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The Torah says: “I made the children of Israel dwell in booths”. [Lev. 23:42-43]

The Talmud says: Rabbi Eliezer said that these booths were clouds of glory, but Rabbi Akiva said that these booths were actual booths. [Sukkah 11b]

But the Sifra [Emor 17:11] and the Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael [12:35] say: Rabbi Eliezer says that they were actual booths, but Rabbi Akiva says that they were clouds of glory.

Who said what? Is this resolved anywhere? If the matter is uncertain, one would expect the later source to say: "Rabbi Akiva, and some say Rabbi Eliezer..." as they do on many other occasions.

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This is simply understood as a dispute in girsaos. In terms of historically who said what, how could we know?

In terms of halacha, the Aruch LaNer ad. loc., and in his Bikkurei Yaakov 625:2, says that the definitive version is the one found in Sifra and Mechilta. This is how the Tur Orach Chaim § 625 could rule that the booths were the clouds of glory, being that we never rule like Rabbi Eliezer. The Aruch LaNer goes so far to suggest that the Tur must have had this version even in his gemarra. I suppose he writes that because he felt the Tur wouldn't choose a Midrash Halacha source over the gemarra. He also says the Rokeach cited the dispute this way. Perhaps this was enough evidence to suggest a variant version of the Bavli.

He also suggests that this is why Rashi explains the verse to be referring to the clouds of glory. Rashi must have had in his gemarra that Rabbi Akiva said it, and explained the verse according to the halacha.

I'll just note that according to the Hachi Garsinan database, all nine ancient manuscripts we have for the Talmud Bavli have it as we do. At the very least, you see the Aruch LaNer prefers the version found in the Sifra and Mechilta, otherwise he's at a loss to understand the Tur.

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  • The point he makes about Rashi isn't really accurate, since Rashi often prefers to follow the midrash on the verse rather than the law. The Ramban points this out a few times in his commentary
    – b a
    Sep 23 '20 at 11:28
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Rabbi Tsvi Chayes writes in his commentary that the version given in the Talmud, that Rabbi Eli'ezer said that the sukkot were clouds of glory, is probably more correct. His reasoning is that Onkelos translates בַסֻּכּוֹת as בִמְטַלָּיוּת עֲנָנֵי (Leviticus 23:43), identifying the sukkot as the clouds of glory. Since Onkelos translated according to Rabbi Eli'ezer and Rabbi Yehoshua (Megilla 3a), his translation was most likely in accordance with his teacher's opinion.

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  • I also noticed the thing with onkelos. Thanks for pointing out someone who says likewise!
    – robev
    Sep 23 '20 at 12:01

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