First, to accommodate contradicting Tannaic views, the Rabbinic tradition allows for multiple Halachic lineages stemming from Moses (see "אלו ואלו דברי א' חיים" regarding Hillel and Shamai). This could be regarded as "Oral Documentary Hypothesis" - different Halachic sources existed from Moses (originating from God) and those were merged later by rabbis in different ways into our current codex.

Second, the written Torah contains uncountable contradictions, that all interpreters try to reconcile, for example (just to mention a few):

  • Narrative: Gen 1 describes the creation of humans following that of the animals, while Gen 2 tells the opposite story.
  • God names: different names of God in different places, the use of "אלהים" for different deities, did Abraham's descendants know the know YHWH before Moses, etc.
  • Names: different names for the same places (Horeb/Sinai), people (Yithro/Hobab, Ketura/Hagar), etc
  • Phrasing: שמור vs זכור in the TC
  • Timing: 400/430 years of the Egyptian exile vs factual 210.
  • Hierarchy: the importance of the Levites vs Judah's dynasty, Josef vs Judah, the place of Aharon, etc.
  • Theology: there are no other gods vs there are other gods that our God destroys/fights, God is single vs God is plural (literally of course), etc

Of course, the interpreters square off many of those contradictions, but they remain an integral part of the text.

Assuming our Torah was given by God to Moses as is, do our sources consider a possibility that there were originally different heavenly sources (roots, emanations, names of God, Sefiros, whatever) that were incorporated in the final text of the Torah as we know it today?

PS. please do not comment on the list as if "there's no contradiction at all".

  • 6
    Have you heard of Rabbi Breuer's theory (שיטת הבחינות)?
    – Harel13
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 9:11
  • 2
    אלו ואלו does not mean that Moses transmitted different laws in different lineages. The most basic meaning is that both sides are partially correct. See Dynamics of Dispute by Zvi Lampel for more discussion.
    – N.T.
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 9:33
  • @Harel13 No, but it seems to nail it: "Shitat Habechinot suggests that differing styles and internal tensions in the Biblical text represent different "voices" of God or Torah, which cannot be merged without losing their identity. According to Breuer, God wrote the Torah from "multiple perspectives … each one constituting truth, [for] it is only the combination of such truths that gives expression to the absolute truth." If applied, this approach would provide an alternative framework to the documentary hypothesis, which maintains that the Torah was written by multiple authors."
    – Al Berko
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 10:10
  • @Harel13 Can you post it as an answer, and elaborate a little on it - did he have any earlier sources or that's something he came up with?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 10:11
  • If you are interested in the topic you will deeply appreciate the book from Amnon Bazak “to this very day” which exists in both English and Hebrew
    – mbloch
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 14:14

2 Answers 2


There's Rabbi Mordechai Breuer's "שיטת הבחינות" - "Theory of Aspects". He first presented it in this essay, published in 1960.

Rabbi Shalom Carmy in his essay "Concepts of Scripture in Mordechai Breuer", Jewish Concepts of Scripture, ch. 15, summarized the theory:

"On the one hand, Breuer maintains that all the literary phenomena adduced by the critics to show that the Pentateuch is the product of multiple authors are compatible with divine authorship. On the other hand, he insists that unitary authorship by a human being is impossible. In each instance when the critics posit multiple authors, Breuer too discerns different voices. One task of the religious student is to grasp each of these voices in isolation, unearthing the theology, narrative vision, or legal positions implicit in each one. Finally, one also investigates the ways in which the Torah as a whole integrates and mediates these voices. No human author, in his opinion, could have orchestrated this multiplicity of voices. Thus, either the critics are right, in which case we have a jumble of conflicting writers spliced together, or there is a divine Author expressing a complex message by employing different voices. This, in a nutshell, is Breuer’s thesis." (pg. 268)

To summarize even further, Rabbi Breuer held that Hashem purposefully wrote the Torah in a contradictory manner because it reflected the multiple aspects of Hashem - Din (judgement), Chesed (grace), etc. It is this exact contradictory manner that shows the Godliness of the Torah.1

Rabbi Breuer first began developing the theory because he had come to accept that much of the central points of the Documentary Hypothesis made sense. As he wrote in his first essay (my translation):

"We will not complain about Spinoza who wished to prove the later dating of the Torah - from the words of the Torah itself. Indeed, the twelve sections that are brought in the Ibn Ezra's commentary, and are copied in Spinoza's essay, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this Torah - within the frame of possibilities of the laws of literature and history - was written in Eretz Yisrael many generations after the conquest. Indeed: No man could have listed the kings of Edom alongside the kings of Yisrael, or that the Canaanites were "then" in the land - in the era before Yehoshua..." (6th section, 1st paragraph)

In light of the DH, and after discussing the classic harmonistic explanations for contradictions in the Torah, he writes (my translation):

"But perhaps it is the opposite? Perhaps we should not decide the form and content of the Torah, but rather we will learn from the Torah [itself] what form and content it has decided for us? Perhaps we should cancel our will before His will and believe in the unity of the Torah - out of the multiplicity of its sheets? Has not the time come that we free ourselves from the weight of all mortal views, and to learn the Torah of Hashem - without any prior prejudices? Is the Torah really only straight and bringing of happiness - out of the outdated, harmonistic exegesis? Truly, can't the Torah be beautiful and graceful - even when it remains as it is?" (11th section, 3rd paragraph)

Rabbi Breuer concluded that the key to the DH is Torat Ha'Sod. As stated above, each contradiction may be solved by saying that it reflects a different aspect in Hashem's "essence".

Stating that different names of Hashem represent different aspects of Him is, of course, nothing new, but it was Rabbi Breuer's idea to turn it into a key (not a weapon!!) to the DH. With that said, Rabbi Carmy in his own essay thought that Rabbi Breuer was inspired to reach this conclusion by a number of figures. The first two were his great-grandfather the Rashar Hirsch and his uncle, Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Breuer. They were the proponent and "the most creative exponent" of neo-Orthodoxy, respectively. Dr. Breuer's views were heavily inspired by Kant and Kantian thought.

The next source of inspiration was Rabbi Breuer's friend, Rabbi Yehuda Amital:

"Breuer claimed that the need to assimilate biblical criticism prior to combating it was first suggested to him by his colleague R. Yehuda Amital, whose own worldview is rooted in the mystical teaching of R. Abraham Isaac Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine in the 1920s and ’30s, whose mystical thought has been enormously influential on modern Orthodoxy. The early essays explicitly cite R. Kook, especially his view that heresy is overcome not through immediate rejection but via a dialectical confrontation in which the “palace of Torah” is rebuilt so as to take over what is valid in the heretical ideas..." (pg. 270)

Fourth, Rabbi Breuer was likely inspired by the Brisker method of gemara study, the "צווי דינים" (two laws) method, which solves discrepancies within certain laws in the gemara by explaining that each POV is referring to a different aspect of the same situation.

Finally, he may have been inspired by the fact that there have been several commentators over history who have used both p'shat and derash in their commentaries, without seeing any apparent contradiction in this.

1 Similarly, no two prophets prophesize in the same style - because saying that there is only one style of Hashem limits Him.

  • 1
    Fascinating, thank you very much.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 21:08

WADR to Rabbi/Dr. Mordechai Breur, I do not understand why someone who truly believes in Torah sheBe'al Peh has any motive to consider a multiple document theory.

Let me explain what I mean by just looking at one example: Do slaves go free on the seventh year (Exod. 21:1-6, Deut. 15:12-18), or do they go free in the Jubilee (50th) year (Lev. 25:39-55)?

Chazal, of course, note the same contradiction. Yerushalmi Qiddushin 7a (may be better known via the Rambam, Avadim 2:2) which says that a Jewish slave is freed after six years, if they sold themselves or if court sold them (e.g. to repay a debt incurred stealing an item) and they wish to leave. If someone sold by court chooses not to, they go through an ear piecing ceremony (mentioned in the quoted portion of Shemos) and remain slaves until no later than yovel. And this is as the Rambam codifies it as well (Avadim ch. 3).

In general, Bible Criticism is based on different assumptions about the nature of the text than Jewish Tradition does. We believe that the Torah, and Tanakh in general, describes events that were not typical. In fact, that the events themselves were as much part of how Hashem “wrote” His message to mankind as the books. We believe that the written Torah is Cliff Notes to a fuller body of wisdom, “merely” the seed to a Tree of Life planted among us, a process we were given and instructed how to work. So, yes, Hashem orchestrated similar but different events, wanted Yaaqov to have 7 children in 12 years, tells the same story in different ways or calls the same person by different names, and presented the term limits of a Jewish slave in terms that engender halachic discourse.

If someone believes that Hashem planned the Oral Torah and halachic process as part of His Intent when He composed the text, there is no question for the Bible Critic to address. That is not to dismiss the need to understand the peshat, the plain meaning of the verse. But there is no “why?”, we know the Author’s motivation to at times make that peshat less than obvious or to repeat the same idea with subtle differences — there are other layers that we can only find through those indicators.

Underlying the whole exercise was the presumption that Oral Torah and halakhah are an afterthought, and not part of the original texts. Thus Chazal’s answers come across as weak apologetics, rather than reflecting the true body of the full corpus of the Torah in which the Oral and Written are a single entity. And I do not believe that traditional Shabbos observance can stand on that foundation.

The Jewish community already tried that experiment. The Conservative Movement build on the Historical School, which explains halakhos using historical and sociological analysis. The idea that derashos themselves are not the driving force of rulings on deOraisa laws fit their methodology nicely. And so, no longer believing that these textual anomoloies serve the original Author's Intent, the majority of the movement's teachers and rabbis accept document hypothesis. (The tide turns just a few years after Solomon Schechter wrote "Higher Criticism -- Higher Anti-Semitism".) But the result was the movement's idea of Tradition and Change, and a legal process that simple is not Orthodoxy's definition of halakhah.

If you believe that derashos are markers Hashem intentionally put in the text to guide Oral Torah, you simply have no reason to seek other explanations for them. And having those other explanations seems to inevitably weaken our belief in the authority of a halachic process built upon those derashos.

Side-note 1: Among Bible Critics, Document Hypothesis lost the consensus as being the manner writing allegedly by multiple authors combined to become the Torah. So, I am not sure it is even the model one would want to look at. If this is news to you, you can start looking into the topic with Wikipedia: Documentary Hypothesis (sec. Critical Reassessment).

Side-note 2: The then-future-Rabbi Gil Student, some 20 years ago (10/17/2001), wrote on the idea. He suggested that what looks like documents in the Torah are either those named in the Torah itself or the scroll after scroll that Hashem dictated to Moshe during the 40 years in the desert. Hashem then redacts them in Arvos Moav. Take a look at that essay. But, I must warn you, today's R Gil Student said he himself doesn't agree or maybe doesn't fully agree with what he posted then.

  • "Rabbi/Dr." I usually just see "Rabbi Dr. X" without a slash. Does your slash mean something specific?
    – Double AA
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 16:45
  • @DoubleAA, no specific meaning. I don't even know where I picked it up from. I have even referred to "Rabbi/Lord/Dr. Jonathan Sacks zt"l. Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 18:08
  • Excellent answer. See beginning of peirush of Rashbam al HaTorah.
    – N.T.
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 19:21
  • Also, note that the Wiki link you bring about the newer forms of the DH is simply just that: Graf-Wellhausen's theory may be out of the picture, but the Critics still posit some form of the DH. They just keep reworking it. The difference between the various versions isn't so great. The model of different sources and layers compiled over the generations remains the central point of the DH. What has lost consensus is the original version, not the general concept.
    – Harel13
    Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 19:11
  • 1
    What is "a multiple document theory" and why do you think Rav Breuer held of one?
    – Double AA
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 1:34

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