Sunday, 15 July 2018



We all know about Tzniyut or modesty when it comes to clothing. In fact, one of the thickest books in my library is a modern English book on modesty, which for some reason, I received as a gift.
However, there is a less-known but just as important type of modesty - a 'spiritual modesty' - which one also needs to be aware of.

What follows is my translation of sections of Otzarot haMussar by Rabbi Moshe Zuriel:[1]

NOTE: I have sacrificed fluidity of writing style for more of a technical translation in the interests of better accuracy.


Our Sages have denigrated the person who shows himself off [or makes a spectacle of himself], even when it comes to [the worthy task of] serving G-d.


"[R. Yehoshua] says in the Mishna[2]  that a ‘conniving wicked person’ is [one of those individuals] who destroys [the moral and religious fabric] of the world.

How do we define such a [‘conniving wicked person’]?

[Rav Sheshet explains that the ‘conniving wicked person’] is one who persuades others with his ways [convincing them to mimic his seemingly righteous behaviour, yet in reality, he is a religious hypocrite].

And Rashi explains [that the ‘conniving wicked person’] is one who tells others to do like he does and to follow his [stricter] ways and yet [this ‘leader’s’] only motivation is to show off to others just how ‘pious’ he is. His outside piety does not match his internal deceit - and through [showing such religious ‘leadership’] he hides his own shortcomings [from his followers]."

"And how did Rashi know that [the individual referenced here] was only ‘pious on the outside in order to hide his internal deceit’?
Perhaps this individual was indeed genuinely concerned with teaching others how to serve G-d?
[Rashi knew that this individual was being deceitful because the implication is that he was over-exhibiting his religiosity] and it is written that ‘One must walk modestly with Hashem.'”[3]

"The Talmud continues to list seven examples of such bogus piety:

[Two examples follow:]

The self-flagellating righteous who injures his feet – which Rashi explains as the person who walks in [fake] humility to the extent that he drags his feet upon the ground without lifting up his feet [causing them to get injured].

And the bloodletting righteous - who closes his eyes so as not to see women and in the process can’t see where he is going, and bangs his head against walls till blood is drawn. (See Addendum at the conclusion of this article for a modern take on this Gemara.)

These are [just two] examples of [fake and exaggerated piety] which corrode the [religious fabric of] the world."


We must note the words of Rambam[4]:

“...these deplorable people add [extra practices] to what they are [already] obligated to observe and over exaggerate their external [appearances and behaviour] in order to deceive the minds of ordinary people...and by so doing they make the Torah appear as disgusting.”

"What Rambam is saying is that when a person adds to his religious obligations and does so in an exaggerated manner, other people [who observe such behavioural patterns] will find it a source of comedy [and bemusement] as they are not used to such performances – and they will come to blame the ‘Torah’ [for creating such people]." See KOTZK BLOG 57.

For similar reasons, it is forbidden to bow more than necessary at [the beginning of] the ‘Modim’ prayer [where a measured bow is prescribed].[5]


Another explanation is offered by the Meiri[6]:

“The matter of ‘the foolishly pious’ is where one is overly pious, to the extent that his ‘righteousness’ actually causes damage either to himself or to others, such as in a case where one fasts continuously etc.”


One of the ways to identify an individual who has studied Torah for its own sake [and not for an ulterior motive] is to see if he is ‘modest and patient and forgiving of infringes against his ego’[7]

The Maharal wrote on this[8]: “Modesty is the hallmark of Torah. [Modesty] stems from the higher [spiritual] realms which are hidden and modest. For this reason, one who learns Torah for its own sake is [of necessity, also] hidden and modest in all of his ways. He is not a [religious] exhibitionist.”


R. Tzvi Hirsch Kaidanover (1650-1712), author of Kav haYashar[9] [or The Good Measure, a work which uplifted the spirits of the Jews after the Chmelnitzki Massacres or 1648] writes:

[Note: Some editions of Kav haYashar had censored and intentionally omitted this particular section.]

“An individual must be careful - even if he knows how to spiritually focus on the ‘Kabbalisic kavanot (concentrations)’ during his prayers – not to pray at length during the communal prayers. This would be an issur gammur – an absolute prohibition! He should only pray tefilato k’peshuto, a simple [and quick] prayer [when in the synagogue during communal prayers, so as not to stand out and draw attention to himself].

This has always been a tradition with me:

One who draws out his prayers longer than it takes the community to recite them, it goes without saying that he is doing so in order draw attention to himself, and of necessity his prayer will therefore not be considered.

I also saw [my father] the Gaon R. Aharon Shmuel Kaidanover [known as Maharshak] and other rabbis who would pray without drawing their prayers out at all.
And they would disapprove of the other rabbis who would draw their prayers out more than necessary.


As the Rivash [R. Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet (1326–1408)] wrote in his Responsa[10] (see also Mishna Berura 98:1): ‘[During communal prayers] one must only concentrate on the simple meaning of the words and no more.


A [Talmudic] support for this may be found in R. Akiva[11]:
When he used to pray with the community, he would start and conclude at the same time as them. This, however, was not the case when he would pray privately because we know that he [would get so lost in his prayers that] he would start in one place [in his home] and end in another.


According to the Pele Yoetz [or ‘Wondrous advisor’ published in 1824 by R. Eliezer Papo]:

It is forbidden to raise one’s voice or to cry during Prayers and the Reading of the Torah as it would be considered to be arrogant, and this also applies to the Shemona Esrei.”


Furthermore, the Chida [R. Chaim Yosef David Azulai (1724-1806)] also rejected [such open displays of religiosity].

He writes:

“[During prayers] one should not cry out in a loud voice as it is not appropriate [behaviour, conducive] to the fear of Heaven, nor is it respectful of a synagogue.

He continues:

Nor should one cry out while answering to the Kedusha, because such yelling is [actually] a sign of [both] little respect and modesty. It [also] disturbs others from concentrating.


It would not be considered appropriate for a person to turn himself into such a [‘pious’] Chassid in front of the community, so that he falls on his face before them and turns himself into the main character of the prayer [service]... as there is no character attribute greater than modesty and nothing more offensive than a [self-made spiritual] authority.”


"[This spiritually exaggerated behaviour] has another downside in that it causes week minded people to ridicule that person [and the Judaism he represents]...and (according to Mesilat Yesharim)[12] they will be held accountable [for their mockery – together with] the ‘Chasid’ who caused the stumbling-block [in the first place].

[The reason why the spiritually overstated person is held accountable for people ridiculing his behaviour] is because had it been a clear Din [or Halacha that caused people to ridicule him] he would have had to do it regardless of their mockery [and he would not have been held accountable]. However, this is not the case where the action was one of ‘Chassidut’ [or a non-Halachic practice, where he would be held accountable for the ridicule he caused] because the public spectacle [which he created] in front of everyone was not a Halachic requirement but rather something extraneous."


What strikes one from these sources is that they paint a different picture from many of the common practices we are familiar with. People do shout out, sometimes even wail, and they do delay their prayers long after the regular communal davening. In some circles, this is even encouraged and those who do so are considered worthy.

Yet the Kav haYashar regards it as an issur gammur - an absolute prohibition – to draw out one’s prayers during public davening!

Instead, even the prayers of the genuine righteous, are to be tefilato k’peshuto - simple and at the same pace as the community - so as not to focus attention on any particular individual, turning him into the rosh le’tefilatam[13] or the ‘main attraction' of the prayers.

And this section was censored out of some editions!

It must be remembered that the Kav haYashar became one of the most popular books in the Jewish world after it was first published in 1705. It was published and distributed throughout almost all of the countries in which Jews had lived at the time.

During the first hundred years after publication, it was republished at least thirty times and to date, there have been over eighty editions, including seven in Yiddish and three in Ladino.

The question one has to ask is: What agenda drove some to feel that such an influential and inspirational work should not reference this notion of ‘spiritual modesty’?



A modern reconstruction of the Rashi regarding the one "who closes his eyes so as not to see women and in the process can’t see where he is going, and bangs his head against walls till blood is drawn".
These are amongst those who destroy the [religious fabric] of the world.


"The planned takeoff time: Six in the evening. Everyone boards, sits down, waits. Then the commotion starts. Four Haredim who boarded the flight refuse to sit next to women… 
(O)ne of the Haredi men, "particularly zealot and ascetic, boarded the plane with his eyes shut tight, led by the hand by his friend, and remained that way throughout the entire flight."

 The Haredim were unwilling to speak with—or look at—the female flight attendants. All of the men on the flight crew, apart from the captain, were now focused solely on this, instead of preparing for takeoff and serving the passengers…
 And then a prolonged diplomatic process began of moving female passengers from their seats to clear a row of seats for the four Haredim.

"After a lot of twists and turns, shouting and maneuvering, two women (one American around 70 years old and the other a young Israeli woman) agreed—because of time constraints among other things—to switch seats, and the crisis was resolved."

At the end of the ordeal, "the flight crew, which ran up and down the aisles for over an hour, appeared exhausted even before takeoff, though I assume they're used to such scenes."

He also noted that "for there to be no doubt: The women were not upgraded to better seats, only moved to different seats in economy. Not that it's relevant to the principle of the matter, of course."

According to the passenger, other religious Jews aboard the plane 'expressed surprise and disgust at the Haredim's behavior.'"

For more see:
And see:


  • R. Yosef Dov halevi Soloveitchik said:

"The religious experience is not the primary gesture. It is only secondary. The point of departure must never be the internal subjective experience, no matter how redemptive it is, no matter how colorful it is, no matter how therapeutic it is, no matter how substantial its impact upon the total personality of man…
We can never determine what is a religious experience in contradistinction to a hedonic mundane experience. We know of many hedonic emotions which are provided with enormous power, which are hypnotic, and, at first glance, redemptive…"

  • R. Avrohom Gordimer writes: 

"Every individual experiences and communes with Hashem in a different manner than his fellow; avodas Hashem is principally private and personal. One’s personal chumros and minhagim should thus be private, reflective of his unique relationship with Hashem. By keeping one’s chumros and minhagim private, his personal connection with Hashem remains intimate and unique....
One’s public comportment must embody Kiddush Hashem and dignity. Not drawing attention and not being too loud, but being humble, pleasant and dignified mark the way of the Jew in the company of others. Being distinctively Jewish is praiseworthy, but the private, inward posture of the Jew’s spiritual identity governs his public comportment..."

[1] Otzarot haMussar, Chelek Bet, by R. Moshe Zuriel; p. 846.
[2] Sotah 20a.
[3] Micha 6:8.
[4] Commentary on the Mishna, Sotah, ch. 3, Mishna 3.
[5] Rambam, Hilchot Tefillah, ch 9, Halacha 4. See Kesef Mishna commentary for more.
[6] Sotah 21a.
[7] Avot, 6.
[8] P. 285.
[9] Ch, 100.
[10] Siman 157.
[11] Berachot 31a.
[12] The Mesilat Yesharim or Path of the Just was written by R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-17460
 [13] To borrow the expression from the Meiri.

Sunday, 8 July 2018



[Leaving aside the views of some commentators concerning the authorship of the Book of Devarim - as per previous post - let us now turn our attention to R. Avraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164):]

In Ibn Ezra’s Torah commentary he sometimes referred to a ‘secret’ which he did not wish to elaborate upon.

However, R. Yosef ben Eliezer Bonfils (14th century) wrote a commentary on Ibn Ezra, entitled Tzafnat Pa’aneach and in it, he elucidates at length on what Ibn Ezra only hinted at:

It turns out that Ibn Ezra believed that a number of Torah passages were not actually written by Moshe, but were added in by later prophets!

Rabbi Dr Zev Farber points out six instances where the Tzafnat Pa’aneach indicates that Ibn Ezra believed this to be the case.[1]


In one example, the Torah verse states:

Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, up to the Plain of Moreh and the Canaanites were then in the land.”[2] 
Ibn Ezra then comments on this verse:

It would seem that the Canaanites took the land of Canaan from a different group [during the time of Avraham] [3], but if this [interpretation] is not correct, then there is a secret here, and the wise will remain silent.”

Tzafnat Pa’aneach then explains:

The word ‘then’ (from; The Canaanites were then in the land) implies that at the time of the writing of this verse the Canaanites were no longer in control of the land as they were when Avraham passed through it.

But we know that the Canaanites were still in control of the land until just after the time of Moshe’s death, so had Moshe written that verse there would have been no need to mention who controlled the land as obviously it would have been the Canaanites:

It makes no sense for Moses to write “then,” for reason dictates that the word “then” could only have been written at a time when the Canaanites were not occupying the land, and we know that the Canaanites were not removed from the land until after Moses’ death during the conquest of Joshua.

According to this, Moses did not write that word here, rather Joshua or one of the later prophets wrote it...

It would not be appropriate to reveal this secret to average people, lest they make light of the Torah...

Additionally, because of the nations, who tell us, “your Torah was once the truth, but you replaced it and changed it,” for these reasons he says, “the wise will be silent,” for the wise know that this does no damage, only the fools would attack him (Ibn Ezra) for this.

Amazingly - according to Tzafnat Pa’aneach - Ibn Ezra believed that there was some degree of latitude for extra words to be added to the Torah after the time of Moshe. This broke with the perceived rule that every word of the Torah had to have come directly from G-d!

And the ‘secret’ was that some extra words were inserted into the Torah by either Joshua or a later prophet!


Here is another example:

After the Akeida (where Avraham thought he had to offer his son as a sacrifice) the Torah says:

And Avraham called the name of that place ‘Adon-ai Yireh’ [Hashem will appear], which is today known as ‘on the mountain of Adon-ai Yeiraeh [Hashen has appeared].’”[4]

Ibn Ezra comments:

The reason of ‘on the mountain of Adon-ai Yeiraeh’ is explained in Devarim.”

At the beginning of Devarim[5], Ibn Ezra explained that the ‘Mountain of Hashem’ refers to the Har haMoriah upon which the Temple was later to be built.

Tzafnat Pa’aneach then writes:

 “Now Moses never wrote in the Torah which mountain [the Temple would be built on], he only wrote, “the place which the Lord will choose” (Deut. 12:11). This implies that Moses did not know which mountain it would be, since [God] did not reveal its name until the days of David. So how could [Moses] say here that “on the Mount of the Lord there is vision”, which implies that Moses knew [that this was the mountain.]”[6]

He continues writing that in later generations, when people were acquainted with the Temple in Jerusalem, it was clear which mountain the Temple was situated upon. However, this was some time after the Torah was written and it was impossible for people to have known this during the time of Moshe.

Therefore, Moses could not have written this verse. Instead, the later prophets wrote it, as I explained on the verse, “the Canaanites were then in the land” in Parashat Lech Lecha (Gen. 12:6). Look there and you will understand this.”[7]


A third example:

The opening words of Devarim begin with: “These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan.”[8]

Ibn Ezra comments (paraphrase):

“... If you understand the secret of the well as...“and the Canaanites were then in the land” (Gen. 12:6), [and] “on the mountain of Adon-ai Yeiraeh” (Gen. 22:14)... – you will recognize the truth.

Tzafnat Pa’aneach explains:

Know that the secret of the twelve refers to the final twelve verses[9] of the Torah. There [ibn Ezra] says that in his estimation, Joshua wrote the end of the Torah...”

If you understand the ‘secrets’ behind these verses (i.e.: The secrets of the twelve, the secrets of the Canaanites and the secrets of Adon-ai Yeiraeh) - that they were not written by Moshe – then you will also understand that the first five verses of Devarim, were not written by Moshe either.

These five verses are written in the third person as if narrated by someone other than Moshe. Although other parts of the Torah are also written in the third person, here place names are appended, and:  “If Moses had written it, he would not have needed to offer any allusions, since all of Israel had been there and knew these places.


Furthermore, the Tzafnat Pa’aneach continues to state that later on in Devarim it is written: “Moshe wrote down the Torah and gave it to the Cohanim.”[10] 

From the expressions “wrote” and “gave”, which are written in the past tense it “is a proof that this verse was written into the Torah only after the events. Thus Moses did not write it but rather one of the later prophets must have written it.”


All in all, Ibn Ezra suggested six instances where verses or paragraphs were, in his view, added at some later stage to the Torah. Of course, the question then arises as to what about the injunction against adding any superfluous words, or interfering in any way, with the Torah?

Tzafnat Pa’aneach answers this question in the following manner:

“[Ibn Ezra] says that the rule about adding [extra words to the Torah] only refers to mitzvot, meaning, the Torah is only warning us not to add to the number of commandments and their overall structure, but this has nothing to do with [adding] words [to the Torah]. Therefore, if a prophet were to add a word or two to explain something known from tradition, this is not an ‘addition.’...

And if you argue: Our Rabbis in SanhedrinPerek Chelek(99a) said that even if a person were to say that the entire Torah is from heaven except for one verse which the Holy One, blessed be He, did not write but rather Moses wrote down his own words – regarding him scripture states (Numbers 15:31): ‘He has insulted the word of the Lord,’ – this can be responded to, for this only refers to the commandments, as we stated above. It does not apply to the narrative...”

Tzafnat Pa’anech continues in a similar vein:

 “Now if someone were to argue, “But did Rabbi Abraham [ibn Ezra] himself hint towards the beginning of Deuteronomy (1:2) that later prophets added phrases, even verses into the Torah?!” 

The answer: Adding a phrase or a verse to explain that which Moses said, or to add a clarification is not the same as adding an entire parasha. A phrase or a verse is an explanation, but an entire parasha is an addition.”[11]


As one can imagine, not all the commentators were impressed with Ibn Ezra’s radical interpretations.
Ramban, for example, in his commentary on the Song of Songs, writes that anyone who claims that Ezra the Scribe (one of the last of the prophets) added verses to the Torah[12], is considered be to a heretic.

Even though, as R. Chaim Dov Chavel points out, that commentary was not actually written by Ramban but rather by the earlier Kabbalist, R. Ezra of Gerona - still, it indicates a typically hostile attitude to these interpretations put forward by Ibn Ezra.

In short, it would be fair to say that Ibn Ezra’s view - that some sections of Torah were added by later prophets - is very much a minority position.[13] Yet these views still made their way into a position of prominence by being printed in standard editions of Mikraot Gedolot alongside all the classical commentators!


Perhaps what is most fascinating is that Ibn Ezra was reluctant to openly expound upon his thesis - and that only two hundred years later, for some reason the Tzafnat Pa’aneach was quite prepared to speak about such matters (although with the proviso that this was not for ‘average people’).

Furthermore, the expression ‘Sod’ or ‘Secrets of the Torah’ is generally a synonym for lofty, mystical and Kabbalistic concepts. However, here, Ibn Ezra uses it in its literal context. In other words, his hypothesis was really meant to be kept a secret.

Could it be that Ibn Ezra believed that there were, in fact, two truths: one for ‘average believers’ and another for ‘the wise’?

[1] Seven Torah Passages of Non-Mosaic Origin According to Ibn Ezra and R. Joseph Bonfils, by Rabbi Dr Zev Farber.
[2] Bereishit 12:6.
[3] Parenthesis mine. The way I understand Ibn Ezra is that there are two ways to look at this verse:
·     Either it was written by Moshe, who informs us that the Canaanites had conquered the land from a previous nation and at the time of Avraham, they were already clearly in control of the land. (See the various opinions of Rashi on this verse and also on Bamidbar 13:22.)
·     Or it was added later by Joshua (or another prophet) who was writing at a time when the Canaanites had already been expelled from the land during Joshua’s conquest,  after Moshe’s death - and referred to the time of Abraham when they still controlled the land (and which they continued to do as long as Moshe was alive). In other words, Moshe couldn’t have said that the Canaanites were ‘then’ (during Avraham’s time) in control of the land – as they continued to remain in control all the time that Moshe was alive.
[4] Bereishit 22:14.
[5] Devarim 1:2.
[6] Translation of Tzafnat Pa’aneach by R. Dr Faber.
[7] Translation of Tzafnat Pa’aneach by R. Dr Faber.
[8] Deuteronomy 1:1.
[9] According to Makkot 11a, it was the last eight verses which were written by Joshua.
[10] Devarim 31:9.
[11] Tzafnat Pa’aneach on Bereishit 36: 31
[12] As in Bereishit 13:6, Devarim 3:11.
[13] For more informative speculation on Ramban’s position, see Ramban on Ibn Ezra’s Heresy, by Gil Student, May 31 20018.

Sunday, 1 July 2018


Or haChaim on Devarim


If like me, you were brought up believing that Moshe faithfully wrote down every single word of the Torah as dictated to him by G-d (except possibly for the last few verses which describe Moshe’s death - which were either written by Joshua, or by Moshe himself with a ‘spirit of prophecy’ so as to be able to write about his death) - then you may find it fascinating to see what some of our commentators have to say on this issue.

To be clear: This article is not an attempt to definitively state who wrote what and when they wrote it. Rather, the objective is simply to share some interesting - if not surprising - views expressed by some of the Meforshim (Torah commentators) on the authorship of the last book of the Torah, Devarim.


The Book of Deuteronomy, or Devarim, stands out as being very different from the other books of the Torah. In it, for the first time, Moshe is referred to as eved Hashem (servant of G-d)[1] and ish Elokim (man of G-d)[2]

The Jewish people are now referred to as Yeshurun[3].

The place previously known as Kadesh becomes Kadesh Barnea, and a different location is given for Aharon’s death. In Devarim it is Moserah[4], whereas in Bamidbar it is given as Hor haHar[5].

Even the recounting of some stories such as the incident of the spies, the giving of the Torah, and some mitzvot, appear to be dealt with differently in Devarim than in previous books.

Moshe now speaks for the first time in the first person: He says “G-d told me” as opposed to the previous expressions of “G-d spoke to Moshe”.

These and many other examples, allow secular Biblical critics to have a field day.

In this article, however, we will focus on what some Torah commentators (who chronologically preceded the relatively modern discipline of Biblical criticism) had to say on these matters, and we will see how they dealt with some really tough questions.


R. Don Yitzchak Abarbanel (1437-1508) wrote his first commentary, not on Genesis, but rather on Devarim. He began writing this commentary while still living in Portugal before the Jews were expelled and he only completed it some twenty years later in Italy. In his introduction to his commentary on Devarim, he writes that this very question of authorship of the Book of Devarim was what motivated him to write his commentary in the first instance.

He was so bothered by this question that he wrote to the leading rabbis of his time for clarification.

He asked:

My question is whether the Mishneh Torah that Moses placed before the children of Israel, that is the book of Deuteronomy, was from G-d in Heaven, and whether Moses relayed the things in it from the mouth of the Almighty, as in the rest of the Pentateuch...all being equally the words of the Eternal G-d without change or substitution?

Or whether this book of Deuteronomy was said by Moses, composed by himself, as his own understanding of the Divine intention in explaining the commandments?”

Abarbanel apparently had great difficulty in accepting that Moshe could have written his own words in the Torah as that would compromise the Divine nature of the Torah.

However, he does ultimately admit that Moshe authored the section dealing with blessings and curses in Devarim:

One could say that G-d ...did not command him the blessings and curses in detail...

The rest of the Torah, however, was said by Moses in the same words that he heard and received from the Almighty, nothing having been added or detracted... But this does not apply to the curses, for Moses edited [or arranged] these things."


There is a Talmudic statement expressing the view that the curses found in Devarim[6] were from Moshe and not from G-d:

Abaye states that two different Torah Readers may split up the reading[7] of the curses in Devarim, because “these (curses in Deuteronomy) are stated in the singular, and Moses said them of his own (like the rest of the book of Deuteronomy. They are therefore less harsh and may be interrupted).[8]

The curses in Vayikra (Leviticus), however, are to be treated more stringently and may not be read by two different readers, as they were “stated in the plural, and Moses pronounced them from the mouth of the Almighty.”

Clearly, the simple meaning of this passage of Talmud is that Moshe wrote (at least) the curses section of Devarim by himself as opposed to “from the mouth of the Almighty”.


According to R. Yitzchak Caro[9] (1458-1535), who was the uncle and teacher of R. Yosef Caro, the Talmudic sages contradicted themselves: The Talmud in Sanhedrin[10] states “Anyone who says that this verse Moshe said himself, as if speaking for himself, has no share in the world to come.”

Yet, as can be seen from the Talmud in Megillah quoted above, the rebuke section (at least) was said by Moshe “of his own”.

To resolve the contradiction, he had to distinguish between the first four books of the Torah and the book of Devarim. The first four books, he says, were dictated - while the fifth book was said by Moshe himself and only afterwards did G-d command Moshe to write it all down!

R Yitzchak Caro, therefore, presents a curious compromise which allows for both Moshe’s innovation somehow coupled with Divine decree.


R. Meir Ibn Gabbai (1480- 1540)[11], similarly (but more mystically) suggests in his Avodat haKodesh that the entire Torah was written through Moshe’s prophecy and was later confirmed by G-d. This way everything contained within the Torah is ultimately of Divine origin.  

In his view, the sections which were to have been said by Moshe “of his own”, were not Moshe’s independent writings, but rather the result of a very high level of his unique ‘luminescent clairvoyance’. 

The other prophets were ‘called upon’ but Moshe was able to ‘initiate’ this divine prophecy ‘by himself’ - so while he may have indeed written certain sections, they were nevertheless considered to be on the level of the Divine. 


R. Moshe ben Yosef di Trani (1505-1585), also known as Mabit, offers another approach to resolve the difficulty: He believes that the entire book of Devarim was from Moshe. However, that does not at all detract from its sanctity - as the defacement of any letter written anywhere in the Torah renders the entire Torah unfit for use. 

Thus, although authored by Moshe, it (paradoxically) is just as holy as the rest of the Torah which was in its entirety (including Devarim) was “in existence for two thousand years before creation.”[12] 

In this paradoxical view, Moshe wrote Devarim, but it was considered to be spiritually antiquated as if written before the creation. 

[This would be in keeping with the Medrashic notion that "G-d looked into the Torah and created the world." (Medrash Rabbah, Bereishit 1:1)]


R. Chaim Ibn Attar (1696-1743), also known as the Or haChaim after his Torah commentary by that name, deals with the question of Devarim as follows: The entire Book of Devarim was written by Moshe, but that only serves to emphasise that all the other four books were completely from G-d, even if they sometimes appeared to contain human narratives.

This shows that while Devarim is holy, the other books are even more holy.

His argument is from the opening words to Devarim: “These are the words which Moshe spoke” – it was only these words of Devarim which Moshe spoke of his own accord which were to serve as an admonishment for the people, “but not even a single letter of all that is contained in the preceding four books of the Torah came from Moshe himself, for those are things which came from the mouth of the Almighty...without any change, even of a single letter.


Amazingly, the Zohar states:

What we refer to as the Mishneh Torah (Devarim), was said by Moshe himself.”[13]


According to R. Moshe ben Nachman (1194-1270)[14], the Book of Devarim must be divided into two distinct segments:

The first section, dealing with new laws that had not been given before, is to be regarded as having emanated entirely from G-d.

The other section which deals with rebuke and elucidation of previous commandments is to be regarded as emanating from Moshe’s own initiative.


Reading the various views we have encountered, one notices how the commentators were grappling with the very difficult matter of reconciling the notion of Moshe having possibly written all or parts of the Book of Devarim, with the apparently counteracting dogma that the Torah was completely Divine.

Although each suggests something different, the common denominator was that they all accepted the initial premise - that all, or parts, of Devarim were authored by Moshe.

They all came up with different ways to reconcile the two opposing notions, some very mystical and others more pragmatic.

Either way, it shows the excruciating honesty of the Meforshim who openly acknowledged that the question of the authorship of Devarim was indeed a legitimate question – and one they weren’t afraid to ask.

An interesting question for further study would be how to reconcile the emergence of an extremely elevated status of  Moshe almost to the level of the Divine - as is evident from some of these sources -  with a system that is not supposed to deify its leaders.

R. Nataf  offers this interpretation: 

"The fact that a human book can be included in the Torah is a tribute not only to Moshe but to mankind more generally...

Hence, had Devarim been like the four books preceding it, it is hard to imagine that there would have been any more volumes of the Bible...other men may have been too afraid or intimidated to even endeavor to understand...the lofty...words of G-d.

Moshe shows us that G-d wants humans to be involved in Torah...

In the same way as the Torah was not complete without Moshe's book, the expansive corpus of Torah will not be complete without its last student's 'book'." [15]


Who Wrote Deuteronomy, by Dr Shaul Regev.
Redeeming Relevance: In the Book of Deuteronomy, by Rabbi Francis Nataf.

[1] Devarim 34:5.
[2] Devarim 33:1.
[3] Devarim 23:15.
[4] Devarim 10:6.
[5] Bamidbar 20:22. (The reason for the name Hor hahar was that the mountain was shaped like an apple on top of another apple - i.e.; a mountain on top of another mountain. See Rashi:  Har al gabei har – ke’tapuach katan al gabei tapuach gadol.) Ramban offers a possible compromise as to the reason for the different place names.
[6] Devarim 28.
[7] Or, the same reader can pause and allow for another Aliya.
[8] Megillah 31b. Translation from Sefaria. This translation suggests that not only were the curses said by Moshe himself, without Divine intervention - but the entire Book of Devarim was likewise written independently by Moshe!
[9] In his Toledot Yitzchak commentary.
[10] Sanhedrin 99a.
[11] A Spanish Kabbalist who based his system predominantly on the Zohar.  His main work was Avodat haKodesh, on which he spent eight years developing his mystical system which is regarded as a forerunner to the Cordovera and Lurianic schools of Kabbalah. He also studied Rambam in great detail in order to better refute his rationalism.
[12] Beit Elokim, Sha’ar haYesodot, ch 33.
[13] Zohar, Parshat Va’etchanan 22, p. 261.
[14] See his commentary to Devarim 1:1.
[15] Redeeming Relevance, In the Book of Deuteronomy, by Rabbi Francis Nataf, p. 15.