Thursday, April 17th, 2014

“The Canaanites Were Then in the Land”: Ibn Ezra, Post-Mosaic Editorial Insertions, and the Canaanite Exile from the Land

October 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Tanach


The Canaanites Were Then in the Land”:  Ibn Ezra,  Post-Mosaic Editorial Insertions, and the Canaanite Exile from the Land 

by Aryeh Klapper

 Genesis 12:1-7:

בראשית פרק יב
(א) ויאמר יקוק אל אברם לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך אל הארץ אשר אראך:
(ב) ואעשך לגוי גדול ואברכך ואגדלה שמך והיה ברכה:
(ג) ואברכה מברכיך ומקללך אאר ונברכו בך כל משפחת האדמה:
(ד) וילך אברם כאשר דבר אליו יקוק וילך אתו לוט ואברם בן חמש שנים ושבעים שנה בצאתו מחרן:
(ה) ויקח אברם את שרי אשתו ואת לוט בן אחיו ואת כל רכושם אשר רכשו ואת הנפש אשר עשו בחרן ויצאו ללכת ארצה כנען ויבאו ארצה כנען:
(ו) ויעבר אברם בארץ עד מקום שכם עד אלון מורה והכנעני אז בארץ:
(ז) וירא יקוק אל אברם ויאמר לזרעך אתן את הארץ הזאת ויבן שם מזבח ליקוק הנראה אליו:
JPS Translation
  1. The Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
  2. I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you will be a blessing.
  3. I will bless those who curse you, And curse him that curses you; And all the families of the earth Shall bless themselves by you.
4. Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him, and Lot went with him. 
5. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the wealth they had amassed, and the persons they had acquire in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan.  When they arrived in the land of Canaan,
6. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shekhem, at the terebinth of Moreh.  The Canaanites were then in the land.
7. The L-rd appeared to Abram and said: ‘I will assign this land to your offspring’.  And he built an altar there to the L-rd who had appeared to him.”

Spinoza argued that the last sentence, “The Canaanites were then in the land”, meaning “then as opposed to now”, could not have been written at the time of Moses, as the Canaanites were still in the land.  The sentence could only have been written at a time when the Canaanites were no longer in the land, so as to convey needed historical/ethnographic context to contemporary readers. 

            Spinoza did not see himself as having discovered this; he believed that he was following in the footsteps of the thirteenth century Spanish commentator Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra.  Let’s take a look then at Ibn Ezra’s comments to Genesis 12:6:

“והכנעני אז בארץ” – יתכן שארץ כנען תפשה כנען מיד אחר. ואם איננו כן יש לו סוד. והמשכיל ידום:

“The Canaanites were then in the land” – likely that the Land of Canaan was grabbed by Canaan from the hands of another.  But if this is not so, it has a secret, and the one who comprehends it will fall silent.

The “secret” Ibn Ezra alludes to here is the “secret of the twelve” that he refers to elsewhere in his commentary, and the other verses he mentions in those contexts also seem to raise the possibility of post-Mosaic editorial insertions.  As I have not yet understood any other attempt at explaining the secret, it seems to me fair to cite Ibn Ezra as someone who was theologically okay with there being post-Mosaic insertions in the Torah. 

            However, Ibn Ezra does not prefer this reading.  On literary rather than theological grounds, he suggests that the more likely correct interpretation is that the verse teaches us that the Canaanites had taken the land by force from someone else.  In other words, he thinks the better translation of the verse is “The Canaanites were then in the land”, meaning “then as opposed to previously”.  That translation allows the verse to be written at the time of Moses.

            Why does Ibn Ezra think this reading more likely?  I suggest that the answer can be found one chapter later, in Genesis 13:1-7.

בראשית פרק יג
(א) ויעל אברם ממצרים הוא ואשתו וכל אשר לו ולוט עמו הנגבה:
(ב) ואברם כבד מאד במקנה בכסף ובזהב:
(ג) וילך למסעיו מנגב ועד בית אל עד המקום אשר היה שם אהלה בתחלה בין בית אל ובין העי:
(ד) אל מקום המזבח אשר עשה שם בראשנה ויקרא שם אברם בשם יקוק:
(ה) וגם ללוט ההלך את אברם היה צאן ובקר ואהלים:
(ו) ולא נשא אתם הארץ לשבת יחדו כי היה רכושם רב ולא יכלו לשבת יחדו:
(ז) ויהי ריב בין רעי מקנה אברם ובין רעי מקנה לוט והכנעני והפרזי אז ישב בארץ:

 JPS Translation

  1. From Egypt, Abram went up into the Negeb, with his wife and all that he possessed, together with Lot. 
  2. Now Abram was very rich in cattle, silver, and gold.
  3. And he proceeded by stages from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been formerly, between Bethel and Ai,
  4. the site of the altar that he had built there at first; and there Abram invoked the L-rd by name.
  5. Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents,
  6. so that the land could not support them staying together; for their possessions were so great that they could not remain together.
  7. And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and those of Lot’s cattle – the Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land.

Here are Ibn Ezra’s comments to 13:7:

וטעם הכנעני והפריזי כרעו. ויתכן היות הפריזי מבני כנען והוא אחד מהנזכרים, ויש לו שני שמות כאשר מצאנו שני שמות לבן שמואל, וגם לאבי אביו:

The meaning of “The Canaanites and the Perizzites” is like its peer.  It is likely that the Perizzites were among the Sons of Canaan and that he was one of the sons mentioned, but that he has to names, as we found two names for Shmuel’s son, and also for his grandfather.

Ibn Ezra recognizes that this verse raises the same interpretive issue as its peer, 12:6.  In other words, one can either translate “then, as opposed to now”, or “then, as opposed to earlier”.

            But here a new issue intrudes.  Granted that each verse on its own can stand either translation, the new issue is how either translation accounts for the existence of both verses.  Should not readers of 12:6 have been aware by now that the Canaanites were then in the land?  Why is it necessary to inform them of this twice?

            Furthermore, it is reasonably clear why 12:6 is a good place to inform an otherwise ignorant reader of the Canaanite presence; Avram has just entered the land.  But what purpose does the information serve in 13:7?

            Finally, the two verses are not identical: 12:6 refers only to Canaanites, whereas 13:7 refers to both Canaanites and Perizzites, and 12:6 mentions Canaanite presence, whereas 13:7 refers to Canaanites and Perizzites as dwelling in the land.  Are these differences significant?

            To these questions, Ibn Ezra has no evident response.  Rashi, however, who shares Ibn Ezra’s preferred reading, addresses some of them directly and others implicitly.  Here are Rashi’s comments to 12:6 and 13:7. 

והכנעני אז בארץ – היה הולך וכובש את ארץ ישראל מזרעו של שם, שבחלקו של שם נפלה כשחלק נח את הארץ לבניו, שנאמר (בראשית יד יח) ומלכי צדק מלך שלם. לפיכך (פסוק ז) ויאמר ה’ אל אברהם לזרעך אתן את הארץ הזאת, עתיד אני להחזירה לבניך שהם מזרעו של שם:

 ויהי ריב – לפי שהיו רועים של לוט רשעים ומרעים בהמתם בשדות אחרים, ורועי אברם מוכיחים אותם על הגזל, והם אומרים נתנה הארץ לאברם, ולו אין יורש, ולוט יורשו, ואין זה גזל, והכתוב אומר והכנעני והפרזי אז יושב בארץ ולא זכה בה אברם עדיין:

“The Canaanites were then in the land” – he was in the process of conquering the Land of Israel from the descendants of Shem, as it fell into the portion of Shem when Noah divided the land among his sons, as Scripture says ‘And MalkiTzedek King of Shalem’[1] (Genesis 14:18).  Therefore Hashem said to Avraham: “I will assign this land to your descendants” – I will ultimately return it to your children, who are from the descendants of Shem.

 “And there was quarreling” – because Lot’s herdsmen were wicked and would graze their cattle on other people’s land, and Avram’s herdsmen would rebuke them about this robbery, and they would reply: “The land is given to Avram, and as he has no heir, Lot will be his heir, so this is not robbery”.  So Scripture says “the Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land”, and Avram had not yet acquired it.

Rashi takes these two verses as together making a complex point: promising the land to Avraham did not deprive the Canaanites as a class of their patrimony, but rather reversed an illegitimate conquest that occurred at just about the same time as his arrival (12:6), but that nonetheless the individual property rights of the Canaanites were valid so long as the conquest had not been reversed (13:7).  Thus the shift from “Canaanites” in 12:6 to “Canaanite and Perizzites” is intended to show that the conquest was ongoing and developing.  The same is true of the shift from present to “dwelling”. 

            It should be clear that Rashi’s interpretation of these phrases does not depend on the accuracy of his reconstruction of the argument between the shepherds.  I might argue, for instance, that the point of 13:7 in its specific context is to provide an ironic counterpoint: the land could not sustain both individuals, Avraham and Lot, and yet it could sustain two entire nations, the Canaanites and the Perizzites!  Nor is it necessary to believe that MalkiTzedek was in fact Shem, or that the original inhabitants of Canaan were Shemites.  The key point is that it was necessary for the text to provide two separated snapshots of the Canaanite presence so as to show that it was developing, and therefore that at the time Hashem promised it to Avraham, He was not taking it away from anyone.  Avraham’s claim is therefore morally legitimate.

            On these grounds it seems to me that Ibn Ezra was correct to prefer the first reading in 12:6, that “the land of Canaan was grabbed by Canaan from another”.[2]

            We can now point out that the first reading brilliantly situates this story within the overall context of the book of Genesis. 

  1. In 15:16, as part of the brit ben ha-betarim (The Covenant among the Torn Pieces), G-d tells Avraham that His promise will not be fulfilled until the fourth generation because “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete”. In other words, Avraham cannot receive the land until his claim is just. 
  2. Nachmanides compellingly reads the pre-Abrahamic narrative in Genesis as an extended demonstration that the consequence of sin is exile.  Thus Adam sins and is exiled from the Garden of Eden; Cain sins and is sentenced to wander; the Flood Generation sins and is wiped off the land; and the Tower generation sins and is scattered from Babel. 

In the second reading, there is no thematic content to the editorial insertions, and the story of Avraham’s arrival is largely isolated from anything that happens before or after. 


*           This essay is part of a larger project, at the request of Gann Academy’s Tanakh department, to produce a literary argument for the unified authorship of the Torah.

[1] According to Rabbinic tradition MalkiTzedek was another name for Shem, and Shalem for Yerushalayim (Jerusalem)

[2] I have two additional grounds for preferring the first reading.

a.  The second reading assumes that the editorial insertion was necessary for readers who were unaware that Canaanites had ever lived in the land of Israel.  This requires a quite astonishing feat of historical amnesia on the part of an Israelite of any time, as every cultural history of Israel mentions the Canaanites.

b.  Genesis 11:31 already refers to Israel as the Land of Canaan.  If the hypothetical editor’s intent was simply to provide background information for ignorant readers, s/he could have provided the information there rather than waiting for 12:6.

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59 Responses to ““The Canaanites Were Then in the Land”: Ibn Ezra, Post-Mosaic Editorial Insertions, and the Canaanite Exile from the Land”
  1. Shalom Spira says:

    With your kind permission, since this a topic of halakhah lima’aseh regarding chovot halevavot, I would like to invest the above conclusion with a language that presents the dogmatic certainty which the subject deserves, for purposes of public education.
    Accordingly, to recapitulate the above conclusion: The Halakhah definitively follows R. Feinstein that a Jew is absolutely obligated to recognize the self-evident truth that every single word in our Sefer Torah was dictated by HaKadosh Barukh Hu to Mosheh Rabbeinu. The only exception to this is the set of final eight verses in the Sefer Torah, where there is a legitimate divergence of opinions in Bava Batra 15a whether they were also dictated to Mosheh Rabbeinu, or whether – because the Torah is absolute truth and so a living scribe of the Torah cannot truthfully write about his own passing – Mosheh Rabbeinu was given an oral halakhah by HaKadosh Barukh Hu that these verses which complete the writing of a kosher Sefer Torah will be dictated to Yehoshu’a instead, with Yehoshu’a acting as Mosheh Rabbeinu’s specially appointed agent. Furthermore, it is not necessary for an Orthodox Jew to believe that our Torah scrolls are letter-perfect (for it is indeed quite possible that we are not proficient in chaseirot and yiteirot). Rather, it is sufficient for an Orthodox Jew to believe that our Torah scrolls are word-perfect, having been dictated word for word by HaKadosh Barukh Hu to Mosheh Rabbeinu. There has never been any post-Mosaic editorial change to any word in the Sefer Torah: no word has ever been added and no word has ever been subtracted.
    Hopefully, with this information, every Jew will be able to fulfill the exhortation of the prophet Chavakuk “vitzaddik be’emunato yich’yeh”, which – as per the gemara in Makkot 24a – encapsulates all 613 commandments of the Torah.
    Thank you very much.

  2. lawrence kaplan says:

    I do not know if anyone is still following this exchange, but let me make a few comments.

    1. I congratulate my former student, Rabbi Spira for his thorough review of the issue.

    2. Rabbi Spira appears to have committed the “No true Scotsman” fallacy. That is, he assumes the point to be proven, namely, that Rav Feinstein’s position on this issue is normative, and therefore he draws the conclusion that anyone who dissents from it cannot be a genuine rishon, but must be a heretic. Rabbi Spira even says that if it could be shown, which he does not believe to be the case, that ibn Ezra (IE) did in fact believe in post-Mosaic additions, then he could no longer be considered to be a genuine rishon. WADR, that way madness lies.

    3 Perhaps with regard to IE’s comment on Gen. 12.6 one could with difficulty offer another explanation as to what the sod might be. But from his comment on Deut. 1.3, “be-ever hayrden” it is as clear as day that the sod there is the existence of post-Mosaic additions, and any other explanation regarding supposed kabbalistic secrets is so so strained as to be simply unbelievable.

  3. Shalom Spira says:

    I am very grateful to Mori ViRebbi R. Kaplan for his kind words and for his insightful response. The formidable concerns that he raises are indeed correct and deserve careful halakhic consideration. Yet R. Feinstein did believe that the Ibn Ezra was on his side; he specifically cites the Ibn Ezra as the posek upon whom he is relying in demanding that the alleged commentary of R. Yehudah Hachassid be censored.
    The issue at hand is as weighty an issue as could ever be discussed in the pages of Tradition: we are dealing with the very essence of what Orthodox Judaism means.
    Accordingly, I have asked my contact in Eretz Yisra’el, Yonasan Sigler of the Kollel Iyun Hadaf ( to urgently present this question before R. Joseph Shalom Eliashiv. I think it is legitimate to consult R. Eliashiv’s opinion on this matter for two reasons:

    (a) He is one of the scholars to whom R. Feinstein addressed the original alarm call that R. Yehudah Hachassid’s alleged commentary is a forgery that is endangering the spiritual welfare of the public.
    (b) He is reputed to be a kabbalist, and so perhaps he can offer a better account that I regarding the Ibn Ezra’s “secret of the twelve”.

    Thank you very much for patiently waiting whatever amount of time this consultation process will take.

  4. S. Holtz says:

    For additional historical perspective on precisely this question, see Richard C. Steiner, “A Jewish Theory of Biblical Redaction from Byzantium: Its Rabbinic Roots, Its Diffusion and Its Encounter with the Muslim Doctrine of Falsification,” Jewish Studies Internet Journal 2 (2003), 123-167. A permanent link to the article is available at the following URL:

  5. Shalom Spira says:

    Yi’yasher kochakha to S. Holtz for presenting the illuminating new source written by Dr. Steiner.
    If I may summarize Dr. Steiner’s excellent article as it pertains to our halakhic discussion, we find that the article makes the following points, to be designated A, B, C and D:

    (A) Dr. Steiner reports substantial evidence regarding textual emendations that the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah effectuated in various books of the Prophets and Hagiographa.
    My personal analysis is that this substantial evidence identified by Dr. Steiner is entirely consistent with R. Feinstein’s ruling. R. Feinstein affirms the authenticity of the Masoretic text of our Sefer Torah, but is certainly amenable to editorial changes having been orchestrated to the Prophets and Hagiographa. Cf. points (2) and (7) above, where I apply this to the Book of Esther and the Book of Zechariah, respectively.

    (B) Dr. Steiner reports that the dots on words in the Sefer Torah are taken by one non-halakhic source to indicate a doubt that Ezra entertained whether the words belong in the Sefer Torah. This non-halakhic source is identified by Dr. Steiner on p. 139 in footnote no. 49 as “De Lange, Greek Jewish Texts, 95 (3 recto 11-3)”. The non-halakhic source states as follows in its Commentary on Genesis and Exodus (at Genesis 33:4):

    “Why is וישקהו dotted? Some say that Ezra found a manuscript in which (the word) was written and another in which it was not written, and so he dotted it, and if you take it (the word) out, the verse is not detached from its plain meaning. And so it is with all of the dotted words (in Scripture).”

    By contradistinction, continues Dr. Steiner on pp. 140-141, the rabbinic sources regard the dots as a sign that the text belongs, but that it should be interpreted in a special way. In Dr. Steiner’s words, the rabbinic tradition teaches that the dots cast aspersion “not about the correctness of the text but about its literal truth or about the sincerity of the action it describes” [E.g. Esav did not kiss Jacob sincerely, or – alternatively (to the converse extent) – Esav experienced an uncharacteristic moment of repentance and therefore kissed Jacob.]
    This certainly confirms what I wrote in point (6) above. Accordingly – as further elucidated in point (6) – there was no actual need for R. Feinstein to take umbrage at R. Joshua Falk’s interpretation of Ezra’s soliloquy in Avot Di-Rabbi Natan, for R. Falk and R. Feinstein are actually saying the very same thing. They both agree that every single word in our Sefer Torah was dictated by HaKadosh Barukh Hu to Mosheh Rabbeinu. Thus, Dr. Steiner’s treatment of the dots on the Sefer Torah is fully consistent with R. Feinstein’s ultimate ruling. Although the one non-halakhic source Dr. Steiner quotes does contradict R. Feinstein’s ruling, this is of no concern to Orthodox Jewish theology, which gleans its information from halakhic sources.

    (C) On pp. 148-149, Dr. Steiner cites the Radak in his commentary to II Samuel 15:21 regarding kri u’khtiv. [Actually, this information is also correctly marshalled by Dr. Shapiro on p. 101 in ch. 7 of his own book “The Limits of Orthodox Theology”. I apologize that I neglected to ever relate to this Radak in point (10) above. I will now make restitution for that omission.]
    The Radak, as translated by Dr. Steiner, states that:

    “As for these words, which are written but not read or read but not written, as well as that which is written and read (differently), it seems that in the first exile books were lost and moved around, and the scholars who knew Scripture died, and the men of the Great Assembly who restored the Torah to its original state found disagreement among the extant manuscripts, and they followed the majority in (dealing with) them, in accordance with their understanding. And in places where their understanding did not attain clarity, they wrote one thing but did not point it, or they wrote it outside but not inside, or they wrote one thing inside (in the text) and another outside (in the margin).”

    The Radak offers the above remarks in his commentary on Na”kh (and specifically in reference to the first appearance of the word “Im” in II Samuel 15:22) and not in his commentary on the Torah, apparently indicating that the Radak is only referring to the kri u’khtiv of the Prophets and Hagiographa. After all, if the Radak had intended to claim that there are words in the Sefer Torah itself whose Masoretic authenticity is questionable, then the Radak should have offered these remarks in his treatment of the Pentateuch, on the very first kri u’khtiv that appears in the Pentateuch. Indeed, this supposition that Radak refers only to Na”kh is seemingly confirmed in the fact that the Radak combines his analysis of kri u’khtiv with ktiv vilo kri and kri vilo ktiv. The latter two phenomena only exist in the Prophets and Hagiograpaha, *not* the Pentateuch. Thus, it makes sense to assume that the Radak refers only to the Prophets and Hagiographa. The Me’iri, by contradistinction [whose approach is explained in point (10) above] specifically advises his reader that he will be addressing the Pentateuch in addition to the Prophets and Hagioagrapha, and therefore that one should by aware that the 2 anomalies of kri vilo ktiv and ktiv vilo kri do not exist in the Pentateuch. Thus, the Radak appears consistent with R. Feinstein’s ruling.

    However, for the sake of intellectual honesty, I must add that I do not know whether the article itself would agree with my reading of the Radak. I say this because of one sentence that the article proffers on p. 150:

    “Thus, one suspects that the words אנשי כנסת הגדולה שהחזירו התורה לישנה מצאו מחלוקת בספרים may be Radaq’s expansion of ג’ ספרים מצא עזרא.”

    On the one hand, the article might simply be positing that just as the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah adjudicated the validity of three Torah scrolls – as cited in Mesekhet Sofrim 6:4 [and as explained in point (13) above] – so too the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah took upon themselves the task of correcting the extant manuscripts of Prophets and Hagiographa. If so, the article is not contradicting my understanding of the Radak, and is therefore consistent with R. Feinstein’s ruling

    Nevertheless, one might alternatively interpret the article as understanding the Radak to maintain that even in the Sefer Torah itself the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah entertained doubts regarding the authenticity of its Masoretic text of the words. Such a reading of the Radak would contradict R. Feinstein’s ruling that one must believe that our Sefer Torah is word-perfect. The basis for this alternative reading of the Radak is the Radak’s comment that the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah “restored the Torah to its original state”.

    In my opinion, I do not think that the Radak actually meant to assert with his phrase “shehecheziru ha-Torah li’yoshnah” that the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah discovered doubts regarding the legitimacy of any of the words in our Sefer Torah. In addition to the considerations raised earlier (viz. that the Radak makes this comment only in Na”kh and not in Chumash, as well as the Radak’s equation of kri u’khtiv with kri vilo ktiv and ktiv vilo kri which is only relevant to Na”kh), I would observe that the Radak says in context “Anshei Knesset Hagedolah shehechizru ha-Torah li’yoshanah matz’u machaloket basefarim”; there is a letter “sheen” at the beginning of “shehecheziru”. The Radak is apparently simply explaining who the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah are – what is their background. If the Radak actually meant that the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah discovered problems with the legitimacy of the Masoretic text of the Pentateuch, then the Radak should seemingly have omitted the “sheen” and instead have written “Anshei Knesset Hagedolah hecheziru ha-Torah li’yoshnah umatz’u machaloket basefarim…” [-adding a “vav” to “matz’u”]. I.e., while attempting to restore the authentic Masoretic text of the Torah scroll, the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah discovered insoluble doubts.

    Accordingly, it would seem to me that the Radak is compatible with R. Feinstein’s ruling.

    D) There is one further topic of interest in Dr. Steiner’s article, which – while peripheral to the article – is central to the halakhic discussion of R. Feinstein’s ruling. In footnote no. 117, Dr. Steiner writes that “This is not the place to deal with Ibn Ezra’s use of the expression והמשכיל ידום (cf. Amos 5:13) in his commentary to Gen 12:6…”
    Indeed, the Ibn Ezra’s views on the authenticity of the Masoretic text lie at the very heart of this halakhic discussion. Accordingly, I hope we will soon hear a response from R. Eliashiv, as indicated in my previous post (Nov. 30).

  6. Aharon Cassel says:

    I read your very interesting article and the responses and would like to make three comments in the meantime.

    1. The issues brought up are very important to Jews today.

    2. There’s a great drash (I don’t remember who wrote it) on the verse
    ויהי ריב בין רעי מקנה אברם ובין רעי מקנה לוט והכנעני והפרזי אז ישב בארץ:
    It says that the Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land to stress that they were dwelling in the land together in peace with one another, but the shepherds of Abraham and Lot could not manage to do that.

    3. In his article in the Israeli magazine “Shabbaton” on parshat Vayishlach, R. Yuval Sherlo tackles the very same issues being tackled in your post. He discusses whether today the Rabbis should deal with the post-Mosaic belief conflict raised by the verse
    ואלה המלכים אשר מלכו בארץ אדום לפני מלך מלך לבני ישראל:
    and Ibn Ezra’s comments on it.
    He says that the policy of not dealing with the issue is not a good one for two reasons. Firstly, many people encounter the issue only when they are young men or women and are not equipped to deal with it, and then lose faith in their Rabbis. He writes that many students feel they’ve been duped and the Rabbis have concealed from them true faith by burying complex questions deep in the ground. Secondly, we are demanded to believe with open eyes not shut eyes. When there is a big question, true faith is strengthened by a tough meaningful answer. We are not allowed to hide anything of G-d’s true Torah. Doing so is deviating from the path of the Chachamim and Rishonim. They didn’t conceal – they asked, they struggled with the issues and found answers.

  7. Aharon Cassel says:

    Shalom once more. I would like to make several more comments on this blog.

    1. There are three areas which have caused dispute as to the “correct” text of the Torah:
    a. the differences in the three formulations of the Torah: the traditional, the Samaritan and the Hebrew original of the Greek translation
    b. the changes introduced intentionally by Soferim: Itturei Soferim and Tikkunei Soferim, changes such as those described by Ibn Ezra and Yehudah He-Chasid (as in this blog), and the kri/ketiv family of changes as stated by Radak and Aphodi. [By the way, R Spira refers us to Radak’s comment in Samuel II (repeated in his introduction to Prophets) and says Radak’s comments on kri/ketiv do not refer to the Torah, but Abarbanel says Radak’s comments refer to the Torah]
    c. text transmission problems (mainly, but not only malei/chaser)

    2. The differences between the two texts of the Torah in use today (the Ashkenazi/Sephardi and the Yemenite) result only from transmission problems. The Yemenite method was to always copy from the one correct master-copy (the Aleppo Codex). The Ashkenazi/Sephardi method was, in every place in the text where there is a dispute between scrolls, to go according to the majority of available authoritative scrolls. The Ramah (Abulafia) was the father the Ashkenazi/Sephardi text, with the Or Torah and Minchat Shai putting the polishing touches to his work. It’s important to note what disarray the text of the Torah was in, in the days of the Ramah. He writes in his introduction to Masoret Seyag Letorah:
    “ספרים מוגהים בידינו גם הם נמצאו בהם מחלקות רבות ולולי המסרות שנעשו סייג לתורה כמעט לא מצא אדם ידיו ורגליו במחלקות … ואם יאמר אדם לכתוב ס”ת כהלכתו ילקה בחסר וביתר ונמצא מגשש כעור כאפלת המחלקות … ואני מאיר הלוי … וללכת אחרי הישנים הנאמנים ולנטות בהם אחר הרוב”
    He settles thousands of disputes over predominantly (but not only) malei/chaser.

    3. I have not seen a treatment of how and when the various Ashkenazi and Sephardi versions coalesced into one. If anybody can refer me to such a treatment I would appreciate it.

    4. There are two articles I recommend reading on the faith issue of this blog:
    • האידיאה בדבר קדושת הנוסח לאותיותיו וביקורת הטקסט, מאת מנחם כהן
    His discussion of the three “types” of text of the Torah in use towards the end of Second Temple times and his discussion of the texts of the Torah in various locations (Israel, Babylon, Spain, Ashkenaz) in the Middle Ages, are particularly illuminating.
    • Encounters between Torah min Hashamayim and Biblical Criticism, by Ilana Goldstein Saks. She discusses how four contemporary thinkers handle this encounter: Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffmann, Rabbi Mordechai Breuer, Rabbi David Weiss Halivni and Dr. Tamar Ross.

    5. Each of today’s leading Rabbis determines his policy on whether, and how, to grapple publicly with the problems of faith raised by the proposition that parts of the Torah are post-Mosaic. His policy is determined by his theological, religio-political and sociological framework.

    6. R. Feinstein forbade (unsuccessfully) the publication of R. Yehudah He-Chasid’s commentary to the Torah, and after it was published, wanted to burn the whole book. All this was because of a few dubious references in the commentary to post-Mosaic changes to the Torah (see R. Feinstein’s answers nos. 114 and 115). Following Haym Soloveitchik’s idea, the reason for R. Feinstein’s vehement reaction to the commentary is that he saw it in the framework of the twentieth century and orthodox Jewry’s battle with the Documentary Hypothesis and with the Reform/Conservative approach to Torah min hashamayim. If some famous twelfth century or twentieth century Rabbi would have written that G-d created the whole universe except black holes, R. Feinstein would not have had such an extreme reaction, but would have dismissed it as weird. And this, even though such a proposition goes against Rambam’s first principle as much as R. Yehudah He-Chasid goes against his eighth.

    Unlike R. Feinstein, the Tzitz Eliezer and R.Sherlo, for instance, are definitely in favour of publicising the comments of Ibn Ezra and R. Yehudah He-Chasid and dealing with the issues they raise.

    7. Another point to be taken into account by the Rabbis in their decision whether to publicise the issue or not, is from whom are they trying to conceal it. With twenty-first century communications, the “secret” is going to get out. This is true even for charedi Rabbis trying to conceal it from their communities. As R. Sherlo points out, concealing it is wrong in principle and, in the long run, harmful in practice.

    Furthermore, any “baal habayit” who learns the secret is faced with the choice of propagating it or not. Many will choose to propagate it.

    8. Ibn Ezra and R. Yehudah He-Chasid wrote their comments in the framework of the 11-12th centuries and the surrounding cultures in their localities. R. Spira judges them from the perspective of 21st century Orthodoxy, for instance when he says “thus, giving Ibn Ezra the benefit of the doubt, it can be assumed that the Ibn Ezra was an Orthodox Jew who is indeed one of the Rishonim (and therefore one of our ba’alei mesorah), as befits someone who is quoted by Tosafot”. This is inappropriate time-wise and culture-wise. It is also inappropriate to view the issue purely through the spectacles of Halachah. R. Spira strains to, one by one, dismiss and explain away many Rishonim and Achronim who do not agree with R. Feinstein’s halachic ruling. One can be surprised that various Rishonim had certain views but one should not bend over backwards to try to deny they had those views because it goes against what is politically correct today in certain circles.

  8. Shalom Spira says:

    Typographical correction to my previous post: nine lines from the end, the line should read

    “cannot receive a commandment to change even the slightest detail (e.g. Mantzipa”kh)”

    Thank you very kindly.

  9. I do not know whether it’s just me or if perhaps everyone else experiencing problems with your website. It appears as though some of the text within your content are running off the screen. Can somebody else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This could be a problem with my web browser because I’ve had this happen previously.
    Many thanks

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