Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Eighth Principle: Our Torah Is Not Exactly The Same

The Adept pointed this out in class, for which I thank him. Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg was the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael & was involved in Torah UMesorah, Agudath Israel of America and other such programs. In short, he's part of the yeshiva/Haredi world. He authored a book entitled Fundamentals and Faith: Insights Into the Rambam's 13 Principles. It's worthwhile to note his understanding of the Eighth Principle, which regards the divinity of the Torah. See excerpt below.


The Inscriber of God's Words

The Ani Ma'amin version of this Principle reads: "I believe with complete faith that the entire Torah which is now in our possession is the same as that which was given to Moshe Rabbeinu, may he rest in peace." This rendition of the eighth Principle expresses the belief that the Torah we have now is the same Torah that was given to Moshe Rabbeinu at Sinai. Although the phrasing chosen by the author of Ani Ma'amin is reminiscent of the actual text of the Rambam, it does not reflect his main concern in this Principle.

The text of this Principle reads:

"We believe that the entire Torah in our possession today was given [to us] by the Almighty through Moshe Rabbeinu, by means of the medium we metaphorically call "speech." No one knows the real nature of this communication except Moshe, to whom it was transmitted. He was like a scribe receiving dictation. He wrote the history, the stories, and the commandments. Therefore he is called [the] 'inscriber'."

Clearly, the thrust of this Principle is the conviction that every letter of the Written and Oral Law transmitted through Moshe Rabbeinu was of Divine origin. Moshe Rabbeinu merely served as a conduit for communicating it, or as a "scribe", as the Rambam himself describes him.

In contrast, it is difficult to understand Ani Ma'amin literally, i.e. that the Torah we now possess is the same Torah given to Moshe Rabbeinu. It is true that as long as the Temple stood and the Torah scroll which Moshe Rabbeinu wrote was kept there, the Jewish People had a standard to which to compare all new Torah scrolls that were written. But we are told (Sofrim 6:4) that after the destruction of the Temple, when Ezra returned to Israel, he found three Torah scrolls which were either considered valid. Even so, there were minor discrepancies among them, which were maintained or discarded depending on whether they appeared in two of the three scrolls. Although the Torah itself instructs Jews to follow the majority in making a decision, one suspects that after many such occurrences, his decisions are not going to produce absolutely accurate reproductions of the original Sinai version. The Talmud, too, says we are no longer experts in the exact spelling of many words. Consequently, the rabbis could not count the exact number of letters in the Torah (Kiddushin 30a). Certainly, these were very minor variances- such as spelling a word with a hei or an alef, or with or without a vav- changes which did not seem to affect the meaning significantly.

The Rambam knew very well that these variations existed when he defined his Principles. The words of Ani Ma'amin and the words of the Rambam, "the entire Torah in our possession today," must not be taken literally, implying that all the letters of the present Torah are the exact letters given to Moshe Rabbeinu. Rather, it should be understood in a general sense that the Torah we learn and live by is for all intents and purposes the same Torah that was given to Moshe Rabbeinu. The real emphasis of this Principle is that this Torah, which includes both the Written and Oral Law, is word for word, letter for letter from the Almighty, and absolutely none of it was edited by Moshe in any way whatsoever. There is not one phrase, not one letter that Moshe added to clarify or explain what was transmitted to him. He had no input of any kind but functioned only as the mouthpiece of the Almighty.

~Fundamentals and Faith by Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, pages 89-91


So no matter your affiliation, you are under no obligation to believe that every single jot, tittle and letter in today's Torah- in the literal sense- is precisely the same as it was when it was given to Moses at Sinai. Which is exciting, because it means you don't have to believe against reason and rationality. Hurrah!