I was taught that in the era immediately after the redaction of the Talmud, the Masoretes made what is now the final determination of which writings constituted the Tanach (for example, the book of Job is sacred writing, while the book of Judith is apocrypha). I was also taught that the Masorim determined the final "layout" of the Torah, that is, which words would have a break to the next line in the column, where there would be long or short gaps, what trup symbols were assigned to each word, and so forth. After that was the era of the Gaonim, and the great Rishonim (especially Rashi) leaned heavily on the work of the Gaonim (as well, of course, as the Talmud and the Midrach Rabbah).

Now I have heard of the Savorim, which came right after the Talmud was redacted and in fact some Savorim are mentioned in the Talmud. On Wikipedia, it is stated that the Gaonim came right after the Savorim.

In that case, where do the Masoretes (Masorim?) come in? And where does that name come from?


In response to a comment, I realized I mis-spoke -- the Masoretes codified the standard format (wordings etc.) of the Torah scroll and Tanach, but the selection of which writings constitute the Tanach was made at a much earlier time, probably before the Gemmorah started to be developed.

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    Actually, I thought that the Council of Yavneh (Jamnia) were the ones who decided what was Apocryphal and what was part of the Tanach.
    – ezra
    Sep 10, 2017 at 17:03
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    Talmud and Tanakh are different books. Different people worked on each.
    – Double AA
    Sep 10, 2017 at 20:12
  • @ezra The Jamnian theory has been increasingly questioned...
    – mevaqesh
    Oct 1, 2017 at 17:30
  • @mevaqesh - Maybe you could elaborate? I really am interested. I just always heard that the Council of Yavneh were the ones to figure out the Biblical canon.
    – ezra
    Oct 1, 2017 at 21:17
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    @ezra This isnt really the place for it. You can post a separate question. As I quote in my answer, Prof. Leiman wrote an important book on the topic. You can see a summary of it here, and his views are referenced on Wikipedia's page on the Jamnia Council as well, ayein sham.
    – mevaqesh
    Oct 1, 2017 at 21:20

1 Answer 1


To quote Wikipedia

The Masoretes (Hebrew: בעלי המסורה‎ Ba'alei ha-Masora) were groups of Jewish scribe-scholars who worked between the 6th and 10th centuries CE, based primarily in present-day Israel in the cities of Tiberias and Jerusalem, as well as in Iraq (Babylonia). Each group compiled a system of pronunciation and grammatical guides in the form of diacritical notes on the external form of the biblical text in an attempt to standardize the pronunciation, paragraph and verse divisions and cantillation of the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh, for the worldwide Jewish community.

As noted there, they also determined the proper texts of these works.

According to this, the term massoretes either is related to the word 'massoret' (meaning tradition) referring to their transmission of traditions, or it is related to the word 'sephira' meaning counting. This would reference the massoretes' counting the number of words and letters and verses in different parts of scripture.

They did not canonize Tanakh; this process happened earlier, by Hazal or even earlier.[i]

It is important to emphasise that the Massoretes engaged in very specific studies; massoretic studies. This is distinct from the main topics of the Talmud, and the halakhic tradition spanning the Talmud, Savoraim, Geonim, and Rishonim.

It is also worth noting, that even after the heyday of the Massoretes in the late Geonic period, later scholars continued to engage in massoretic activities, such as R. Meir Abulafia who wrote Massoret S'yag Latorah, and R. Yedidya Norzi who authored Minhat Shai.

[i] For more on the history of this process, see The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture (New Haven, 1991) by R. Dr. Sid Z. Leiman.

  • Commentless downvote?
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 24, 2017 at 17:30
  • You have clarified my confusion -- the codification of law is a separate intellectual track from the standardization of format for the scripture. Also your answer led to my reading about the Ramah, which was satisfying. Thx. Oct 1, 2017 at 17:17
  • @MarkFischler You are very welcome. My pleasure! Feel free to ask any other questions you have as a new question, or in chat.
    – mevaqesh
    Oct 1, 2017 at 17:19

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