How to Check your Girsa (Text) of the Talmud using Hachi Garsinan

A Censored Page from Jacob ben Asher's Arba 'Ṭurim, Printed by Soncino in 1516.(In the Columbia University Library, New York

The Talmud, being a massive corpus, is often subject to questions of girsa⁠—textual variants. This is a live question already in the Gemara itself, which occasionally treats girsa issues in the Mishnah (e.g., חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני). It is also a not uncommon issue raised by Rishonim, and then in the period of the Acharonim we have, among others, Hagahot ha-Bach and the Gra’s emendations. Often, the text that has come down to us in modern printed editions has already been corrected against Rashi, obscuring the original girsa problem. In other words, Rashi will comment, “The text says X but we parse this as R.” Our printed text will have been adjusted so that it shows R, Rashi’s preferred reading.

For reasons like this, if you are learning a sugya be-iyun, researching a halachic topic, or comparing parallel texts, you may want to check the version of the text before you with the manuscript record. At times there will be interesting or substantive differences. For this, the Friedberg Jewish Manuscript Society has created an amazing tool that allows you to quickly compare major manuscripts and early printings of the entire Talmud.

There are a number of tools on the Friedberg website, all of them great, but for our present purpose we’re going to concentrate on Hachi Garsinan. To use it, you’ll have to register for a free account using your email. (Any email will work, it does not need to be an .edu account.) Otherwise, access is open.

Once you’re in, all you have to do is type in the name of daf you want to examine. (If there is a particular textual witness⁠—a specific manuscripts, Cairo Geniza fragment, or early printing⁠—you want to examine, you can also enter it in the search box. Otherwise, you’ll get a full selection of textual witnesses for any given daf.)

I’ll show you how this works and what it can reveal with an example from Avoda Zara, which is the most heavily censored tractate of the Talmud (and which I happen to be learning this year). Below is a search I’ve run for the very first page of the masechet.

The default results view, Synopsis by Columns, that you get after running a search is extremely valuable and easy to navigate. What you see in the rightmost column is the Vilna text, our “standard” text (although some newer editions recover the terms redacted by censors). The Gemara is broken down into sensible units, much like on Al HaTorah or Sefaria. The first row on the page shows the text of Mishnah Avoda Zara 1:1 as it appears in, reading right to left, Vilna, the Venice (Bomberg) early print edition, the Pesaro (Soncino) edition, and then Munich Cod. Hebr. 95. These are the two most important early prints and the only complete manuscript of the Bavli, which is why they appear first. If you use the scroll bar at the bottom of the results page, you can scroll through all 9 available textual witnesses. For example, the next two are an important manuscript of Avoda Zara, JTS Ms. 15, and another, BNF Ms. hebr. 1337. In other words, you’ll automatically get the most important textual comparisons.

As you can see, the differences between the Vilna text and the other witnesses are marked in red. (You can toggle off this feature on the bottom if you prefer.) And so, with a quick scan, you can take away some important information. The Gemara starts off by asking about the potential difference between the homophones אידיהן and עידיהן. This is a place where you might expect to see some confusion in the textual witnesses; the words are so similar, that maybe some version have עידיהן in the Mishnah. However, this turns out to not be the case. All versions of the Mishnah have אידיהן with an א.

We can see just as clearly that all versions before Vilna have the word גוים in place of עובדי כוכבים. This is because עכו”ם (an acronym for “worshippers of stars and constellations”) and its variants were deemed by Christian censors an acceptable way to refer to non-Jews, since it referred clearly to star worshippers and not to Christians. One might have thought that Chazal specified star worshippers because it relates to their understanding of idolatry. But the textual witnesses show that to not be the case; “star worshippers” is a late change in the text to accommodate censorship.

The other tabs also allow you to see interesting aspects of the text. The next tab, “Synopsis by rows,” displays a word-for-word comparison:

Finally, the “Variants for Learner” tab will highlight sites of variance on Tzurat ha-Daf:

Hachi Garsinan makes it easy and quick to check the girsa of a text you’re working with and is an exceptional tool to have in your learning toolkit.

Image: I couldn’t find an image of a censored Talmud, so here is a censored page from the Soncino 1516 Tur Yoreh Deah, Columbia University Library, New York.

Tamar Ron Marvin Avatar

If you enjoyed this article…

Stories from Jewish History Newsletter

On Tuesdays I send out a newsletter exploring a story from Jewish history, from the famous to the obscure. Each issue includes resource and reading recommendations.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *