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Four Pronged Shin

12" x 15"


This is an artistic expression of the mysteries of the Four Pronged Shin of the Tefillin Shel Rosh, (head Tefillin). It is stated in the Talmud, Tractate Menachot, that it is a law of direct descent from Moses on Mount Sinai that there should be the Hebrew letter "Shin" on the outer compartment of the head Tefillin. The Hebrew term is, 

"הלכה למשה מסיני’’. The reasoning is not provided; however, the organic nature of the oral tradition is to add to its timeless meaning. A strong question is raised however, when we consider that a 4-pronged shin is not a valid letter form to use in sacred scrolls like a Torah, Tefillin or Mezuzot. If one single shin were made with a 4-pronged shin as opposed to a 3-pronged shin, it would render the entire scroll invalid, (not kosher). A Tefillin or Mezuzah would need to be entirely re-written in the case that such a mistake were found at the beginning of the scroll after the scroll was complete,  The question then is, why is every head tefillin made with a 4-pronged shin when it is considered an invalid letter?


The Shimusha Rabba, a compilation of the laws of Tefillin from around the 10th Century states that the three pronged Shin of the head Tefillin represents the script of Torah as we write Torah scrolls today. The Four pronged shin, however, represents the script of the 2 Tablets of stone from the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. This is a very interesting distinction because the stone tablets were not “written”, rather the letters were “carved” from the stone. The letters were created by removing material as opposed to Torahs today that are “written” and where material, ink, is applied. The ink of the scrolls form the letters, which create the positive space, black letters on white parchment. The letters of the tablets, since they were carved out, were, on the other hand, formed from the negative space of the stone. If one were to hold up four fingers, you might count the 4 fingers, “positive space” to create the letter shin, or one may look at the “negative space”, the 3 spaces between the 4 fingers to create the letter shin. 


Along this vein, one idea of the 4-pronged shin, and what this artwork attempts to express is that of perspective. Different perspectives must be taken into account in order to attain a picture of the whole because those different perspectives are actually part of the whole.


This is a numbered and signed giclé print.

Four-Pronged Shin

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