Oz Yashir

Most of Tanach1 is written as prose: Each section of the text is a continuous block of words, followed by a parsha break, which is a large blank space before the next section.

According to the masora, there are certain sections that must be written as shira (song or poetry). A shira section has alternating text and blank space, and comes in two forms.

  • In an interlocking shira, the text is arranged with the blank spaces of each line under the text on the line above. The lines alternate between three groups of words on a line and two groups of words on a line.2

  • In a stacked shira, the text forms two vertical pillars on the right and left sides of the column, with the blank space in the middle.3


The width of the blank space on each line (in both forms of shira) should be the size of a parsha break – ideally as wide as the word “אשר” written three times in a row.4 At a minimum, the spaces should not be less than the width of nine narrow letters (e.g. vav or yud).

If a regular (prose) section is written as shira, the Sefer is pasul. This can happen inadvertently in a section of text that has several parsha breaks in close proximity.5 If a shira section is written as regular text, or if a shira is written using the wrong form, or if any of the required spaces in the shira are less than the width of nine narrow letters, it will also invalidate the Sefer.

There are several sections in the books of Nach where there is a disagreement among the authorities regarding the correct type and layout of shira that should be used. A competent halachic authority should be consulted to choose the appropriate layout for the relevant scrolls.6

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  1. With the notable exception of Tehilim, Mishlei, and Iyov. In these books, most verses are split into sections – the end result is somewhat similar to the form of a “stacked” shira. ↩

  2. The Gemara describes an interlocking shira as אריח על גבי לבינה ולבינה על גבי אריח (A brick on a half-brick and a half-brick on a brick). An example of this type of shira would be Oz Yashir. ↩

  3. The Gemara describes a stacked shira as אריח על גבי אריח ולבינה על גבי לבינה (A brick on a brick and a half-brick on a half-brick). An example of this type of shira would be Ha’azinu. ↩

  4. In lines with three groups of words, the combined measurement of the two spaces should be at least the size of a parsha break. ↩

  5. Examples include Aseres Hadibros (Shemos 20:12-14 and Devarim 5:16-18), the forbidden relationships in parshas Acharei Mos (Vayikra 18:6-16), the curses in parshas Ki Savo (Devarim 27:15-26), and the first four chapters of megilas Eicha. ↩

  6. The disputed sections are in the books of Yehoshua, Shmuel, and Koheles. See Tikun Ben Asher part 3 for more details. ↩