Fixing God's Torah: The Accuracy of the Hebrew Bible Text in Jewish Law

Fixing God's Torah: The Accuracy of the Hebrew Bible Text in Jewish Law

Fixing God's Torah: The Accuracy of the Hebrew Bible Text in Jewish Law

Fixing God's Torah: The Accuracy of the Hebrew Bible Text in Jewish Law

Synopsis

The Hebrew text of the Torah has never been finalized down to the last letter. This is important not least because Jewish law requires that Torah scrolls read publicly in the synagogue be error-free. Jewish scribes, scholars, and legal authorities have sought to overcome or narrow these differences, but to this day have not completely succeeded in doing so. This book offers an in-depth study of how rabbinic leaders of the past two millennia have dealt with questions about the text'saccuracy, presenting numerous authoritative rabbinic sources, many translated here for the first time.

Excerpt

Contemporary interest in the state of the Torah's textual precision lags far behind the more widespread and better-known concerns about its historical accuracy. Yet the textual integrity of every biblical book should be extremely important to those interested in either the Hebrew Bible or classical Jewish thought. Indeed, it is one of the many Bible-related issues discussed in numerous tractates of the Talmud, books of midrashic Bible interpretation, mystical writings of the medieval and postmedieval kabbalists, Bible commentaries, works of Hebrew linguistics, guidebooks for Torah scribes, and exacting codes and essays that are integral parts of the halakhic literature (the formal and binding system of Jewish religious law). These authoritative works reflect and in some cases control the consonantal text of the Torah and of other hand-copied Bible scrolls, which, for our purposes, must be differentiated from the similar but more detailed copies of the masoretic text (including most printed Bibles) that also contain the vocalization and cantillation signs and often one or more sets of detailed textual notes, known collectively as the Masorah.

Comparison of these two complementary corpora—scrolls on the one hand and texts containing all or part of the Masorah on the other—offers no evidence of the recensional variations that have emerged from studies of some prerabbinic Bible manuscripts, but neither does it produce one completely uniform text. in fact, these corpora and the rabbinic discussions of them do provide important data that augment the story of the Bible text—s evolution from antiquity to the present.

Most text critics, whose attention is focused on the ancient prerabbinic evidence, devote little attention to these rabbinic works. Indeed, one often hears them claim that no significant textual variants are found or discussed in rabbinic literature and that one should not even expect to find the problem addressed by writers who doubted the very possibility of variations in a divinely revealed and perfectly transmitted text. Concomitantly, some students of rabbinic literature have concluded that the rabbis' many precise statements about textual details assume letter-perfect accuracy as well as unanimous agreement of all testimonies to all related textual matters, whatever their apparent significance. in certain religious circles, the existence of dis-

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