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The Rambam's eighth Principle of Jewish Faith states that the entire Torah in our possession - every verse - was dictated to Mosheh Rabbenu and that it has not changed.

However, we have explicit passages in Hazal that tell us that the Torah had to be critically reconstructed from a multiplicity of scrolls, each with slightly different wording in certain passages (cf. y.Ta`anith 4:2) and that these were apparently used by Ezra HaSofer in his reconstruction (cf. Avoth De-Rabi Nathan 30b).

Additionally, we have an explicit text in the Gemara that says that the Amoraim were not experts in defective and plenary spellings in the words of the Torah (cf. b.Qidhushin 30a).

And in the Rambam's own day there were multiple versions of the Torah (differing only in a very few, slight ways), including the mesorah of Yemen which differs from Ashkenazi and Sefaradi mesorah in five places!

Not to mention the accurate placement of petuhoth and setumoth, which has enough halakhic weight to pasul a sefer Torah if made incorrectly.

My question is:

Surely the Rambam knew these passages from Hazal and the facts on the ground, so how could he write such a seemingly dogmatic statement regarding the Torah "in our possession"? Are we missing something? Was he?

NOTE: I am aware of the simplistic and non-Maimonidean wording of the popular "Ani Ma'amin" on this principle of faith and I reject it as not accurately representing the intent of the Rambam in his fuller, more original wording of the eighth principle.

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The Rambam had access to Ben-Asher's codex (in its entirety). It is not completely implausible that he thought he actually had the correct one and everyone else was just wrong. –  Double AA Aug 18 '14 at 13:20
related judaism.stackexchange.com/a/37107/759 –  Double AA Aug 18 '14 at 13:21
Where does it say, in the Rambam's eighth principle, that our Torah scrolls (or even any of those in his day) are letter-perfect, word-perfect, or even Parashah-boundary-perfect copies of the Torah scroll(s) Mosheh Rabenu wrote down? –  Tamir Evan Aug 18 '14 at 13:39
@TamirEvan, You are correct, the actual wording of the 8th Principle does not explicitly say this. However, it does say that "every word" contains wisdom, and so I think that it stands to reason that if he thought that even one word could be different from one scroll to another - a reality both currently and in the times of the bayith rishon - then he may have worded it differently. Further, his opening line referring to the "entire Torah in our possession" also raises some concerns in light of Hazal and even what has been said about Rishonim, such as Yehudah He-Hasidh and Ibn `Ezra. Kol tuv. –  Maimonist Aug 18 '14 at 15:43
the rambam clearly posuls ashkanazi sifrei toroth due to the way they write shirath hayom and ha azinu. –  MoriDoweedhYaa3qob Aug 19 '14 at 6:10

3 Answers 3

R' Yaakov Weinberg, in an audio recording, addressed this issue (as an issue with the ani maamin, which R' Weinberg, like you, rejected), and he explained that the point of the Rambam is not to say that the specific texts which we have now are identical to the one transmitted to Moshe. Rather, the point of the Rambam is to say that Moshe was a faithful transmitter of the Torah, and did not err nor alter the Torah as it was told to him. Thus the Rambam writes:

כלומר שהגיע אליו כולה מאת ה' הגעה שקורין אותה על דרך השאלה דבור

Which means to say that the entire Torah reached Moshe from Hashem on a level which we call "speech"

and the Rambam's proof text for this Yesod is

בזאת תדעון כי ה' שלחני וכו ולא מלבי

With this (the earth swallowing Adas Korach) you shall know that Hashem has sent me ... and I did not make it up

In other words, the source text is a verse stating that Moshe did not make up the Torah. The point of this Yesod is the accuracy of Moshe's transmission.

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So, what this seems to be saying is that people tend to read into the Rambam's exact wording TOO much and should instead see things in the big picture and try to focus on his intent for this principle. In other words, we should see the Rambam as trying to PRESERVE a truth already held, rather than trying to INVENT a new "dogma" within Judaism. I like it. Thank you. Kol tuv. –  Maimonist Aug 18 '14 at 15:50
@Maimonist I would go a step further and say that it isn't seeing the big picture at the cost of ignoring the details - it is the details of what the Rambam says. There is no need to not take the Rambam literally, just to read it carefully and see what his focus is. –  YeZ Aug 18 '14 at 15:52
(1) The formulation in Hilkhot Teshuvah 3:17[8] seems to support this understanding, as well. (2) Also, I'd be leery of scrutinizing the Rambam's language when working off a translation. I have access to two Hebrew translations: one says "Kol Ot she-Bah Yesh Bah Chokhmot", and another says "Kol Dibur ve-Dibur min ha-Torah Yesh Bahen Chokhmot". –  Tamir Evan Aug 18 '14 at 16:59
@TamirEvan Agreed, with two caveats - I think you can still scrutinize the clear idea being expressed (whether it's אות or דיבור, the point is the transmission, not the current state), and I am comfortable between Shilat and Kapach to assume I have a good translation. –  YeZ Aug 18 '14 at 17:45
I was more responding to Maimonist's comments about "people tend to read into the Rambam's exact wording TOO much" here, and "it does say that 'every word' contains wisdom" in response to my comment on the question. (I should have, in retrospect, directed that part of my comment @Maimonist specifically.) –  Tamir Evan Aug 19 '14 at 0:35

I've asked this question to several talmidei chachamim, and all of them have given me the same general response: the Rambam shouldn't be taken too literally, as after all, he certainly knew the passages in Chazal which you've quoted. What he means is that, for all intents and purposes, we have the same Torah. The very slight differences of a plene spelling here or an extra ו there are not meaningful differences that would cause us to say that our Torah is 'a different Torah'. This point is also made in an aish.com article which claims that the words 'colour' to 'color' can still be considered to be the same word. (In reality, the differences in the Torah's text are more significant, but the idea is plausible enough). Even a difference that is halakhically significant (in terms of making the Torah pasul) it still may not be meaningfully significant for the purposes of calling it "the same Torah"

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The Aish article says that the idea is based on a series of lectures by Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg Z"L. I would be curious to know if this was the Rosh Yeshiva's own chiddush or are there other sources that say the same thing. –  eramm Aug 18 '14 at 15:20
@eramm see YEZ's answer. I had heard this myself in the name of R. Weinberg from a Rabbi in NIRC but wasn't sure if it was documented anywhere else –  Matt Aug 18 '14 at 16:18

וז"ל החזו"א (אגרות ח"א טו) "והרבה פעמים הוגה על פי חכמים ונפלה מחלוקת בהגה' וגם זה בהשגחתו יתברך בעונש שכחת התורה ובהמתקת הדין שיהי' אלו ואלו דא"ח ונתגלה טפחים מהתורה ע"פ גרסאות חלוקות והרבה פעמים נפסקו הדינים היוצאים לב' הגרסאות כי לא במקרה נעשו ומובטחנו שלא נפלה טעות שאינו תורה כלל כי זה כרת אתנו ברית על תורה שבע"פ".

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Is this claiming that there were originally multiple Torahs or that at some point the Torah changed? –  Double AA Aug 20 '14 at 4:33
chas vesholom. there was and is and will be only one single torah. he is saying that even the human errors which occurred with the passing of time, happened with divine assistance. –  rabbi Aug 20 '14 at 11:12
Isn't that what two Torahs is? You just said that there are God designed and approved changes to the text. –  Double AA Aug 20 '14 at 13:53
chas vesholom. there was and is and will be only one single torah. in the event that it became clear which girsa was mistakenly changed, we would disregard it. hie is only saying that even in the unfortunate scenario that due to human error something got changed, Hashem was watching that happen and has guided the mistake as to become one we may follow as if it were from the original text, until it became apparent that it wasn't. –  rabbi Aug 20 '14 at 18:04
So the two Torahs which were both designed and authorized and approved by God exist, but one of them only exists temporarily? (You're aware, I assume, that this is the situation today. Different communities have different spellings of some words.) –  Double AA Aug 20 '14 at 18:07

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