Ask the rabbi

  • Halacha
  • Christianity and Islam



Rabbi David Sperling

Iyyar 27, 5781
Recently I heard from Muslims that Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 contradict each other and that the Tanakh is corrupt and Judaism is nonsense. I have doubts about my faith because the numbers are different and the numbers don’t add up to what they are supposed to add up to. Is their anyway that this can be resolved.
Shalom, Thank you for your question. There are two issues to address – firstly, the views of Islam in relation to Judaism and the Torah, and secondly, the inner apparent contradictions in the Tanach (Jewish Bible). As to what Islam (and Muslims) have to say about the truth of Judaism – it is hardly surprising that people of different faiths will view other religions through their own teachings and perceptions. No doubt a Christian would make claims against Islam. It is very unlikely that we will all be able to “prove” our religions more “correct” (certainly not to the other religion). However, as a Jew, you should take comfort in the fact that neither Jesus in his day, nor Mohamed in his time, were able to convince the Jews of their time to convert to Christianity or Islam. If these leaders of their faiths could not prove the truth of their claims to the Jews, are we to expect that a Muslim of today could do a better job than Mohamed himself? Additionally, you should be proud in the knowledge that the major teachings of both Islam and Christianity (about One G-d, morality, and other issues) were born out of your religion! Judaism, while not forcing its beliefs on others, has suffered under the hand of both Islam and Christianity, in their efforts to convert us. However, our faith in our religion, our closeness to G-d, and our certainty in the truth of Torah, has kept Jews Jewish under many trying situations. (It is worth pointing out that today many fine Christians and Muslims treat Judaism and Jews with the upmost respect, and reject any belittling of our faith, or efforts to convert us). You should take strength in the knowledge that many before you have been challenged, and stood up to the challenge. You are part of a miraculous people – take heart in your heritage. Now to your question. The issues you have raised have been noted by Rabbinic commentators throughout their commentaries. Both Rashi, and the Ibn Ezra, on those verses discuss these questions. (In fact, as a rule, there are no questions on the text of the Bible that are out of bounds, and have not been raised already by our commentators. We thrive on questions like these! That is one of the beauties of Judaism – we do not run away of questions, but rather use them as a way to get deeper and deeper understandings of the text, and the messages it holds for us). One approach is that the numbers are talking about different tribes (for example, in the words of Rashi [Ezra 2, 64] “When they were all together with the priests, the Levites and the Nethinim, they amounted to this number; and the Children of Israel counted above were of the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, and those missing from this number, which you will not find above, were of the other tribes. So it is explained in Seder Olam (ch. 29): "'The entire congregation together was forty-two thousand etc.' But if you add them up, they are only thirty thousand. Where are the thirteen thousand? They ascended from the other tribes."”). Others explain that some of the numbers are only rough estimates (Rashi Nechema 7,7 “These figures sometimes coincide with the above figures (Ezra 2); sometimes there are some that do not coincide. Scripture was not so exact with the figures, but the total is the same in both places, as it is stated (Ezra 2:64, Neh. 7:66): "The entire congregation together was forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty." The writer relied on this total and was not so exact in the figures of the individual numbers. Everything is explained above (Ezra 2).”). Some commentators explain the difference due to different times the counts of the people were taken. That is, after the wall was completed, Nechemiah wished to trace the genealogy of the people that strangers should not intermingle with them. Some of these figures exceed the earlier figures and some are smaller. The figures here that fall short of the earlier figures reflect the deaths of some of the immigrants, and the figures that exceed the earlier figures reflect the births that took place during the thirty-six-year period until Nehemiah migrated to the land of Israel. (Ibn Ezra, on the book of Nechemiah). In short, your questions have been raised before, and different approaches suggested. May you blessed with strength and wisdom.
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