Monday, December 24, 2007

Tanach - Torah and the Books of the Prophets - Were Written by Ezra from Memory!

A friend sent me two Yemmenite Midrashim that say the same thing in slightly different versions. According to the editor’s notes on both Midrashim, one by Professor Toby, an expert on Yemmenite Jewry, it is an accepted and well-known popular story in Yemen folklore. The one I am paraphrasing is from Midrash Habiur. The Midrash comments on the following verse in Devarim 31:21


וְהָיָה כִּי-תִמְצֶאןָ אֹתוֹ רָעוֹת רַבּוֹת, וְצָרוֹת,

וְעָנְתָה הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לְפָנָיו לְעֵד, כִּי לֹא תִשָּׁכַח מִפִּי


21 then it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are come upon them, that this song shall testify before them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed;

For it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: He promised them that the Torah will not betaken from them nor will it disappear. There is a tradition that the Jews did not have the Torah during the First Exile. Ezra Hasofer wrote down from memory all the 24 books and could not remember the first part of this sentence in Shir Hashirim -

יב לֹא יָדַעְתִּי--נַפְשִׁי שָׂמַתְנִי, מַרְכְּבוֹת עַמִּי נָדִיב.

12 Before I was aware, my soul set me upon the chariots of my princely people. (Shir Hashirim 6:12)

He asked an Am Ha’aretz (an unlearned man) if he remembered the beginning of the verse in Shir Hashirim that ends with מַרְכְּבוֹת עַמִּי נָדִיב. To which the man said לֹא יָדַעְתִּי-- - I don’t know! That jolted Ezra’s memory and he remembered the missing words. The Midrash continues that this is why the Mesora has עה on this verse, the acronym for Am Ha’aretz, to remind us that Ezra needed the help of one. (Unfortunately, I do not have Shir Hashirim with the Mesora so I could not check it. I would appreciate it if someone that has access to it would check it out and let me know.)

I have very little to say about this Midrash other than that it triggers a great many thoughts about how some of our rabbis understood Ezra’s role in writing down Tanach. The fact that it was an accepted traditional story in the Jewish community in Yemen is even more telling.

1. For a short overview of the Yemmenite Midrashim, see Torah Shleima Vol. 1 in the introduction note 11.


  1. Re: writing from memory, note the lashon of the Yerushalmi Meg 28b (Vilna ed) "afilu ragil Torah k'Ezra lo yehei hoge m'piv v'kore" (i.e. write from memory).

  2. Thank you for the reference. Interestingly the korban ha'edah and the pnei moshe say that Yrmyahu, the navi, was as mipi haktav. That gemara makes it even more intriguing.

  3. I heard this from a Persian kid at the age of 10. I called him a stupid boy who can't tell the difference in between Mishnah and Torah in class.

    But now that I look back he did said just what this drash says.

  4. One more thing. This just disputes what is found in Avot deRabbi Nathan that when they returned to Israel they found three valid manuscripts that had some slight differences.

    This in no way suggests any difference theological beliefs about the authorship of the Torah and Nakh.

    I do not know what you are so exited about.

  5. do not know what you are so exited about.

    who says I am excited other than that we now have two torah sheba'al peh!:-)

  6. I view Torah sheba'al peh very differently. I view it very literal as teaching that were spoken and a completely different subject to Mesora and halakha lemoshe misinia.

    My limited knowledge of Talmud supports my view. However, I may be completely wrong.

    In my opinion this is why it was a taboo to write the Mishnah down despite Midrashie Halakha and Aggadah being written down before Rabbi.

  7. Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam makes an allusion to this in his War's of the Lord. Within the first quarter of the book.