Video: A Return to the Jewish Index of the Bible

Creative Israeli project reprints the five books of the Torah using the original, ancient Jewish division of the chapters.

Tags: Torah
Elad Benari & Yoni Kempinski ,

The Jewish index of the Bible
The Jewish index of the Bible
Israel news photo: Yoni Kempinski

As part of a new Israeli initiative, the Chumash (Five Books of Moses) has been published using the Jewish index.

A fact which may not be known to many is that the chapter division of the Hebrew Bible being used today is not a Jewish, but a Christian, one.  It became the accepted division worldwide as the Bible was translated into Latin and many other languages, even though sometimes the chapter endings seem arbitrary and even illogical. For example, Samuel I ends in the midst of the saga of King Saul's death, whereas the Jewish sages considered the book of Samuel to be one, undivided book.

Some scholars believe that the chapter divisions were the work of the students of Cardinal Hugo of Saint Cher, 1240 C.E. who was trying to write a concordance. It is more generally believed that Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury (1228 C.E.), is responsible for them. 

Shiva Le’Bitzaron – the Project for Restoring the Jewish Index & Division of the Bible – is trying to get Jews to return to the original Jewish index.

“The psukim (verses) are ours (Jewish –ed.),” explained project head Betzal’el Ariel. “The question is where to start a new chapter. When you divide a text into chapters, you bring your own ideas and ideology to this division.”

“Our sages,” he explained, “made their own division which we call seder (lit. order –ed.), which means to organize: organize our learning, our thoughts, and our belief. We want to restart using this original Jewish division.”

The separation of verses in the Bible is universally according the Jewish mesorah. This is the tradition handed down through the ages to which the tropes [symbols designating the tune for reading that indicate where phrases and verses end, ed.] adhere. 

The verse numbering, however, was later arranged to suit the Christian chapter divisions, starting to count anew at the beginning of each chapter. This numbering is attributed to the 16th century printer Stephanus, who did it for convenience.

It is the chapter division and the verse numbering that will go back to their original Jewish roots in this project, an aspiration that can be fulfilled now that the Jewish nation has come home.