Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sometimes You're Amazed By What You Don't Know: The Rambam and the Eighth Article of Faith

Sometimes I find the things I don't know to be far more amazing than the things I know.

A while back, I had a discussion with a fellow regarding the text of the Torah as we have it today. I maintained that the text that we have is not necessarily the exact same as the text that Moshe presented to us at the end of his life. There are far too much evidence (IMHO) that the
*possibility* of textual variance exists to assert with 100% certainty that the Torah we have today is the same letter-for-letter with the Torah that Moshe gave the Jews before they entered Israel. (Note: I'm not ruling out the possibility that the text is identical either.)

My disputant maintained that despite any evidence, one is *required* to believe that the Torah we have today is identical to the one that Moshe gave us. As proof, he pointed me to a source that I had known about for years -- the eighth Ani Ma'amin. An English translation of this
reads as follows:

I believe with complete faith that the whole Torah which we now possess was given to Moses, our teacher, peace unto him

It seems pretty open and shut -- the Torah we have now is the same as the Torah that was given to the Jews by Moshe about 3300 years ago. So, despite whatever evidence you may find, you have to believe that our Torah and Moshe's are letter-for-letter the same. It seemed that I was defeated... I could bring up as much evidence as I could muster, but nothing trumps an Article of Faith.

Imagine my surprise, when I found out that the Ani Ma'amin was a particularly bad misstatement of what the Rambam said when he wrote about the Article of Faith. (To be honest, I wasn't even aware that the Ani Ma'amin wasn't written by the Rambam.) Here is what the Rambam actually states regarding the eighth Article of Faith (translation by Eliezer C. Abrahamson):

The Eighth Foundation is that the Torah is from Heaven. This means that we must believe that this entire Torah, which was given to us from Moshe Our Teacher, may he rest in peace, is entirely from the mouth of the Almighty. In other words, that it all was conveyed to him from God, blessed Be He, in the manner which is called, for lack of a better term, "dibur" - "speech". [Since God does not actually "speak" in a literal sense. - Lazer] It is not known how it was conveyed to him, except to Moshe, may he rest in peace, to whom it was given, and he was like a scribe writing from dictation, and he wrote all the incidents, the stories, and the commandments. Therefore [Moshe] is called "mechokek" - "scribe" (BaMidbar [Numbers] 21:18).

There is no difference between [verses such as] "And the children of Cham were Kush and Mitzrayim" (B'Reishis [Genesis] 10:6), "And the name of his wife was Meheitaveil" (ibid. 36:39), and "And Simnah was a concubine" (ibid. 36:12) and [verses such as] "I am HaShem your God" (Shemos [Exodus] 20:2) and "Hear O Israel" (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 6:4), for all of the Torah is from the mouth of the Almighty and it is all the Teaching of God (Toras HaShem), perfect, pure, holy, and true.

One who says that verses and stories like these [in the first group] were written by Moshe out of his own mind, behold! He is considered by our Sages and Prophets as a heretic and a perverter of the Torah more than all other heretics, for he believes that the Torah has a "heart" and a "shell" [i.e. an meaningful part and a meaningless part] and that these historical accounts and stories have no benefit and are from Moshe our Teacher, may he rest in peace. This is the meaning of [the category of heretic who believes that] "The Torah is not from Heaven" [which is listed in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1) as one who has no share in the World to Come]. Our Sages, may their memory be a blessing, explain that this is [even] someone who says that the entire Torah is from the
Almighty except for a particular verse which was written by Moses alone. And on this [person, the Torah writes], "For he has scorned the word of God... [his soul shall be absolutely cut off, his sin is upon him]" (BaMidbar [Numbers] 15:31). May God, blessed be He, forgive the statements of the heretics.

In truth, however, every word of the Torah has within it wisdom and wonders for one who can understand them, and the full depth of their wisdom can never be attained. "Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea" (Iyov [Job] 11:9). A man has option but to follow in the footsteps of King David, the anointed of the god of Yakov (Jacob), who prayed, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things in your Torah" (Tehillim [Psalms] 119:18).

All this is also true for the explanation of the Torah, which was also received from the mouth of the Almighty [the Oral Torah]. The manner in which we today make the Sukkah, Lulav, Shofar, Tzitzis, Tefillin, and other items is precisely the manner that God, blessed be He, instructed Moshe, who then instructed us and Moshe was reliable in relating [God's word].

The verse which teaches this foundation is "And Moshe said, 'Through this you shall know that God has sent me to do all these things, for they are not from my heart." (BaMidbar [Numbers] 16:28)

You'll note that no where in this statement does it state that the Torah that the Rambam had was identical letter-for-letter with the Torah that Moshe left to the Jews. The Rambam seems to be making several points here:

  1. That the Torah that Moshe gave to the Jews came directly from God. Moshe did not create any portion of the Torah by himself.
  2. All parts of the Torah are holy, pure and originated from God -- whether those verses be the Sh'ma, the Ten Commandments or any of the various long and sometimes tedious "begat" portions.
  3. This principle also applies to the Torah SheB'Al Peh (Oral torah).

You'll note that no where in this statement does the Rambam assert that the Torah (written or oral) was transmitted perfectly from one generation to the next. Nowhere does he state that it is imperative to believe that the Torah that Moshe gave the Jews 3300 years ago is letter-for-letter the same as the one we have today. Yet, somehow, whoever composed the Ani Ma'amins felt the need to misstate what the Rambam said and add in the words "that we now possess." I don't know if my disputant was aware of this and was purposely deceiving me, or if he was as ignorant of the situation as I was.

To be honest, what shocked me most about this whole episode is not the fact that the Rambam's position on the Torah isn't what I thought it was -- rather it's the fact that I was *completely ignorant* of something as important as the fact that the Ani Ma'amins were not written by the Rambam and that this particular one (I haven't researched the others, but you'd better believe that I am going to do so now) is a very bad misstatement of what the ikkar emunah (article of faith) actually is. This is something that I never learned in Yeshiva -- whether at the elementary school, high school or beis midrash level. I'm *very* curious if this is something that I just missed (i.e. "I was out that day") or if it is commonly believed that the Ani Ma'amins accurately represent what the Rambam actually stated.

The Wolf


Holy Hyrax said...

The ikkar of the prophesy is also mistated. Rambam wrote that man is able to achieve prophesy. The author of the ani maamin added that all the words of the prophets are true.

Anonymous said...

I knew the Rambam did not write the Ani Maamins because my Rosh Yeshiva was very much into discussing these types of things.

You can understand the principle just like the Rambam wrote. It is just saying the "whole Torah" we possess was given to Moshe. What does "whole Torah" include? It also doesn't say every letter; rather it means the whole Torah in general, certainly leaving room for letter issues. This must be the case because even the Gm' already recognized there many minor letters "chaseros v'yeseros" missing. R' Yaakov Kaminetsky, in Emes L'yakov on the Torah, points out several places where the Minchas Shai's version of the Torah text varied by a letter from what we have.

It is the ignorance of the "masses" which promulgates this myth of a letter for letter transmission.

Holy Hyrax said...

This means that we must believe that this entire Torah, which was given to us from Moshe Our Teacher, may he rest in peace, is entirely from the mouth of the Almighty.

Would'nt some translate THIS as meaning every word is from God? If a word is post mosaic, it is not from God, but this ikkar is saying that this entire torah is from the God. So how do we square this off with opinions of some post mosaic additions?

Anonymous said...

Who wrote them?

Anonymous said...

Even from a fundamentalist perspective, to say that "one is *required* to believe that the Torah we have today is identical to the one that Moshe gave us" is a shockingly ignorant statement. OK, fine, I understand that most OJ's have an almost total lack of knowledge regarding the masoretic tradition and variant texts, but you'd at least expect folks that are the product of a Rashi-centric tradition to have read his comment to Bereshis 25:6!

-suitepotato- said...

I expect that while this point is a good one to keep in mind, it will largely be ignored in hopes it will just go away.

Paranoid insertion: who's been watching what the sofers write for all these centuries of chaos? I wonder that every time I look at the painting in my home of a sofer at work. Just sayin...

Lion of Zion said...

"somehow, whoever composed the Ani Ma'amins felt the need to misstate what the Rambam said and add in the words "that we now possess.""

the ani maamin does not misstate the rambam, although abrahamson likely mistranslated him. i'm not sure which edition abrahamson was using for his translation, but the one i have (mosad harav kook) states כל התורה המצויה בידינו עתה היא הנתונה על ידי משה רבנו. abrahamson leaves out the key words המצויה בידינו עתה

the questions of what actually this principle actually demands of us has been discussed at length. for some views see, for example, the relevant chapter in louis jacobs, "principles of the jewish faith." i imagine marc shapiro deals with this in his book also, but have not seen it.

Lion of Zion said...


"his must be the case because even the Gm' already recognized there many minor letters "chaseros v'yeseros" missing."

technically these are not letters but rather vowels markers. unless you are into gematrias or torah codes, these chaseros v'yeseros are a formality and the yeseros can be dispensed with or you may add more of them in. early hebrew orthography, so the theory goes, did not have yeseros altogether.


also, as long as you are bringing up the gemara, the bavli and yerushalmi may have had more significant differences than just chaseros v'yeseros (see r. akiva eger).

and does it bother anyone out torah uses a different alphabet than the one moshe used?

Lion of Zion said...

out = our

Anonymous said...

lion of zion:
The Gm' understood the chaseros v'yeseros as LETTERS in the discussion of where the middle letter is of the Torah.

The psukim quoted in the Gm' are often corrupted. I haven't seen the RAE you reference; would you point me to it? My understanding, based on the Maharitz Chayos, is these discrepancies are the result of copy errors in the Gm. and/or a purposeful abbreviation or amalgamation of several psukim into one to shorten the discussion.

Anonymous said...

To Lion of Zion:

The Torah wouldn't have used a different alphabet. It likely was in what is called Ktav Ivri vs our script today (I believe attributed to Ezra) called Ktav Ashuri.

Go to http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/search?q=ktav+ivri

to see what Ktav Ivri looks like.

Lion of Zion said...


"The Gm' understood the chaseros v'yeseros as LETTERS in the discussion of where the middle letter is of the Torah."

interesting point from hazal's perspective. but on the other hand, if we are leining and there is a mistake with chaseros v'yeseros (with any of the vowel letters, אהוי), we don't need to take out a new torah. this indicates they are not really important and/or considered letters? (btw, the shaare ephraim says we don't take out new sefer because we are not sure of chaseros v'yeseros altogether).

"I haven't seen the RAE you reference; would you point me to it?"

i think it is gilyon ha-shas on masekhet shabbat.

"My understanding, based on the Maharitz Chayos . . ."


"a purposeful abbreviation or amalgamation of several psukim into one to shorten the discussion"

there are bible manuscripts that are written in such an abbreviated manner. but i'm not sure if the examples r. eger brings down can be attribued to this. (the only example i remember off hand is the famous one from the haggadah of אתנו vs אתכם for the hakham (which of course obviates the need for all the hand wringing over what is really the difference between the hakham and the rasha as far as הוציא את עצמו.


"The Torah wouldn't have used a different alphabet"

the gemara says it may have

ktav ivri and ktav ashuri are 2 different alphabets. you don't like the word "alphabet"? fine, call them graphemes, symbols, orthographic representations, etc. but at the end of the day they do not look alike and most people who read one can't read the other. ktav ivri is as different from ktav ashuri as ktav ashuri is from greek and latin (actually greek/latin are pretty close to ktav ivri)

for me all this become problematic when rabbis start darshening on the legs and bases of the letters when there is no leg or base for the drash to stand on.

Lion of Zion said...


also note that ktav ivri does not have terminal letters (khaf sofit, mem sofit, etc.), and that in some instances a ktav ashuri letter can be represented with two different ktav ivri letters

but to get back to the matter at hand, can someone check their text and see if it reads like the mosad harav kook one i cited above or like abrahamson's translation.

Shira Salamone said...

Did I miss something, or did no one answer Mark Shapiro's question?

I'll repeat it: Who wrote the "ani maamins"? Not having been blessed with the privilege of receiving a yeshiva education, I have no idea.

BrooklynWolf said...

According to Wikipedia, the authorship of the Ani Ma'amins is unknown.

The Wolf

Unknown said...

I had no idea about this fact either, but it is one of the major points taught to us in Yeshiva University in their (required) Intro To Bible course.

Thanks to that, I can discuss these things with a little more knowledge, as well as have someone to ask about some of the more problematic textual aspects of the Torah. Any further questions you may have could be directed to Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Jeremy Weider - kjwieder@ymail.edu

He is very prompt with responding to emails, and can answer most questions about most things Torah related.