I read in an article that "rabbinic literature" states there was a preserved copy of a guarded text in the second temple, I was hoping someone could let me know where I can find this text, and/or other texts that attest to care for a pre-Masoretic, but "official" or guarded text, if that makes sense. (In other words, I am looking for references to a sort of canonical preserved text, as opposed to a bunch of variants all equally as accepted as the next) Thanks.

  • There was a Torah in the Ark of the Covenant in the First Temple, but we don't have it today. From a religious standpoint, we believe it to be identical (or nearly so) to what we have today.
    – shmosel
    Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 23:29
  • 1
    I believe the Talmud discusses having 3 different Torah scrolls and they would correct errors based on the majority of agreement in the 3 scrolls
    – Aaron
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 0:06
  • 3
    See Yerushalmi Taanit 4:2.
    – magicker72
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 0:12

1 Answer 1


The reference if I'm not mistaken is to Sefer Ha'azarah (ספר העזרה, the Book of the Temple Courtyard), a Torah scroll preserved in the Temple and used for making other Torah scrolls. This Torah scroll is mentioned in a few sources: Mishnah Kelim 15:6, BT Bava Batra 14b, YT Shekalim 4:2 and Tosefta Kelim 5:7. The wording of the tosefta makes it sound as though there was more than one Sefer Azarah. It's possible that this book is the one mentioned in a number of sources as being passed over to the king to read from.

Another relevant and related source is the one that @magicker72 mentioned in the comments, the gemara in Yerushalmi Taanit 4:2:

"Three scrolls were found in the Temple courtyard, the Meone scroll, the Zaatute scroll, the Hee scroll. In one they found written "me'ôn is the preexisting God", but in two was written "me'ônāh is the preexisting God". They confirmed the two and annulled the one. In one they found written "he sent the za'tûtē of the Children of Israel" but in two was written "he sent the na'rē of the Children of Israel". They confirmed the two and annulled the one. In one they found written nine היא, but in two they found eleven היא. They confirmed the two and annulled the one."

This is a difficult gemara and there have been different interpretations of this. It should be noted that pseudo-Rashi on Chronicles seemed to have some variant reading of this gemara, as he states that Ezra was the person who discovered the three scrolls. A couple of years ago I collected some different interpretations of this gemara:

Yaakov Levi in his book Bikoret Ha'Talmud suggested that at least the Za'atutei Scroll was a Torah scroll which had (at least) one word changed as a result of the changes that the 72 sages made when they created the original LXX. Za'atutei, which comes from a Greek word that means pure/holy, was used instead of Na'arei or Atzilei, so that the Greek won't think that these people were the Jewish equivalent of Ganymede, cupbearer of the Olympian gods.

Solomon Tzeitlin in this essay argued that this is an ahistorical aggadah intended to legitimize the introduction of the Hebrew matre lectionis, the usage of the אהו"י letters as vowels.

Shmaryahu Talmon in this essay argued that each of three books was a Torah scroll that represented an entirely different tradition of the Torah text, and were different from one another in other respects, not just with these few words. Any scroll representing a non-canonical tradition of the Torah was brought to the Temple for a formal ceremony (the "two against one") to officially reject its text as one of the ways used to deal with dissenting Jewish sects.

I also vaguely recall seeing a suggestion that these books weren't Torah scroll but masorah books, books that explain how to correctly right a Torah scroll. Each book represented a variant masorah, but I can't find the source.

Personally, I think Talmon's explanation makes the most sense, and also serves to explain the relation between these three books and the Sefer Azarah: The Sefer Azarah represented the ancient canon, while the other three refer to a custom of bringing problematic variant scrolls to the temple to be rejected.

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