Following "did-the-men-of-the-great-assembly-canonize-tanach" (please read for all the related sources):

To recap: before the canonization there were many man-made books, incl. Meggilot, Nevi'im, writings, etc, besides the 5 books of Moses. Eventually some were included in Nac"h and some were left out (called external - ספרים חיצוניים?).

Seemingly, before the final canonization, all the man-made books shared a similar level of holiness, including Sirach, books of Maccabees and more. (I base it on the fact that in Meggilot Qumran, for example, they were all found mixed and not separated by holiness or even language.)

What does it mean that a book was decided to be or not a part of the Nac"h? Does it have special qualities that others don't?

NB: I see a similar pattern in the oral Law, that after the Mishnah was cannonized and signed, a lot of Beraitos were left out but still largely used in Talmudic discussions. However, in the written Torahm the external book practically vanished from our bookshelves.

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    Is it possible that books that were left out at the official canonization were ones that had not established that reputation or position of holiness over a period of time and the canonization was just a codification of what was already accepted?
    – rosends
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 11:11
  • @rosends I'm ready to accept that if you define " position of holiness"
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 21:17
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    I'm not sure what it means (though I have a vague sense that a book was or was not accepted as potential material for theological derivation) but I was just using the language of your question ("similar level of holiness")
    – rosends
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 0:04
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    "However, in the written Torah the external book practically vanished from our bookshelves." - There is a notable exception: Ben Sirah; the Talmud quotes it several times as a authoritative source, even though it is ultimately rejected as non-canonical.
    – LFE
    Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 4:33

2 Answers 2


To answer your question first requires understanding what the English word, canonization means and its root, canon.

It's actually from the Latin and is generally associated with the Catholic Church. To canonize, the verb form, has essentially three meanings all of which relate to consensus of agreement.

1) It is a process of forming a consensus to declare some individual to be a Saint, or in Hebrew, Tzaddik, completely righteous.

2) Forming consensus agreement that something is beyond reproach and significant in all circumstances.

3) In terms of literature, consensus agreement that a given text is accepted by all as authoritative, both in terms of its content and its author and can be used in terms of determining correct behavior in all generations and situations.

The root noun, canon, also has an implication of general laws or rules.

In this context, it would mean that those texts which form the canon are accepted by all as authoritative, their authors are deemed by consensus to have been Tzaddikim, and that they apply in all circumstances and times, and can be used to derive and determine halacha and general, proper behavior.

This subject is discussed in detail by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in volume one of the Handbook of Jewish Thought. In regard to the criteria of what got included in the Tanach, he first points to Megillah 14a which says:

ותו ליכא והכתיב (שמואל א א, א) ויהי איש אחד מן הרמתים צופים אחד ממאתים צופים שנתנבאו להם לישראל מיהוה טובא הוו כדתניא הרבה נביאים עמדו להם לישראל כפלים כיוצאי מצרים אלא נבואה שהוצרכה לדורות נכתבה ושלא הוצרכה לא נכתבה

Those prophecies that were required for all the generations were written, meaning included in the Tanach. Those that were not necessary for all future generations were not included.

And this is also what is found in Seder Olam Rabbah, Chapter 21, which says:

אלו מ"ח נביאים וז' נביאות שנתנבאו להן לישראל ונכתבו בכתובים, ויש נביאים כיוצאי מצרים ולא נכתבו, יכול מפני שהן מועטין, תלמוד לומר וחמשים איש מבני הנביאים הלכו וגו' (מלכים ב ב ז), יכול מפני שהן הדיוטות, תלמוד לומר ויאמרו אליו הידעת כי היום ה' לקח את אדניך מעל ראשך וגו' (שם ב ג), אדונינו אין כתוב כאן, אלא אדניך, מלמד שכולן גדולים כאליהו, ושקולים כאלישע, וכן משה אמר מי יתן והיה לבבם זה להם (דברים ה כו), ואומר ומי יתן כל עם ה' נביאים כי יתן ה' את רוחו עליהם (במדבר יא כט), ועבדיה אמר לאליהו הלא הגד לאדני את אשר עשיתי בהרג איזבל את נביאי ה' ואחבא מנביאי ה' מאה איש וגו' (מלכים א יח יג), חוץ מה שהיו ביהודה ובנימן, ואליהו אמר לאלישע שב נא פה כי ה' שלחני עד בית אל וגו', ויצאו בני הנביאים אשר בית אל וגו' (מלכים ב ב), שוב אמר לאלישע שב נא פה כי ה' שלחני יריחו וגו', ויגשו בני הנביאים אשר ביריחו וגו' (שם), שוב אמר לו שב נא פה כי ה' שלחני הירדנה וגו', וחמשים איש מבני הנביאים הלכו וגו' (שם), שאין לך כל עיר ועיר בארץ ישראל, שלא היו בה נביאים, אלא כל נבואה שהיתה לצורך הדורות נכתבה, לצורך שעה לא נכתבה

It asks if those other Tzaddikim were somehow of a lesser status than those which were included in the Tanach and answers, No. They were all as great as Eliyahu HaNavi and of equal value as Elisha HaNavi.

And a similar sentiment is expressed in Midrash Ruth Rabbah 1:2 which says:

וּכְתִיב (מלכים ב ב, ג): וַיֵּצְאוּ בְנֵי הַנְּבִיאִים אֲשֶׁר בֵּית אֵל אֶל אֱלִישָׁע, נְבִיאִים, אֵין נְבִיאִים פָּחוֹת מִשְּׁנַיִם, וּמִפְּנֵי מָה לֹא נִתְפַּרְסְמָה נְבוּאָתָם, שֶׁלֹא הָיָה בָּהּ צֹרֶךְ לְדוֹרוֹת. אֱמֹר מֵעַתָּה כָּל נְבוּאָה שֶׁאֵינָהּ צֹרֶךְ לְדוֹרוֹת לֹא נִתְפַּרְסְמָה, אֲבָל לֶעָתִיד לָבוֹא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בָּא וּמְבִיאָן עִמּוֹ וְתִתְפַּרְסֵם נְבוּאָתָם, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (זכריה יד, ה): וּבָא ה' אֱלֹהַי כָּל קְדשִׁים עִמָּךְ.

This last quotation emphasizes that those books that were not included in the Tanach, even though they were not relevant to every generation, will be brought to the publics attention by G-d when they are needed.

And as you mention, this was all done by the Anshei Knesset HaGadolah under the direction of Ezra like it says in Bava Bathra 15a.

ירמיה כתב ספרו וספר מלכים וקינות חזקיה וסיעתו כתבו (ימש"ק סימן) ישעיה משלי שיר השירים וקהלת אנשי כנסת הגדולה כתבו (קנד"ג סימן) יחזקאל ושנים עשר דניאל ומגילת אסתר עזרא כתב ספרו ויחס של דברי הימים עד לו

And as Rashi points out there, those books that were not actually written down by the particular Prophet but by the Men of the Great Assembly and Ezra, were only composed that way because the writing of their prophecies was delayed until they were actually in the land of Israel. The prophecies had been received outside of the land of Israel.

And those twenty-four books of the Tanach are the complete transmission from G-d and there will not be any change or additional message from what is contained in those books. Only the explanation and understanding of their meaning will adjust according to the needs of the particular generation. This is like what is expressed in Sefer Chassidim section 1016:

לאחר שמתו נביאים האחרונים מכאן ואילך לא נתנה לעליונים רשות ולא לתחתונים להרבות פסוק אחד כיצד לעליונים המלאכים לא יוסיפו פסו' אחד כגון פליגי בה תרין מלאכי ברקיע לא יוסיפו לדבר שום פסוק שאינו מן המקרא. וכן התחתונים כגון אליהו הכל מעשרים וארבעה ספרים מפני שלאחר שפסקו הנביאים לא ניתן לכתוב פסוק אחד ולא אות אחת שנאמר אל תוסיף על דבריו לכך עשו מסורות מכ"ד ספרים סך פעמים אותה תיבה בקרייה כי ידעו שאין להוסיף אות אחת ומה שכתוב הלא הם כתובים על דברי חוזה במדרש עידו. אנשי כנסת הגדולה אמרו מה שהוצרכו לדרוש כבר ואין נביא רשאי לחדש דבר על עשרי' וארבעה ספרים לא מלאך ולא אליהו אלא כל מה שעוסקים מלאכים וצדיקים בגן עדן רק בעשרים וארבעה ספרים ובתורה ושל בעל פה:

You refer in your question to "man-made books" that are excluded from the Canon, suggesting that they are somehow different.

The Rebbe explains this idea in the sense that all the Sifrei Kodesh (ספרי קודש) of the Jewish people are communications from G-d to his Saints through the ages. This includes the books which you refer to as the external books (Like Ben Sirach, who was purported to be the son of Yirmiyahu HaNavi, Sefer Zerubavel, Sefer Chanoch, Sefer Raziel and many others). The primary difference being that those not in the Canon do not necessarily apply to all circumstances nor are necessarily relevant to all individuals.

It doesn't mean that they are false or corrupted or not from G-d. But only that they should be applied in the correct circumstances.

And this is similar to the view expressed by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in volume one of his Handbook of Jewish Thought, chapter 8:84 which he bases upon the Ritva in Ein Yaacov to Bava Bathra 98a, the Nimukey Yosef to Rif 48b on Bava Bathra, and the Eitz Yosef and Radal to Kohelet Rabbah 12:13.

Although Rabbi Kaplan comments that those books were not composed with Ruach HaKodesh. It is worth pointing out that the Alter Rebbe is purported to have been of the view that all sifrei kodesh up to and including the generation of the Rishonim were composed with Ruach HaKodesh. An excellent discussion of this particular detail can be seen at this Wikipedia page on Ruach HaKodesh and its meaning particularly in later generations.

And this type of idea shouldn't come as a surprise. It is in keeping with the general principle we learn from Moshe Rabbeinu about Klal (General Principles) and Prat (Specific Concepts), like is emphasized in the parshiyot of VaYakhel and Pekudei at the end of sefer Shemot. See also the beginning of Sefer Torat Kohanim (Sifra), parshat VaYikra, beginning with the words, Rabbi Yishmael says, etc.

  • @AlBerko If you haven't looked, this should provide everything that you are looking for in your question. What 'canonization' means and why certain books were included as opposed to others along with what the external books are and how we are supposed to relate to them. Please read completely. If you're interested, you should also read to the end the link about Ruach HaKodesh. Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 19:16
  • I'm sorry I didn't see your additions. very informative thank you. As the text gets long I got confused. Can you please help me to recap the process? 1. Moses finalizes Torah 2. G-d prophesizes additional prophets over some 500 years. 3. Men of the G"A decide to start writing them down 4. some 400 years later the men of Sanhedrin decide what stays in the canon. Am I right?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 20:47
  • @AlBerko You're welcome. 1 & 2 are correct. The last prophets to be included in the Tanach returned to the land of Israel and were on the Sanhedrin with the other Men of the Great Assembly together with Ezra. They sealed the Tanach. It's not clear to me if the Great Assembly left specific instructions to be executed or actually completed the action. Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 23:23
  • It appears (historically, as I researched on WIKI and other sites) that Tanac"h was finalized only at the END of the Second Temple, I think a couple of Gemmoros agree. The men of Kh"G wrote the books but they seemingly were not those who stopped at 24.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 6:38
  • @AlBerko If what you have concluded is accurate and correct, then it would mean as I suggested, that Ezra and the last prophets left specific instructions to be executed. But I don’t know that with certainty and am not comfortable including that detail in my answer. Rabbi Kaplan z”l was usually extremely thorough in his work and he doesn’t write that. If that was supported, he would have stated it. Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 8:34

What does it mean that a book was decided to be or not a part of the Nac"h?

There are several answers to this question. Some, but not all, would include

  1. Whether it defiles the hands (Yadayim 3:6)
  2. If one is required to save the book from the fire (Shabbat 115)
  3. If you can ask questions from one book to another, such as contradictions in practice (for an example of this see this lecture by Dr. Leiman on how the book of Susanna does not conform with halachic practice)
  4. If the book requires burial (Shabbat ibid)
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    @AlBerko are you asking why certain books were included in the canon while others were not? Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 19:20
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    @AlBerko this answers the question you wrote above. If you have another question you should ask separately
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 19:28
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    @AlBerko please don't make edits that invalidate existing answers. Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 20:49
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    @AlBerko you can ask a new question; rikitikitembo answered the question you asked at the time and shouldn't be penalized if you meant to ask something different. Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 2:11
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    Once referring to Prof. Leiman, see his book The Canonization...
    – Oliver
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 18:09

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