The Accuracy or Our Written Torah
Rabbi Dovid Lichtman
[Page 4](c) However, we have not yet addressed our third question: Can it be scientifically demonstrated that our text is indeed the correct one (i.e., that the eclectic process worked)? Halachically, we are secure in our reliance on the eclectic process (Teshuvot Ginat Veradim 1:2:6). This does not mean, though, that our Mesorah is 100% in agreement with the original text that was handed to us by Moshe. It only means that we are doing our best and are following the dictates of Halachah in determining how to write our Torahs. In fact, many authorities write that our texts may very well not match up with the true Mosaic text (authorities in OC 143:4, Sha'agat Aryeh. Chatam Sofer and Minchat Chinuch cited at the beginning of section I, see Hagaon Rav Moshe Sternbuch in "Mitzvat ha'Yom," pp. 32-43, who discusses the Halachic aspects of this statement in detail.).
But does that mean that our texts may be "wildly inaccurate", or that "one or two" discrepancies may exist? Or, returning to our first question, can it be proven that enough attention was given to preserving the Mesorah and that copyists' errors were usually nipped in the bud before assuming the part of "Mesorah?" Or did too long a time pass between Masoretic overhauls, and many errors became independent Mesorahs over the years? (This theoretical question has been brought to the forefront in recent years by the great Torah Codes debate.) An exercise regarding this very question has been conducted by Dr. Mordechai Breuer of Yerushalayim, with fascinating results.
In his work, "The Aleppo Codex and the Accepted Text of the Torah", Dr. Breuer describes his years of meticulous research and discusses his conclusions in attempting to demonstrate the scientific usefulness of the eclectic process. In fact, Dr. Breuer's purpose was to demonstrate that a single Mesorah already existed in the years prior to the RaMaH, even though the RaMaH did not have such a Mesorah at his disposal. (The existence of such a single Mesorah is flatly rejected by many academicians.) Dr. Breuer began by selecting four texts of ancient origin to compare and contrast in his study. Each of these texts predates the RaMaH.
The texts were all of the type written by the Tiberian Masorites (as opposed to the Babylonian Masorites) yet clearly differed from each other in certain significant formatting areas, indicating that they were not copied from an immediate common source. In addition, he included the text of the Mikra'ot Gedolot of Yaakov ben Chaim, printed in Venice, 1525. (It should be noted that the orthography of these 5 texts differed widely from one another, in one case by more than 200 letters from the others.) Using the eclectic process, he suggested that if a broad majority of 4 out of 5 texts (and not just 3 of the 5) agreed with each other, it could be assumed that the fifth, inconsistent text was a copyist's error. His results were startling.
There are 304,805 letters in the Torah. All five texts were in total agreement in all but about 220 letters. Of these, all but 20 were resolved by a majority of at least 4 texts against 1! Of the 20 remaining conflicts, Dr. Breuer was able to clarify all but 6 by applying another Masorite method, that of carefully studying thousands of early Masoretic notes (a broader topic similar in style to the eclectic process). These final 6 he was not able to clarify because three of the Torahs presented one spelling, while the remaining two presented another. It was apparent that nearly all of the inconsistencies between the Torahs were caused by copyists errors, and not by Masoretic uncertainties. Next, the resultant `eclectic' text was compared with the RaMaH's text (i.e., our present text). It was found that the RaMaH differed in but 6 places from the eclectic. That is, the margin of uncertainty of our Torah scrolls is probably not more than 12 (out of 304,805!) letters -- the 6 indeterminate ones, plus the six in which the RaMaH's text differed from Dr. Breuer's eclectic!
When he compared the results of his experiment with the Teimani text (which, as we mentioned, is probably identical to that of Ben Asher), the results were even more startling. The texts were in perfect agreement! Their margin of uncertainty may be no more than 6 letters! Equally amazing is that all the above mentioned differences involve Vavs and Yuds, which do not affect the meaning of the word at all. (As for the remaining six uncertainties in Dr. Breuer's eclectic survey, in three of the instances the RaMaH and Teimani texts agreed with the 3-against-2 majority text. In the other three cases, the RaMaH and Teimani texts were themselves split over the same variant spellings as were the pre-RaMaH texts. In total, that means that the Teimani text differs from the RaMaH's text in but 9 letters -- see endnotes for details.) In conclusion, the transmission of our Torah text has been well tended to and well preserved. The methods of Chazal have proudly withstood the tests of time. Such demonstrations of the strength of our Mesorah are indeed a Kiddush Hashem.
Torah variants of Dr. Breuer's results, as compared to our (=RaMaH's) Torahs, in order of appearance (E=eclectic; T=Teimani): (1) Bereishit 4:13 "Mineso" (E&T w/o Vav); (2) Bereishit 7:11 "Ma'ayanos (E&T w/o Vav); (3) Bereishit 9:29 "Vayehi" (E&T Vayiheyu); (4) Bereishit 46:13 "v'Shimron" (E with Vav); (5) Shemot 14:22 "Chomah" (E w/o Vav); (6) Shemot 25:31 "Te'aseh" (E&T w/o Yud); (7) Shemot 28:26 "ha'Efod" (E&T w/o Vav); (8) Bamidbar 1:17 "b'Shemot" (T w/o Vav); (9) Bamidbar 10:10 "Chodsheichem" (T with Yud); (10) Bamidbar 22:5 "Be'or" (T w/o Vav); (11) Bamidbar 33:52 "Bamotam" (E w/o Vav); (12) Devarim 23:2 "Daka" (E&T with Alef instead of Heh. Lubavitch Chassidic texts are in agreement with T in this matter).