For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. –2 Peter 1:5-8
Said Rabbi Joshua the son of Levi: Every day, an echo resounds from Mount Horeb, proclaiming and saying: “Woe is to the creatures who insult the Torah.” For one who does not occupy himself in Torah is considered an outcast, as is stated “A golden nose-ring in the snout of a swine, a beautiful woman bereft of reason.” And it says: “And the tablets are the work of G-d, and the writing is G-d’s writing, engraved on the tablets” ; read not “engraved” (charut) but “liberty” (chairut)—for there is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the study of Torah. And whoever occupies himself with the study of Torah is elevated, as is stated, “And from the gift to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to The Heights.” –Ethics of the Fathers 6:2
I know these two quotes may not seem to go together, but consider this. Peter says that we should add faith to goodness and then add goodness to knowledge. What knowledge? Where does this knowledge come from? Rabbi Joshua ben Levi implies that knowledge comes from Torah by expressing the inverse that one who does not occupy himself with Torah “is considered an outcast” and is like a “golden nose-ring in the snout of a swine, a beautiful woman bereft of reason”.
Sounds pretty harsh, but then, so does Peter:
This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord. But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish. –2 Peter 2:10-12
I’ve been involved in a series of online discussions lately that have been critical of Talmud study among Christians. Specifically, the allegation is that the sages who documented the Oral law and established a system of rulings for the Jewish people, were the inheritors of the tradition of the Pharisees and that Jesus had nothing good to say about the Pharisees, citing examples such as this:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. –Matthew 23:1-7
This is just one of the examples in the Gospels which cast all Pharisees everywhere in a particularly bad light, but as I commented recently, Jesus is upset with this group of Pharisees, not because they taught bad things, but because they didn’t practice what they taught! Keep that in mind. If the Pharisees had behaved consistently with their teachings, Jesus wouldn’t have had a problem with them at all. His only beef with the Pharisees is that they were hypocrites, not false teachers.
Think about it. If, as some have stated, the Talmudic scholars and sages have inherited the mantle of the Pharisees and they behaved consistently with their own teachings, then it is quite possible that the “Rebbe of Nazaret” wouldn’t have any problem with them either.
I know there are a lot of variables to consider and we won’t know for sure until Jesus returns to us, but based on this small bit of simple logic, we cannot reasonably discard or disdain anything in the Talmud based on the behavior of a collection of hypocritical religious authorities that operated in Roman-Judea in the time of Jesus. We can’t also reasonably apply the following to the Rabbis of the Talmud:
The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” –Isaiah 29:13-14
I know it’s enormously tempting to apply the words of the Prophet not only to the Pharisees but to the Talmudic sages as well. Certainly, if we think of the Talmudic writings as only the rules of men with no Biblical source, then we might be justified in doing so, but taken out of context, we don’t know if Isaiah is even considering the Oral Law (which he would have seen as Torah) or the Rabbinic commentaries and rulings on said-Oral Law (and Written Law), which are recorded in the Talmud. The rulings of the Rabbis don’t overwrite and contradict Torah, but rather, are intended to interpret and make sense of the Written and Oral Law for each generation of Jews as they met new challenges in applying a Torah lifestyle in an ever-changing world.
Here’s something else to consider:
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. –Matthew 11:25-26
Taken together with some portions of the quote from Isaiah 29:13-14, these words of the Master might suggest that it’s bad to be intelligent, well-read, and educated. Why bother to learn how to read at all if intelligence is not to be trusted and if it’s better to be ignorant and untaught? I don’t think this is what the Master means here, but rather, he’s saying you don’t have to be a scholar to have access to the grace of God. Of course, he’s not saying grace is denied the learned sage, either.
It’s been suggested that Rabbinic judgments and rulings are not to be trusted and that the wisdom of the average individual, as guided by the Spirit, reading the Bible in English and outside of its history, culture, and other contexts, is far preferable to trusting and learning from people who have spent all of their lives pouring over Scripture and striving to master the teachings of God.
And yet Peter was critical “of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority”. Further, he said that “First of all, understand this; no prophecy of Scripture is to be interpreted by an individual on his own, for never has prophecy come as a result of human willing – on the contrary, people moved by the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) spoke the message from God”. (2 Peter 1:20-21 [CJB]).
We could be tempted to say Peter is confirming that all a person; any person, needs is the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible, but he’s also speaking of Prophets like Isaiah, not the average guy on the street. We read the prophecies of Isaiah because he was a prophet of God and we’re not. We read the teachings of Jesus because he’s the Messiah and we’re not. Also, lest we forget, Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and the key to bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations of the world, was a very well-educated man…in fact, far more educated than many of Christ’s inner circle who were what we would consider today as blue-collar workers and laborers.
There’s no problem with who Jesus chose to be close to him as being, relatively speaking, uneducated, because, as I’ve already mentioned, the love of Christ isn’t primarily accessed through “book-learning”. But on the other hand, the fact that Paul was chosen by Jesus says that education and authority isn’t a problem either. Certainly, being learned and possessing authority requires that such a position be used with justice, honor, and humility. The Ethics of the Fathers 6:5 speaks to this:
Do not seek greatness for yourself, and do not lust for honor. More than you study, do. Desire not the table of kings, for your table is greater than theirs, and your crown is greater than theirs, and faithful is your Employer to pay you the rewards of your work.
In fact, from the same chapter (Chapter 6:6), we find that study of Torah (which includes Talmud in this context) yields people who have qualities such as:
love of G-d, love of humanity, love of charity, love of justice, love of rebuke, fleeing from honor, lack of arrogance in learning, reluctance to hand down rulings, participating in the burden of one’s fellow, judging him to the side of merit, correcting him, bringing him to a peaceful resolution [of his disputes], deliberation in study, asking and answering, listening and illuminating, learning in order to teach, learning in order to observe, wising one’s teacher, exactness in conveying a teaching, and saying something in the name of its speaker.
As long as the teacher behaves consistently with these, and the other teachings in the Torah and Talmud, what problem could this present? What problem could it present for any person of faith and good will who wishes to devote time to pondering this wisdom?
We see that taking Scripture out of context and applying an overly simple interpretation to what may turn out to be very complex matters of principle actually results in a disservice to the Prophets and Apostles, as well as to the later sages, and finally to Jesus and to God the Father.
We should all be very, very careful how we interpret and apply Scripture, especially if we use it to malign our teachers and scholars and, by inference, every religious Jew who has ever lived or will live, for they too revere the sages and attempt to live their lives by the principles of Torah, which have been established and interpreted across the ages.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” –Genesis 12:3
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” –Romans 11:25-27
All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as is stated: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.” –Sanhedrin 11:1
for there is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the study of Torah. –Ethics of the Fathers 6:2
Do not denigrate the root, lest your branch be cut off from it.