Friday, July 08, 2011

Torah from Sinai?

Now that I am no longer associated with any institution I can give shiurim on topics that interest me.

This is a shiur on Rambam's 8th principle and the concept of Torah from Sinai. Is the Torah that we have in our Shuls/chumashim identical with the one that Moshe Rabbeinu gave the Children of Israel 3300 years ago? (answer = 'no')

Is Torah from Sinai a valid concept even if the Torah is not the same as the one we got from Sinai (answer = 'yes')

Did Rambam really mean that the Torah we have today is the same as the one Moshe gave us? (According to the Ashkenazi 'Ani Maamin' and Abarbanel - 'yes' according to Rambam and everyone else 'no')

And should we try to correct out Sifrei Torah to match the Talmud/Rishonim/Aleppo Codex? (machlokes, but probably 'no')

The shiur is quite long (1:30). But I think it is also very interesting. And if you disagree I would be happy to hear from you. (As Rabbi Yochanan said to his Talmidim after the death of Reish Lakish when Rabbi Elazer was agreeing with everything he said).

Here is the shiur

Or if you prefer to download it here is the link:
Torah from Sinai (right click and 'save as')

and here are the source sheets to go with it
Download Source Sheets

A few apologies:
I forgot the date of the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex.

And I was recording the shiur on my phone, so a couple of times my phone rang, and you get a few seconds of Eurythmics along with the shiur.


  1. 1- I found your notion that they translated Ezra's Aramaic back to Hebrew to be a huge chiddush. It says we picked Lashon haQodesh, which to me sounds far more like we chose something preexisting, not created something new. Perhaps the choice was accessibility (Aramaic) vs precision (the original Hebrew).

    2- I would have stopped the shiur one step earlier. Where do we see the Rambam as specifying that the sefer Torah we have is the same that Moshe gave us? He refers to the Torah, which could very well refer to the whole system of thought.

    (Which may also imply even with respect to Torah shebiKesav that the claim is being made on a semantic level, and not to changes that don't impact meaning in any known way.)

    So the Rambam is saying that the system of thought we have that we today call Torah is an later state of the same system and covenant Moshe got. All the lessons R' Aqiva taught from those crowns on the letters were correctly derived from what Hashem told Moshe.

  2. Micha
    1. I agree that the phrase 'they chose for themselves' is a difficult one. On the other hand, it seems incredible to me that the Jews had two versions of the Torah in their possession - the original from Moshe in Lashon HaKodesh, and the newly translated one by Ezra. Apart from the historical issues (and they clearly did not have the original Torah that had been in the First Beis HaMikdash), why would anyone choose Ezra's version over Moshe's? That is why I prefer to think that they took Ezra's version and tried to make it more authentic by translating it back into the original language.
    It is possible that Ezra himself made this translation also - that 'they chose' refers to the time of Ezra. This fits with the many Rishonim who explain that Ezra worked out the final text of the Torah.
    2. I don't think Rambam believes that most of the broader 'Torah' that we have today is literally from Sinai either. Look at Shoresh Sheni where there seem to be very few halachos which are actually from Moshe. And it is hard to say that the 8th principle is speaking about anything other than the Written Torah, because Moshe is described as a scribe.
    I agree that there are no changes in the Torah which affect the meaning. All the changes are 'minor' in the sense that they don't make a difference to what we do today.

  3. I didn't mean that the Rambam believes that Moshe knew the entire Torah "even what a talmid will ask his rebbe in the last generation" literally.

    When I wrote "the whole system of thought", I meant system. As I wrote later "were correctly derived from what Hashem told Moshe".

    Similarly "eilu va'eilu divrei E-lokim chaim" because both batei Hillel and Shammai derived their positions using the system correctly. Both are thus part of the Torah we were given at Sinai.

    The idea, as I see it, is that we're obligated to believe that halakhah as pasqened in teshuvos today is an accurate snapshot of the process that Hashem told Moshe.

    To summarize: I think the 8th iqar refers to a process, not a set of pesaqim, or (as everyone else seems to assume) a text. With this in mind, please reread "... אלא כל אות שבה יש בה חכמות ונפלאות למי שהבינו ה', ולא תושג תכלית חכמתה, ארוכה מארץ מדה ורחבה מני ים. ואין לאדם אלא להתפלל כמו דוד משיח אלהי יעקב שהתפלל גל עיני ואביטה נפלאות מתורתיך. וכן פירושה המקובל גם הוא מפי הגבורה, וזה שאנו עושים היום צורת הסוכה והלולב והשופר והציצית והתפילים וזולתם היא עצמה הצורה שאמר ה' למשה ואמר להו..." and see if it fits.