I’m no scholar of ancient texts. But there are scholars of ancient texts. A large group of them has been studying the evolution of the text of the Tanach (the Jewish version of the Old Testament) for 53 years.
It is important to note that the text we have today has remained virtually unchanged since the 11th century. It was then that Maimonides used the Aleppo Codex to codify a version of the Torah scroll. That version is almost exactly what we have today.
But notice, I used the word “almost”. That’s because it is not exactly the same. Or it might not be exact. There are several nuances that differentiate the standard Torah scroll used in the majority of Jewish communities from the Yemenite Torah text tradition. They can’t both be exactly the same as the text codified by Maimonides.
Certainly the Talmud seems to indicate that they had a different version. The Talmud in Kiddushin gives specific places as the middle of the text and the number of words and letters. None of those are consistent with our text. In several places various rishonim (Medieval commentators) indicate that there were small differences between the Torah scrolls among their peers. Other rishonim stated that the text was deliberately changed by later prophets in certain instances. They were permitted to do so as long as none of the Torah’s laws were affected by their changes.
None of the differences that have been recorded are significant enough to change the law. None of the discrepancies have an effect of the theology or religion of the Torah. Yet, there has emerged a “sacred belief” that the Torah remains unchanged over the 3000 years since the Revelation at Sinai.
This is quite obviously impossible.
A massive project in Israel is charting all the extant versions of the text and their collective history. They are using every possible version and manuscript to show any and all minor differences between each version. The Aleppo Codex is the starting point for the project and all differences are being compared to that version.
And there are differences. It is impossible to pretend otherwise. But this should not be a problem for believers in orthodox Judaism. There are several acceptable approaches to the issues raised by the variations in the text. Each approach appeals to different styles within orthodox Judaism.
1) Hashgacha pratis. God runs the world. Whatever changes that have evolved are part of a grand Master Plan.
2) Lo bashamayim hi. “The Torah is not in the Heavens”. Once the Torah was given to Man, it was understood that there would be mistakes. We do our best to avoid mistakes, but errors are inevitable and it cannot be legitimately stated that our version is perfect.
3) Torah She’Baal Peh is primary. The truth is that we do not live our lives as orthodox Jews based on the Written Law as much as we lived based on its interpretation in the Oral Law. Mistakes in the Written Law have no real bearing on a Jewish life based on the Oral Law.
Certainly each of these positions is more nuanced and broad than the one or two sentence headlines mentioned here. The point is that approaches exist and we should not be afraid of them.
What about the 8th principle of faith according to the Rambam?
See my post about this on DovBear’s blog: The Rambam’s 8th Principle According to R’ Yaakov Weinberg