownlets (Tagin) or written in an unusual way (Otiyyot Meshunnot). The Talmud specifies seven letters – gimel, zajin, tet, nun, ayin, tsade, and shin – for this uncommon letter ornamentation. Yet, medieval written testimonies from the 12th to the 15th centuries (and some later testimonies of this phenomenon, especially in megillot) present numerous exceptions to this antique limit and show a remarkable wealth of forms for new ornaments.

Legal scholars across the Diaspora saw the unusual curlicues, arcs, little flags, and dashes as a threat to the authentic gestalt of a Sefer Torah, and urged uniformity. However, even the standard work Sefer ha-tagin (10th/11th c.), widely received in scribal circles and providing copyists with a precise listing of words and letters for such modifications, could not curb the enthusiasm for these letter ornamentations. Parallel to this uncommon writing practice, an exegetical tradition began to develop: These crownlets and unusually written letters, and also the standardized letterforms, were interpreted from rabbinic-ethical, mystical, and philosophical perspectives.

This workshop wants to discuss the phenomenon of Tagin and Otiyyot Meshunnot for writing the STaM. Papers presented at the workshop may be published in a subsequent anthology on this topic. We are looking forward to contributions from two perspectives:

Tagin and Otiyyot Meshunnot as a paleographic tradition:

The paleographic tradition has developed different regional characteristics over time. Manuscript evidence of halakhic treatises on the correct visual appearance of these signs testify to a lively debate on the forms of Tagin and Otiyyot Meshunnot. The authors or copyists of these writings in different times and regions gave many examples revealing the enormous richness of shapes. Moreover, the artefacts themselves – scrolls and even codices, dating from the Middle Ages and modern times (here especially the Megillot) – surprise with many variants. The workshop aims to provide an opportunity to present material witnesses, new insights into the origin of tagin, and various sources for describing the shape of the unusual letters.

Tagin and Otiyyot Meshunnot as a subject of exegesis Research has almost completely neglected the numerous exegetical approaches towards the forms of Tagin and Otiyyot Meshunnot that flourished especially in the Middle Ages, although this literature provides deep insight into both the intellectual history and cultural memory of Diaspora Jewry. The workshop will open up space for rabbinic, mystical, philosophical, and educational conceptions regarding these special letters to elucidate their role on a metaphysical level.

Please send your abstract (150-200 words) to PD Dr Annett Martini by 31 May 2023:

Cite this blog post
Maria Stürzebecher (2023, April 9). CfP: Origin, History, & Interpretation of Tagin and Otiyyot Meshunnot for Writing the STaM. medievalJewishStudiesNow! Retrieved June 14, 2024, from

About Maria Stürzebecher

I am the curator of the Museum Old Synagogue in Erfurt and scientific coordinator for the UNESCO World Heritage application Jewish-Medieval Heritage in Erfurt. Since 2012, I am editing the series "Erfurter Schriften zur Jüdischen Geschichte"; in 2020, the 6th volume "Ritual Objects in Ritual Contexts." was published. I studied History of Arts, Archaeology, Sociology and History and wrote my PhD thesis about the medieval Erfurt Treasure, which was published in 2009 entitled „Der Schatzfund aus der Erfurter Michaelisstrasse – Mittelalterliche Goldschmiedearbeiten als Zeugnisse jüdischen Lebens in Erfurt“.