The documentary-hypothesis implies that Moses wasn't the writer of the Torah verbatim, but he could have transmitted it before it was written down. Evidence in the text shows several sources and that is was written down after Moses (i.e. Bereshis 12:6 "The canaantites were then -as opposed to currently- in the land" and the writing of the death of Moses). The Torah would have been stitched together from several scrolls by the scribes of Ezra, and a syncretism of various types of pre-Ezra Judaism. Is there a place for the documentary-hypothesis in observant Judaism?

This would put the Oral Torah into question, and make the Sages of the Talmud part of a larger debate in the approach to the Torah, including some views which are vilified in the Talmud and commentaries.


4 Answers 4


Regarding the broad question of later additions into the text of the Torah, this has certainly been the view held by various Orthodox Jews historically, including noted rabbis. To quote Dr. Marc Shapiro in Maimonides' Thirteen Principles: The Last Word in Jewish Theology?:

Rabbinic sources speak of tikkun soferim, i.e. textual changes introduced by the scribes, some of which concern the Torah. According to the Tanhuma and Yalkut ha-Makhirt, it was the anshei kenesset hagedolah who changed certain words in the Torah. The Masoretic work Okhlah ve-Okhlah and R. Joshua Lisser credit Ezra with the textual changes. The 'Arukh, Rashi, R. David Kimhi, Yemenite Masorah, and Shemot Rabbah as explained by the standard Midrashic commentary Matanot Kehunah (which is actually the clear meaning of the text), are also explicit that the biblical text was changed by the Soferim. Although lacking in our texts, there are some versions of Shemot Rabbah 13:2 which also contain this explanation....Likewise, in a different context, Ibn Ezra asserts that the text has changed since Moses' day. It should also be noted that a similar view is incorporated into an edition of the Pentateuch widely used today by Orthodox Jews. (J. H. Hertz, ed. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (London, 1960), to Leviticus 1: 1.)

A stronger formulation regarding the authorship of the entire Torah was made by R. Solomon David Sassoon (Natan Hokhmah li-Shelomo, p. 106; emphasis in original) cited here.

הדגש הוא על מה שאומר כי משה אמר זה מפי עצמו, אבל אם יאמר פסוקים אלה נביא אחר כתב אותם מפי הגבורה ומודה שקטע זה הוא מן השמים ומפי הגבורה, אדם שאומר כך אינו נקרא אפיקורוס, מה שהגדיר אותו כאפיקורוס אינו זה שאמר שלא משה כתב את הקטע אלא בזה שהוא אומר שדבר שזה מדעתו ומפי עצמו אמרו ושאין זה מן השמים

That is, the definition of heresy would be to deny the divinity of the text. But to suggest post-Mosaic authorship, such as suggesting authorship by later prophets, would not be heresy, as long as the Divine origin of the text is accepted. (It should be noted that R. Sassoon is discussing attributions of passages to post-Mosaic authors. It is possible that he would draw a distinction between that and the suggestion that larger portions of the Torah are post-Mosaic.)

Similarly, R. Raphael Mazuz writes:

אך הראב"ע מפרש על פי הפשט, שאיך יכתוב משה "ויעל" אם לא עלה. ואם עלה איך כתב והביאו לישראל. ואין זה ענין למה שכתב הרמב"ם בי"ג עיקרים (בפירוש המשניות בסנהדרין) כי שם כתב שמי שאומר שמשה כתב סיפורי התורה מדעתו הוא כופר, אך הראב"ע אומר שיהושוע כתב זה ברוח הקודש

That is, Ibn Ezra's view that some verses are post-Mosaic doesn't violate Rambam's principle, since it affirms the divine inspiration to the text.

See also the view of R. Mordechai Breuer cited elsewhere.

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    – Isaac Moses
    May 4, 2017 at 15:56
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    If you are going to mention R/Dr Shapiro's (and others') opinion that the Ibn Ezra accepted that some narratives -- not laws! -- were appended later, one should also mention the Ibn Ezra's ridicule of someone for saying just that! How can he insult someone for saying the list of kings of Edom was interpolated later and then say that part of "the secret of the 12" is just that! To be fair to the IE, it should be made clear that this claim is quite far from a given. May 24, 2017 at 20:26
  • @MichaBerger I am not unaware (cf. judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/56994/…). I ma not discussing the extent of Ibn Ezra's position here, so I didn't mention it, as it does not contradict anything I wrote. I could indeed lengthen the post and describe some of the views in more detail...
    – mevaqesh
    May 24, 2017 at 20:42
  • @mevaqesh you quote somone citing the IE as a source. Within the quote, there is a misleading implication. You could quote Shapiro without implying a given version of the IE's position, but you chose this particular snippet May 24, 2017 at 21:31
  • Thanks for the removal. You might want to add mmention that there is discussion of whether a navi other than Moshe could have received the Torah in a manner other than mipi atzmo. (You have mida'ato covered.) Otherwise, you again leave the answer misleading, as the quotes appear to say more than they do. May 24, 2017 at 23:25

The standard definition of heresy as found in the vast majority of contemporary responsa on topics that require its definition, such as whether spmepne with a given belief is an acceptable conversion candidate, can be counted toward a minyan, or can one can drink wine that was handled by them is consistently the 13 fundamentals of Jewish Faith. (Perhaps with other criteria that define who is "a heretic" rather than simply believing heresy.) By this I mean the versions accepted into the siddur, as few require believing in the original Maimonidian version.

That criterion for deciding which beliefs are Orthodox presumes that the question has halachic impact, and therefore while philosophical disputes in general are not resolvable through the rules of halachic decision-making, there are limits of halachically valid philosophy. (And, oddly, those limits would change with time as rulings get refined or majority shifts from one ruling to another.)

But one can argue that there is room in Orthodoxy for other definitions of heresy. So, the above is just setting context, and not a definitive answer.

Another such definition is that Orthodoxy is defined by halakhah, and therefore "heresy" is anything which removes reason for fealty to halakhah. (Ignoring any halakhos that depend on belief, for reasons that need to be added to this answer by someone who knows them.) One can possibly defend this as the loosest possible definition of heresy according to Orthodoxy, as it is hard to defend defining "Orthodox" in a manner that does not include observance of halakhah as part of that definition.

So, by this criterion, the question of whether there is place for the Document Hypothesis in Orthodoxy becomes asking whether belief in Document Hypothesis contradicts assumptions necessary to justify fealty to halakhah.

The Document Hypothesis is based on different assumptions about the nature of the text than Jewish Tradition is. We believe that the Torah, and Tanakh in general, describes events that were not typical. In fact, that the events themselves were as much part of how Hashem “wrote” His message to mankind as the books. We believe that the written Torah is Cliff Notes to a fuller body of wisdom, “merely” the seed to a Tree of Life planted among us, a process we were given and instructed how to work. So, yes, Hashem orchestrated similar but different events, wanted Yaaqov to have 7 children in 12 years, tells the same story in different ways or calls the same person by different names, and presented the term limits of a Jewish slave in terms that engender halachic discourse.

So, for example a Bible Critic might ask, "Do slaves go free on the seventh year (Exod. 21:1-6, Deut. 15:12-18), or do they go free in the Jubilee (50th) year (Lev. 25:39-55)?" and use it to conclude that different schools of thought with different practices about slavery wrote their own texts which were only later merged into our Torah.

Chazal, of course, note the same contradiction. The Yerushalmi (Qiddushin vilna ed.6b) says that a Jewish slave is freed at shemittah (the sabbatical year) if they sold themselves or if court sold them (e.g. to repay a debt incurred stealing an item) and they wish to leave. If someone sold by court chooses not to, they go through an ear piecing ceremony (mentioned in the quoted portion of Shemos) and remain slaves until no later than the Jubilee. And this is as the Rambam codifies it as well (Avadim ch. 3).

If someone believes that Hashem planned the Oral Torah and halachic process as part of His Intent when He composed the text, there is no question for the Bible Critic to address. That is not to dismiss the need to understand the peshat, the plain meaning of the verse. But there is no “why?”, we know the Author’s motivation to at times make that peshat less than obvious — there are other layers that we can only find through those indicators. They are not imperfections to be attributed to a human element in authorship or inconsistencies to be attributed to redaction.

There is something paradoxical about the belief in a text that evolved from the voices of prophets into Hashem’s word. If you accept that the final complicated product is indeed Hashem’s Word, and that Word is of the sort that supports Jewish Tradition and the halachic process, there is no longer motivation to speak of multiple “voices of prophets”.

Underlying the whole exercise was the presumption that Oral Torah and halakhah are an afterthought, and not part of the original texts. Thus Chazal’s answers come across as a weak apologetic, rather than reflecting the true body of the full corpus of the Torah in which the Oral and Written are a single entity. And I do not believe that traditional Shabbos observance can stand on that foundation.

It is not coincidental that once that JTS invited Document Hypothesis into their tent, they ended up fostering a legal system that does not resemble what Orthodoxy considers halakhah. Once all the pieces are there to conclude that rabbis of the past were playing a game with derashah to remake the law as they wanted, they have no reason not to do the same themselves. (And if even deOraisos are man-made, it's all fair game.)

Even by this looser definition of heresy, that which removes the rationale for the observance of the "duties of the limbs", Document Hypothesis qualifies as heretical.


First we need to figure out if belief in Mosaic authorship is an ikar emuna (if it is, that would obviously mean that there is no room for it in observant Judaism, since it would be labeled as heresy). We also need to address the question if the study of biblical criticism threatens the authority of the Torah and its divine origin.

The main Chazalic sources

Now, the Mishna in Sanhedrin 90a states,

and these (listed below) don’t get a portion in the world to come: one who says ‘there is resurrection of the dead according to the Torah’; or ‘Torah is not divine etc[1].

This is the main source regarding the parameters of emuna and kefira/heresy. Though the Mishna only addresses the question as to “who gets oilam habu”, the Rambam assumes that this Mishna has some bearing on the question regarding “who is a heretic” as well. So far we haven’t seen anything about belief in Mosaic authorship of the Torah. The Mishna merely states that a Jew must believe in the divine origins of the Torah or that תורה מן" השמים". The Gemara in Sanhedrin (99b) writes regarding the words of the Mishna “Torah min hashmayim”,

for he scorned the word of god’ (Bamidbar 15:31), this refers to one who says the Torah is not divine. Even if he says that the entire Torah is divine besides for one verse which god did not speak, but Moses said it on his own is included in the verse ‘for he scorned the word of god.

Here too we don’t find any mention of Mosaic authorship being an ikar emuna, but the belief in the divine inspiration of the author/authors of the Torah.

The Rambam codifies this belief in his Mishna Torah and in his Perush hamishnayot (in the beginning of perek chelek), and makes the belief of “Torah min hashamyim”, an ikar. However he adds a few words (Hilchos Teshuva 3:8) that are not mentioned in the Gemara itself: “אם אמר משה”, “if Moses said it”. It is not clear if the Rambam is trying to say that the belief in Mosaic authorship is in itself an ikar (meaning that doubting this in itself constitutes heresy), or that the Rambam is merely giving an example of a prophet (Moses), saying that mere doubting that the transcriber of the Torah was a prophet constitutes heresy, since that would be the equivalent of denying the divinity of the Torah altogether. The words of the Rambam in Perush Hamishnayot are too ambiguous to tell us anything conclusively on the question of Mosaic authorship, but we can deduce from his ikrei emunah how he would have viewed the evolutionary aspect of the documentary hypothesis as we will see now.

The Rambam in his 8th ikar emuna writes that a Jew must believe that the way Tefillin and Succah is done by Jews today is the same way it was done in the days of Moses. Since the documentary hypothesis posits that the Torah and Halacha has evolved, it would clearly constitute heresy according to the Rambam. However since the ikar is not mentioned in the Mishna or Talmud, the defender of biblical criticism (in accordance with Jewish law) may argue that it still fits the scope of "תורה מן השמים", as he agrees that Chazal interpreted the Torah through divine inspiration, and may come to regard the above ikar an invention of the Rambam himself. On the other hand, we must admit that the documentary hypothesis would most probably constitute heresy according to the Rambam.

The orthodox minimalist view

The first affirmation of the orthodox minimalist view that "Mosaic authorship of the Torah" is an ikar emuna is found in the Ani Maamin[2] (article number 8), “I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah presently in our possession is the one given to Moses." This is a clear declaration that a Jew must believe that the Torah was written by Moses himself, and that it wasn't tampered by anyone else besides for Moses. According to this position, one who doesn’t accept the Mosaic authorship of the Torah is a heretic. However, as we have already seen this does not necessarily reflect the view of Chazal or the Rambam, in their words the only belief required of the Jew is that he believe that the Torah is of divine origin. That Mosaic authorship is an ikar emuna (not merely a Jewish tradition) is an invention of the author of Ani Maamin. See also Tiferes Yisroel beginning of perek chelek ois vav, he seems to agree with the author of the Ani Maamin that Mosaic authorship is an ikar. See also Shut R’ Moshe, YD 3 vol. 6, siman 114-116. From these teshuvos It is evident that he accepts Mosaic authorship for an ikar, though he doesn’t feel the need to defend this position as it is self-evident to him.

The maximalist view: Ibn ezra and other chazalic sources

Now the Ibn Ezra (the Tzafenat Panaeach also cites him in the end of Parshat Vayishlach) in a few places in his commentary hints that the Torah might have been edited by different people, and that certain words were added only after the Israelites conquered the land (see his commentary on Dvarim 1:2). See also the Tziyuni al haTorah Bamidbar 21:17. This supports the position that belief in Mosaic authorship is not an ikar emuna, and that dismissal of it is not heresy (unless we say that the Ibn Ezra himself was a heretic[3]). The Tzafenat Panaeach also writes clearly that Mosaic authorship is not an ikar emunah

And since we must believe in the words of tradition and prophecy, what difference does it make whether Moses or some other prophet wrote it, since the words of all of them are truth and given through prophecy.

There is also evidence from the Midrashic literature that the Torah was edited by other scribes. In a few places (see for example Rashi Breishis 18:22) the Rabbis point out that it would have been more appropriate for the Torah to write in different way, only that the scribes (Ezra and his assembly) edited it when they felt the need to. “ תיקון סופרים הוא זה". From these and other similar statememts we see that the Rabbis themselves were comfortable with the idea that the Torah was edited by different people other than Moses, although they surely believed that they all did so with divine inspiration[4]. This lends credence to the idea that Mosaic authorship was never intended to be an ikar emunah, as the Rabbis themselves questioned this tradition. A similar tradition is found in Bamidbar rabbah (III, 13) in the name of yesh omrim that the Eser nekudot signify that they were added by Ezra himself,

If Elijah comes and asks: "why have you written these words?" I [Ezra] Shall answer: "That is why i dotted these words".

See also Rashi Dvarim 34:5 regarding the last eight verses of the Torah.

(Note: nowhere does the Torah claim that it was written in its entirety by Moses . The Torah only states in a few places that the previous Parsha was written by Moses, but that never includes the whole book. After Parshas Mishpatim (Shmos 24:4) the Torah makes such a statement. And the same claim we find by the Maso’es of the Israelites (Bamidbar 33:2). The only book that is claimed to be written (almost) in its entirety by Moses is sefer Devarim (31:9)[5]. [Indeed this is the only sefer that’s called “Toras Moshe” in the Tanach. See Joshua 8:32; 2 Melachim 14:6]. And even that doesn’t preclude small edits by other scribes).

Resolving the issues

Although we haven’t seen anything yet close to the study of biblical criticism or the belief in the documentary hypothesis (saying that small edits cropped in the text is wholly different than saying that different portions were written by different authors and only compiled much later) some modern Rabbis stretch this argument and say: since we haven’t seen anything conclusive yet in the Gemara or in the Poskim regarding the belief in Mosaic authorship, and we do find some Rabbinic literature (and Rishonic literature as well) supporting the idea that Mosaic authorship in the traditional sense is not an ikar, there is no reason for us to draw the line and stop here, for this would be an arbitrary distinction; by the same token we may accept the documentary hypothesis within the boudaries of the Jewish belief system[6].

One might still argue and say, if we acknowledge the scholarly position that portions of the Torah were written by different authors, when they often contradict each other, then we are essentially denying the divinity of the Torah, since Hashem surely does not utter contradictions! This problem can easily be resolved through the Gemara in Eiruvin 13b, “three years the Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel argued, one would say the Halacha is like us and one would say the Halacha is like us, a heavenly voice came out and announced: both [schools] are the words of god, but the Halacha is like Bais Hillel etc.” The concept of "אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים" states that even two contradictory opinions can be true in the sense of them both being divinely inspired. In a similar vein, all of the different contradictory verses evident in the Torah can be said to be divinely inspired, as every author tries to derive new laws from the broad principles set forth by Moses which are the words of Hashem. We can even say that all 613 Mitzvos are of Mosaic origin, since all of the Mitzvos can effectively be attributed to Moses as the authors of the Torah all derived their laws from his words. This theory is advanced by Jacob Milgrom in the introduction to his book Leviticus (a book of ritual and ethics) where he shows that even critical scholarship can believe in the Mosaic origin of the Mitzvos.

This theory works for the biblical narratives as well; although they were composed by different authors each writing down their own version of the biblical oral traditions that were passed down to them, they were all equally inspired by God to speak and write and inspire the Jewish nation to be morally upright and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors.

Here, the conservative may argue that if we admit that there are different versions (of narratives) in the Torah, then we are essentially saying that some parts of the Torah are not factual, since when we’re dealing with contradictory versions, obviously, only one can be a factual account. However, one can still argue that the minimum requirement is that the Jew believes in the divine origin of the Torah, since it is sensible to believe in the documentary hypothesis and at the same time believe that the authors were divinely inspired (as we have proven from the Gemara in Eruvin), this would suffice for the belief in “תורה מן השמים”.

If one accepts biblical criticism he must reject the notion that the words of the Torah were dictated by God to a single prophet, since God cannot dictate contradictory laws. He must say that the Torah is heavenly in the sense that it has been divinely inspired by its authors, akin to the inspiration of the Jewish sages when they composed the Mishna and Talmud. However this does not deter some modern orthodox Rabbis to embrace such a belief, since nowhere is it mentioned that divine dictation is an ikar emuna. The position that biblical criticism and Jewish orthodox belief system are compatible is advanced by a few modern orthodox Jewish Rabbis including: Rabbi Louis Jacobs in his book “we have reason to believe”; Abraham Joshua Heschel professor at the JTS[7]; David Weiss Halivni[8]; Rabbi Jeremy Rosen[9].


Though mainstream orthodoxy does not allow for any other biblical authors besides for Moses and advances the minimalist position that the entire Torah was given to Moses by God word for word, and considers this belief to be an ikar emuna, some Rishonim allow for some edits to have been added after Moses’s death by divinely inspired scribes. Since biblical criticism is a relatively new phenomemnon we cannot know if the Rishonim and Rabbis would have endorsed such a radical view. However, since Mosaic authorship is not mentioned in the Gemara or the Rambam to be an ikar emuna (unequivocally), some modern orthodox Rabbis embrace biblical criticism and take the maximalist position in regards the definition of "תורה מן השמים" and define it as a "divinely inspired" code of law, this allows for multiple authors and even contradictions in the bible to coexist with the belief in "Torah is from Heaven".

[1] Literally it translates to “Torah is not from heaven”. [2] A composition that is based on the Rambam’s ikarim, but was not composed by the Rambam himself, and has some significant differences with the Rambam’s original ikarim enumerated in his Perush hamishnayot. The author of the Ani Maamin is unknown. [3] Rabbi Mordechai Breuer in his debate with Professor Israel Knohl remarked, “I do not know if [ibn Ezra’s] words were to the liking of the rabbis. In any event, they were uttered by Ibn Ezra, and we can therefore not reject their legitimacy.” [4] However, see Tiferes Yisroel for different interpretation. Almost all the meforshim explain it similarly. But of course my interpretation of the Midrash is more straightforward. See also Dr. Marc Shapiro in "Maimonides' Thirteen Principles: The Last Word in Jewish Theology?". His words have been quoted by mevaqesh in his answer. See also Abarbenel's introduction to Jeremiah regarding the meaning of keri and ketiv. JPS Torah commentary Numbers by Jacob Milgrom pp. 375-376 that according to one medieval tradition the verses in bamidbar (10:35-36) were excerpted from a source known as "The prophecy of Eldad and Medad". This idea may be alluded to by R' Yehuda Hanasi when he says "[They are marked] to indicate that they form a separate book" (sifri bamidbar 84). [5] However see Ramban Devarim 31:9. But this is not the only way to read the verse. The simple interpretation is that it refers to sefer Devarim only. [6] However see Tzafenat Panaeach end of Vayishlach. He writes that the Ibn Ezra himself did not endorse large scale criticism as is evident from his commentary to Breishis 36:31. [7] http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Judaism/We-Have-Reason-to-Believe [8] in his books "revelation restored" and "Peshat and "Derash". [9] http://thetorah.com/torah-misinai-and-biblical-criticism/ see also http://thetorah.com/in-what-sense-did-orthodoxy-believe-the-torah-to-be-divine/.

  • "belief in Mosaic authorship of the Torah" Such a belief would clearly be heresy according to Rambam, as he writes in Shemoneh Perakim כי לא מלבי
    – Double AA
    May 24, 2017 at 18:28
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    Regarding Louis Jacobs, Wikipedia says "Louis Jacobs was the founder of Masorti (Conservative) Judaism in the United Kingdom" so indeed calling him Modern Orthodox is deliberately misleading. You agreed to remove him before and have now skipped multiple opportunities to do so. Similarly, your calling Rs Heschel and Halivni "modern orthodox" is controversial to say the least
    – Double AA
    May 24, 2017 at 18:28
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    mevaqesh wrote on the previous incarnation of this post: "This supports the position that belief in Mosaic authorship is not an ikar emuna" There is no proof that Ibn Ezra allowed larger scale criticism. Indeed, he condemns claims of larger scale additions, writing that the suggestion that a list of kings was written in the time of Yehoshafat warranted burning the entire book in which it was written (commentary to Genesis 36: 31).
    – Double AA
    May 24, 2017 at 18:31
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    mevaqesh wrote on the previous incarnation of this post: "The first clear mention of Mosaic authorship of the Torah being an ikar emuna is found in the Ani Maamin" This is false. R. Ezra of Girona is quite clear about it in his Torah commentary.
    – Double AA
    May 24, 2017 at 18:32
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    Can y'all talk about Mosaic transscription, in order to be clear? And RSDS is NOT quite clear on our topic, since he isn't addressing it. He is saying that it is possible but heretical to believe in Mosaic authorship rather than Mosaic transcription -- that the ideas are attributed to G-d, but the presentation is human. He does not assert that another prophet is capable of taking dictation from G-d. RRM (also in @mevaqesh's answer) says Yehoshua was indeed capable of such dictation. (At least, during the Exodus period, long enough for have possibly transcribed the last 8 verses.) May 24, 2017 at 23:32

Wikipedia cites Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher (1895-1983) in an article about Mosaic authorship of the Torah:

... accepted the documentary hypothesis but adapted it to the Mosaic tradition, pointing to certain traditions of the Oral Torah which show Moses quoting Genesis prior to the epiphany at Sinai; based on a number of Bible verses and rabbinic statements, he therefore suggested that Moses made use of documents authored by the Patriarchs when redacting that book. This view is supported by some rabbinical sources and medieval commentaries which recognize that the Torah incorporates written texts and divine messages from before and after the time of Moses.

The wikipedia article cites Ross 2004 "Expanding the Palace of Torah: Orthodoxy and Feminism" with a footnote for the source of Rabbi Kahser as: Humash Torah Shleimah, volume 20, supplement 33, Monograph regarding the writing of the Torah (in hebrew), chapter 5, page 356.

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