Torah Tidbits. Originally Published June 7-8, 2019.

Over the course of investigating for this column, miscellaneous points have jumped out.  Here are some of them.

The use of letters of the Hebrew alphabet to represent numbers is not found in the Bible.  The first traces of it are found on Maccabean coins.

Some persons honor a lifted Sefer Torah by holding one corner of the tallit toward the scroll.  They then kiss the tsitsit.  Some simply bow toward the scroll.  Some have the interesting practice of holding a pinkie finger toward the open scroll, which is described in Me’am Lo’ez, an 18th-century Sephardic commentary in Ladino (written for the masses), which said “It is customary to point to the writing with the little finger and to kiss it.” We don’t know the origin of this practice, just that it seems to continue.  Some hold up their pinkie finger and the tsitsit, and then kiss the tsitsit.  (Seems akin to what a proper Jewish New Englander would do at tea.)

Yes, Noah had a saw and possibly other tools to build his ark.  Saws were devised some 20,000-28,000 years ago, social scientists say, which was during the Upper Paleolithic time.  (They also had needles at that time.)   The earliest use of twisted-fiber rope was 28,000 years ago as well.  We know that the Egyptians used copper saws in the Early Dynastic Period (around 3100-2600 BCE); they have been found in tombs.  The Chinese say that Lu Ban (c. 507-444 BCE) invented the saw (he is worth reading about, though too recent to have influenced Noah); the Greeks say Talos, nephew of Daedalus, did the inventing.  They both underestimate the antiquity, which surprised your correspondent.

Aquila of Sinope, aka Aquila Ponticus, circa 130 CE, was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva and translated the Tanakh into Greek.  His translation was used in Greek-speaking synagogues, but was not appreciated by Christians who said he slighted the messianic passages.  Aquila is said to have been the one who mistranslated the “rays of light” radiating from Moses’ head as he descended from Mount Sinai as “horns.”  The words are similar, and if he missed the word “or,” light, it would have been an easy read-o.  It subsequently has caused the death of many Jews who thereafter became associated with the devil.  Some who meet Jews for the first time even now look for our horns, all because of an error.

Michelangelo sculpted Moses with the horns.  In fact, Michelangelo also sculpted the non-Jewish naked David.  Michelangelo was a great artist who did not do his research thoroughly.

Nostradamus (Michel de Nostre-Dame, 1503-1566), French astrologer and physicist, was born into a Jewish family which had converted under Charles VIII’s anti-Jewish policy instituted in 1488.  As a doctor, Nostradamus had tried unusual and somewhat successful methods of combating the Plague, but nevertheless lost his wife and children in 1538.  Wandering thereafter, while in Italy he sought out Jews, especially Kabbalists, and on returning to France he turned to the occult sciences, which subsequently gained him fortune and fame.