The Rambam's eighth Principle of Jewish Faith states that the entire Torah in our possession - every verse - was dictated to Mosheh Rabbenu and that it has not changed.

However, we have explicit passages in Hazal that tell us that the Torah had to be critically reconstructed from a multiplicity of scrolls, each with slightly different wording in certain passages (cf. y.Ta`anith 4:2) and that these were apparently used by Ezra HaSofer in his reconstruction (cf. Avoth De-Rabi Nathan 30b).

Additionally, we have an explicit text in the Gemara that says that the Amoraim were not experts in defective and plenary spellings in the words of the Torah (cf. b.Qidhushin 30a).

And in the Rambam's own day there were multiple versions of the Torah (differing only in a very few, slight ways), including the mesorah of Yemen which differs from Ashkenazi and Sefaradi mesorah in five places!

Not to mention the accurate placement of petuhoth and setumoth, which has enough halakhic weight to pasul a sefer Torah if made incorrectly.

My question is:

Surely the Rambam knew these passages from Hazal and the facts on the ground, so how could he write such a seemingly dogmatic statement regarding the Torah "in our possession"? Are we missing something? Was he?

NOTE: I am aware of the simplistic and non-Maimonidean wording of the popular "Ani Ma'amin" on this principle of faith and I reject it as not accurately representing the intent of the Rambam in his fuller, more original wording of the eighth principle.

  • The Rambam had access to Ben-Asher's codex (in its entirety). It is not completely implausible that he thought he actually had the correct one and everyone else was just wrong.
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 13:20
  • related judaism.stackexchange.com/a/37107/759
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 13:21
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    Where does it say, in the Rambam's eighth principle, that our Torah scrolls (or even any of those in his day) are letter-perfect, word-perfect, or even Parashah-boundary-perfect copies of the Torah scroll(s) Mosheh Rabenu wrote down?
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 13:39
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    @TamirEvan, You are correct, the actual wording of the 8th Principle does not explicitly say this. However, it does say that "every word" contains wisdom, and so I think that it stands to reason that if he thought that even one word could be different from one scroll to another - a reality both currently and in the times of the bayith rishon - then he may have worded it differently. Further, his opening line referring to the "entire Torah in our possession" also raises some concerns in light of Hazal and even what has been said about Rishonim, such as Yehudah He-Hasidh and Ibn `Ezra. Kol tuv.
    – user3342
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 15:43
  • in regards to the 3 sifrei toroth used for reconstruction of the toro 7azal had, rambam as @DoubleAA mentioned believed the ban osheir/allepo codex to be most accurate if not the accurate version of the toro. and could have thought that the reconstructed toro was the real version from mosha rabbeinu 3alow ha sholom while the first 3 were just written wrongly. Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 19:06

3 Answers 3


R' Yaakov Weinberg, in an audio recording, addressed this issue (as an issue with the ani maamin, which R' Weinberg, like you, rejected), and he explained that the point of the Rambam is not to say that the specific texts which we have now are identical to the one transmitted to Moshe. Rather, the point of the Rambam is to say that Moshe was a faithful transmitter of the Torah, and did not err nor alter the Torah as it was told to him. Thus the Rambam writes:

כלומר שהגיע אליו כולה מאת ה' הגעה שקורין אותה על דרך השאלה דבור

Which means to say that the entire Torah reached Moshe from Hashem on a level which we call "speech"

and the Rambam's proof text for this Yesod is

בזאת תדעון כי ה' שלחני וכו ולא מלבי

With this (the earth swallowing Adas Korach) you shall know that Hashem has sent me ... and I did not make it up

In other words, the source text is a verse stating that Moshe did not make up the Torah. The point of this Yesod is the accuracy of Moshe's transmission.

  • 2
    So, what this seems to be saying is that people tend to read into the Rambam's exact wording TOO much and should instead see things in the big picture and try to focus on his intent for this principle. In other words, we should see the Rambam as trying to PRESERVE a truth already held, rather than trying to INVENT a new "dogma" within Judaism. I like it. Thank you. Kol tuv.
    – user3342
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 15:50
  • 2
    @Maimonist I would go a step further and say that it isn't seeing the big picture at the cost of ignoring the details - it is the details of what the Rambam says. There is no need to not take the Rambam literally, just to read it carefully and see what his focus is. Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 15:52
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    (1) The formulation in Hilkhot Teshuvah 3:17[8] seems to support this understanding, as well. (2) Also, I'd be leery of scrutinizing the Rambam's language when working off a translation. I have access to two Hebrew translations: one says "Kol Ot she-Bah Yesh Bah Chokhmot", and another says "Kol Dibur ve-Dibur min ha-Torah Yesh Bahen Chokhmot".
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 16:59
  • @TamirEvan Agreed, with two caveats - I think you can still scrutinize the clear idea being expressed (whether it's אות or דיבור, the point is the transmission, not the current state), and I am comfortable between Shilat and Kapach to assume I have a good translation. Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 17:45
  • I was more responding to Maimonist's comments about "people tend to read into the Rambam's exact wording TOO much" here, and "it does say that 'every word' contains wisdom" in response to my comment on the question. (I should have, in retrospect, directed that part of my comment @Maimonist specifically.)
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 0:35

I've asked this question to several talmidei chachamim, and all of them have given me the same general response: the Rambam shouldn't be taken too literally, as after all, he certainly knew the passages in Chazal which you've quoted. What he means is that, for all intents and purposes, we have the same Torah. The very slight differences of a plene spelling here or an extra ו there are not meaningful differences that would cause us to say that our Torah is 'a different Torah'. This point is also made in an aish.com article which claims that the words 'colour' to 'color' can still be considered to be the same word. (In reality, the differences in the Torah's text are more significant, but the idea is plausible enough). Even a difference that is halakhically significant (in terms of making the Torah pasul) it still may not be meaningfully significant for the purposes of calling it "the same Torah"

  • The Aish article says that the idea is based on a series of lectures by Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg Z"L. I would be curious to know if this was the Rosh Yeshiva's own chiddush or are there other sources that say the same thing.
    – eramm
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 15:20
  • @eramm see YEZ's answer. I had heard this myself in the name of R. Weinberg from a Rabbi in NIRC but wasn't sure if it was documented anywhere else Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 16:18
  • But given the importance of every letter and vowel point to interpreting the Torah, couldn't a single difference have wide reaching consequences to interpretation? And what of the concept that the Torah is the Divine blueprint for Creation? Would differing blueprints cause different things to be created in the same place, causing destruction from overlapping elements? Figuratively speaking, you cant build two walls in the same place, at the same time, without their atoms coming together and exploding. That's just a physical analogy to what Im asking about. Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 5:06

Like others have pointed out, Rambam's 8th principle speaks to Moshe's personal transmission of the Torah and nothing more.

However, the logic for why people thought this was a good question in the first place, which I'll briefly recite:

Premise: Rambam would never disagree on anything any Chazal member would say A) Chazal says the last 8 verses were written by Joshua, not Moshe B) Rambam says the whole torah was written by moshe (misunderstood)

Conclusion: There is a problem here, because rambam would never disagree with Chazal, much less call any of them a kofer.

I can think of two instances where Rambam called out chazal for stating a heretical idea, or a Rishon saying it for him.

In Moreh Nevuchim when discussing the concept of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), he quotes 2 sages in Midrash Rabba that say time existed always. Rambam says this is heresy, plain and simple.

Also, at the beginning of R Yosef Albo's Sefer on Ikkarim, he begins it by saying Rambam is wrong about the 13th principle, Mashiach, because according to Rambam then Rebbe Hillel (Sanhedrin 99a) would be a heretic! Because he says there is no Messiah coming.

So clearly Rav Yosef Albo thought Rambam had the audacity to go against the sages and even call one of their ideas heretical. Of course, this is only against individual members of Chazal, not the "Chachamim", or the majority.

So, even though I agree that Rambam would have no problem when it comes to the 8th Ikar and reality, the premise of the question (at least as so far related to Chazal saying Moshe didn't write last 8 pesukim) is wrong.

I say this not to be technical, but to show an important point that we can all learn from.

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