I'm trying to understand how Orthodox Jews view the Dead Sea Scrolls. Are they considered authentic representations of Judaism? If there are textual variants between our current Tanach texts and the scrolls are the scrolls seen as more accurate? Do any contemporary poskim discuss the place of the scrolls, how they should be viewed, etc?

  • 1
    Closely related:judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/17017/…
    – Yishai
    Jun 16, 2014 at 18:31
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    @Yishai, a duplicate?
    – msh210
    Jun 16, 2014 at 18:44
  • @msh210, actually re-reading that question more carefully, it looks more like a duplicate, but this question is worded much more broadly and seems to encourage a wider range of answers. Not sure if that is duplicate material or not.
    – Yishai
    Jun 16, 2014 at 20:10
  • @Yishai perhaps close that as a duplicate of this and merge the answer hither? (It works as an answer to this question, methinks.)
    – msh210
    Jun 16, 2014 at 20:42
  • @msh210, works for me.
    – Yishai
    Jun 16, 2014 at 20:43

2 Answers 2


During the Second Temple Period, there were different sects with different interpretations of Judaism. The descendants of the Pharisees wrote the Talmud, which defined Orthodox Judaism as we know today.

(What follows is from Rabbi Shneur Leiman's lecture on yutorah.org)

The Dead Sea Scrolls belonged to a sect that was clearly not the Pharisees; it includes a letter to the Pharisee priest describing their differences. For instance, the Talmud says that the barley for the Omer sacrifice was harvested immediately after the first day of Passover, and this was stressed "because the Boethusians said it was not harvested right after the festival." The Dead Sea Scrolls contain a work, Book of the Jubilees, that sets up their calendar as always harvesting the Omer barley several days later. (I think Passover would always start on a Wednesday, and the Omer-harvesting would be the next Saturday night.) So the Dead-Sea sect may have been the Boethusians that the Talmud described; or some say the Sadduces; the point is, they were a different sect with a different interpretation which is not the one we follow. Differences in their text of the Bible vs. the mainstream text we use today are also explained as "this was a different sect with different practices."

It's a bit like when they do excavations in Israel and find all these First-Temple Era idols. Yes, we know from the Bible that the Jews kept worshipping idols when they weren't supposed to! Okay fine, maybe now you can show me exactly what the idol looked like, woohoo if that floats your boat, great. Just because it's buried there doesn't mean it's right. Same thing here. The Talmud says there were variant sects and we don't follow them, so now we found a treasure trove all about one of these sects. Occasionally it can shed light on the Talmud's brief descriptions of the non-mainstream practices it's rejecting (such as the above), but it really doesn't change what we're supposed to do or follow.


The perspective of Orthodox Jews vis-a-vis the Dead sea scrolls varies from non recognition, ambivalence, to outright excitement.

For those who do not view it as a life altering find see them as 1. Either a validation of what was already known to them ie. Small variance in textual differences due to a very solid mesorah. 2. the other non canonical scrolls found among them only showed that this sect was a fringe element with tzduki tendencies, and thus of no relevance to modern day rabbinical Judaism.

Those who are ambivalent share similar views with those above, yet they will also use it as a "kiruv tool" to show the trustworthiness of the transmission of the biblical canon, thus Rav Yosef Reinman (One people, two worlds), Rav Mordechai Becher, and Aish Discovery seminars will cite them to show small of variation from the text of our Sifrei Tanach.

And there are those who have an enthusiastic reception of the scrolls. This includes, Professor Shnayer (Sid) Leiman and most notably Proff. Lawrence Schiffman an Orthodox Jew who has lectured in NYU and Yeshiva University. He is widely considered the worlds foremost expert on the dead sea scrolls.

Professor Schiffman posits, that although the scrolls were clearly written by a fringe extremist group during the Hasmonean period, they can be used to create a clearer backdrop to more fully understand second temple Pharasaic Judaism and the milieu in which it was couched.


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