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Sefarim are sometimes censored for various reasons. It used to be mostly external censorship, but nowadays I think it is mostly internal censorship.

When people print sefarim and censor them, they often get called out on it by others. There are a number of blogs where one can find plenty of accusations of censorship of sefarim in recent times.

However, we don't often find the accusations themselves in rabbinic literature. I am looking for early sources in rabbinic literature that accused others of censoring sefarim. The earliest accusation that I have seen thus far is by R. Yehuda Aryeh Modena:

Ari Nohem Chapter 23

הסכת ושמע ישראל באזנים קשובות הקיות ועיונית מה שכתב בעל ספר יוחסין דפוס קושטנטינא כי בדפוס קראקא נשמט אולי להפקת רצון איזה אחד מכת המקובלים פן תגלה האמת לעולם

Here he suggests that an anti-Zohar passage was removed from the Krakow edition of Sefer Yuchasin, perhaps because the kabbalists were afraid that it would show the world the truth.

Does anyone know of any earlier examples?

For reference, the book cited above was completed in December 1628, so I'm looking for examples prior to that.

  • 1
    Wasn't Rambam's Mishna Torah censored? – DanF Jul 10 '18 at 2:46
  • IIRC I saw in the mavo to gemarra sheleimah pesachim that rabbeinu tam accused Rashi of being too swift to change the gemarra's girsa; although that wasn't specifically for censorship reasons. – robev Jul 10 '18 at 2:48
  • @DanF I am not asking for the earliest example of censorship. I am asking for the earliest example of an accusation of censorship (against the sefarim printers, not against Christians) in rabbinic literature. – Alex Jul 10 '18 at 2:50
  • 1
    @Oliver I'm inly looking for examples where a rabbinic author made an accusation. I don't even care if the accusation was correct. – Alex Jul 10 '18 at 3:12
  • 2
    @Alex I see. Then this book can help you. – Oliver Jul 10 '18 at 3:26
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Pesachim 27a:

א"ר יוסף א"ר יהודה אמר שמואל תנור שהסיקו בקליפי ערלה או בקשין של כלאי הכרם חדש יותץ ישן יוצן אפה בו את הפת רבי אומר הפת מותרת וחכמים אומרים הפת אסורה והתניא איפכא שמואל איפכא תני ואב"א בעלמא קסבר שמואל הלכה כרבי מחבירו ולא מחביריו ובהא אפי' מחביריו וסבר אתנייה איפכא כי היכי דניקום רבנן לאיסורא

...Alternatively, in general Samuel holds [that] the halachah is as Rabbi as against his colleague, but not as against his colleagues, but here [he holds], even against his colleagues, and so he reasoned, I will recite it reversed in order, that the Rabbis may stand [as ruling] stringently.

  • I don't think this would qualify as censorship, nor as an accusation of censorship. – Alex Jul 10 '18 at 23:37
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Even earlier than the Gemara in wfb’s answer is one that dates back to Tannaim. The full story is recorded in Horayos 13b-14a.

The Halacha originally was that the people would stand up for the Nasi, Av Beis Din, and the greatest Talmid Chacham. Rebbi Shimon Ben Gamliel, the Nasi, changed the Halacha so that only the Nasi could do so. R’ Meir, the greatest Talmid Chacham, and R’ Nassan, the Av Beis Din, took this as a slight to their honor, and they concocted a plan to force Rabban Gamliel out of the Nesius. Ultimately this was foiled, and Rabban Gamliel banned them from the Beis Midrash.

Eventually, the people were able to convince Rabban Gamliel to let them back in, and Rabban Gamliel consented, so long as their teachings not be cited in their names. Thus, R’ Meir became Acherim, and R’ Nassan became Yeish Omrim.

R’ Shimon Ben Gamliel’s descendant, R’ Yehudah HaNasi, later taught a Mishnah in Shevuos to his son R’ Shimon, and quoted it as “Acherim say.” R’ Shimon probed as to the identity of Acherim and why we don’t cite who he is. When R’ Yehudah HaNasi explained that it was “people who sought to abolish your and your family’s honor,” R’ Shimon successfully argued that since they hadn’t succeeded that they let old wounds die. R’ Yehudah consented and emended the Mishnah to read “in the name of R’ Meir they said,” but he still didn’t say directly, “R’ Meir said.”


Thus, we have one incident in the days of R’ Shimon Ben Gamliel and one incident in the days of R’ Shimon Ben Rebbe.

  • I don't think this would qualify as censorship, nor as an accusation of censorship. – Alex Jul 10 '18 at 23:37
  • @Alex Rashbag censored the names of these Tannaim from the Mishnayos. How doesn’t that count? – DonielF Jul 10 '18 at 23:39
  • R. Shimon Ben Gamliel simply made a rule that their name shouldn't be mentioned. I don't think that's censorship, and no one accused them of censorship. Presumably, it didn't even have much of an effect on the people hearing the teachings because (despite Rebbi's son's confusion) the Gemara does not say that it was a secret who "Acherim" and "Yesh Omrim" referred to. It seems to me that this is just an example of disrespect but not actual censorship. – Alex Jul 11 '18 at 5:30
  • @Alex When anyone else crossed out words in the Gemara in later years it was also just a rule that those words not be mentioned. Everyone knew that Shas referred to Talmud even though it wasn’t referred to as such. – DonielF Jul 11 '18 at 13:12

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