Thursday, November 05, 2009

Ibn Ezra & Biblical Criticism: The Secret of the Twelve

This is my understanding of the lecture given by The Adept on the subject of Ibn Ezra to Devarim 1:2. Any and all mistakes are mine. The Adept is a brilliant man and if I fail to convey that, it's due to my inability to express his knowledge as opposed to his lack of it. Also, you have to learn this post, not just read it. You're not going to understand it unless you print off the sources and learn them.

UPDATE: A blog reader named Dan created a definitive source packet linking most of the text of this post and all of its PDFs together into one PDF. You can download that here. Thanks, Dan.


One lovely night, The Adept informed us that our homework would be to learn the Ibn Ezra to Deuteronomy 1:1 on divrei hamatchil "Beyond the Jordan," or בְּעֵבֶר, הַיַּרְדֵּן. Imagine our confusion and surprise upon realizing there was no such Ibn Ezra.

Confused, we saw the term referenced in Deuteronomy 1:2 and learned that one instead as our preparation for the lecture. (For those of you reading this post, you will have to learn it, too, in order for any of this to make sense.) Was it possible that The Adept had simply gotten confused and assigned us the wrong homework? I thought so. But when he came to class he asked us, "Now, since there is no dibur hamatchil on 'Beyond the Jordan,' why did I assign it to you as such?" Nobody had the answer. "Ah," he said, "none of you read Spinoza!" Opening up the Theological-Political Treatise, he read us the following excerpts:
Theological Political Treatise (Spinoza)

Spinoza was under the misimpression that the point Ibn Ezra was troubled by was that 'ever ha'yarden' meant 'east of the Yarden.' The difficulty was that Moshe never went west and only somebody on the west side would call it 'east of the Jordan!' Thus, he would suggest, this passage cannot have been written by Moshe, and that would be the beginning of biblical criticism. However, Ibn Ezra intended no such thing. The word 'ha'taam' in Ibn Ezra means 'the sense is.' The idea here is that these words were said in 11 days. That's when the mitzvos were given over, etc. And that's what it means when it says 'be'er es ha'torah ha'zos'- it is referencing the fact that Moshe began reteaching the laws here. That's the meaning of k'chol asher tziva aleihem- he retaught them words they had heard before. Ever HaYarden simply refers to the place where Moshe did this and taught them. In fact, Shadal, who we will come to later, cites the Sephardic scholar Motot who had this opinion and says it could be that Spinoza learned from him, quote Spinoza and shows how he did not learn this Ibn Ezra correctly.

Now that we have ascertained that the words Ever HaYarden are not what trouble Ibn Ezra here, what triggered the following comment in Ibn Ezra, namely: "And if you want to understand the sod, it's in these 12 verses?" Well, perhaps we may understand these last 12 verses as referring to the last 12 verses of the Torah; those would not have been written by Moshe.

Let's look at the verses cited in this Ibn Ezra as those alongside which the last 12 verses of the Torah "reveal a sod, a secret." According to the Toras Chaim edition put out by Mosad HaRav Kook, the first verse is from Deuteronomy 31:22.

כב וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא; וַיְלַמְּדָהּ, אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 22 So Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it the children of Israel.

"Well, what's wrong with that verse?" The Adept questioned us and we struggled to answer him. He finds the Toras Chaim edition to be a 'shake well before using' type; he thinks it's better to get the Mosad HaRav Kook editions with the supercommentaries that lumping everything together and removing the commentaries.

"Perhaps it's that he couldn't have taught the whole Torah to them when it wasn't all finished and written down yet?" one student questioned hopefully.

"Who says it's the whole Torah? Look at the plain sense of the verse," The Adept guided us. "It seems perfectly fine to say that Moshe taught all of them a song. Therefore, if I had to guess, the verse being cited in vayichtov Moshe is actually referring to Deuteronomy 31:9."

Aside from the 12 verses at the end of Deuteronomy and this verse regarding the length of the Hebrews' travels we have other-

Seemingly Later Additions to the Moses-Written Text

1. ט וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה, אֶת-הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת, וַיִּתְּנָהּ אֶל-הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי לֵוִי, הַנֹּשְׂאִים אֶת-אֲרוֹן בְּרִית יְהוָה; וְאֶל-כָּל-זִקְנֵי, יִשְׂרָאֵל. 9 And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, that bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and unto all the elders of Israel. (Deuteronomy 31:9)

This verse poses a question/problem. Moses wrote 13 copies of the Torah, one for each tribe, one deposited; how could that verse have been written until after the Torah was fully complete and given? It seems like a later addition to the text.

2. ו וַיַּעֲבֹר אַבְרָם, בָּאָרֶץ, עַד מְקוֹם שְׁכֶם, עַד אֵלוֹן מוֹרֶה; וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי, אָז בָּאָרֶץ. 6 And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem, unto the terebinth of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. (Genesis 12:6)

It sounds like whoever wrote the words "and the Canaanite was then in the land" was suggesting they are not now in the land. (For example, now Bnei Yisrael are in the land.) So the problematic word is az. Ibn Ezra on Genesis 12:6 states: Of course Canaan is there; who else would it be? The idea is that already they were there. But if that's not the answer, then there is a sod.

3. יד וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא, יְהוָה יִרְאֶה, אֲשֶׁר יֵאָמֵר הַיּוֹם, בְּהַר יְהוָה יֵרָאֶה. 14 And Abraham called the name of that place Adonai-jireh; as it is said to this day: 'In the mount where the LORD is seen.' (Genesis 22: 14)

This statement ( בְּהַר יְהוָה יֵרָאֶה) seems like a common saying. However, it would not have been common at that time. It wasn't yet called har Hashem in those days so how can there be a saying that people say of har Hashem? Ergo there are those that say this is from a later period.

4. יא כִּי רַק-עוֹג מֶלֶךְ הַבָּשָׁן, נִשְׁאַר מִיֶּתֶר הָרְפָאִים--הִנֵּה עַרְשׂוֹ עֶרֶשׂ בַּרְזֶל, הֲלֹה הִוא בְּרַבַּת בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן: תֵּשַׁע אַמּוֹת אָרְכָּהּ, וְאַרְבַּע אַמּוֹת רָחְבָּהּ--בְּאַמַּת-אִישׁ. 11 For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the Rephaim; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbah of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man.-- (Deuteronomy 3: 11)

Everyone knew the height of Og in that day, so why would they have to provide it? They had just defeated him! This sounds like a reference for doubters later on. But this had just happened! So it sounds like whoever wrote this wrote it later on.


There are many people who comment on this Ibn Ezra. I (The Adept) am going to provide someone to speak for each category/ approach, with the understanding that there are many more people who agree with each person in each category.

1. Sefer Tzafnat Paneach (and all those who agree with him.) He was a Rishon who lived in the 14th century by the name of R' Yosef Tov Elam. He states as follows: Tzafnas Paneach on Ibn Ezra

The plain sense of these verses suggests a 3rd party wrote them (not Moshe.) The secret is that these are editorial glosses added by others later. However, that other is definitely a Navi, prophet. These glosses could not be part of the Torah unless they were revealed by God. Thus, an authorized later hand made these changes.

2. R' Yehuda the Chasid- author of the Sefer Chasidim. He has a comment on וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי, אָז בָּאָרֶץ and notes that later in the same parsha it states that the Canaanites and the Perizim were in the land. He compares Genesis 12:6 to Genesis 13:7 and he notes in 13:7 the word yoshev appears.

ז וַיְהִי-רִיב, בֵּין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה-אַבְרָם, וּבֵין, רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה-לוֹט; וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי, וְהַפְּרִזִּי, אָז, יֹשֵׁב בָּאָרֶץ.
7 And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle. And the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelt then in the land.

R' Yehuda the Chasid here states that Ibn Ezra figures out a sod. This peirush was written by the son of R' Yehuda. The son writes, "My father explained the sod! No nation could settle in the land unless the angel on high in charge of that land settles there first. And by the time we see Genesis 13:7 they're already residing there." So he is suggesting that every time there is a sod in one of these verses, each one has a unique exegetical secret.

There's a Rishon who wrote a book entitled Peirush HaSodos Shel Ibn Ezra. Click here for the book. This Rishon is R' Yosef Ibn Kaspi. See page 4 of the download I gave you for his comment to וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי, אָז בָּאָרֶץ. He explains that this means that every nation can occupy the land only with God's permission. The Canaanites were there and did not have God's permission to be there yet. So again you see this is a whole sefer on every sod in Ibn Ezra with every sod having a different solution. Two totally different people both concur with this approach.

3. Mechokekei Yehudah is a five-volume commentary on Ibn Ezra by R' Yehuda Leib Krinsky (1928) of Minsk. He states that what these passages have in common is that it looks like someone else wrote them but in fact Moshe wrote them through nevuah. These are projections by Moshe.

Now The Adept chose to digress to show how careful one has to be when reading Sefarim.

This is what the Mechokekei Yehudah states:

So he states: "There are heretics out there who read into the Ibn Ezra heresy (namely, saying that these verses are later additions to the Torah.) They wanted to trap Ibn Ezra to fall into the same trap they fell into (he's referring to bible critics and maskilim of the 19th century.) Therefore I will cite a passage from Shadal who proves otherwise. Here's the passage: 'These verses here are among those some say are not authored by Moshe but several generations later were added...and you have to ask if they were added, for what purpose? Like why add a gloss saying it took 11 days to get from Har Seir to Kadesh Barnea? Now that writings of Spinoza are widespread, even Hebrew biographies of him, that is why even Jews read his writings; therefore we must inform them of the sheker that Spinoza writes.'" So according to the Mechokekei Yehuda, even Shadal the Maskil says that Spinoza lies!

But it's a misquote.

Here's what Shadal really said: Shadal on Ibn Ezra

In truth, Shadal agrees with Approach 1! "It's true that Ibn Ezra alluded to the fact that some verses were not written by Moshe." He disagrees with Spinoza in that Spinoza drew the conclusion that the whole Torah was not written by Moshe. Shadal states that's definitely not what Ibn Ezra was saying; what he was saying is that certain glosses were not written by others. But the Mechokekei Yehuda made Shadal out to say and misquoted him to say that there's no way that anything in the Torah was not written by Moshe. The Mechokekei Yehuda left out a very important line. He skipped out the line where Shadal writes: כי יש בתורה קצת מקראות נוספים אחרי מות משה. The Mechokekei Yehuda deliberately skewed the quote!

Not just that but you see that other scholars were not careful to check up on this. For instance, the מפרשי המקרא by Ezra Tzion Melamed has a whole section on the Ibn Ezra in Volume 2 where he addresses this passage. He says to look at the Mechokekei Yehuda who proved from Shadal that Ibn Ezra would never have imagined that these words were written by another.

And if you look at R' Menachem Kasher's Torah Sheleima (which by the way is a tremendous work, The Adept adds), Volume 19, page 378, you will see that he has a long dissertation on this passage of Ibn Ezra. He states that Ibn Ezra means to say that these verses are projections and/or nevuah by Moshe. And he writes kein pirash Shadal and says to look at the Karnei Ohr who quotes him. See here:

Torah Sheleima (Menachem Kasher) on Ibn Ezra

So you see he did not check it up either.

So now you know that whenever you see something cited, you must go look up the original source. There can be misquotes, censorship or something else- you have to do the research!

4. עזרה להבין is a commentary on Ibn Ezra by R' Yitshak Meler (lived in the 19th century, published in 1897). In his introductoin to Ibn Ezra he says this statement in Deuteronomy comes from a talmid to'eh- a student that erred. (Chana: Really he is agreeing with approach 1 but find it heretical and therefore determines it cannot have been written by Ibn Ezra.)

Ezra L'Havin on Ibn Ezra (Talmud Toeh in Hakdama)

5. There was a scholar in England named M. Friedlaender who wrote Essays on the Writings of Abraham Ibn Ezra (four-volume work.) He says as follows:

M. der on Ibn Ezra

Basically, that what all these passages have in common is that they are all trivia. Who cares? Why does the Torah have to tell us this? These are trivia and that is the problem Ibn Ezra has- there may be some secret but who knows?

All right, so now that we know the five different approaches one may take to understand this Ibn Ezra, let's raise questions on them- in reverse order.


5. Regarding Friedlaender's approach: the statement that what all these verses have in common is that they are trivia does not work for the last 12 verses of the Torah. Those verses tell you about the death of Moshe! That's why Friedlaender is forced to say that "the secret of the twelve" has nothing to do with the last twelve verses of the Torah. He says it is referring to the 12 nesiim when each one brought the same exact korban. But even if he reads it that way, the fact that Moses wrote 13 copies of the Torah is hardly trivia. And if Ibn Ezra were truly connecting these verses because they are trivia, this is too short a list! One would think there are many other verses in the Torah one could link under trivia. So this is not a convincing approach.

4. The talmid to'eh approach- if this is indeed true, the mistake should appear in one or two manuscripts of Ibn Ezra, but this appears in all of them. Also, R' Yehuda HaChasid, who is Ibn Ezra's contemporary, cites this passage (and he certainly does not seem to think it is a talmid to'eh who wrote it.) There is also a great Rishon, kabbalist and teacher of Ramban named R' Ezra. We have a letter that he wrote. See הנוספות למנחת שי:

HaNosfos L'Minchas Shai Letter of Rabbi Ezra

So as you can see he wrote: "The entire Torah is revealed by God; there is nothing superfluous. No difference between what you might think of as trivia and the Ten Commandments. If you leave out one letter of the Torah it is like you left out worlds or the name of God. Don't listen to anyone who tells you that Ezra (the Sofer) added something to the Torah like 'v'haCanaani az b'aretz' or by Og."

So he's saying there are people walking around making this claim- but don't believe it! So you see he does not resort to the talmid to'eh idea. R' Bachya also argues with Ibn Ezra but does not resort to the talmid to'eh idea.

3. When it comes to the idea of this having been written via projections/ prophecy of Moshe, look at Genesis 14:14 regarding 'vayirdof ad dan' and see what Ibn Ezra says there. He writes that this might have been stated derech nevuah or there were two different names of the place. So the problem with claiming the sod here is that these pesukim were written via nevuah is that it is Ibn Ezra's custom to stay that explicitly. See Ibn Ezra to Deuteronomy 11:30- he states explicitly that this was derech nevuah. It seems like regarding these specific pesukim Ibn Ezra is making a distinction. It would be a much longer list of verses if he were stating all of those that he thinks were given over b'derech nevuah.

2. The approach where each pasuk has a secret of its own: if so, why did Ibn Ezra cite these 5 pesukim together? He clearly linked them for a reason. Also, this would be much too short a list because Ibn Ezra has hundreds of sodos. It seems clear he cited these particular pesukim for a reason; they linked together in some way.

So we are down to approach 1, namely that what all these verses have in common is that they were written later and this has to be explained. In the 18th century a whole series of Geonei Yisrael started arguing regarding this Ibn Ezra. The Chida alludes to this controversy. It is discussed in a book by Naftali ben Menachem in Inyanei Ibn Ezra. He quotes a gadol defending approach 1. By believing this approach one is not being mevazeh devar Hashem. One still believes it is devar Hashem! That is Ibn Ezra's stance. His approach was that as long as a verse was said by a Navi with permission later/ written in by an authorized hand, that was fine.

Approach 3 (the Mechokekei Yehuda, etc) regarding Moshe saying these verses were written via nevuah has been canonized. But Approach 1 makes the most sense to us. The Tzafnas Paneach has a most extensive defense of Ibn Ezra on this matter in pages 91-93 on Genesis:

Defense of Ibn Ezra by the Tzafnas Paneach


Labels: Ibn Ezra, The Adept, Revel, הנוספות למנחת שי, עזרה להבין, תורה שלמה, מפרשי המקרא, ספר צפנת פענח, פירוש שד"ל על חמישה חומשי תורה, תורה מחוקקי יהודה


Anonymous said...

Very impressive! How were you able to put all this together in just a few hours while you are @school?! It'll take me an entire week to go throuh all the sources and understand it all. Thanks for your hard work!Really.

Chana said...

Well, The Adept taught it to us. All I had to do was go on a treasure hunt for the sources, scan them and put them up. That being said, that took a good 5 hours all told. That's a lot of time...

yosef said...

Thanks Chana! This was most interesting. I didn't know that there were traditional commentaries who took the Ibn Ezra's "sod" literally.

duby said...


i have always wanted to research this topic og "V'haknani az baaretz" and the I''E's approach, just never got around to it. u did it for me!

Q. the Tzafnat Paneach's interpretation (though seemingly least problematic) that these pesukim or clauses were added later; albeit by Divine authorization, still needs explaination:

1. WHY the Divine source would find it necessary to add these pesukim "posthumously"? Especially these ones which seem trivial, as pointed out in #5?
2. At what point were they added? Was it immediately upon the Jews entering E"Y?

motzei shabbat said...

"There was a scholar in England named M. Friedlaender"

he translated Moreh Nevikhim into English, and it's a respected translation, even though Pines' (published by University of Chicago) is recognized as the best.

Anonymous said...

Very very cool.

But why make these additions? How do they enhance the narrative?

Also, If all these pesukim (verses) indicate or prove that they were later insertions (divinely inspired of course), then who says these are the only ones added later?

Maybe these are the only ones (namely verses) that have hints or discrepancies that prove their post-Mosaic status, but is it possible that many other verses aren't obvious but are later additions as well?


Anonymous said...

Check out the way it's broken down by rabbi Klipper:

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Impressed said...

Our dear Chana isn't just a "Bible scholar".
She's a veritable "Bible DETECTIVE"!

She should wear a badge...