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 2:13:


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.

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