Friday, March 23, 2007

A Question for my Orthodox Readers



While we're on the topic of language, how is it that, if the Torah was given to Moshe and copied painstakingly by hand ever since, the shapes of the letters have changed so dramatically?

I honestly don't know (or don't remember) if Orthodox sources provide an explanation for this.

8 comments:

mushroomjew said...

Chazal do have an answer. I think it is a gemorah in Sanhedrin, but I don't have the exact source. They say that that the script we have now (block-letters-Ktav Ashurit) was originally used by Moshe but it was forgotten and replaced by Ktvav Ivrit (samaritan letters). It was until later that Chazal restored the "original" ktav ashurit that we are familiar with.
It's a very unsatisfactory answer, with no historical proof offerred. But that's Chazal for you.
The change of the language is a very strong proof against TMS which Chazal were obviously aware of.

Charlie Hall said...

The unconvincing nature of Chazal's argument for the alphabet is not a good proof against TMS. The "Asurit" alphabet seems to have evoloved slowly over hundreds of years from the early Hebrew alphabet that is indistinguishable from the Phoenician. Had Jews used clay tablets rather than fragile parchment, it would be a differnet story.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

mushroomjew's answer is half right.

That is one opinion in the Hhazalic literature... the other one is that it was originally written in Ktav ‘Ivri (Samaritan is a later development of K.‘I.), but was changed to Ashurit at the time of ‘Ezra.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>While we're on the topic of language, how is it that, if the Torah was given to Moshe and copied painstakingly by hand ever since, the shapes of the letters have changed so dramatically?

The scribal rules for writing a sepher Torah are rabbinic.

Jewish Atheist said...

MFM:

So Torahs could have been copied with different letter forms before the Rabbinic period? That would indeed answer my question, although it might raise some questions about the necessity of the scribal rules.

ADDeRabbi said...

the yerushalmi records a machloket: according to those who say the luchot were 'ktav ivri', the 'ayin' stood by miracle (since the engraving went straight through, the middle would have fallen out, but for the miracle), but according to those who say it was ashurit, the 'final mem' and 'samech' were miraculous. it's clear that the ancient rabbis were aware that a change happened. it wasn't discovered by you, JA.

also, the gemara in 2nd chapter of sanhedrin records a number of opinions on ezra's role in the torah's transmission. there's an unattributed statement that ezra changed the script from 'ivri' to 'ashuri'. my understanding of that, in context of sefer ezra, is that as part of ezra's attempt to get the persian gov't to recognize the torah as the local law in judea, he needed to make it as 'official' as possible. thus, he unified the text based on several variants (this is actually a midrash) and used the script that was common for official aramaic (lingua france of the western persian empipre) documents. gemara says he even tried to translate the torah into aramaic and have that replace hebrew as the official version, but the people wouldn't have it!

Jewish Atheist said...

adderabbi:

I didn't think I was the first to notice. :-) The idea about Ezra making the changes would fit nicely with the hypothesis that he was the redactor. Funny how many things about the five books seem to point back to him.

Shlomo Greenwald said...

"Funny how many things about the five books seem to point back to him."
Or try it this way: Ezra didn't write the Torah. But Ezra actually did change the script, Ezra did enact the custom of reading through the Torah over the course of the year, etc, etc. He did these things for various social and religious reasons.
Of course, years later, scholars come along, look at whatever evidence they can find, and viola, Ezra wrote the Torah.
Just a possible genesis for higher biblical criticism.