Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tikkun Soferim - Later Amendations to the Torah?

For the full recovery of HaRav R. J. Wasserstein

I heard a very interesting speech this weekend [which S. had previously discussed here as well], and I have decided to expand some on it.

In this weeks Torah reading we were treated to a rather strange occurrence. Although, throughout the Torah, there are words read different than they are written, at least in the Torah (Nakh provides plentiful examples of significantly altered words), these are minor corrections. Most of these corrections are merely the maleh or hasar (plene and defective) spellings. Yet, in last week’s reading two words appeared which instead of reading the actual words we substitute two totally different words (chapter 28, 27 & 30). The substituted words are not different in the sense of their meaning – their meanings are very similar just they express the same in a different manner – just in their pronunciation. These alterations are based upon the TB, Meggilah 25b. The Talmud explains these words were altered as the way they written was considered too crass and thus required substitution.[1]

Rashi, in his commentary on the Torah, states that these words are the product of the Tikkun Soferim, corrections of the Scribes.[2] What are the Tikkun Soferim? There are two basic ways to understand what these soferim did. If one looks at Rashi’s first mention of the Tikkun Soferim, both of these are represented. That is, in the first mention, there are three different versions of Rashi. Depending upon which version one has, will in turn inform the debate about what the Tikkun Soferim did.

Rashi’s first mention of the this concept is found in Genesis, when God visited Abraham. God came to visit after Abraham circumcised himself. However, this visit was interrupted by the appearance of the three angels (who appeared like men to Abraham). After they left God came back as it was, however, it was viewed inappropriate to say that God came and stood or waited before Abraham. Therefore, the verse was altered to say that Abraham still stood before God. Rashi explains this change is one of the Tikkun Soferim. The simple way to understand this concept is just the Rabbis came and explained that although there should have been a different reading, this one was chosen so not appear offensive to God. But, importantly, the Rabbis did not actually make the change, rather they came to explain it.

In some editions[3] of Rashi, there are a few additional words which offer a very different insight into the Tikkun Soferim process. These are “שהפכוהו רבותינו לכתוב זה” or “The Rabbis altered it to state thus.”[4] This means that after the Torah was written, some later Rabbis came and altered to the text.

This understanding presents a problem in light of the creed offered by Maimonides, among others, that the Torah never changed.[5] But, before we get to that we need to first locate Rashi’s source for this understanding.

It seems, the source for the additional words is based upon a Midrash Tanhuma (Beshalach 16). In this Midrash it states that the men of the Great Assembly (אנשי כנסת הגדולה) were the ones who did the Tikkun Soferim. Thus, this Midrash is stating that these changes were actually done – done by the men of the Great Assembly. This Midrash is in conflict with other statements, most notably by the Bereishit Rabbah (36,7). There, there is no mention of the men of the Great Assembly and thus no human alterations.

Now, some have claimed based in part upon this conflict and the problem mentioned above that the Tanchuma has been corrupted. This position was espoused by R. Azariah de Rossi, in his Me’or Einayim. He says that the words regarding the men of the Great Assembly were later emendation based upon an error. Specifically, de Rossi states “that some impetuous person, as I think, wanting to honor the Men of the Great Synagogue, wrote those words in the margin of his copy of the Yelammedenu [Tanhuma]. His colleage, the printer, than instead his words into the body of the text for the sake of clarity.”[6] De Rossi, then argues that not only was that Tanhuma altered in this fashion, but the previously cited Rashi was as well. He says that the additional words are “unquestionably an error.” (For other examples of this phenomenon see R. Zilber, Ohr Yisrael 41, p. 201-223.) De Rossi’s position was quoted favorably by some traditional commentaries[7] attempting to deal with the problematic Rashi as well as the Tanhuma. This is of course ironic in that de Rossi’s work was banned for taking liberties with various statements of the Rabbis.

Yet, for all these justifications, as Lieberman has shown, even if one discounts the Tanhuma, there are still other examples of similar statements regarding Tikkun Soferim. Thus, we are forced to conclude that there are in fact two traditions regarding how to understand Tikkun Soferim. One holds the Rabbis did not alter the text while the other is inapposite. In truth, the latter position is not nearly as problematic as it is at first glance. Already R. Hai Goan[8] deals with a similar issue regarding the accuracy of Torah’s text. Specifically, the TB, Kiddushin is in conflict with the way we have our Torahs. R. Hai explains, that we for our purposes, we only have our Torahs and that we need not worry about perceived conflicts. According to R. Hai, so long as we follow the halakhic process we need not worry about historic inaccuracies. One could argue, the Tanhuma and perhaps Rashi took a similar position, so long as the Tikkun Soferim was based upon established Talmudic principles, there was room to even amend the Torah.

Sources and further reading: see Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 64-67 (and the sources cited therein); Saul Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, 28-37; Kasher, Torah Shelemah, vol. 19, 374; C.D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible, 347-363; Marc B. Shapiro, Limits of Orthodox Theology, p. 98-100.

[1] The written words are coarser versions of the ones which are actually read.

[2] Rashi’s assertion that this change is from the Tikkun Soferim is problematic. None of the various Massorah lists include this example in their lists. See, e.g., Okhlah we-Okhlah, list 168 (p. 113 of the Frensdorff ed.); C.D. Ginsburg, The Massorah, vol. 2 (vol. 4 at seforimonline.org) p. 710 list 206. Instead, as Liberman has noted, generally the Tikkun Soferim were inappropriate references to God and not generally problematic words, as is the case here.

[3] This includes the first edition, Reggio, [1475]. Other early editions, however, do not include these words, for a discussion of these see Rashi HaShalem, vol. 1 202-203 n. 75, 357.

[4] The third version contains these words in parenthesis.

[5] On this topic see generally B. Barry Levy, Fixing God’s Torah, and Marc B. Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology, p. 91-121.

[6] Translation from Weinberg ed. of Me’or Einayim, p. 327.

[7] See Etz Yosef commentary to the Tanhuma; R. Menachem Kasher, Torah Shelemah, vol. 19, 374.

[8] Harkavey, Teshuvot HaGeonim, no. 3.

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