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I recently watched a video by Rabbi David bar Hayim about the "18 minute matzah fallacy." While I don't think I know nearly enough to weigh into this debate in particular, he brings an odd proof. He brings out another manuscript of the Talmud, and claims that the difference in the phrasing of the same section makes a difference in the halacha. (He also claims that the manuscript he brings out is better, for some reason.)

I am having difficulty finding detailed info about the differing manuscripts.

  • Does anyone know about research with regards to the different sources for the mishnah and gemara? As far as I know, different manuscripts have been found, but I couldn't find a list of all known manuscripts.

  • Do different editions (ones copied from differing manuscripts, presumably) have significant enough differences to impact halacha? If this is the case, how do poskim deal with this/have dealt with this?

  • I read that the Vilna edition is widely accepted today, but could not find a sourced answer about why that edition is accepted, and what manuscript it's based off of.

I'm sure that for my level of study, it does not matter so much which particular edition I go with, but it'd be good to know more about the history of how the text got from chazal to the books available to me. Answers to any of the questions above or recommended reading/sources about this topic would be appreciated!

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Let's start at the beginning. The Oral Law was not meant to be written down, but for various historical reasons the material that was taught in the academies was later collected and edited into the text that we know today as the Mishnah and the Gemara. However, there was no such an extreme stringency with the text that we see for copying a Torah scroll. This resulted that there are minor differences in the various manuscripts.

In a later period the church began to learn Hebrew, and they started to criticise Jews for having certain parts regarding their religion in the Talmud that they considered derogatory and unacceptable. Therefore they initiated mass burnings of Talmud manuscripts mainly from the 13th century. With the advent of the printing press, the church required a written approval from the censor that they removed the sensitive parts.

Daniel Bomberg was famous for trying to minimise this intervention of the church, but still, his edition (published between 1519-1523) was not free of censorship. He also made great efforts to consult many different manuscripts in order to filter out scribal errors (Rashi had also done similar work in his comments). Although published in the 19th century, the famous Romm edition of Talmud from Vilna - the one that most 20th century editions used - was also censored. If we don't consider the censorship, this edition has very few errors, which was highly appreciated, when books were typeset manually. The history of these editions is discussed in detail in the book Printing the Talmud, kindly suggested by Double AA in comment.

Regarding the Jerusalem Talmud it is quite clear that Bomberg mainly used the Leiden Codex with three other manuscripts. For the Babylonian Talmud there were far more early manuscripts. The censorship mostly had an effect on aggadic material, where a certain person, called Yeshu was involved. After a while scribes tried to find euphemisms to avoid censorship and persecution. These cases are compared in Peter Schäfer's book, but a few examples are given also on the Wikipedia. Here you can find reference to many important and high quality manuscripts.

As the power of the church started to decrease in the 19th century, some publications started to list these omissions. There is a shorter one, called Chesronot haShas, published in Königsberg in 1860. However, there's a far more detailed work by Rabbi Raphael Rabbinovicz, who found in Munich an uncesored manuscript of Bavli from 1342. He compared this and other manuscripts with the printed editions and published the multi-volume Dikdukei Soferim, an extremely detailed and precise work, which may serve as a basis of similar analysis.

Fortunately the scope of the church and the halakhic decisors were quite different, so this censorship had a small effect on our religious laws. In newer editions these omissions were reinserted as well. Your example is a consequence of a scribal error, and in overall they should have an even smaller effect, as they are random. Personally, I only know one case (whether there should be 67 or 70 lines in Haazinu), when such and error affected halakhah, but it was in Mishneh Torah.

  • Na, the 70 lines comes from Masekhet Sofrim not the misprinted Rambam. This answer isn't bad in terms of the general history but it clearly just shows ignorance of where and how often manuscript differences have actually mattered. It's not just Church censorship, even though that is an intriguing and well known subset. – Double AA Apr 19 '18 at 15:27
  • @DoubleAA Thank you very much indeed for the kind words. Prof. Yosef Ofer could verify the error using Rambam's signed manuscript, not Masekhet Sofrim. youtu.be/ahj_xz5H9J8?t=17m27s – Kazi bácsi Apr 19 '18 at 15:39
  • I don't understand what you're getting at. Soferim has a 70 line tradition. Rambam had 67 based on Aleppo. People changed Rambam's text to match the 70 tradition. What's the problem/proof? 70 didn't come from the change to the Rambam. – Double AA Apr 19 '18 at 15:41
  • @DoubleAA Just to backfire with your argument from a previous debate, how do you know that 70 which is written in Masekhet Soferim is the correct one? Maybe the current text was altered, because it looks nicer... – Kazi bácsi Apr 19 '18 at 15:45
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    @DoubleAA Yepp, you should also better write good answers instead of comments. You haven't written anything for more than a week! – Kazi bácsi Apr 19 '18 at 16:19

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