From here:

The MT [Masoretic Text] includes the kere and ketiv system, in which marginal notes indicate that certain words are to be read differently than they are spelled in the text, or that certain words in the text should not be read at all, or that certain words not in the text should be read there. Various explanations have been suggested for this system. The medieval grammarian and commentator Radak (Rabbi David Kimhi, 1160?-1235?) explained that this system was created because Bible texts were lost during the Babylonian exile and the best scholars died. The later scholars who re-established the text found different readings in the surviving manuscripts and accepted the reading found in the majority of manuscripts, but when they couldn't make up their minds about a reading they indicated both possibilities with these marginal notes.

In the footnotes, it says:

For Kimhi's view on textual criticism see U. Simon, "Ibn Ezra and Kimhi -- Two Approaches to the Question of the Accuracy of the Masoretic Text," Bar Ilan 6 (1968):191-237.

Where does the Radak say this, and what are the other "Various explanations" about the words that are read differently than they are written?

4 Answers 4


The Radak that is mentioned is from Shmuel II 15:21.

We find in the Talmud (Nedarim 37נ):

אמר רבי יצחק מקרא סופרים ועיטור סופרים וקריין ולא כתיבן וכתיבן ולא קריין הלכה למשה מסיני

R. Yitachak said: The textual reading, as transmitted by the scribes, their stylistic embellishments, [words] read [in the text] but not written, and words written but omitted in the reading, are all halachah from Moses at Sinai.

It is not clear exactly what scope of cases this gemara is referring to, but the above Radak neglects to mention it at all. (See also Radbaz vol. 3 §584)

Abarbanel (Yimiyahu intro.) brings the Radak and rejects his explanation on several fronts. He believes that indeed Ezra HaSofer inspected the texts before he compiled the Tanach, but included variant k'ri to supplement many words that were written incorrectly with respect to proper grammar and context, for one of two reasons:

  1. The word is written incorrectly to deliver a hidden message that the author wished to impart, and Ezra added a k'ri so that listeners would be able to follow everything on its simplest level.
  2. The word is simply misspelled or ungrammatical or completely missing from the text etc. due to the author's lack of linguistic expertise and grammatical skills, and Ezra added a k'ri to these to "fix" them. (He didn't want to change it completely for fear of it actually being an incosistency of the first type.)

Maharal (Tiferes Yisrael 66) rejects both the above opinions and insists that it was in fact the authors themselves that incorporated the use of double wordings, k'ri and k'siv in their books. They used k'siv for the hidden meanings and deep imparted messages within the text, while the k'ri was used for a basic understanding of the content. Malbim is also of this opinion.

Yehuda Leib ben-Zeev writes that all the above three opinions are true in some cases. That is, there are some cases where they are indeed "Halach L'Moshe MiSinai", as the gemara states, but these can be limited to those which are subsequently listed in the gemara there (for which clearly chazal had a tradition regarding). Other cases were included by the author as alternative readings such as ובעפלים/וּבַטְּחֹרִים and ישגלנה/יִשְׁכָּבֶנָּה of Deut. 28:27,30. Then most of the rest which are clearly grammatical and typographical errors can be attributed to scribal errors.

R' Shmuel Rosenfeld wrote a short book about all matters pertaining to kri and k'siv. He devotes an entire chapter to the reason for the phenomenon, in which he spends many pages listing the faults with Radak's approach. He believes, like the Malbim, that kri/k'siv are incorporated by the author of the book to impart some message, whatever it may be. This was started by Moshe in the Torah and then was used as a technique by all the authors of the later books. [That's what it means "halacha l'moshe misinai"; i.e. the concept of kri/k'siv was "taught" to Moshe at Sinai, and then used by all the later authors of the Tanach.]

  • check out the last 3 paragraphs of this essay by gil student, which also brings these opinions: aishdas.org/toratemet/en_vayera.html
    – Menachem
    Commented Aug 30, 2011 at 4:16
  • 1
    Just wanted to share that the Radak quoted in Sefer Shmuel is a direct quote from Radak's intro to Sefer Yehoshua, which also serves as an intro to his commentary on nach.
    – cube
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 3:34
  • Very nice but referring to the writing of the Torah by an author "Other cases were included by the author as alternative readings such as ובעפלים/וּבַטְּחֹרִים and ישגלנה/יִשְׁכָּבֶנָּה" gives me the willies.
    – user6591
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 18:19
  • @user6591, The phrasing was meant to include all books of Tanach, which are by various authors, even though the examples given are from the Torah exclusively.
    – jake
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 18:44
  • @jake I realized that. Still sounds funny. I don't even know what a better word would be:) How about a rephrase "Other cases were intentionally written with an alternate reading such as etc." I mean if it bugs you too. If it doesn't, it doesn't.
    – user6591
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 18:54

On a Kabbalistic level, the ksiv represents עלמא דאתכסיא, the hidden realm of G-d's thought, while the kri represents עלמא דאתגליא, the revealed realm of His speech.

(R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Likkutei Torah 6d, citing his teacher the Maggid of Mezeritch)


I don't know about the Radak but I know of three reasons for kri/ktiv

  1. Disagreement about the text. (The Radak from Shmuel II 15:21.)
  2. A desire to send one message to the public that hears it read, and another message to the talmud chacham who reads it on his own. (Abarbanel Yimiyahu intro. and R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Likkutei Torah 6d, citing his teacher the Maggid of Mezeritch))
  3. The kri' ktiv highlights some ambiguity in what the text is saying. Meaning, there is some 'hidden' message being explained by the creation of an ambiguity, letting the Torah scholar know that what is written is not exactly what is going on. One famous example of this is where the Tanach says that Shlomo's kli mayim is a certain size. The ramification of the statement is that the Tanach believes that Pi is 3. However, if you divide the gematria of kri by the ktiv then you get .1416~ meaning the kri ktiv is telling us that PI is really 3.1416~. There is another example which I have forgotten regarding king david and I believe a sin or some such. (R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Likkutei Torah 6d, citing his teacher the Maggid of Mezeritch, Maharal, and others)

  4. Torah codes :)

An indepth look at this topic can be found here.

  • 1
    Any sources for these?
    – msh210
    Commented Aug 26, 2011 at 17:51
  • 1
    Apparently, you can find the sources in other peoples' partial answers :)
    – avi
    Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 20:15
  • I'm pretty sure that site you linked to is a jews for jesus website. see for example, this page: betemunah.org/salvation.html
    – Menachem
    Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 19:46
  • 1
    Yes, it is clearly a Messianic Jewish site. (See here. Or don't.)
    – jake
    Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 21:33
  • 3
    @avi, Nothing wrong with referencing a Messianic or Christian site. Accept the truth from whoever says it. Best to just point out that it is a Messianic site.
    – jake
    Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 23:20

It should be noted that Radak in numerous places in Trei Asar, states explanations for both the kri and ksiv of a word - something which only makes sense if they both have a meaning. See Radak to Zecharia 4:2, Chaggai 1:8 and Amos 8:4 Edit from Kman - After thinking about this, I realize that it is possible that the Radak was showing that both the kri and ksiv were possibly true since each one could make sense. Not that each one was the original word. Rather, there may have been some mistake as to which was the correct word, but both the kri and ksiv are possibilities because each makes sense. The Radak, explains both kri and ksiv many times in Yehoshua.

  • I disagree that that is the only logical conclusion. Perhaps he was explaining as a mima nafshach.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 18:51
  • 1
    Interesting, but I don't think this is a full answer. At least, I don't see what conclusion you're reaching. I think this works as a comment, maybe. @DoubleAA, do you agree?
    – Seth J
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 14:15
  • I think this is a comment on the question because it refutes the premise of the block quote in the question - i.e. that Rada"k considered variation to be the result of confusion.
    – WAF
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 15:25
  • @WAF, isn't a refutation of an integral premise of a question valid as an answer?
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 16:44
  • @msh210 I don't believe it's an integral premise. Whatever Radak happened to believe, the question is about what are the various opinions.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 9:56

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