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We have found very old Torah scrolls, which were named the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls are some of the oldest Torah scrolls out there; however, there are some discrepancies between these ancient scrolls, which are considered to be more correct, and our modern-day Torah scrolls.

If we have these very old, uncorrupted scrolls, why don’t we change our corrupted scrolls back?

Furthermore, Kabbalah and Rashi both teach that every single letter has a massive amount of importance. If this is true, how can we be satisfied with Torah scrolls that prove to be changed, even though they were only changed by one letter? Shouldn’t we try to have our Torah scrolls be exactly how they were during the time of the Beit Hamiqdash?

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    considered to be more correct... by whom?
    – shmosel
    Aug 11, 2023 at 6:24
  • @shmosel The Dead Sea scrolls could be considered more correct purely by the fact that they are older. If I have a document, which I would need to be saved word for word, many scribes may start to copy down this document. Over the years, these scribes may have made mistakes. If an older version of this document is found to be different than the newer version, shouldn’t the older version carry more authenticity , as there is a less of a chance of the document being changed. ?.
    – Kyotiq
    Aug 11, 2023 at 6:30
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    Welcome to MY! Your one is a very important question, yet you falsely assume that if something is older it is more correct. Aug 11, 2023 at 6:43
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    Perhaps reverting to older text actually changes the religion in a way that people may not want it to change...
    – Steve
    Aug 11, 2023 at 17:27
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    How do you know that the site wasn't intended as a genizah for corrupted scrolls? Aug 11, 2023 at 23:07

3 Answers 3

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Halakhah does not assume that anything older is necessarily more precise despite the principle yeridat hadorot (ירידת הדורות), and this is scientifically not reasonable either. Assume you write an important letter, and you ask a little child living next door to copy it, and a week/year/decade/century later you ask a professional copy editor to copy your same letter. Which copy would you trust more?

Instead, in the Yerushalmi Taanit 4:2 it is taught:

שְׁלֹֹשָה סְפָרִים מָצְאוּ בָעֲזָרָה. סֵפֶר ״מְעוֹנֵי״, וְסֵפֶר ״זַעֲטוּטֵי״ וְסֵפֶר ״הִיא״. בְּאֶחָד מָצְאוּ כָתוּב מְעוֹן אֱלֹהֵי קֶדֶם, וּבִשְׁנַיִם כָּתוּב מְעוֹנָה אֱלֹהֵי קֶדֶם. וְקִייְמוּ שְׁנַיִם וּבִיטְלוּ אֶחָד. בְּאֶחָד מָֽצְאוּ כָתוּב וַיִּשְׁלַח אֶת זַעֲטוּטֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּבִשְׁנַיִם כָּתוּב וַיִּשְׁלַח אֶת־נַעֲרֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. וְקִייְמוּ שְׁנַיִם וּבִיטְלוּ אֶחָד. בְּאֶחָד מָצְאוּ כָתוּב תֵּשַׁע הִיא, וּבִשְׁנַיִם כָּתוּב אַחַד עֶשְׂרֵה הִיא, וְקִייְמוּ שְׁנַיִם וּבִיטְלוּ אֶחָד.‏

Three scrolls were found in the Temple courtyard, the Meone scroll, the Zaatute scroll, the hi scroll. In one they found written meôn (מְעוֹן) is the preexisting God, but in two was written meônāh (מְעוֹנָה) is the preexisting God (Moses V. 33:27). They confirmed the two and annulled the one. In one they found written he sent the zaatûtē (זַעֲטוּטֵי) of the Children of Israel but in two was written he sent the naarē (נַֽעֲרֵי) of the Children of Israel (Moses II. 24:5). 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.

The same is discussed in Sifrei Devarim 356 and in Soferim 6. Therefore, our sages of blessed memory used the majority principle to decide which manuscript was correct if they had conflicting versions. Despite not being flawless,* this is a scientifically valid method as well, and this is how they reconstructed missing parts of the Aleppo Codex as well.

* The choice of the manuscripts for comparison is not trivial.

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  • "Halakhah does not assume that anything older is necessarily more precise." A good excuse to deny that ancient Torah scrolls differ from our own. Why do you assume the Dead Sea Scrolls where copied by children? You have no evidence for this.
    – Turk Hill
    Aug 13, 2023 at 0:01
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    @TurkHill No one said anything like that. The child was an analogy to illustrate the point that older is not inherently better.
    – shmosel
    Aug 13, 2023 at 1:31
  • @shmosel We gree that older is not necessarily better. However, please spear me. We know if the Dead Sea Scrolls shows up to perfectly align with our modern Torah text you would use this as proof that the Torah never changed. This proves that we do not possess the original Torah text.
    – Turk Hill
    Aug 13, 2023 at 6:43
  • @TurkHill The people of Qumran were most probably Essenes, who – although being scientifically extremely interesting people – were heretics according to our standards. Among their scrolls, there are certain ones that are very close to our tradition, while others contain different variants, but we don't follow them. Instead, Rabbinical Judaism has the mechanism described in my answer which ensures the (halakhically) correct transmission of our tradition. Aug 13, 2023 at 9:05
  • @Kyotiq Have you considered accepting my answer? Aug 13, 2023 at 11:21
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There's been extensive scholarship on this, especially by Professor Schiffman. The "Qumranites" -- the group to whom these scrolls belonged -- did not follow the mainstream "Pharisee" (Perushim) practice; see their Book of Jubilees. There's even a letter sent to Jerusalem from the Qumranites noting differences between their practices and what was done in the Temple in Jerusalem.

So -- different calendar, different take on some religious aspects ... it's thus very possible that already by this point, there had been a divergence in the detailed Torah text itself. Thus, the Dead Sea Scrolls reflect one of the many splinter groups rejected by the Talmud -- so we are not going to take their word on the Masoretic text!

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  • Rejected is a strong word and it lacks evidence. Historically speaking, there was a great deal of sharing and communication between the different streams of Judaism back then. The communities in Alexandria (predominantly Hellenistic Jews), those in both Yehuda and the Galil (Perushim and Tzadokim) shared traditions. So too with the Jews called Essenes. In the end, we are all one people from a single source. Each is valuable and precious and not to be discarded. Generally, only the "conquerers" write the history and reject the views of "others". That doesn't make them correct. Aug 11, 2023 at 14:35
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    @YaacovDeane the Mishna sure doesn't sound like "valuable and precious" are words to describe the Tzedukim, or at least their way of doing things ...
    – Shalom
    Aug 11, 2023 at 15:31
  • That approach towards the copies by non-Talmudic Jews might weaken support for the Masoretic text itself if (as seems probable) Aaron ben Moses ben Asher and his father were Karaites.
    – Henry
    Aug 11, 2023 at 16:43
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I appreciate where you're coming from but unfortunately your premise is faulty for a few reasons.

  1. I don't believe we have found entire complete Torah scrolls. I believe we have found various fragments and scrolls and they cover the entire text of the Torah. The only complete text found at Qumran was a scroll of Isaiah

    "The most outstanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls is undoubtedly the Isaiah Scroll (Manuscript A) – the only biblical scroll from Qumran that has been preserved in its entirety (it is 734 cm long). This scroll is also one of the oldest to have been preserved; scholars estimate that it was written around 100 BCE"

    Source: https://www.imj.org.il/en/wings/shrine-book/dead-sea-scrolls

  2. Multiple copies of Torah books were found, such as 30 copies of Devarim (Deuteronomy). But despite these books being written in a similar time period, they do not agree with each other

    All the books of the Hebrew Bible, except for Nehemiah and Esther, were discovered at Qumran. In some cases, several copies of the same book were found (for instance, there were thirty copies of Deuteronomy), while in others, only one copy came to light (e.g., Ezra). Sometimes the text is almost identical to the Masoretic text, which received its final form about one thousand years later in medieval codices; and sometimes it resembles other versions of the Bible (such as the Samaritan Pentateuch or the Greek translation known as the Septuagint). Scrolls bearing the Septuagint Greek translation (Exodus, Leviticus) and an Aramaic translation (Leviticus, Job) have survived as well.

    Source: https://www.imj.org.il/en/wings/shrine-book/dead-sea-scrolls

  3. For a long time Judaism has been practicing a concept of "correcting text according to the majority" as can be seen in Yerushalmi Taanit 4:2. But I cannot fathom how we could apply this concept when we have so many Dead Sea Scrolls with so many variants. And it's possible the Qumran community did not believe in correcting by majority, perhaps they sought out to collect all divergent traditions and study all of them. I have no objection to that methodology, I sometimes will read the Samaritan Torah to see what insights might be gained. But if the community of Qumran believed in having and preserving multiple variants of texts, it means that you can't extract a single authoritative text from the variants. Which means that despite having 30 copies of Deuteronomy, we aren't much closer to knowing what the "Original Deuteronomy" looked like.

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  • My understanding is while they didn't find any single scroll except for Isaiah, the whole of the Law and most of the prophets can be assembled from the fragments.
    – Joshua
    Aug 13, 2023 at 3:15

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