I was recently learning Megillat Esther (as I prepare some shiurim on the topic), and was surprised to find the following comment by Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak Ashkenazi (Tedeschi), in his commentary to Esther 3:7:

ומחדש לחדש – חסרה כאן שיטה אחת שלימה ״ויפל הגורל בשלשה עשר לחדש״ והמעתיק שגה ברואה ועבר מן תיבת לחדש שבשיטה העליונה אל לחדש שבתחתונה.

And from month to month - an entire line was omitted here: "and the lot fell on the 13th day of the month", and the copyist misread it, jumping from the word "lechodesh" on the upper line to the "lechodesh" on the lower line.

Rabbi Ashkenazi was a student of Shada"l, who was of the opinion that it is permissible to make textual emendations only in the books of Nevi'im and Ketuvim, but not the Torah (see footnote 62 here). I was nevertheless surprised by this comment because a) I am not aware of heavy criticism levelled against Rabbi Ashkenazi, whereas such criticism of Shadal is fairly well-known, b) because Hoil Moshe is found in more traditional places, such as on Hebrewbooks (link), and c) because this strikes me as a more significant emendation, since it suggests that an entire line of the Megillah was missed.

So, my follow-up question(s):

Is it (halachically?/hashkafically?) permitted to suggest that the text of books in Nevi'im and Ketuvim is inaccurate? May one engage in textual criticism of these books, or is that considered inappropriate? Which (other) halachic authorities permit such a practice?

Note: This answer seeks Orthodox responses; I am aware of https://schechter.edu/is-it-permissible-to-study-biblical-criticism/

  • (Side-note: I have seen Ho'il Moshe write stuff like this in a number of places). Isn't it pashut that the text is inaccurate? Is that not what the Masoretes did, working hard to create a version that was accurate as possible, based on the tools they had at hand? See also Bamidbar Rabbah 3:13 on Ezra and the nekudot.
    – Harel13
    Jan 2, 2022 at 15:07
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    Just checking that you're specifically asking about textual (lower) criticism of Nakh, of which this is an example? And not historical (higher) criticism as well?
    – Joel K
    Jan 2, 2022 at 15:11
  • @Harel13 truth is, I remember seeing this in other places as well. I'm wondering about a) the difference between Torah and Nach in this regard and the halachic/hashkafic side of things (we read certain parts of Nach from scrolls, and are there any sources which say that the text of Nach is untouchable). Jan 2, 2022 at 15:22
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    In terms of "permitted", I only know of 13 rules limiting belief. They include the Torah we have being the one Moshe compiled, which I guess we can extend to Yehoshua in Arvos Moav, given the dispute about who wrote the last pesuqim. But during the trip that was mostly through the Sinai. But no similar law from Nach. Jan 3, 2022 at 12:23
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    @N.T. Agreed. In order for that to happen, you would have to be talking about the sofer who copied from the original manuscript written by Mordechai and Esther. And you would think that Mordechai and Esther would have noticed the mistake before it circulated round the world.
    – pcoz
    Jan 4, 2022 at 23:09


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