Different Versions of the Torah

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Note: I suspect that this (anonymised) question via our website was posed by a Christian critic of Judaism. We share it here partly in the spirit of “know how to answer the heretic”.

Dear Rabbi Simon
Deut. 4:2 says, “You shall not add anything to or take anything away from it, but keep the commandments of the LORD your GOD that I enjoin upon you.” If I understand this verse correctly, no one should ever change a single letter of the TANAKH. I have two versions of the Hebrew Scriptures and the words are different. Since the GOD of ISRAEL is the only one true GOD shouldn’t there be only one TANAKH with the complete, unchanged words of the GOD of Israel? Why are there so many versions? According to the TORAH this is very wrong. It is a great sin against the GOD of Israel. The Jewish people were commanded never to change a single letter in the TANAKH, but they did! WHY?


Dear Kris
Thank you for your question which is, however, based on an erroneous premise.
First, I am not sure that the verse you cite means that not a letter of Tanakh should be changed. The verse in Deut. warns against adding to or subtracting from the commandments of the Torah, ie the 613 commandments contained in the Pentateuch. It does not refer to a variant spelling of a word in Job or Proverbs (for example).
More to the point, however, is that while English (or other) translations of the Hebrew Scriptures will naturally vary from one another, the Hebrew original is exceptionally consistent from one text or manuscript to another. In the entire Torah (Five Books of Moses) there is but a lone variation in the spelling of a single word (Deut. 23:2), which does not change the meaning or the pronunciation.
I believe the evidence shows that that Jewish people have been very faithful guardians of the text of the Tanakh, over the course of many centuries.
Best wishes
Rabbi Rashi Simon

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Ask the Rabbi: Quinoa on Pesach
Dear Rabbi Simon,
Where do you stand on quinoa (and the kitniyot ban) for Pesach?
Many thanks,
Dear Tzippy,
In line with other American authorities, I am in favour of quinoa. Although I reject completely the voices (mostly from Israel) seeking to abolish the ban on kitniyot entirely, IMO we do not need to include in the prohibition pseudo-grains that were unknown in the Old World until modern times. Best to buy with a Pesach hechsher though, to be free of any possible wheat contamination.
Rabbi Rashi Simon
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