The Torah of Moses

Although modern traditionalist Judaism uniformly affirms the divinity of the Torah, classical sources disagree on what role Moses had in the actual production of the Torah.

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Nevertheless, Rashba seems clear that Moses did not use the written text of the scroll of the covenant in composing the Torah later on.

What should we make, however, of the book of Deuteronomy?

"Moses wanted to clarify the Torah for them, and it is stated thus ['Moses undertook'] to make it known that he saw it necessary to do so on his own, and that God did not command him in this…" (Ramban, Deuteronomy 1:1).

Ramban divides Deuteronomy into two parts: the commandments that had not been mentioned previously were, at this point, proclaimed by God. The commandments that were repeated from earlier in the Torah and the curses in Deuteronomy 28 were Moses' own words, spoken at his own initiative. Nachmanide's approach is puzzling; the Talmud itself states, "One who says: This verse Moses himself said, as if speaking from himself, has no part in the world to come" (Sanhedrin 99a). Nevertheless, many commentators agree; R. Hayyim ibn Attar even goes farther: "These are the words" (Deuteronomy 1:1) means that all of Deuteronomy is from Moses, but that none of the previous four books are. They are entirely from God" (Or haHayyim, Deuteronomy 1:1).

What do these classical sources reveal? There are, apparently, a wide variety of opinions of how the Torah was written. Working through the Torah consecutively we have the following opinions:

Genesis: Perhaps it was entirely written at the end of the 40 years or perhaps Moses wrote it immediately upon descending from Sinai. Some laws, like the commandment about Jews not eating the sciatic nerve (Genesis 32:33), may have been given to the patriarchs prior to Sinai, or the law may have been given at Sinai but Moses inserted the law in its place in order to connect the law with its source (see Talmud Hullin 101b).

Exodus: Perhaps it was entirely written at the end of the 40 years, or perhaps the portion through the laws of the Tabernacle were written by Moses immediately upon descending from Sinai. Some of these materials, like the book of the covenant were written as texts before they were written into the Torah itself.

Leviticus and Numbers: Leviticus might have only been revealed in the Tent of Meeting after the revelation at Mt. Sinai. All of this material might have been written at the end of the 40 years.  Perhaps Moses wrote certain passages concerning the Tabernacle immediately upon descending from Sinai. Perhaps other passages were spoken by God and they were written down immediately, or they were remembered orally until the Torah's composition.

Deuteronomy: Perhaps Moses wrote all of it as God dictated, writing the last eight verses in tears, or perhaps Joshua wrote those last eight verses. Perhaps the new material is from God, but the repeated material and the curses are from Moses, or perhaps the whole book is from Moses.

Traditional sources definitely help define the issues in understanding the question of how God's Torah was written down and when, but the variety of approaches leaves answers somewhat less clear.

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Jeffrey Spitzer is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy, The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., and a member of the Institute's Tichon Fellows Program.