R. Yosef Bekhor Shor's Torah Commentary


Identification of the Author of the Commentary

R. Yosef Bekhor Shor's Torah commentary has survived in only one1 mid-sixteenth century2 manuscript, MS Munich 52. This manuscript has thus served as the basis for all printed editions of the commentary,3 including the current AlHaTorah.org edition.  That R. Yosef Bekhor Shor was the author of this commentary is clear from several pieces of evidence: an internal self-reference in the commentary,4 near verbatim citations of many passages from the commentary by other exegetes,5 and near verbatim citations of some its interpretations in other assorted Rabbinic literature.6

Scribal Accuracy of MS Munich 52

As several centuries elapsed between R. Yosef Bekhor Shor's authoring of his commentary and its lone surviving transcription by the scribe of MS Munich 52,7 the text of the manuscript must be examined for errors which may have crept into the text during its lengthy process of transmission.8 We are thus fortunate that R"Y Bekhor Shor's commentary was popular among later Tosafist exegetes and anthologizers, as their abundant citations of his interpretations serve in many cases as additional textual witnesses for particular passages from the commentary.9 The importance of mining this resource was underscored already by S. Poznanski,10 over a century ago:

על כל פנים על כל הבא להוציא את פירוש בכור שור בשלמותו להתבונן היטב בכל קובצי תוספות על התורה הנודעים למען השלים החסר ולהעמיד הגירסאות על מכונתן, ואל הוצאה שלמה כזאת יכסוף לב כל חובב דברי קדמוננו. 

In our efforts to reconstruct the original text of R. Yosef Bekhor Shor's commentary, the AlHaTorah.org edition has systematically compared the text of MS Munich 52 with the known firsthand citations of its interpretations, particularly those found in the Sefer HaGan11 and Paneach Raza.12 The analysis of these parallels has enabled hundreds of improvements of the text found in MS Munich 52, and these are all noted in the edition's textual apparatus. When full words or sentences have been added, they are also enclosed by curly braces.

It should be emphasized, however, that while MS Munich 52 is occasionally missing full lines (usually due to homeoteleutons) and displays no shortage of common inadvertent scribal errors,13 the manuscript is not characterized by intentional or wholesale abridgments of the text. Indeed, the text of MS Munich 52 frequently either matches the Tosafist citations almost letter for letter, or preserves more complete versions of the interpretations.14 It thus appears to be a predominantly faithful rendition of the original text of R"Y Bekhor Shor.15

The Hagahot in MS Munich 52 – Later Additions of R. Yosef Bekhor Shor Himself

There are 125 cases in MS Munich 52 in which an interpretation is followed by a notation of: הגה"ה‎, הג"ה‎, or הג'‏‎.16 These notations appear to indicate that the preceding interpretations were missing in the base text of the version of the commentary from which the scribe of MS Munich 52 was copying, and that he found them either glossed in the margins of the text or in a second copy of the commentary.17

Although it is theoretically possible that some of these הגהות are simply corrections of inadvertent scribal omissions, many of them disrupt the flow of the text18 or are self-contained interpretations, and thus bear the hallmarks of being later additions to the text. It is thus likely that most, if not all, of these הגהות were added to the commentary at a later stage. However, the question which remains to be resolved is whether these הגהות were added by R"Y Bekhor Shor himself or by a different person.

There are a number of factors which argue in favor of at least many, if not almost all,19 of these הגהות being later additions or updates of R. Yosef Bekhor Shor himself:

  • The contents of five of these הגהות (Bereshit 24:7, Bereshit 33:6, Bereshit 36:12,20 Shemot 1:22, Shemot 4:1121) are reproduced by the Sefer HaGan almost verbatim (except for removing the first person language)22 in the name of R"Y Bekhor Shor.23 Given that, elsewhere (Bereshit 19:8), the Sefer HaGan states that he copied from an autograph copy of R"Y Bekhor Shor's commentary ("זה העתקתי ממכתב ידי הרב בכור שור"), his testimony in these cases constitutes strong evidence for these הגהות being authored by R"Y Bekhor Shor himself.24
  • The content of another הגה"ה (Bemidbar 4:37) is cited (using parallel language) in the name of R"Y Bekhor Shor in MS Hamburg 45.25
  • At least two of the הגהות (see Shemot 4:11, Shemot 15:26)26 cite the interpretations of ר' עובדיה (בן שמואל הספרדי), and the only commentator we know who had firsthand access to R. Ovadiah's interpretations was R"Y Bekhor Shor.27 Additionally, the הגה"ה in Shemot 4:11 includes a rare citation of ר' יצחק הגר, and Sefer HaGan Shemot 3:13 notes an additional instance in which R"Y Bekhor Shor cited an interpretation in the name of ר' יצחק הגר.‎28
  • Parallel content to over twenty of the הגהות appears in the Sefer HaGan.29 Given that approximately fifty (!) percent of the Sefer HaGan is drawn from R"Y Bekhor Shor,30 it is very likely that at least some, if not all, of these הגהות are also taken from R"Y Bekhor Shor.31
  • There are several instances (see Shemot 4:8,32 Shemot 23:19,33 Shemot 30:16,34 Shemot 32:11,35 Shemot 34:21) where the content of the הגהות corresponds precisely to distinctive positions found elsewhere in R"Y Bekhor Shor's commentary.36

The question of whether or not the הגהות (or most of them) were written by R"Y Bekhor Shor himself impacts the assessment of the range of earlier exegetes which may have influenced the commentary (or the additions to it). Over thirty of the הגהות cite other sources, and approximately the same number have content which parallels that found in other exegetes. In particular, two of the הגהות cite Ibn Ezra37 and the הגה"ה on Bereshit 33:6-7 cites the "ספר הדייקות של אבן פרחון".‎38 If these הגהות were later additions of R"Y Bekhor Shor, they may indicate that he obtained access to these works only after completing the original version of his commentary.

An additional complication in the analysis of the הגהות is that it is not always clear how to demarcate their boundaries.39 In almost all cases,40 the הגה"ה notation marks the end of the הגה"ה. However, since MS Munich 52 does not mark where each הגה"ה begins, this must be determined based on content and context.41 The AlHaTorah.org edition places brackets around the contents of the הגהות, and the apparatus provides the basis for these demarcations.42

See also the section below on Citations Not Found in MS Munich 52 for the hypothesis that there were additional הגהות of R"Y Bekhor Shor written in the margins of his personal copy which the Sefer HaGan saw and cited, but which did not get incorporated in MS Munich 52.

Tosafist Citations of the Commentary

The later Tosafist commentaries which cite R. Yosef Bekhor Shor may be divided into those which cite him firsthand from a copy of the original commentary, and those which cite him from secondary or tertiary sources. Noteworthy examples from the firsthand category include the following:

  • MSS Munich 252 and Oxford Marsh 225 – This work cites R"Y Bekhor Shor by name on only eight occasions, but it incorporates interpretations from R"Y Bekhor Shor's commentary without attribution on a regular basis.43
  • Sefer HaGan – Approximately fifty percent of this work draws on the commentary of R. Yosef Bekhor Shor, and it cites him explicitly sixty-three times.44 In Bereshit 19:2, the Sefer HaGan even states explicitly that he is working off R"Y Bekhor Shor's autograph copy ("זה העתקתי מכתב ידי הרב בכור שור").
  • Paneach Raza on Sefer Devarim45 – In contrast to the books of Bereshit through Bemidbar, where Paneach Raza's citations of R"Y Bekhor Shor are derived from secondary Tosafist collections (particularly the Sefer HaGan who is sometimes cited as the source for these interpretations), in Sefer Devarim, his citations of R"Y Bekhor Shor are not generally found in earlier collections. They are also much more numerous (forty-three compared to thirty-seven in the rest of Torah), and more faithfully preserve the original text. These factors make it likely that, in Devarim, Paneach Raza was working off a copy of R"Y Bekhor Shor's commentary itself.

Examples of works which appear to be accessing R"Y Bekhor Shor's interpretations only via a secondary or tertiary source include:

  • Hadar Zekeinim Shemot through Devarim – Nearly all of Hadar Zekenim's thirty-seven citations of R"Y Bekhor Shor in Shemot through Devarim46 can be found in Sefer HaGan, and on one occasion (Vayikra 1:1), Hadar Zekeinim explicitly cites Sefer HaGan as his source. The Hadar Zekeinim's citations also frequently reflect the Sefer HaGan's edited versions rather than R"Y Bekhor Shor's original formulations.
  • Daat Zekeinim – All seventeen47 of Daat Zekeinim's citations of R"Y Bekhor Shor can be found in Sefer HaGan, and these reflect the Sefer HaGan's edited versions of the interpretations.

The distinction between these two categories of works is significant since works which contain firsthand citations of R"Y Bekhor Shor are generally more reliable in their citations and more valuable as textual witnesses.48

Citations Not Found in MS Munich 52

The vast majority of the Tosafist citations of R. Yosef Bekhor Shor can be found in MS Munich 52. These include:  fifty-six of the sixty-three firsthand citations in the Sefer HaGan (see above),49 all forty-three citations in Paneach Raza on Devarim, and seven of the eight citations in the Munich 252-Oxford 225 MSS.50 Of the citations which are not in MS Munich 52, a few appear to be simply the result of scribal error and mistaken attribution.51

However, there are at least a dozen cases in which there is a distinct likelihood that the cited interpretations, despite being missing in MS Munich 52, may have been authored by R"Y Bekhor Shor himself.52 One of these is the unique case of Bereshit 19:8 in which Sefer HaGan states that he is citing from R"Y Bekhor Shor's own copy. A possible explanation is that this case, as well as several others which share the characteristics of R"Y Bekhor Shor's הגהות‎,53 are additional examples of R"Y Bekhor Shor's updates to his commentary.54 These were glossed in the margins of R"Y Bekhor Shor's personal copy which the Sefer HaGan saw and used. However, not all of these updates made it into the copies which were made of the commentary,55 and hence MS Munich 52 (which is apparently a derivative of one of these copies) is missing some of these updates.56

In cases where there is a reasonable probability that a Tosafist citation of R"Y Bekhor Shor is authentic, the AlHaTorah.org edition encloses the citation in braces and notes its source in the critical apparatus.

Acknowledgments and Manuscript List

AlHaTorah.org's edition of R. Yosef Bekhor Shor's Torah commentary utilizes MS Munich 52 as its base text. It also makes ample use of interpretations of R. Yosef Bekhor Shor incorporated (both in his name and anonymously) in many assorted Tosafist texts. The following is a list of some of the manuscripts utilized in this edition. We gratefully acknowledge the libraries which house them for preserving these texts for posterity:

Finally, we express our appreciation to the staff of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts for all of their assistance.