Qere and Ketiv

An image from the Masoretic Aleppo Codex of Deuteronomy 33, containing a qere and ketiv in the second column, the fifth line, the second word (33:9). The ketiv is "Beno" - "his son" בְּנוֹ, while the qere is "banaw" - "his children" בָּנָיו.

Qere and Ketiv, from the Aramaic qere or q're, קְרֵי ("[what is] read") and ketiv, or ketib, kethib, kethibh, kethiv, כְּתִיב ("[what is] written"), also known as "keri uchesiv" or "keri uchetiv," refer to a small number of differences between what is written in the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, as preserved by scribal tradition, and what is read. In such situations, the Qere is the technical orthographic device used to indicate the pronunciation of the words in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew language scriptures (Tanakh), while the Ketiv indicates their written form, as inherited from tradition.

The Masoretic tradition

Torah scrolls for use in public reading in synagogues contain only the Hebrew language consonantal text, handed down by tradition (with only a very limited and ambiguous indication of vowels by means of matres lectionis). However, in the Masoretic codices of the 9th–10th centuries, and most subsequent manuscripts and published editions of the Tanakh intended for personal study, the pure consonantal text is annotated with vowel points, cantillation marks and other diacritic symbols used by the Masoretes to indicate how it should be read and chanted, besides marginal notes serving various functions.

Though the basic consonantal text written in the Hebrew alphabet was never altered, sometimes the Masoretes noted a different reading of a word than that found in the pre-Masoretic consonantal text. The Masoretic scribes used qere/ketiv to show, without changing the received consonantal text, that in their tradition a different reading of the text is to be used. That Masoretic reading or pronunciation is known as the Qere (Aramaic קרי "to be read"), while the pre-Masoretic consonantal spelling is known as the Ketiv (Aramaic כתיב "(what is) written").

In such Masoretic texts, the vowel diacritics of the qere (the Masoretic reading) would be placed in the main text, added around the consonantal letters of the ketiv (the written variant to be substituted – even if it contains a completely different number of letters), with a special sign indicating that there was a marginal note for this word. In the margins there would be a ק sign (for qere), followed by the consonants of the qere reading. In this way, the vowel points were removed from the qere and written instead on the ketiv. Despite this, the vowels and consonantal letters of the qere were still meant to be read together.

Types of Qere and Ketiv

"Ordinary" qere

In an "ordinary" qere, there is only a difference in certain closely related letters, or letters that can be silent (as in Genesis 8:17). For example, the similarly shaped letters י ו ן are often exchanged (Deuteronomy 34:7), as are כ ב (Esther 3:4) and the similar-sounding ד ת (Song of Songs 4:9). Very often, one of the letters א ה ו י are inserted (Ecclesiastes 10:3) or removed from a word (Deuteronomy 2:33). Many other similar cases exist. Other times, letters are reordered within the word (Ecclesiastes 9:4).

Because the difference between the qere and ketiv is relatively large, a note is made in footnotes, sidenotes or brackets to indicate it (see "Typography" below).

"Vowel" qere

Sometimes, although the letters are unchanged, the vowel points differ between the qere and ketiv of the word (Genesis 12:8). The ketiv is typically omitted with no indication, leaving only the vowelization for the qere. Often the ketiv left in an unusual spelling, but other times, both qere and ketiv remain in standard spelling.

This type of qere is different from qere perpetuum, because here, the consonants do not change. In a qere perpetuum, the consonants actually do change.

"Omitted" qere

Occasionally, a word is not read at all (Ruth 3:12), in which case the word is marked ketiv velo qere, meaning "written and not read."

"Added" qere

Occasionally, a word is read but not written at all (Judges 20:14; Ruth 3:5), in which case the word is marked qere velo ketiv, meaning "read and not written."

"Euphemistic" qere

In rarer cases, the word is replaced entirely (Deuteronomy 28:27, 30; Samuel I 5:6) for reasons of taharat halashon, "purity of language."[1][2] This type of qere is noted in a printed Hebrew Bible.

"Split/Joined" qere

In such a case, a qere is one word while the ketiv is multiple words (Deuteronomy 33:2) or vice versa (Lamentations 4:3).

Qere perpetuum

In a few cases a change may be marked solely by the adjustment of the vowels written on the consonants, without any notes in the margin, if it is common enough that this will suffice for the reader to recognize it. This is known as a Qere perpetuum ("perpetual" Qere). It differs from an "ordinary qere" in that there is no note marker and no accompanying marginal note these are certain commonly occurring cases of qere/ketiv in which the reader is expected to understand that a qere exists merely from seeing the vowel points of the qere in the consonantal letters of the ketiv.

Qere perpetuum of the 3rd. fem. singular pronoun

For example, in the Pentateuch, the third-person singular feminine pronoun היא is usually spelled the same as the third-person singular masculine pronoun הוא . The Masoretes indicated this situation by adding a written diacritic symbol for the vowel [i] to the pre-Masoretic consonantal spelling h-w-' הוא (see diagram). The resulting orthography would seem to indicate a pronunciation hiw, but this is meaningless in Biblical Hebrew, and a knowledgeable reader of the biblical text would know to read the feminine pronoun here.

Another example of an important qere perpetuum in the text of the Bible is the name of the God of Israel – יהוה (cf. Tetragrammaton). Often it is marked with the vowels יְהוָֹה, indicating that it is to be pronounced as אֲדֹנָי Adonai (meaning "my Lord") rather than with its own vowels. The consensus of mainstream scholarship is that "Yehowah" (or in Latin transcription "Jehovah") is a pseudo-Hebrew form which was mistakenly created when Medieval and/or Renaissance Christian scholars misunderstood this common qere perpetuum, so that "the bastard word 'Jehovah' [was] obtained by fusing the vowels of the one word with the consonants of the other"[3] (similar to reading hiw for the qere perpetuum of the third-person singular feminine pronoun). The usual Jewish practice at the time of the Masoretes was to pronounce it as "Adonai", as is still the Jewish custom today.[4]

Occasionally, the Tetragrammaton is marked יֱהוִֹה (Deuteronomy 3:23, Psalms 73:28) to indicate a qere of אֱלֹהִים Elohim, another Divine Name.[5]

Interpretation and significance

Jewish tradition

In Jewish tradition, both the qere and the ketiv are considered highly significant. When reading the Torah scroll in the synagogue, Jewish law stipulates that the qere is to be read and not the ketiv, to the extent that if the ketiv was read, it must be corrected and read according to the qere.[6][7] In addition however, Jewish law requires the scroll to be written according to the ketiv, and this is so critical that substituting the qere for the ketiv invalidates the entire Torah scroll.[8][9]

Various traditional commentaries on the Torah illustrate the interplay of meaning between the qere and the ketiv, showing how each enhances the meaning of the other. Some examples of this include:

Rashi, ibid.: It is written as "send out" and read as "take out." [Noah] is to say to them, "Go out!" Thus, [the written form] "send out." If they do not want to go out, you should take them out.
Rashi, ibid.: It is written as "her tent." First, he set up his wife's tent, and afterwards his own. Bereishit Rabbah[, 39:15].
Siftei Chachamim, ibid.: Hows does Rashi know that Abraham erected his wife's tent before his own; maybe he put up his own tent first? His words were based on the words of the Talmud that "one should honor his wife more than himself" (Yevamot 62b).[10]
Rashi, Exodus 26:26: The five [bars which supported the wall-planks and kept them straight] were [in] three [lines going horizontally through each plank of the three walls], but the top and bottom [bars in the three walls] were made of two parts, each extending through half of the wall. Each [bar] would enter a hole [in the wall] on opposite sides until they met each other. Thus we find that the top and bottom [bars] were [really] two [bars each], which were four [half-bars]. The middle bar, however, extended the entire length of the wall, going from end to end of the wall.
Mefane'ach Nelamim, cited in Eim LaMikra VeLaMasoret, Exodus 39:33: The Talmud (Shabbat 98b with Rashi) understands "from end to end" as a miracle: after the planks were in place on the three sides of the Mishkan, a seventy-cubit-long bar would be inserted into the center of the first plank at the eastern end of either the northern or southern wall. When that bar reached the end of that wall, it would miraculously curve itself so that it continued within the western wall. At the end of that wall, it again turned to fill the space drilled through the planks of the third wall.... Thus the middle bar, which seemed to be three separate bars for the three walls, was really one long bar. The qere, "its bars" refers to the simple interpretation that there were three distinct middle-bars, one for each wall. But the ketiv, "its bar," refers to the second interpretation, that the three middle bars were really only one bar that miraculously spanned all three walls.[11]


Some consider the qere and ketiv to be matters of scribal opinion, but modern translators nevertheless tend to follow the qere rather than the ketiv.


Modern editions of the Chumash and Tanakh include information about the qere and ketiv, but with varying formatting, even among books from the same publisher. Usually, the qere is written in the main text with its vowels, and the ketiv is in a side- or footnote (as in the Gutnick and Stone editions of the Chumash, from Kol Menachem[12] and Artscroll,[13] respectively). Other times, the ketiv is indicated in brackets, in-line with the main text (as in the Rubin edition of the Prophets, also from Artscroll).

In a Tikkun, which is used to train the synagogue Torah reader, both the full text using the ketiv and the full text using the qere are printed, side-by-side. However, an additional note is still made in brackets (as in the Kestenbaum edition from Artscroll) or in a footnote (as in the Tikkun LaKorim from Ktav.[14])

In older prayerbooks (such as the older, all-Hebrew edition of Siddur Tehillat Hashem al pi Nusach HaArizal, in the prayer Tikun Chatzot), the ketiv was vowelized according to the qere and printed in the main text. The unvowelized qere was printed in a footnote.


  1. Megillah 25b
  2. pp. 474-75, Tikkun, the Kestenbaum Edition. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2004.
  3. Entry "Tetragrammaton" in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd. edition) edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone. (1978), p. 1354 ISBN 0-19-211545-6
  4. The New Brown–Driver–Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon With an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic by Frances Brown, with the cooperation of S.R. Driver and Charles Briggs (1907), p. 218 (entry יהוה listed under root הוה).
  5. pp. xvi. "Pronouncing the Names of God." Tikkun, The Kestenbaum Edition. Commentary by Rabbi Avie Gold. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2004.
  6. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 141:8
  7. "Keri" and "Ketiv": Words in the Torah That are Not Pronounced According to Their Spelling. Torah Learning Resources. 2010. Accessed 13 November 2011.
  8. Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Mezuzah Tefilin V'Sefer Torah 7:11 Archived March 2, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. pp. 594-95. Heavenly Torah: As Refracted Through the Generations by Abraham Joshua Heschel and Gordon Tucker.
  10. Chumash, the Gutnick Edition. Compiled and adapted by R. Chaim Miller. Brooklyn: Kol Menachem, 2006.
  11. Tikkun, the Kestenbaum Edition. Commentary by R. Avie Gold. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications Ltd., 2004.
  12. Kol Menachem
  13. Artscroll
  14. Ktav
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