by: Marc B. Shapiro
It appeared on Canadian television and “stars” myself, David Novak. Benjamin Hecht, Shalom Carmy, Eliezer Breitowitz, Mayer Schiller, and Leib Tropper. (If you can’t tolerate, or figure out, the game played by the girls in the show, just fast-forward through that section. Also, for some reason the quality of parts 10-13 is not perfect).
I was very impressed with the speakers, in particular Rabbi Breitowitz. Unlike the others, I had never heard of him, and found him to be a very insightful and really wonderful member of the “team”. The one weak link, in my opinion, was Leib Tropper, and I say this without any connection to recent events. Apart from the fact that he speaks as if he is talking to yeshiva bochurim rather than the larger community, there are times when he is simply wrong. For example, what he says in part 8 about the text of the Torah is based on a misunderstanding, and contrast what he says with the perceptive comments of Schiller and Hecht.
On this topic, in my book I cited a number of examples of authors who have no knowledge of the history of the Torah text (or perhaps they do have knowledge, but are consciously engaged in the creation of a religious myth). A recent example of this is R. Ezriel Tauber, Pirkei Mahashavah al Yod Gimel Ikarei ha-Emunah (Jerusalem, 2008). This is what he says regarding the text of the Torah (p. 206):
עינינו הרואות כי מסורת זו נשמרה בישראל עד לימינו. ואף על פי שכלל ישראל התפזרו לארבע כנפות הארץ, בכל אופן כל ספרי התורה של כל העדות בכל התקופות ובכל המקומות הם בנוסח אחיד, והם זהים. זוהי תופעה מופלאה מאד שלאחר העתקות כה רבות וטלטולים נותרו כל ספרי התורה באותו נוסח.
I don’t for a minute think that Tauber, who is a very learned man, is ignorant of any of this. In fact, elsewhere in his book one finds a different perspective (p. 215):
Perhaps another example of his creation of a religious myth is the following comment, which is designed to illustrate the universal nature of Jewish observance despite the myriad of details in halakhah (p. 216):
אם באנו למנות את כל הדינים וההלכות הכלולים בזוג תפילין, נגיע לכשלושים אלף הלכות!
משוי שלש מאות: לאו דוקא וכן כל שלש מאות שבש"ס
With regard to the text of the Torah, in Limits, p. 97 n. 41, I discussed the different readings of the word דכא vs. דכה in Deut. 23:2. I stated that Ashkenazim and Sephardim read it with a heh and Yemenites read it with an aleph. This is also how the matter is described in the responsum of R. Ovadiah Yosef that I refer to in this note. Yet matters are actually more complicated than this. R. Chaim Rapoport informs me that the Chabad practice is to write with an aleph. Furthermore, there was also an old Ashkenazic minhag to write it with an aleph.
Right before I was going to post this, S. of On the Main Line asked me if I could make sense of a sentence that appeared in a Yated Neeman article entitled “Letter by Letter: The Story of the Romm Publishing House and the Vilna Shas”, available here.
The strange sentence reads: "The first manuscript that the Romm family obtained was Rabbenu Chananel's commentary which now appears alongside the gemora on many masechtos. The manuscript was kept in the Vatican archives but it had not been well preserved. The pages were very worn and were marked by rust stains, while the edges of the sheets had been eaten away. Moreover, the commentary was written in Latin characters, which made deciphering and copying it much harder."
One doesn’t need to be an expert in Hebrew manuscripts to realize that this is real howler. But S. wondered where they got got the idea that R. Hananel’s commentary was written in Latin characters. Before I was able to examine the matter carefully, Dan replied with the answer. The whole article is taken (and censored) from an earlier article by Shmuel Shraga Feigensohn, as Dan has already shown. See here. As for the information about the Latin characters, Dan points to this passage
בראשית שמנו לבנו להעתיק כתב יד פירושו של רבנו חננאל בר חושיאל ז"ל (מימי המאה השמינית לאלף החמישי) על מסכתות רבות מתלמוד בבלי שנמצאו באוצר הספרים שבוואטיקאן ברומי והכתב הוא באותיות רש"י בצורות איטאליאניות [נוסח איטלקי] אשר רוב ישראל בזמננו לא כהלין כתבא דא למקריה
When reading this passage I was reminded of another error, this time not by an anonymous Yated writer, but, bi-mehilat kevodo, by Rabban shel Yisrael, R. Moses Isserles. In his responsa, no. 128, he suggests that Rashi’s commentary to the Torah was written in the vernacular, which I assume means French, and only later translated into Hebrew. It is a mystery how he came up with this bizarre idea. R. Asher Siev, in his edition of the responsa, writes about Rama’s suggestion:
[A]n examination of Torah scrolls from all over the world, from Ireland to Siberia to isolated Yemen, all handwritten by scribes, yielded just nine instances of one-letter spelling discrepancies. Nine! And none of them affect the meaning of the text. Why is this so? Because every week we take out the scrolls and read them in public. The people follow the reading closely and if something is wrong, they are quick to point it out.
Unfortunately, Reinman doesn’t realize that it was the invention of printing that unified Torah texts by creating a standard version that soferim could have access to and be guided from. Printed humashim also enabled people listening to the reading to point out errors. Yet let us not forget that most of the differences in Torah scrolls have concerned male and haser. Contrary to Reinman’s implication in his last sentence, there is no way for the people following the reading to catch such an error.
I also must point out that Reinman’s first sentence is an egregious error, and one doesn’t need to go to Ireland or Siberia to prove this (and, of course, no one has ever performed such an examination). If one simply takes fifty Torah scrolls from Lakewood one will find all sorts of discrepancies. I know this because the people who check sifrei Torah by computer claim that the overwhelming majority of scrolls they check, including those that have been in use for decades, have contained at least one error. In other words, contrary to what Reinman is statng, the truth of Torah does not rise or fall because of scribal errors. If it did, then we would be in big trouble because as I just mentioned, almost every Torah scroll in the world has discrepancies. What Reinman doesn’t seem to get is that while contemporary halakhic authorities are in dispute about only nine letters, this has nothing to do with the quality of actual Torah scrolls, which are obviously subject to human errors by scribes.
For the information on errors in Torah scrolls, including eye-opening pictures, see Kolmos, Elul 5748. Here is part of R. Shmuel Wosner’s letter quoted on p. 7
עכשיו שנכנס עבודת הקאמפיוטער בזה למסלולו, ונתברר על ידו לתמהון לבב כולנו, שמבערך ששים ספרים, ס"ת שהיו בחזקת בדוקים יצאו רק תשע ספרים נקיים מכל שגיאה וברובא דמינכר מאד נמצאו שגיאות פוסלות לרוב. וכן בדידן הוי עובדא בס"ת שנכתב ע"ש תלמידים גדולים וצדיקים שנספו בעו"ה, נמצאו ה' טעיות ממש בחסר ויתר
 For details, see R. Yaakov Hayim Sofer in Mekabtziel 35 (Tishrei 5769), p. 124; R. Avihai Yitzhak, Masoret Teman be-Of (Zichron Yaakov, 2009), pp. 188ff.
 Yahadut Lita (Tel Aviv, 1959), vol. 1, pp. 268-296. See also Feigensohn's Aharit Davar, at the end of the Romm ed. of Nidda.
R' Hananel in the Vilna edition employed three manuscripts.
Vatican 126/128 covers all of Moe'd. The missing pages at the beginning of 126 (Yoma 2-8) are also missing in print. This is in a clear, undamaged Ashkenazic square hand, perfectly legible even to laymen. More on Vatican 126/128 here: http://nli.org.il/imhm/vaticanhebmss.pdf Pages 91-92.
Bava Qama and Bava Metzia are from London BL Add. 27194 (cat. 408), as both include only BQ 2-37 and BM 2-51. This is manuscript slightly less legible.
The rest of Neziqin is from Rome, Angelica (not Vatican) 83. The censor's erasure of 4 lines on fol. 100 (on Sanhedrin 43b), is described in respective daf in Vilna, in the editors footnote. Had the Vilna editors used the BL copy mentioned above, which continues to the end of Nezikin (except for Horiyot), they would not have omitted the page on Sanhedrin 18, which is missing from Angelica (between fols. 81-82), nor the missing line on Sanhedrin 43a, both are copied in BL. This is in Italian semi-cursive hand, slightly more difficult than the others.
More on the uncensored Talmud and R' Hananel on Sanhedrin 43 (of particular interest to Daf yomi participants, coming up, how hauntingly appropriate, this Shabbat Hagadol)