By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
The Navi Morah: “Girls, don’t forget that Thursday is a test on all of perek tes. Don’t forget to review the Malbims on the first 17 psukim.”
The Global Studies Morah: “Girls, don’t forget that Monday there is a quiz on how King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta.”
What do the quotes above have to do with each other? Believe it or not, a lot. Were it not for Archbishop Stephen Langton’s pressure on King John of England, along with that of the other English barons, the king might not have put his seal on the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215. Pope Innocent III placed a ban on the barons and then on Archbishop Langton for refusing to publish that ban.
But what about the quote from the Navi Morah? In all likelihood, it was Archbishop Stephen Langton who made up the division of the chapters in Tanach. In other words, our Bais Yaakov girls are studying this particular group of psukim and calling it perek tes on account of an archbishop.
How could this have happened? How could it be that the chapterization that we use for TaNaCh have been created by a non-Jewish cleric?
According to Dr. Caspar Rene Gregory (Prolegomena, p. 164-166), it was in all probability Archbishop Langton who did the chapterization, which was soon used in one of the early concordances of the Latin Vulgate. The Archbishop did this in the early 1200s in England.
What happened next is fascinating. We skip two centuries and travel across the English Channel.
We are in France. It is 1440. Rav Yitzchak Nathan Ben Klonymus is depressed about the growing numbers of Jewish people that have gone off-the-derech and converted to Christianity. Many of them were misled on account of books that were authored by kofrim who mistranslated psukim in Tanach and took them out of context in order to mislead people.
Rav Yitzchok Nathan worked on a concordance precisely to counter this influence. If Jews were given the tools, using the shoresh of the Hebrew word, they could demonstrate the extent of the mistranslation.
Rav Yitzchok Nathan was thus the first counter-missionary.
He made a table where he wrote, in lashon hakodesh, the words that corresponded to the first word in each chapter so people using a regular tanach would be able to find it.
It was his concordance which eventually introduced the non-Jewish chapterization to the Jewish world, but he did it with the greatest of purposes in mind. He did it to save Yidden from shmad.
Eventually, Daniel Bomberg, also a gentile, in 1547-1548 printed the chapterization in his Mikraos Gedolos, and since then other tanach and chumashim borrowed it.
Rav Aryeh Kaplan zt”l tried undoing the chapterization in his Living Torah – instead numbering Chumash with the number of parshios in the Torah – stumos and psuchos, but it never caught on elsewhere.
In this author’s opinion, we should try to do it again, but for all of TaNaCh. The Parshios system was uniquely Jewish and created by Moshe Rabbeinu
The author can be reached at email@example.com