Tikun Ben Asher: Part 2


The Jerusalem Crown

Preserving the Masora

The previous post established that the Keter Aram Tzova (also known as the Tikun Ben Asher) is an ancient and halachically reliable text of the whole Tanach. The text of the Keter is uniquely consistent with its masoretic notes, but throughout history there were also other authoritative manuscripts of the Torah in various communities across the diaspora.

Sofrim in these communities did their best to faithfully copy Sifrei Torah from the master texts that they had available. Given the nature of the work, it was inevitable that minor variations in the text and layout of Sifrei Torah would spread over time. Many of these differences were based on alternate traditions that preexisted the Keter, but some were simply scribal errors. Remarkably, most of the discrepancies had no impact on the meaning of the words. Nearly all of the differences were in the placement (and type) of parsha breaks, and the spelling of words which could be written maleh or chaser.

As these subtle differences started to proliferate, efforts began to standardize the templates used for writing Sifrei Torah. The Rambam, who had access to the Keter, used it as the blueprint for a list of all the pesuchos and setumos in the Chumash. He included this list in the Mishna Torah, but many of the early manuscript copies of the Mishna Torah had different lists than the original one written by the Rambam himself.1

A generation after the Rambam, Rabbi Meir Halevi Abulafia (the Ramah)2 conducted a thorough review of all available source material – including the different versions of the Rambam’s list. He then compiled a definitive index (Masores Siyag Latorah) of all pesuchos and setumos, and added a list of every instance of maleh and chaser words in the Chumash.

An ambitious early attempt to produce an accurate printed edition of the entire Tanach was the Venice Mikra’os Gedolos (printed in 1525), which was edited by Ya’akov Ben Chaim Ibn Adoniyahu. Although Ya’akov Ben Chaim worked hard to produce an error-free text, he was not entirely successful and many errors remained. Most of the errors were minor (vowels and cantilation), but some were significant.3

The bulk of the errors in the Chumash portion of the Venice Mikra’os Gedolos were fixed about one hundred years later by Rabbi Menachem de Lonzano (Or Torah). Soon afterwards, Rabbi Yedidiah Norzi (Minchas Shai) refined and corrected the text of the entire Tanach.4

The conclusions of Masores Siyag Latorah, Or Torah, and Minchas Shai (along with some later authorities) were distilled into one comprehensive list by Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried 5 in the Keses Hasofer. Almost all Jewish communities around the world accepted the tradition as recorded by the Keses Hasofer as the definitive text of the Chumash and write their Sifrei Torah accordingly.

Masora vs. Masora

In the modern era, when nearly anyone can easily access many of the authoritative manuscripts which were once scattered around the world, the question arises: Should the masora as recorded in these ancient manuscripts supersede the accepted text used for hundreds of years?

With regard to Sifrei Torah, the consensus of the poskim is clear that every community should continue to use the traditional text as transmitted within that community.6 For nevi’im and megilos, the circumstances are a bit more complicated, and they will be the subject of future posts.

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With thanks to Yakov Schonberg for graciously sharing his expertise.

  1. Some changes may have been made deliberately by copyists attempting to “fix” the Mishna Torah to bring it into agreement with the text as written in existing Sifrei Torah or manuscripts. It is also possible – although unlikely – that the Rambam made changes to his own list in later revisions of the Mishna Torah. ↩

  2. A Rishon; author of the Yad Ramah. Not to be confused with Rabbi Moshe Isserles – the Rema – who was an Achron. ↩

  3. The Mikra’os Gedolos was produced in an incredibly short amount of time, and it is a testament to Ya’akov Ben Chaim’s expertise that the errors were not even more numerous.  ↩

  4. Even though the Minchas Shai was written in an attempt to correct all of Tanach, the work done on Nach was not given the same time and effort as the work done on Chumash.  ↩

  5. Author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. ↩

  6. “My masora is the best masora (for me).” ↩