Sunday, 20 June 2021



Suzerain Vassal Treaty, as found in the British Museum, calling the sun and the moon as witnesses to land grants. These stones were often placed at the boundaries of the land indicating legal ownership.


Maimonides (1135-1204) writes that if he had access to ancient historical works, he would have had a much better understanding of the laws and institutions in the Torah. He refers, in particular to the writings of the ancient Sabians:

“I…say that the meaning of many of the laws became clear to me and their causes became known to me through my study of the doctrines, opinions, practices…of the Sabians.”[1]

However, writing over eight hundred years ago, Maimonides expresses dismay that these works were largely lost to history:

“[T]hey have been out of practice and entirely extinct since two thousand years. If we knew all the particulars of the Sabean worship, and were informed of all the details of those doctrines, we would clearly see the reason and wisdom of every detail in the sacrificial service, in the laws concerning things that are unclean, and in other laws….”[2]

The fact of the matter is that only since the time of Napoleon, have these types of writings, known as the traditions of the Ancient Near East, been discovered and analysed. We now know more about the practices of the Ancient Near East than ever before.

This article, based extensively on the writing of Rabbi Professor Joshua Berman[3], deals with an interpretation of Torah based on an understanding of the writing style of the Ancient Near East of which we now know much about. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has described Berman as “one of the most original biblical scholars of our time.”[4]


NOTE: Ralbag writes in his commentary on Exodus, that “the prophet expresses himself through the conventions of the times”. We also know that the “Torah speaks in the language of man”. This being the case, let us now actually, emphatically and ardently explore this “convention” and “language” of man, in the most historical and literal sense possible. This attempt at reading the Torah in the “language of man” must be well understood at the outset, as some Readers may find this a ‘de-spiritualising’ of the Torah text, but that’s exactly what happens when one reads the Torah through the “conventions of the times”. Others, on the other hand, may find some these ideas as positive in terms of establishing and perhaps regaining intellectual and spiritual trust in difficult sections of Torah text.



The Torah contains many repetitions of the same event. These can be found, starting at the beginning with two creation narratives in Genesis, right through to the Book of Deuteronomy in particular, where - in what Berman (2020:77) describes as in a “serial and wholesale fashion” - it has different versions of much of the preceding Torah narratives. For example, did Moshe appoint judges before the giving of the Torah (Exodus) or after (Deuteronomy)? Did Moshe appoint the judges (Exodus) or did the people (Deuteronomy)? Who said that the land was good, Calev and Yehoshua (Numbers) or all the spies (Deuteronomy)? Was Moshe not allowed to enter the land because he hit the rock (Numbers) or because he was punished together with all the people for the sin of the spies (Deuteronomy)?



a) Rabbinic

For the most part, our rabbis attempted to resolve these differences by creating some form of harmonisation between these and other conflicting accounts. Thus, regarding the matter of who decided to send the spies, God or perhaps Moshe (Numbers 13:2), or the people themselves (Deuteronomy 1:22)? – Rashi suggests that both are true because Moshe gave in to the people’s demand to send spies. Sometimes these reconciliations work better than other times, but oftentimes no attempt at reconciliation is even attempted.

b) Academic

On the other hand, the academic world sees these discrepancies as indications that some later form of editing took place and various hypothesised accounts were woven together during the Persian or Second Temple period by returning exiles with different political agendas. This is known as source-critical methodology.

c) Reading in a cultural context

Berman (2020:82) admits that the rabbinic approach of harmonisation does not always deal satisfactorily with serious contradictions, and he also critiques the source-critical approach because no other ancient culture responds to disruptive events in their history by creating a tapestry of their written past. There are also no records of any of these alleged disparate biblical sources which an editor may later have worked with. He therefore suggests (2020:123) that this a case of a theory that creates the text, instead of the text giving rise to the theory.

Berman therefore suggest that we deal with the problems of the conflictory Torah accounts by reading them within the cultural context of its times.



The biblical covenant between G-d and Israel is unlike any other contract we are familiar with. In modern times, generally, both parties freely enter into a contract and no one is coerced into so doing. Israel, although it declared “we will do and obey” at Sinai, doesn’t seem to have had much choice in the matter. This does seem to be a very different type of contract to the one we are used to.



Berman (2020:87) explains that only one type of covenant matches the Sinai covenant, where it is “bilateral but fundamentally between non-equals” and that is the typical political covenant that was frequently entered into during the second millennium BCE. These were known as the Vassal Treaties between powerful and lesser kings and were common around the eastern Mediterranean rim. Berman is not the first to note these similarities as they have been discussed in scholarly literature for more than sixty years.[5]

The Israelites would have been familiar with those Vassal Treaties and the style would have well resonated with them on a simple literary level.



Evidence shows that most Vassal Treaties begin with what Berman terms a “historical prologue” which describes the events leading up to the treaty and setting out the necessity for such a contract. They often describe in elaborate terms how the greater king redeemed the lesser king either by sending supplies during a famine or by providing military assistance during a war. The lesser king acknowledges his earlier appeal for support during the crisis, and the greater king reminds him that salvation comes with conditions. Now that all is well, it becomes time to submit to the stipulations and conditions of the new contractual relationship.

This is exactly mirrored at Sinai. The account of the Sinai covenant in Exodus 19-24 is preceded by the historical prologue of the deliverance from slavery. The standard formula used in these Vassal Treaties began with:

These are the words of … [the name of the greater king is inserted]”, followed immediately by the details of the act of deliverance. 

In the opening of the Ten Commandments, we find a similar style: “G-d spoke these words, sayingI am the L-rd you G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.’”[6]

The covenant with Israel is not with the universal G-d who created the heavens and the earth, but with the G-d who delivered the nation - or better the “kingdom” of Israel, a “mamlechet Cohanim”, the kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6) - from servitude. This opening verse of the Ten Commandments is clearly unnecessary after the story has already been going on for nineteen chapters, but it becomes necessary when we view it as a separate contract or covenant known as a “brit”.

The convergence between the Ten Commandments and Vassal Treaties becomes even more apparent when we see Israel beseeching the Sovereign King to save them. This point is made earlier on in the narrative (Exodus 2:23) and its record becomes a binding mechanism between the subservient nation and the Redeemer. Just like the Vassal Treaties make the point that the process was initiated by the weaker king, who once saved, becomes obliged to keep the stipulations of the greater king.



When the initial formalities have been dispensed with in historical prologues to the Vassal Treaties, a list of binding stipulations follows, which serve to secure the loyalty expected from the lesser king. The ancient Vassal Treaty between Suppiluliuma and Aziru, for example, warns:

“If you seek the well-being of another [king] … thereby you will break the oath”[7]

We similarly find in the Ten Commandments:

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”[8]

The audience at that time, would have well understood both the style and structure of the Ten Commandments as it indeed had spoken in the language of man”. The modern reader would not pick this subtlety up without understanding the style of the Vassal Treaties, and would simply read it saying the other gods were false. But this is more than an observation of the falsehood of other gods, it is demand for reciprocity in loyalty for deliverance in the past and a reminder that breaking this injunction is tantamount to religious treason.



In the Vassal Treaties there is often a demand for the lesser king to appear before the greater king at regular intervals. One treaty demands the lesser king appear before: “…His Majesty and look upon the face of His Majesty.

The Torah also calls upon the Israelites to appear before the face of Sovereign G-d:

“Three times a year shall all your males appear before the face of the Master, the L-rd G-d of Israel.”[9]

This too would have readily been understood as acceptable to an audience at that time that knew the “language of man”.

The Vassal Treaties contained the stipulation of a mandatory periodic public reading of the treaty to the people. The treaty between Mursili II of Hatti and Kupanta-Kurunta of Mira-Kuwaliya reads:

“[This tablet which] I have made [for you], shall be read out [before you three times yearly].”[10]

The Torah tell us:

“[Moshe] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in earshot of the people…”[11]


“When all Israel comes to appear before the L-rd your G-d, in the place that He will choose, you shall read this Torah before Israel, in their ears.”[12]



The Vassal Treaties usually had to be held within the temple of the subordinate’s deity. This demonstrated the respect the lesser king had for the greater king. With Israel, the Treaty was held in the Sanctuary and Temple which housed the Aron haBrit or Ark of the Covenant.



One of the requirements of the Vassal Treaty culture was that if a treaty was damaged or lost, it had to be immediately replaced. We see that with Moshe, after the tablets were broken, a new set had to replace the old ones.



The Vassal Treaties called for the agreement to be witnessed, usually by the gods of the ancient world, and to exact punishment if the terms and conditions of the treaty were not met. One Vassal Treaty reads:

“The mountains, the rivers, the springs, the great sea, heaven and earth, the winds and the clouds. They shall be witness to this treaty and this oath… [I]f [name of vassal king] does not observe these words of the treaty and oath, but transgress the oath, then these oath gods shall destroy [name of vassal king].”[13]

Deuteronomy contains similar expressions:

“I appoint heaven and earth this day to bear witness against you that you will surely perish quickly from the land… you shall not have lengthy days upon it, for you will be destroyed.”[14]



Berman (2020:95) writes how the Torah uses a familiar motif as a means of pedagogy:

“[T]he Torah uses this model to help concretize for Israel what it means to be in a relationship with God, using a model that was readily familiar throughout the region at that time. We have always known that the Torah portrayed God as a sovereign, a king, The vassal treaty literature allows us greater definition in our understanding of God as king…”



Berman uses this Vassal Treaty idea, as a backdrop to try explain the larger question we started with, namely, how do we understand the conflictory accounts of major events, scattered through the Torah?

The main difference between Vassal Treaties and contemporary contracts today (besides the obvious differences such as the types of witnesses etc.), is the historical prologue, mentioned earlier. Nowadays, countries seek strategic alliances as a matter of course, but that was not always the case. It was first, during the second millennium BCE -  our very period of interest - that states started seeing alliances as a worthwhile political endeavour. 

During this time there were two main regional powers, the Hittites based in the north in what is today modern Turkey, and the Egyptians. These became the two main sovereign powers and smaller city-states throughout the Levant (Israel, Lebanon and Syria) would be the vassals. The Hittites were not aggressive in that they generally tried to make peaceful agreements with those under their dominion. The smaller city-states would sometimes play the Egyptians against the Hittites and vice versa. Alliances, in this sense were therefore fragile and needed to be nurtured. This political game-playing is borne out by as collection of over three hundred letters from vassals to the king of Egypt in the fourteenth century BCE, known as the El Amarna Letters.

Berman (2020:96-7) explains that when the scribes who drew up these Vassal Treaties wrote the required historical prologues to the agreements; they were not doing so in the interests of history. The notion of history, then, was very different from the scientific discipline it is today. They were politicians, not historians, and they were participating in diplomatic signalling. A tone of diplomacy had to be set in order to proceed with negotiations and a final agreement. To this end, certain aspects of their past association had to be emphasised or possibly even negated. Usually, the treaties were drawn up the powerful king and he would sometimes vacillate between being generous and openly intimidating. These historical prologues set the tone for, and put the political spin on, the future agreements.

When circumstances changed or when a vassal king died, a new treaty was established. Evidence points to the fact that often the historical prologues changed to reflect different political interests. It would show how the new vassal king’s father, or predecessor, came to establish the relationship in the first place. In one instance, there is a record of the original treaty between the Hittite king and a city-state called Amurru (Emori?), followed by three renewals of that treaty. In each successive case, the ‘facts’ of their ‘history’ changed. As a rule, the historical prologues are never the same with renewed Vassal Treaties, and sometime they are irreconcilable and contradictory. The treaty was about the message not the facts of the past. Archaeological evidence shows that old treaties were preserved even after new ones were drawn up, and it is clearly evident, therefore, that the historical prologues were not meant as an accurate history, but as a means of political signalling. And, importantly, this was understood by both sides at the outset. This was the style in which Vassal Treaties were made at that time and, interestingly, there is no record of the historicity being questioned or challenged even when the parties concerned knew of a different set of facts.



Berman (2020:102) then suggests that this is way we need to view some of the stories in the Torah that appear to retell events differently, particularly in the book of Deuteronomy. We need to read them in the way people would have read then in earlier times, in their cultural perspective, and not through the critical lens of our modern culture.

Berman (2020:105-6) throws in one final argument to buttress his support of the Vassal Treaty approach over both the competing histories approach (source criticism) and the classic rabbinic approach of harmonisation of diverse accounts:

Ramses II commissioned his Kadesh poem to commemorate the Battle of Kadesh. Across Egypt, Ramses got his workers to carve three accounts of the battle. The three accounts of the battle are also irreconcilable with each other and contradictory when viewed from a modern historical perspective. Yet each has something unique to offer. One represents Ramses’ gratefulness to his god Amun. The second represents his own valour in battle. And the third represents the bravery of his chariot brigade. Instead of three different accounts, where either Amun, Ramses himself, or his special chariot brigade was solely responsible for the victory, these were the three lessons Ramses intended to convey to his people even though they appear to contradict each other when taken out of context. Ramses was telling his people that all three components worked together to secure the victory.

On this view, Deuteronomy, also known as mishneh Torah, or a retelling of the Torah, should be viewed as G-d, the Sovereign King, renewing the covenant/treaty with the rebellious vassal nation of Israelites. Deuteronomy follows the same pattern as the Vassal Treaties with the historical prologue (chapters 1-11), the list of stipulations, or mitzvot (chapters 12-26), and the witnesses and curses if the treaty is not honoured, following at the end. Old stories are retold in another perspective with a new agenda. This is not meant as rewriting of history and was never understood on that basis. The changes were not in the history which everyone knew anyway, but rather in the subtleties of a renewed relationship with renewed emphases. Initially, with the first Treaty at Sinai, there was hope that all would be good, but forty years in the wilderness had strained the relationship. There was now a need for a renewal of the Treaty and therefore a new historical prologue in a generally more critical tone to that found in earlier accounts. This reflected the needs of the moment in a way that everyone present would have immediately and contextually understood - because “the Torah speaks in the language of man” and “the prophet expresses himself through the conventions of the times”.


[1] Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, 3:29. Translation by S. Pines (1963).

[2] Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 3:49. Translation by M. Friedländer (1903).

[3] Berman, J., 2020, Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith, Maggid Books.

[4] From the blurb of Berman’s book.

[5] Berman, J., 2008, Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought, Oxford University Press, New York.

[6] Exodus 20:1-2.

[7] Singer, I., 1997, ‘The Treaties Between Hatti and Amurru’, in The Context of Scripture II: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World, Hallo, W.W. (ed.), Brill, Netherlands, Leiden, 95.

[8] Exodus 20:2, Deuteronomy 5:6.

[9] Exodus 34:23.

[10] See Beckman, Hittite Diplomatic Texts, 81.

[11] Exodus 24:7.

[12] Deuteronomy 31:11.

[13] See Beckman, Hittite Diplomatic Texts, 58.

[14] Deuteronomy 4:26. See also 30:19 and 32:1.

Sunday, 13 June 2021



Image from The Temple Institute


In 1975 Rabbi Yitzchak Shimshon Lange published a collection of commentaries by R. Yehuda heChasid (1150-1271), a leader of Chasidei Ashkenaz, entitled Commentaries on the Torah by R. Judah he-Hasid[1].

Despite the rather innocuous-sounding title, this anthology included three commentaries that suggest that certain sections of the Torah were added after the time of Moshe Rabbeinu. A fourth commentary suggests that David removed sections of poetry from the Torah and included them in his book of Psalms. All this coming from someone like R. Yehuda heChasid naturally raised some eyebrows.

In this article, based extensively but not exclusively on the research by Professor Eran Viezel[2], we examine one of these four commentaries.



Lange based his anthology primarily on two manuscripts, one found in the Russian State Library[3] and the other in the Cambridge University Library[4]. The four ‘problematic’ commentaries were on the following verses: 1) Genesis 48:20–22[5], 2) Leviticus 2:13[6], 3) Deuteronomy 2:8[7] and 4) Numbers 21:17[8].

The commentaries on the first three biblical sections suggest that the relevant verses, or parts thereof, were not written by Moshe but were added later by either Joshua, or much later by the Men of the Great Assembly in the time of Ezra around the fifth century BCE. The commentary on the verse in Numbers suggests that David removed certain psalms of Moshe from the Torah, and incorporated them into his own book of Psalms.



As a consequence of these ‘offensive’ suggestions in the commentary, a huge polemic erupted and Lange withdrew his first edition from circulation and published a new edition with these offensive commentaries removed. Effectively the work had now been censored and sanitised.

On the opening page of the new edition, Lange explains:

“I declare that after consultation with Torah luminaries and on the basis of their decision, I have deleted a few passages, as it is unthinkable that they might have been uttered by the sacred mouth of our rabbi, Judah he-Hasid of blessed memory. It must be presumed that others took command of these writings and cast their hands upon them.”

Viezel notes that from a reading of the original censored commentaries:

“…the explicit and moderate tone of the comments illustrated, indirectly, that he [the author][9] did not consider his views to be especially daring or extraordinary.”

This shows that so much effort was expended on removing ‘offensive’ writing that was obviously not considered by its author as being offensive at the time of its writing.



Viezel attempts a reappraisal of the authorship of the entire commentary attributed to R. Yehuda heChassid. This does mean that he condones the censorship, but his observations do well for the interests of honest scholarship in general.

Viezel writes:

“…the attribution of these notes has affected scholarship on the figure of R. Judah he-Hasid, introducing a new, previously unattested dimension to his works and views, and influencing the attitude of scholars to biblical exegesis of Hasidei Ashkenaz in general.”

Some scholars have suggested, based on these controversial commentaries, that the ‘seeds of [Jewish] biblical criticism’ can now be shown to have been sown by the great German Pietist, R. Yehuda heChasid.

If it can be shown that the attribution of this commentary to R. Yehuda heChasid is not accurate, then it must be made known.

First of all, the two original manuscripts from which these commentaries derive, were not written by the hand of R. Yehuda heChasid. Viezel began to become suspicious of the authorship of these commentaries when he noticed that the Moscow manuscript clearly attributed the commentary to R. Yehudah heChasid – while the other manuscript, held at Cambridge, had no such attribution. Lange obviously noticed this as well and he concluded that both must have been copied from a third manuscript that no longer exists.



From both extant manuscripts, it is clear that it is the son of R. Yehuda heChasid who is doing most of the writing. There are numerous references to “My father said” and “My father explained” scattered throughout the manuscripts. Thus, from the outset, the primary author emerges as R. Moshe Zaltman, the son of R. Yehuda heChasid.

This does not mean that R. Yehuda heChasid’s views are not recorded in these manuscripts, but it becomes difficult to know which are his pure reflections and which are the views of his son. We know that R. Zaltman did not always present the views of his father because he frequently interposes his own contrary views thus arguing with those of his father. It also seems that R. Zaltman wrote these commentaries after his father’s passing because in the commentary to Genesis 12:2, he mentions the date of his father’s death[10].

Viezel points out that this style of writing - where an existing commentary is expanded upon to produce a supercommentary and then an independent supplement is added by the supercommentator – was common at that time. It is, therefore, likely that R. Zaltman was also following that style of supercommentary writing.  It is also likely that the relative anonymity of R. Zaltman was the reason why the work was attested to his father who, in fairness, is the source of many (most?) of the ideas found within the work. This practise, an early ‘marketing technique’, was also common for those times and was not considered disingenuous.



Lange himself appears to have been aware of many of these observations and he writes in his introduction to his anthology:

“it is possible that R. Moses Zaltman added [interpretations] of his own, or that there are other additions.”[11]

He further states that some comments should not at all be attributed to R. Yehuda heChasid.[12]

However, Viezel takes this acknowledgement one step further by examining each of the four controversial texts and differentiating between the words of the father and the son. Viezel shows that both the commentaries on Leviticus 2:13 and Genesis 48:2–22, where the suggestion that there are interpolations in the Torah, originate with the son and not the father. The commentary on Deuteronomy 2:8 also reflects the writing of the son. The fourth commentary on Num. 21:17 (which does not concern an interpolation), however, is difficult to differentiate between father and son but nevertheless it seems to be based on a sound rabbinic tradition.

Let us look at one example of Viezel’s argument, Leviticus 2:23:


Leviticus 2:13:

וְכׇל־קׇרְבַּ֣ן מִנְחָתְךָ֮ בַּמֶּ֣לַח תִּמְלָח֒ וְלֹ֣א תַשְׁבִּ֗ית מֶ֚לַח בְּרִ֣ית אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ מֵעַ֖ל מִנְחָתֶ֑ךָ עַ֥ל כׇּל־קׇרְבָּנְךָ֖ תַּקְרִ֥יב מֶֽלַח׃

You shall season your every offering of meal with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with God; with all your offerings you must offer salt.

Here is the full commentary:

ʹולא תשבית מלח ברית אלהיךʹ – אמרו חכמים זו מלח סדומית שכתוב בו ʹלעברך בברית

הʹ אלהיך ובאלתוʹ, ומה כתיב שם ʹגפרית ומלח שרפה כל ארצהּʹ, וסיפא דקרא ʹכמהפכת סדום

ועמורהʹ, כך הגיד לי ריʺם [=רʹ יצחק מרוסיה] משם אבי. וקשה לי, והלא זה נאמר בסוף ימיו של משה?

ונראה לתרץ שקיבל משה הכל מסיני שהקʹ תלה [התורה] בזה שאם יעברו הברית, שגפרית ומלח ישרוף

ארצם כמו סדום. עניין אחר, שמא מתחילה היה כתיב ʹולא תשבית מלח מעל מנחתךʹ בסתם, ואחר שמשה

רבינו כתב זה באתם נצבים, אז הוסיפוּ וכתבוּ מפיʹ מה מלח, ʹמלח ברית אלהיךʹ

I will try to summerise this commentary (as I understand it) as simply as possible:

·        According to Leviticus 2:13, the meal offering had to have salt added to it.

·        This salt represented מֶ֚לַח בְּרִ֣ית אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ, the salt of the covenant.

·        What was the salt of the covenant?

·        The Talmud (bMen. 21a) provides the answer: it was the salt of Sodom.

·        How do we know to make this connection between salt of the covenant and Sodom?

·        Another verse (from Nitzavim in Deuteronomy 29:11) states, לְעׇבְרְךָ֗ בִּבְרִ֛ית יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ, ‘To enter into the covenant of the Lord your God’. This is followed by verse 22 which continues to mention, מֶ֘לַח֮, salt, and סְדֹ֤ם, Sodom.[13] This style of connecting two seemingly unrelated verses is known as gezeira shava.

·        This is in Moshe’s final speech to his people, on the last day of his life, and it involved a final covenant before they entered the land. If they broke the covenant, the land of milk and honey would be rendered unworkable like the salty land of Sodom and Gomorrah.[14]

·        Thus, the salt of the meal-offering (in Leviticus) alludes to the salt of the covenant (in Deuteronomy) which references the salt of Sodom.

What all this means is that we learn from the later verse in Deuteronomy (from the last sections of the Torah) a technical detail pertaining to an earlier verse in Leviticus: that the salt added to the meal-offering must be melach Sedomit, the specific salt of Sodom.



The commentary is clearly written by R. Zaltman because it states that this was: משם אבי, the view of his father, R. Yehuda heChasid. His father was not bothered by a later verse from a period many years after Sinai, throwing light on an earlier verse, as the Torah was, in his view, one conglomerate given simultaneously at Sinai.

However, R. Zaltman offers his own interpretation in his own name. He was not satisfied with his father’s position on the matter. He first explains his father’s view with ונראה לתרץ, it is feasible to answer that Moshe received all the laws simultaneously at Sinai. This alleviated the difficulty of the earlier law being influenced by the later law.

Then he states, וקשה לי, that his father’s view that all the laws were given simultaneously, is difficult and unacceptable to him. And he proceeds to offer his own more daring interpretation, עניין אחר.



According to R. Zaltman, the Torah originally merely stated: ולא תשבית מלח מעל מנחתך, “you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt without the phrase: בְּרִ֣ית אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ, “of your covenant with God”. Then after Moshe had later written the verse in Deuteronomy referencing the covenant, “they” added the phrase בְּרִ֣ית אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ to the verse in Leviticus.

R. Zaltman does not say who “they” are, but is it likely he was referring to the Men of the Great Assembly in the time of Ezra.

Although Viezel does not suggest the following, perhaps one can gain some insight into what may have been bothering R. Zaltman.  A larger picture emerges because a reading of the surrounding text in Deuteronomy refers to וְאָמַ֞ר הַדּ֣וֹר הָאַחֲר֗וֹן, “the later generation will say” and seems to imply knowledge (whether projected or experienced) of a later time - after the people had already sinned and had been exiled. The verses refer to בָּאָ֣רֶץ הַהִ֑וא, “that land” implying that they had already entered the land and had been exiled, and they are firmly written in the past tense:

וַיִּחַר־אַ֥ף יְהֹוָ֖ה בָּאָ֣רֶץ הַהִ֑וא לְהָבִ֤יא עָלֶ֙יהָ֙ אֶת־כׇּל־הַקְּלָלָ֔ה הַכְּתוּבָ֖ה בַּסֵּ֥פֶר הַזֶּֽה׃

“So the LORD was incensed at that land and brought upon it all the curses recorded in this book.”

וַיִּתְּשֵׁ֤ם יְהֹוָה֙ מֵעַ֣ל אַדְמָתָ֔ם בְּאַ֥ף וּבְחֵמָ֖ה וּבְקֶ֣צֶף גָּד֑וֹל וַיַּשְׁלִכֵ֛ם אֶל־אֶ֥רֶץ אַחֶ֖רֶת כַּיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃

The LORD uprooted them from their soil in anger, fury, and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as is still the case.”

The English translation of these verses from Deuteronomy 29:26-7, is from Serafia, but the translation is not entirely accurate because כַּיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּה means “to this day”. In other words, the verse is implying that the people had already been exiled to another land where they remain to this day.  Again, this verse either projects an expected reaction, or, more daringly, could also imply a similar alleged interpolation if it was added after the destruction of the First Temple and after the Jews had already been exiled to אֶ֥רֶץ אַחֶ֖רֶת, another land, namely Babylon. This would have been just before the time of Ezra and the Men of the Great Assembly. For R. Zaltman, the interpolation in Leviticus may no longer just be due to a simple gezeira shava, where the two verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy are joined by the common word “salt”, but they are connected by a deeper “gezeira shava” because they originated at the same time, namely, in the post-exilic period. [15]

In the other two examples which Viezel brings, it emerges that R. Zaltman - and not R. Yehuda heChasid - similarly suggests that verses or phrases were added to the Torah after the time of Moshe.



It does indeed seem clear that it is on the view of R. Zaltman the son, and not R. Yehuda heChasid the father, that some writing was added to the Torah, centuries later. These may seem like small and insignificant additions, but it violates the notion that the Torah was never changed or altered even one iota. This view is often portrayed as a universal rabbinic belief but as we have seen in Kotzk Blog: 323) TIKUNEI SOFERIM – CORRECTIONS OF THE SCRIBES:, that is far from the case.

Regarding the matter of the censoring of Lange’s anthology by what he calls the “Torah luminaries”, an interesting phenomenon emerges. In this case, the “luminaries” may have been on the mark. It certainly appears evident, based on Viezel’s convincing arguments from the wording of the commentary itself, that, as the “luminaries” suggested, “others took command of these writings and cast their hands upon them”.

However, the “luminaries”, who seem to have gone on an instinctive ‘gut feel’ rather than undertake a detailed examination of the text as Viezel did, responded by recommending censorship.

Ironically, Viezel arrived at the same conclusion as the “luminaries” without having to resort to such extreme dictatorial measures, and he did so by applying his mind instead. There was no need, after all, to censor R. Yehuda heChasid as he did not do the writing. Had it been known that these views were attributed to his less famous son, the reaction might have been less extreme.

Viezel concludes with this closing verdict:

“At this time, it seems most responsible to remove ‘seeds of biblical criticism’ from the literary activity of R. Judah he-Hasid.”

This verdict is most convincing and well-argued. However, the ‘seeds of biblical criticism’, whether or not one is comfortable with that notion, are still there, having now been sowed not by R. Yehudah heChasid but by his son instead.

His short twenty-six-word commentary on Leviticus touched a nerve because - although introduced by the innocent suggestive qualification of the word שמא, “perhaps” - it sparked such controversy and resulted in outright censorship. The sanitised version of the newly published commentary skirts this issue entirely.

[1] Perushei haTorah le-R. Yehudah heChasid, I.S. Lange (ed.)

[2] Viezel, E., 2015, ‘R. Judah he-Hasid or R. Moshe Zaltman: who proposed that Torah verses were written after the time of Moses?’, Journal of Jewish Studies, vol. 66, no.1.

[3] MS Guenzburg 8, pp. 62a–97a.

[4] MS Add. 669,2 (n. p.).

[5] 1) Genesis 48:20–22:

וַיְבָ֨רְכֵ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הַהוּא֮ לֵאמוֹר֒ בְּךָ֗ יְבָרֵ֤ךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר יְשִֽׂמְךָ֣ אֱלֹהִ֔ים כְּאֶפְרַ֖יִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁ֑ה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־אֶפְרַ֖יִם לִפְנֵ֥י מְנַשֶּֽׁה׃

So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.” Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh.

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶל־יוֹסֵ֔ף הִנֵּ֥ה אָנֹכִ֖י מֵ֑ת וְהָיָ֤ה אֱלֹהִים֙ עִמָּכֶ֔ם וְהֵשִׁ֣יב אֶתְכֶ֔ם אֶל־אֶ֖רֶץ אֲבֹתֵיכֶֽם׃

Then Israel said to Joseph, “I am about to die; but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers.

וַאֲנִ֞י נָתַ֧תִּֽי לְךָ֛ שְׁכֶ֥ם אַחַ֖ד עַל־אַחֶ֑יךָ אֲשֶׁ֤ר לָקַ֙חְתִּי֙ מִיַּ֣ד הָֽאֱמֹרִ֔י בְּחַרְבִּ֖י וּבְקַשְׁתִּֽי׃

And now, I assign to you one portion more than to your brothers, which I wrested from the Amorites with my sword and bow.”

[6] 2) Leviticus 2:13:

וְכׇל־קׇרְבַּ֣ן מִנְחָתְךָ֮ בַּמֶּ֣לַח תִּמְלָח֒ וְלֹ֣א תַשְׁבִּ֗ית מֶ֚לַח בְּרִ֣ית אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ מֵעַ֖ל מִנְחָתֶ֑ךָ עַ֥ל כׇּל־קׇרְבָּנְךָ֖ תַּקְרִ֥יב מֶֽלַח׃

You shall season your every offering of meal with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with God; with all your offerings you must offer salt.

[7] 3) Deuteronomy 2:8:

וַֽנַּעֲבֹ֞ר מֵאֵ֧ת אַחֵ֣ינוּ בְנֵי־עֵשָׂ֗ו הַיֹּֽשְׁבִים֙ בְּשֵׂעִ֔יר מִדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ הָֽעֲרָבָ֔ה מֵאֵילַ֖ת וּמֵעֶצְיֹ֣ן גָּ֑בֶר {ס} וַנֵּ֙פֶן֙ וַֽנַּעֲבֹ֔ר דֶּ֖רֶךְ מִדְבַּ֥ר מוֹאָֽב׃

We then moved on, away from our kinsmen, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir, away from the road of the Arabah, away from Elath and Ezion-geber; and we marched on in the direction of the wilderness of Moab.

[8] 4) Numbers 21:17:

אָ֚ז יָשִׁ֣יר יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶת־הַשִּׁירָ֖ה הַזֹּ֑את עֲלִ֥י בְאֵ֖ר עֱנוּ־לָֽהּ׃

 Then Israel sang this song: Spring up, O well—sing to it—

[9] Parenthesis mine.

[10] Lange, Perushei haTorah, p. 8.

[11] Lange, Perushei haTorah, p. 9.

[12] Lange, Perushei haTorah, p. 10-11.

[13] This style of connecting two seemingly unrelated verses is known as gezeira shava.

[14] Thus the ‘salt covenant’ was so called because it reminded Israel that if they broke it, their land would be turned to salt. Rashi has a more gentle explanation in that just like salt never spoils, so too should this covenant never spoil.

[15] The centralisation of worship in the Temple after the time of Josiah’s reforms, and the intensification of ritual may be related to the detail of the salt. No longer can just any salt be used with the meal-offering, as R. Zaltman suggests the verse in Leviticus originally meant, but now only special ‘ritualised’ salt, melach Sedomit, had to be used. This may have been the reason behind the alleged interpolation.

A further corroboration of the notion of the intensification of ritual, is the development of the practice to dip bread, representing the meal-offering, into salt - including the further specification that (on one view) mayim acharonim (the ‘second washing’ at the end of a meal) is only necessary when the salt used was melach Sedomit and not just ordinary salt.