It is taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but the Sages did not accept any of them. Finally he said to them: “If the Halakhah (religious law) is in accordance with me, let this carob tree prove it!” Sure enough the carob tree immediately uprooted itself and moved one hundred cubits, and some say 400 cubits, from its place. “No proof can be brought from a carob tree,” they retorted.
And again he said to them “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the channel of water prove it!” Sure enough, the channel of water flowed backward. “No proof can be brought from a channel of water,” they rejoined.
Again he urged, “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the walls of the house of study prove it!” Sure enough, the walls tilted as if to fall. But R. Joshua, rebuked the walls, saying, “When disciples of the wise are engaged in a halakhic dispute, what right have you to interfere?” Hence in deference to R. Joshua they did not fall and in deference to R. Eliezer they did not resume their upright position; they are still standing aslant.
Again R. Eliezer then said to the Sages, “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let it be proved from heaven.” Sure enough, a divine voice cried out, “Why do you dispute with R. Eliezer, with whom the Halakhah always agrees?” R. Joshua stood up and protested: “The Torah is not in heaven!” (Deut. 30:12). We pay no attention to a divine voice because long ago at Mount Sinai You wrote in your Torah at Mount Sinai, `After the majority must one incline’. (Ex. 23:2)”
R. Nathan met [the prophet] Elijah and asked him, “What did the Holy One do at that moment?” Elijah: “He laughed [with joy], saying, ‘My children have defeated Me, My children have defeated Me.'”
Baba Tetzia 59b as quoted at jhom.com
If you’re not an observant Jew or otherwise don’t have the benefit of a classic Jewish religious education, the comments I’ve just quoted may seem completely alien to you. If you are a Christian and understand the implications of what is being said, you are probably offended right now. Why would you be offended? Because this teaching from the Talmud justifies the Rabbinic authority to interpret Torah. “The Torah is not in Heaven” means that the Torah was revealed but not interpreted by the Prophets or even by God and His miracles, but by learned study, decision-making, and legal rulings.
Within this context, that seems to mean that man’s word trumps God’s authority. What a shocking thing to say, but it explains much about Judaism and why the Jewish understanding of God and the Bible is fundamentally different than Christianity.
Is this just some colossal conceit on the part of Judaism to dare override the word of God and to impose man’s wisdom and authority over the Creator? From a superficial point of view, I’m sure it seems that way. And yet, though Christianity, including many factions of the “Messianic” movement, believe they are following the pure and uninfluenced “Word of God” and the teachings of Jesus Christ by shunning Talmudic principals, in fact, the vast majority of what Christians consider God’s unalterable truth was established by the so-called “church Fathers” in the first three centuries of the Common Era. Unfortunately, this coincides with the rejection of Jewish leadership from the early church and the ghastly birth of supersessionist theology, with the non-Jewish believers commandeering all of God’s covenant promises to the Jewish people for the church alone.
If God spoke from heaven (Bat Kol) to the Christian church, explained to us that our treatment of the Jewish people has been terribly wrong during the past 2,000 years, and demanded that we make immediate reparations to His chosen people, would not the church respond with its own version of “the New Testament is not in Heaven?” Would we not say that, according to our own interpretation of the Bible and the rulings of our “judges and fathers” that how we Christians have persecuted and maligned the Jews throughout the history of the church has been correct? Would we attempt to “defeat” God in that manner? In fact, that’s exactly what Christianity has done.
In this instance, I’m not so much arguing for Rabbinic authority as against Christian hypocracy. We Christians say that the Jews have no right or authority to interpret God’s Torah as they do and yet the church does exactly the same thing. We just dress it up differently and pretend we’re obeying the Word of God rather than our own willful judgments. We quote scripture to back up our claims, all the while knowing that even the Adversary has done this to justify his causes (see Matthew 4:1-11).
An anonymous person on Judah Himango’s blog was deriding the celebration of Christmas by believers recently and said the following:
It’s not about what I think or you think as mush [sic] as it is about what YHWH’s word says and what Yeshua did. Yeshua is the Living Word, it is in His Way we want to follow…
The fallacy expressed here is that the commenter believes he or she doesn’t interpret the Bible but literally follows its instructions. I’ve already written my Christmas blog (OK, I wrote it twice), so I’m not going to debate that whole thing again, but I want to make the point that we all interpret the Bible and that (in my humble opinion) no one has the inside track and the complete lock on what the Bible does and doesn’t say to Judaism, Christianity, and mankind. We’re all dancing madly on the head of a pin trying not to fall off or get skewered. We read the Bible, we study, we pray, we go to classes, we search the Internet, we attempt to glean wisdom and understanding, but in the end, even within the church, we are hopelessly fragmented about the overarching message of the scriptures. We Christians don’t even realize that, when we incorporated the Jewish Tanakh into our Holy Book as the “Old Testament”, we accepted the placement of sentences, capitalization, punctuation, and for the most part, organization of chapters and verses, and all of that was not determined in the original scrolls but by Jewish Rabbinic tradition!
At some point, just because we don’t want to go insane or leave our faith in disgust and dispair, we make a decision based on tradition, what our family did, what our family didn’t do, or the passion we see in a particular branch of one religion or another, and we say to ourselves, “this is it!” We say, “this is what God wants me to do!” Of course, that’s what everyone tells themselves when they make a spiritual decision, regardless of what denomination of Christianity they settle into, or into what branch of Judaism they subscribe.
I remember reading somewhere that when the Third Temple (see the Book of Ezekiel) is built, God will build it Himself and then deliver it to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from Heaven (not unlike Revelation 21:1-3)…all except the doors. I read somewhere that in ancient times, hanging the doors on a structure was a legal act and determined ownership of the place. Hanging the doors was usually the last act in construction and even if a person built an entire house by himself, if someone came in the night and hung the doors, that person owned the house, not the builder.
I can’t remember where I read all this but bear with me. This is important.
When God delivers the New Temple from Heaven (I know this is midrash and events may not actually happen this way, but let’s go with it for now), it will be complete, except the doors will be missing. Why will the doors be missing? Because God will require man to hang the doors. Man must take ownership of his relationship with God and his duties to God as expressed in the Temple. If humanity, with the Jewish people administering Temple worship “as in days of old and as in former years” (Malachi 3:4) don’t take ownership of their relationship with God, then we have no relationship with God. We’re just wind-up toy soldiers playing a part in some lifeless version of The Nutcracker Suite (which by the way, my wife and daughter saw again just the other night and adored); robots acting out the will of God but taking no “partnership” role in that will.
I’m not talking about rebelling against God or attempting to override His authority or sovereign will, but behaving as participating junior members of Creation with God. I’ve mentioned the principle of tikkun olam (repairing the world) many times before and in order to fulfill this mandate, we have to take an active role with God in this work. To do that, we must take a form of ownership over our role as agents of God and over our understanding of His Word to us. That means taking the risk of being wrong, but doing our best anyway, to understand the infinite and unique One God, and to proceed with faith and courage.
If we are honest with ourselves and God, we should have already admitted that we’ve gotten something wrong and misunderstood God’s intent in many areas of our lives. That shouldn’t stop us from doing our best to live as holy people, but it should stop us from judging others. It should also absolutely stop us from believing that our particular brand of religion has it right while everyone else has it wrong.
It is said that God has two attributes: the attribute of Justice and the attribute of Mercy. If God created the world with more Justice than Mercy, no one would survive since no one is righteous (Romans 3:10). If God created the world with more Mercy than Justice, then we would all literally get away with murder and there would be no Judge. If He created the world with absolutely equal parts, we would all have only one chance to “get it right” the first time and then no more. God’s solution was to create the world with just a tiny bit more Mercy than Justice and that’s the world we live in today (though we’ve managed to break it since Creation). There will be a final judgment in the end, but God also allows us to make foolish mistakes, as a patient father allows a small child to stumble while trying to walk. He doesn’t expect perfection and knows we are far from capable of achieving His perfect expectations, but He does desire that we struggle with the questions about our relationship with the Divine that are always on the verge of driving us mad.
But if He is so merciful to us, why do we dare judge our fellows so harshly against our own limited and miserly standards (and make no mistake, when we judge others by our interpretation of the Bible, we are almost always using our standards and not God’s)? Have we not heard that He will forgive our transgressions in the same manner as we have forgiven those who have transgressed against us (Matthew 6:12)? Do we not believe that if God were to judge us the way we judge others, we would all be lost forever? Have we not asked ourselves “when the Son of Man returns will he find faith (Luke 18:8)?”
And yet some of us choose to employ the celebration of Christmas by others as a iron rod to beat our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ into a bloody pulp. Even if God were to judge those who adhere to the celebration of the birth of the Savior as “wrong”, it is His right to do so, not ours. Even if God were to judge those Jews who adhere to the rulings of the Rabbnic sages as “wrong”, it is His right to do so, not ours. If God has truly ruled that the Torah (and the New Testament) is not in Heaven, but was given to man to administer, then what we loose here on Earth is also loosed in Heaven (Matthew 18:18). In this, we are doing our imperfect best to join with God in being good stewards of Creation by influencing, with God, both Heaven and Earth.
If you get nothing else from this morning’s meditation, please, please take a pair of tweezers, go to your bathroom mirror, and practice pulling that huge piece of lumber out of your eye, before attempting to perform major optical surgery to remove the virtually microscopic speck in your neighbor’s eye.
30 thoughts on “The New Testament is Not in Heaven”
The amusing thing about that bit from the Talmud is that it completely warps the Scripture; it actually inverts the plain meaning of the text. We are to follow the majority? Not so. The text states you are *not* to follow the majority towards evil:
“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.”
The anonymous commenter on my blog actually made a great point: God commanded certain festivals. And God, as manifest in the Messiah, celebrated certain festivals. Everything else — including Christmas — is optional at best.
You are right about one thing. Judaism is entirely a different religion from Christianity; the holding the rabbi’s words at the same (or in this case, higher) level as Scripture is a chasmic difference. And I think Judaism, for all its goodness, has it wrong.
Judah! Welcome! I’m glad you came over and commented. It gets quiet around here sometimes.
In this instance, I’m not so much arguing for Rabbinic authority as against Christian hypocrisy. We Christians say that the Jews have no right or authority to interpret God’s Torah as they do and yet the church does exactly the same thing. We just dress it up differently and pretend we’re obeying the Word of God rather than our own willful judgments. We quote scripture to back up our claims, all the while knowing that even the Adversary has done this to justify his causes (see Matthew 4:1-11).
That’s a key piece to today’s “meditation” and one of the really big points I’m trying to get at is that Christianity has its own “traditions”, too. They just don’t call them traditions, they call their judgments and rulings “God’s Word”. Messianics aren’t any different really. We all interpret God’s Word to match our requirements and expectations. For instance, One Law Messianics interpret the Word to mean that both Jews and Gentiles who are disciples of the Master are obligated to the full 613 commandments, while traditional religious Jews and more conservative Jews in the Messianic movement believe that the Gentiles are not obligated (though some in the Messianic movement will concede that Gentiles can voluntarily take up some of the mitzvot).
Celebrating Chanukah is a tradition. The Eastern Orthodox church celebrates Christmas on a completely different date than the church you are I are used to. Ashkenazi Jews have different traditions for what is considered leaven than Sephardic Jews. Christians, traditional Jews, and Messianics all engage in an interpretation of the Bible to the level that we all assume control over what it means in order to justify our traditions.
And yet we pretend that only we are right and everyone else is wrong. How can that be, when in truth, we cannot always be sure?
“The amusing thing about that bit from the Talmud is that it completely warps the Scripture; it actually inverts the plain meaning of the text. We are to follow the majority? Not so. The text states you are *not* to follow the majority towards evil”
Judah, you may or may not know that, but in Judaism there’s understanding (as is clear from the Scripture itself) that it’s wrong to follow majority ONLY when you know for certain that the majority is in fact *wrong*. When the majority is right or we ourselves do not know better, by all means we are to follow it.
To say that to follow majority is always wrong “warps the Scripture” indeed. Here’s why: in Judaism it’s not a simple majority (crowd) rule at all. To paint it as such is to make a caricature of Judaism (and I hope that you, Judah, weren’t doing that, claiming that Judaism is controlled by whims of crowds, right?). Instead, it was the majority opinion/consensus between judges and sages (specifically) – THE LEADERSHIP OF ISRAEL – in what is known as “majority ruling” that charted the course of both religious and daily affairs. It was never to be about crowds deciding on how they are to behave according to what is right in their own eyes. Over and over the Scripture tells us that we must submit our leader’s higher G-d-given authority.
James, your argument is that Christianity has the same “we interpret the bible ourselves” stance as Judaism. As such, you label Christianity hypocritical.
Here’s the difference: Christianity does not hold tradition and Famous-Religious-Leader-Interpretations to the same authority level as Scripture. Judaism does.
I don’t know if that’s exactly true across the board. There are at least a sub-set of Christianity who follow the teachings of a specific “Master”, such as those fellows who preach prosperity theology. OK, it’s not a 1 to 1 comparison, but there’s a lot more interpretation of the Bible that goes on in Christianity, including in the various factions of the Messianic world, then is admitted to.
In the end, I don’t think Christianity has a less human-influenced view of the Bible or the desires of God than Judaism does. And if Judaism is such a flawed and damaged system of faith compared to Christianity, why are so many Christians adhering to “Messianic Judaism?” This is where the connection of many Messianics to Judaism breaks down and possibly where a large part of the Messianic movement fails to be a “Judaism” at all, Instead, it is a subset of Christianity with Jewish surface features.
James, I don’t think Judah considers his faith “Judaism”, “messianic” or not. Is that correct, Judah?
I think this is the ongoing struggle in the Messianic movement; whether or not it is a “Judaism”. Supporters on the more “Jewish” end of the scale believe that for MJ to be an authentic Judaism, it must embrace all of the markers of religious Judaism including Talmud study, halachah, and so forth. The opposite end of the scale is driven by the Gentile majority of MJ (which can include people who are halachically Jewish (having a Jewish mother, for instance) but who have little or no exposure to (or interest in) formal Jewish religious teaching, culture, or ethnic life and who, for all intents and purposes, think, behave, and conceptualize God and the Bible from a non-Jewish (i.e. Christian) perspective.
We’ve all had these discussions on a number of different blogs over the past few years and I think this will continue to be a matter of “the movement” struggling for identity. In the end, the movement will fracture into Jewish and non-Jewish “Messianism” (Derek would say “Messianic Judaism” and “Judeo-Christian” congregations). I had an online “conversation” with Carl Kinbar not too long ago about about this and the rather difficult question came up. What percentage of a congregation/leadership should be halachically, culturally, ethnically, and religiously Jewish for that congregation to be called “Messianic Judaism” (note the emphasis)?
The flip side is, when a congregation falls below that hypothetical threshold and it ceases to be a “Judaism”, Messianic or not, what is it?
Sorry to pop back in again, but I just read the blog of an Australian Christian I keep in contact with and the commentary he made on Christians and the church seems to be the same one we keep addressing (with variations) in our own little corner of the world. Maybe a significant portion of the issues in the Messianic world are problems that mainstream Christianity and Judaism also struggle with. Some examples:
It is easier to debate God’s word than obey God’s word. – Anon
Why is the church; Christ’s body racked with immorality, torn in dissension and seeking man’s approval?
It has lost sight of the power of God’s word; it is has stymied the Holy Scriptures with paralysis by analysis and it even claims that theology is the arbiter of truth when theology can’t even be the guarantor of truth.
The full list is at Soul Snack.
Admittedly, a number of the other points listed are ones that could be used to attack the more Jewish side of the Messianic movement (“The church has explained God’s words away or locked them in an ancient culture,” for instance) but those specifics aside, perhaps what we are encountering isn’t the Jewish vs. Christian collision in MJ but a general crisis of faith in the body of believers. Maybe we’re experiencing what Jesus lamented about in Luke 18:8, “when the son of man returns will he find faith?”
Back again. Found an interesting news story at a local TV station: The Feast of Guadalupe, which “marks the day nearly 500 years ago when many Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to an Aztec peasant in Mexico.” I’m not saying that it did or didn’t happen. In fact, based on my understanding of Miryam, the mother of Jesus, it probably didn’t happen the way it’s remembered, but on the other hand, it’s a traditional event in the Hispanic Catholic community that reflects their faith and trust in the holiness and provision of God.
I’m sure someone can come along and say how pagan this celebration is and rip into the Hispanic community (or the Catholic community) for idol worship, but if you were one of the people who believed in this event and attached great hope in God during its commemoration, how would you feel about a people that would say it it universally bad? We have no idea how God really sees this and even if He disapproves, it is up tto Him to disapprove. It’s up to us to be compassionate and to respect how they worship God, even if we don’t agree.
These arguments are the result of people not understanding the difference between “halachot” and “Haggadot.” The first are binding, the second are not.
I would love it if you’d expound further on these thoughts, Dan.
I had a very hard time understanding what this article was all about. I saw so much truth here amongst the musings, I have to agree, especially the call to stop condemning others according to our small mindedness. But I was sort of left with the impression we should just “live and let live” which didn’t fit with “repair the world”. It seems to me when it was about to get “hot” it was cooled immediately after, and when it was about to get cold it warmed up a bit. In the end, I am left somewhat “lukewarm” wondering…..”What?” Sorry if I sound confused, I am….I think, or maybe not???
Are you saying to those who want to keep Christmas “fine” and to those who do not “fine’ but don’t disagree because it doesn’t really matter?
Greetings and welcome, imaseeker2003.
Depending on how familiar you are with traditional Jewish teachings (and depending on how badly I mangle my description of them), some of my “meditations” can be a little difficult to take in. Sorry if I’ve made things confusing. Also, while I hope I’m a reasonably competent writer, producing one “meditation” a day means that I may not be editing what I write as well as I could if I produced a “weekly meditation” instead. All errors you find in my blog belong to me.
Back to the topic at hand. What I’m saying is that I don’t believe we have the right to walk up to someone who celebrates Christmas and to tell them they are a pagan. It’s one thing to not celebrate Christmas because of your personal and religious convictions and it’s another thing to go into another person’s life and tell them that *they* can’t celebrate Christmas either. If someone asks me why I don’t celebrate (and the question is more than just polite chit-chat where they really don’t want to know), I’ll be glad to tell them my perspectives on the matter and to struggle over the spiritual issues with them. On the other hand, I read so many self-styled teachers and experts on the web who are absolutely rabid about how bad Christmas is and how anyone who celebrates Christmas is deluded, evil, and are bound for hell with a rocket strapped to their back. I don’t think they have the right to come to that conclusion for every Christian. They have the right to their opinion, they just don’t have the right to shove it down everyone’s collective throat.
I know some pretty wonderful people who love God and who do their best to help others and who also happen to celebrate Christmas. Am I to say their faith and service to others and to God means nothing because they decorate a pine tree every December and choose to honor the birth of Jesus on the 25th?
My other main point is that (IMHO) I believe no one has a completely unfiltered view of what the Bible means and God’s exact intent for all of the details of our lives. We all interpret what God tells us and that means between God and our understanding is the filter we put in place. That filter is sometimes just our own personal understanding of what we read, but sometimes it’s also our Pastor, our Rabbi, the tradition of our church denomination or sect of Judaism, or some other person or system. While we all need to be 100% sure of God and His sovereignty over our lives, we also need to be just a little bit in doubt about whether or not our understanding of the Bible is absolutely correct. I believe that one really good question is worth 1,000 canned religious answers. I am not always sure of how to understand God and so I don’t always try to post answers to my questions. In that way, I do what I really think is important…try to get people reading my blog to engage the questions with me and then see what we can come up with together.
Does that make it any clearer?
I love that, it is a good answer! 🙂 So much truth, we really don’t understand altogether why it was written, “I will have mercy on who I will have mercy”. I thank you for making that point. I KNOW my point of view is filtered and you are right about that. The danger I’m trying to avoid is becoming like one of those walls, not knowing to fall down or stand up and end up just sort of leaning.
How are we going to know the difference between the holy and the common? Surely it is not just a matter of personal choice? But still, I get what you are saying. May we ever be seeking the things above! Shalom
How are we going to know the difference between the holy and the common? Surely it is not just a matter of personal choice?
I didn’t say we shouldn’t pursue what is holy. I spend a considerable amount of my resources reading and studying in that pursuit. At some point though, we trust the Holy Spirit to guide us and we make the best decisions we can on which path of spirituality to walk and in which direction to dedicate our attention.
I’m just saying that we’re not going to get it right 100% of the time. I believe we spend all our lives looking for God and what is Divine in our lives and trying to get better and better at it. I, like a lot of folks, can be hung up in the details, but Micah 6:8 makes it simple for us:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”
That doesn’t answer every little question we’ll have along the way, but it points us in the right direction.
C. G. Montefiore writes in his book “A Rabbinic Anthology” :
” Halacha and Haggadah, we are told (by the rabbis-my add), together constitute Rabbinic religion and literature. The interpretation of the Pentateuchal law, the enormous elaborations of it, the immense addition to it, the interminable discussions, arguments, disputations, and counter arguments, all this is Halacha. Upon Halacha all the regulated and orderly intelligence of the Rabbis was spent, all their logic and training. Haggadah was their relaxation and amusement; in Haggadah their fancy and imagination found its occupation. Then, too, their sermons to the congregation, their moral and religious teachings in our modern sense: the reports and records of all these are Haggadah.”
Hope this helps. there is some more….
Thanks, Dan. I must have read something wrong before. I have some small familiarity with Halakhah and a bit less with Aggadah (Haggadah), but for some reason I got a little mixed up and thought you were talking about something else.
Trying to wade through the detailed definitions is difficult, especially for Aggadah, which almost defies definition. Even just addressing Halakhah can be enormously challenging, since it is so variable depending on the specific religious community involved and other “divisions” (Ashkenazi vs. Sephardic for example). Christianity too has its divisions and distinctions in terms of how theology is created and applied, but I don’t think it even begins to approach Judaism in it’s level of difficulty in learning (at least for me).
From this, are you stating then that Baba Tetzia 59b, from which I quoted at the start of this blog post is considered Aggadah and therefore, more of moral teaching rather than a binding concept?
It might have been a moral teaching, but I am sure that even the Rabbis did not believe the story….Kind of like Cinderella,,,,,
It’s still the basis for Rabbinic authority to make authoritative rulings on Torah.
By the way, how’s everybody feel about Orthodox Jewish rapper Matisyahu shaving his beard, effectively declaring that he is no longer Chasidic? I’ve seen both Orthodox and Messianic comments that basically show people are freaking out.
Things like that are happening every day. One day people wake up in the morning and realize that the Chasidic movement is a dead horse.
Thoroughly enjoyed your reflections here (and your thoughts about Christmas, by the way)…thought you might appreciate this post on the topic of tradition as well: http://literaryjoe.wordpress.com/2010/12/07/richard-hooker-tradition/
So this is kind of a favorite topic of mine…forgive me if I run on a bit for a moment.
Appropriate traditions enable us to live out God’s commands in this time and place. Tradition often gets a bad rap in today’s world, but without it we could not function. What’s more, without a collection of consistent practices we are unable to successfully reflect God’s image to the watching world, because we don’t reflect as individuals so much as we reflect as a Body.
Everywhere and always, wherever there have been believers, tradition has been a part of the three-legged stool that supports the lives, decisions, and practices of God-followers.
The three legs of that stool are Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. All three are used under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit to form the basis of our decision-making. The Scriptures are the words of God, written by the pens of men as they were carried along by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Throughout time the community of the faithful has continually recognized and affirmed the inspired nature of these words, and they came to be known to us as Scripture—the inerrant and reliable words of God to us His children.
These words, however, were written to different cultures than our own, they were written between 2000 and 3000 years ago, to people who spoke different languages, and lived in a different part of the world under very different conditions than our own. As a result, in the process of wrestling with the meaning and significance of these very words of God, we consult the way that believers who went before us understood and applied them. The practices of those who have passed on are known as Tradition.
Tradition, by its very nature, is a flexible, changing collection of practices. They exist to aid in the honoring and observing of God’s way, and they vary from location to location, from time to time, and from society to society. Consequently, we must use our Reason to contemplate the words of Scripture and the history of Tradition in seeking to ensure that our practices continue to serve the same purpose for which they were created.
It must be remembered that Tradition is a tool that exists to serve the principle that is obedience to our Father, God. Whenever we begin to keep traditions for tradition’s sake, we have allowed that which exists to serve to become that which we serve, and a sense of bondage inevitably results—a new law is created.
It must be remembered that Tradition is a tool that exists to serve the principle that is obedience to our Father, God. Whenever we begin to keep traditions for tradition’s sake, we have allowed that which exists to serve to become that which we serve, and a sense of bondage inevitably results—a new law is created.
It’s a good point, but both Christianity and Judaism (and probably every other religious group) tends to blur the lines between law and tradition from time to time. In Judaism, you have the added factor that the Talmudic sages have the authority to create binding interpretations and even the Rebbe and local synagogue Rabbi can make rulings that are binding on their specific groups.
Christianity isn’t so formal about it, but certain denominations have judgments that they consider binding, even though they are not in scripture. For instance, I went to a Nazerine church when I first became a believer and they have a rule that (unmarried) men and women shouldn’t dance together because it might promote sexual feelings between them. I recall the Music Minister of the church once telling me that he had enrolled his 8 year old daughter in a ballet class. Because his own father took the “no dancing” rule to the extreme, he strongly disapproved of this decision.
For the Jewish people, tradition, as you say, provided an element that kept them together when in the middle of an often hostile world. However, once any ruling or tradition is established, it’s established forever. Is this right or wrong? I don’t know. But it’s part of what defines a religious Jew. That’s the part that’s hard for most Christians to understand because we don’t live in that world.
When did it become tradition that the rulings of the talmudic sages are binding? It certainly doesn’t appear that they were binding during the development of the Talmud itself. (this is a rhetorical question…I realize the answer is complicated and would boil down to “gradually.”)
My point would be that tradition is necessary but must remain a living, breathing thing. I think N.T. Wright said it well, “Wise later readers will honor them, but not canonize them, by thinking through their statements afresh in the light of Scripture itself.” (Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision)
Here’s how we’ve expressed it at our congregation:
“We believe the Bible is a revelation of the righteousness of God, and a description of the lifestyle of the redeemed community throughout history. While God’s commandments are to be considered prescriptive, we acknowledge that they require adaptation from generation to generation.”
My understanding is that the rulings of the Talmudic sages are binding relative to being an observant Jew and the sect of Judaism to which you belong. They represent a lesser obligation than the Torah commandments, but they cannot be ignored either, if you are a religious Jew. To go back to an example I’ve used before, Ashkenazi Jews consider beans and rice as “leavened” food during Passover and would refrain from eating refried beans in the same way they’d pass up a chocolate chip cookie during the week of unleavened bread. However, this ruling is not binding on a Sephardic Jew because they have a different tradition.
Of course the Talmudic rulings are not binding on Christians or in any form of Christian church and we have a different tradition about “traditions”. I’m largely using this as an example to illustrate how we can use traditions to define our religious obligations, though not in the same manner as the Jewish people.