In Brakhot 61a and Eruvin 18b, Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak quotes a nonexistent pasuk:

מתקיף לה רב נחמן בר יצחק אלא מעתה גבי אלקנה דכתיב וילך אלקנה אחרי אשתו

Tosafot there says it is a mistake since we don't find such a pasuk anywhere. How do other commentators (Rishonim and Aḥaronim) approach this issue?

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    The Chochmat Shlomo talks about it on Brachot 61a. The Maharatz Chayes writes "אולם בהרבה מקומות מצינו דמובא בש"ס מקראות אשר לא נמצאו אצלנו על פי המסורה" on Moed Katan 5a (and he then lists others). Also, check the Yad Malachi, klal 283 and the Maharsha on Brachot 61a where he explains his understanding of the intent.
    – rosends
    Jul 12 '19 at 19:27
  • I was just learning Sanhedrin 22a, and here is a missing לו in the citation of the 3rd row. This is the only case I can recall, but I remember having seen imprecise citations. Jul 16 '19 at 8:44
  • One possible explanation is that the Gemara is only quoting וילך אלקנה from Shmuel 1 2:11 but is inferring אחרי אשתו.
    – user13937
    Dec 19 '19 at 0:05

Unfortunately, the versions of Gemara and commentators' texts which we have contain plenty of copying errors.

Before there were printing presses, texts were copied by hand. Then then copy was copied by hand, then the copy of the copy, and so on. It is estimated that on average, 4-6 significant mistakes were made per page by each copier. This went on for many generations, so multiply 4-6 by the distance of a copy from the original text (i.e. copy of a copy of a copy of a copy etc...) in order to gauge the average number of mistakes per page in it. It is enormous!

One such mistake could be even the omission of 20 or so lines because 2 lines began with the same words (a common occurence, since often phrases relating to a certain topic are repeated several times in discussions about it). Examples of critical mistakes are the omission of 'לא' in 'לא מותר' or 'לא אסור' and omissions which give the text the opposite meaning of that originally written. Omissions of words and/or lines can also make text difficult to understand properly.

Some mistakes in the Gemara are easy to identify, for example use of וישאו instead of ויסעו (or the other way round - I don't remember) when quoting a verse from the Torah. Others are hard or even impossible to identify. Some mistakes can only be identified by someone who has an extensive knowledge of all known quotations of the particular text, who can then deduce from that the differenet versions available to different commentators and can possibly gain insight into which version was the original.

Such mistakes are also prevalent in the works of Rishonim, making some of their writings difficult or impossible to understand correctly.

Due to scarcity of resources and time taken to write by hand, abbreviations were often used. Some of the people who copied texts expanded abbreviations, although not necessarily correctly. A famous exampke of that is where Rashi is quoted as saying 'הלכה היא בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב', which seems strange since it cannot be considered a 'הלכה'. In fact, it had originally been 'הלא הוא בידוע' (Is it not known...) but the word הלא had been written in short as הל' and later expanded to הלכה in error. (Often the scribes who copied the text didn't necessarily understand it. They weren't necessarily all scholars...)

Some people have worked hard to rectify such problems, with the most notable and most reliable example being the work of Machon Ma'arava (unrelated to Yeshivat Ma'arava) on the Ramban's commentary of Gemara (the dark green books). Machon Ma'arava went to great lengths to get hold of all known existing manuscripts of that, some of which are hidden away in prominent historic libraries and may not even be viewed without special permission and may not be photographed, but negotiations were made for microfilm copies. They then compared all known versions of the Ramban, literally letter by letter. A group of extremely knowledgeable scholars spent more than 10 years figuring out the correct versions, studying each sentence extensively in order to work out the correct version. Still, all versions were maintained in the text, with the seemingly correct version being put in square brackets and other versions put in smaller text and in round brackets. Thousands of such instances appear in the text. (Machon Ma'arava also inserted punctuations and sources into the text, and divided it into paragraphs for easier learning. Each punctuation mark was extensively deliberated, with sometimes many hours spent on decisions regarding one comma...)

Hence it is no surprise that the Gemara seems to quotes verses which do not appear in the Torah. There are many such instances.

  • While it's true that there are variants in Gemaras, there are also variants in Pesukim. How do you know which one this is?
    – Double AA
    Jul 16 '19 at 11:34
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    Without citing a Rishon or Acharon who addressed the OPs question, this is not an answer and will likely be deleted.
    – Double AA
    Jul 16 '19 at 11:35

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