Tag Archives: Oral Law

Jews Defining Their Own Relationship With God and the Torah

As the discussion that follows will demonstrate, I would not argue on behalf of all that Rabbinic authorities have asserted about Oral Torah. For example, I would not advocate the view that the teaching now found in the vast Rabbinic corpus was revealed to Moses at Sinai. Still, I would contend that the term is useful, for it rivets our attention on the central issues we must confront: Does the Written Torah require an ongoing tradition of interpretation and application in order to become a concrete reality in daily Jewish life? Does the tradition of interpretation and application of the Written Torah developed and transmitted by the Sages have any kind of divine sanction?

-Mark S. Kinzer
from “the 2003 Hashivenu Forum Messianic Judaism and Jewish Tradition in the 21st Century: A Biblical Defense of “Oral Torah,” pp.1-2
found at OurRabbis.org (PDF)

I assume that at least some of you who read my previous blog post about the “Oral Law” also clicked in the link I provided and read Dr. Kinzer’s paper. After I read it, I found myself pondering certain matters brought up by Kinzer, namely whether or not whatever we consider to be “Oral Torah” is at all authoritatively binding on the Jewish people as a whole or conversely, specific local communities of Jews.

Of course, why should I care? I’m not Jewish. Nothing we could consider a “Rabbinic ruling” was ever intended (perhaps with rare exception) to apply to a Gentile and particularly a disciple of Yeshua (Jesus).

But as I’ve mentioned before, Christians have used the Talmud and the wider concept of the Oral Law as one of their (our) clubs or blunt instruments with which we’ve battered, bruised, and bloodied (both literally and figuratively) the Jewish people across the history of the Church. If nothing else, it behooves us to take a closer look at our own behavior and whether or not we are actually opposing God in opposing Jewish traditions.

I know the concepts of “Oral Law,” “Jewish Tradition,” “Talmud,” and other similar labels are not exactly synonyms but they all point to the central question of whether or not the Torah contains all that a Jew needs to know to obey God and live a proper Jewish life. I’m not even arguing for the idea that the traditions as we find them today in Judaism were delivered whole to Moses on Sinai. I began this blog post quoting Kinzer who also does not believe such a thing.

What I want to explore is whether, both in ancient and modern times, those who lead or rule the Jewish people have the right, as appointed by God, to interpret the Torah and then to have those interpretive rulings be binding for general or local populations of Jews.

This idea probably seems a little ridiculous to many Christians, but I think Kinzer made a good point that it is at least possible that leaders in Israel have had and do have the divine right to issue halachah and expect that halachah to be adhered to, with penalties for non-compliance.

According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left. The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the Lord your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again.

Deuteronomy 17:11-13 (NASB)

This is one of the foundational scriptures that establishes a divinely appointed right of the Priests in Israel to issue authoritative rulings with consequences if their rulings are disregarded.

However, authority was not limited to the Priests:

The Lord therefore said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone.

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.

Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25

PhariseesIt’s important to note that, as was established earlier (Exodus 18:17-26) these judges were to hear the common disputes among the individual tribes and clans of the people and issue binding rulings, and only the most difficult cases were to be brought to Moses. This means there were many local judges who had the authority to make legal decisions and establish binding procedures, resolving disputes, including any over how a particular mitzvah (commandment) was to be carried out.

It’s critical to realize that these seventy elders or judges were not relying only on their human wisdom, nor were they only appointed by Moses. We saw in the Numbers 11 passage these elders being appointed and approved of by God as evidenced by the Holy Spirit resting upon each of them.

Now that’s authority.

The importance of this central judiciary and its role as the latter day expression of the Mosaic office becomes clearer with a careful study of the pericope. The passage begins by directing that certain types of cases should be brought from the local courts to the central court. These are cases that are “too difficult for you (yipalay mi-mecha),” and that involve homicide (beyn dam le-dam), personal injury (nega), or disputes over the appropriate law (din) to apply (Deuteronomy 17:8). The meaning of this last type of case (beyn din le-din) will become clear in a moment. The central court shall hear the case, and render a decision. The persons involved are not free to disregard this decision, but “must carefully observe all that they instruct you to do” (ve-shamarta la’asot ke-chol asher yorucha) (Deuteronomy 17:10). The words “carefully observe” (shamarta la’asot) appear frequently in various forms in Deuteronomy, always enjoining obedience to the words of the Torah itself. Here they enjoin obedience to the high court.

-Kinzer, pp.6-7

Thus the Priests and Judges were divinely empowered to interpret the Torah and to issue what amounts to extra-Biblical halachah as to how to perform the mitzvot, and these rulings were legally binding for the immediate situation and across time.

We can certainly see where the later Rabbis get the idea that God authorizes all leaders and teachers of the Jewish people to be able to issue binding halachah.

But you are probably saying that in the Apostolic Scriptures, we only see the Holy Spirit being granted to disciples of Yeshua (Jesus). Doesn’t this mean that, even if this authority continues to exist, it is only available and effective within the Church?

If the answer to that question is “yes,” then God has abandoned the Jewish people, national Israel, and every single promise He made as part of the Sinai Covenant. But as you know, I don’t believe that the Sinai Covenant was rendered void because Yeshua inaugurated the very beginnings of the New Covenant, nor to I believe one covenant ever replaces another.

So if the Sinai Covenant remains in effect, then God’s relationship with all Israel remains in effect, both with Messianic and all other branches of Judaism. I’ve also said before that a Jew is the only person automatically born into a covenant relationship with God, whether he or she wants to be or not. You don’t have to be a religious Jew to be a part of the covenant, you just have to be a Jew.

So if under the Sinai Covenant, God established that Judges and Priests have the authority to issue binding rulings upon the Israelites, we can at least suggest that authority moved forward in time and across ancient and modern Jewish history.

But does having authority automatically make you right?

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.

Matthew 23:1-3

I’ve previously referenced Noel S. Rabbinowitz’s paper (PDF) as evidence that Yeshua, though he had specific disagreements with the Pharisees, recognized that they had the authority to issue binding rulings on the Pharisaic community (and Yeshua’s teachings were very much in keeping with the Pharisees generally). If the Master acknowledged Pharisaic authority, this suggests that what once rested upon the Priests and Judges of ancient Israel was passed down to later authorities, and these authorities would eventually evolve into what we now call Rabbinic Judaism.

Yeshua didn’t always consider the rulings of the Pharisees correct, and even when he did, he recognized that they didn’t always obey their own decisions, so they could have authority and yet wield it imperfectly…but they did have authority

We even see Yeshua granting his own apostles that same authority; the ability to issue binding rulings upon the Jewish and Gentile disciples in “the Way”.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:18

FFOZ Bind and LooseThe concept of binding and loosing isn’t always well understood among some Christians. For an excellent treatment of what these legal terms mean in Judaism, please see the First Fruit of Zion (FFOZ) video teaching on binding and loosing which I reviewed some time ago. The video is only about thirty minutes long and well worth your time in helping you understand this important concept and how it applies to the current conversation (the image above isn’t “clickable” but the links in this paragraph are).

As far as how the ancient Messianic community applied this authority, the most famous example can be found in Acts 15.

Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:19-21

Here we have James the Just, head of the Jerusalem Council of Apostles and Elders, issuing a legal ruling after the Council had heard testimony, deliberated, and cited Biblical proof text. This ruling established the requirements and limitations regarding the entry of Gentiles within Messianic Jewish community, specifically exempting them (us) from having to undergo the proselyte rite and convert to Judaism as a requirement of admission.

The importance of this text for our purpose cannot be underestimated. Yeshua here employs the same verse to justify the halakhic legitimacy of the Pharisaic teachers as is later used in Rabbinic tradition to justify the halakhic legitimacy of the Rabbis. As we have seen, such a reading of Deuteronomy 17:10 suits well its original function within the Pentateuch. Though Matthew 23 proceeds to castigate those very same Pharisees for their unworthy conduct, this fact only throws the initial verses into bolder relief. In effect, the Pharisaic teachers have authority to bind and loose – even as the students of Yeshua have authority to bind and loose.

-Kinzer, p.27

Kinzer draws a line from the ancient Priests and Judges to the Pharisees and to Yeshua’s apostles as all having the authority from God to bind and loose, that is, to establish local interpretations that were not mere suggestions but had the force of law, even if those rulings were not explicitly stated within the written Biblical text. In fact, the purpose of “Oral Law” requires that it not be written or “hard-coded” into the mitzvot:

This view of the Oral Torah does not see it as a solidified code, given once for all to Moses on Sinai, and differing from the Written Torah only in its mode of transmission. Instead, it sees the Oral Torah as the divinely guided process by which the Jewish people seeks to make the Written Torah a living reality, in continuity with the accumulated wisdom of generations past and in creative encounter with the challenges and opportunities of the present. It thus presumes that the covenantal promises of Sinai – both God’s promise to Israel and Israel’s promise in return –remain eternally valid, and that the God of the covenant will ever protect that covenant by guiding His people in its historical journey through the wilderness.

-ibid, pp.18-19

I’ve heard the Torah compared to the United States Constitution. If the only Constitution we had was the original document from almost two-and-a-half centuries ago, it would be hopelessly archaic and incapable of dealing with many legal and social issues that exist in modern times but could never have been dreamed of by America’s Founding Fathers. If we didn’t have the ability to periodically amend the Constitution, we’d probably have to write new constitutions every so many years, just to keep the basis for our Government relevant.

So too with the Torah. Many of the issues facing modern Jews today could not have been taken into account when it was originally established. Even between the days of Moses and the days of Yeshua, hundreds, thousands, or more legal decisions and interpretations probably had to be made to address the shifting circumstances facing the Jewish people. After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Herod’s Temple, with the Jewish people facing a seemingly endless exile, the Torah had to continue to be interpreted and legal rulings issued to ensure Jewish survival in a hostile world and across the changing landscape of history.

But you may disagree with my assessment and feel I haven’t proven my case. I really am not trying to provide definitive proof but rather, to open the doors to possibility. For many more details on this topic than I can provide here, I refer you to Dr. Kinzer’s original paper. All I’m saying is that, given the “paper trail” I’ve attempted to lay down and my faith that God has not abandoned the Sinai Covenant or His people Israel, I don’t think that what He once gave them, a method of continually evolving Biblical interpretation, died on the cross with Jesus.

I don’t think that God gave Moses what amounts to our modern understanding of the Talmud on Sinai 3500 years ago. I do think, at best, God gave Moses some general principles by which to interpret the written Law and gave other Priests and Judges (not just Moses) the authority to establish traditional methods of observing the mitzvot that aren’t explicit or even existent in the written Biblical text.

If that authority extends to the present, then we have to take another look at Rabbinic authority within the different streams of Judaism and the large and complicated body of work we collectively refer to as Talmud.

Talmudic RabbisA final note. Are all of the rulings of the Rabbis absolutely correct and is Talmud perfectly internally consistent? Probably not. To the degree that the Sages were human, then they were driven by human as well as divine priorities making them, like all men of authority (and all men everywhere) capable of all kinds of error. Yeshua, while he agreed (in my opinion) that the Pharisees had the authority to issue binding halachah, didn’t universally agree with their rulings (see Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23 for example).

Even less often noticed is the fact that the ritual norms that Yeshua upholds in this text are not found in the Written Torah, but instead derive from Pharisaic tradition! The tithing of small herbs such as mint, dill, and cummin was a Pharisaic extension of the Written Torah. Yet, according to Matthew, Yeshua not only urges compliance with this practice – he treats it as a matter of the Torah (though of lesser weight than the injunctions to love, justice, and faithfulness). This supports our earlier inference that Yeshua’s teaching and practice encourage the Pharisees to think of him as one of their own. His criticism of the Pharisees (or, to be more precise, some of the Pharisees) is a prophetic critique offered by one whose commitments and convictions position him as an insider rather than an outsider.

-ibid, p.23

Assuming I’m right about all this, I suspect when Yeshua returns, he will perform a similar function among his modern Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and encourage corrections and improvements on existing halachah and the traditions of Torah interpretation. I believe he will do so as a matter of his love for the Jewish people, not as a matter of criticism or censure. I believe we Christians, or whatever we call ourselves, dismiss God’s love for the Jewish people and His presence among them and their Rabbis at our extreme peril. Our redemption comes from the Jews (John 4:22) not the other way around.

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Much Ado About the Oral Law

I adored my younger sister and felt very connected to her, but I wasn’t there for her physically or emotionally during her turbulent teens. I was far away in university or traveling, and then in Israel, where I learned in a seminary, married and became in her eyes, a foreign entity: a religiously observant Jew.

Despite the distance, I didn’t see an unbridgeable gap. I could relate to my sister because I saw and felt all our common ground. I was once a teenager, part of the artistic sub-culture of Greenwich Village. I understood what her life was like, even if there weren’t skinheads in my day. I had once been like her, but she definitely didn’t feel like she was anything like me – an “ultra-Orthodox fanatic” against intermarriage, abortion, nudity, atheism, hanging out with guys. I never had a chance to say how I felt about any of these topics; she just assumed everything about my beliefs without any discussion. She could not relate. Or more accurately, she did not want to relate.

-Naomi Freeman
“Repairing the Gap”
Aish.com

For a lot of Christians, the sort of “gap” between Jewish people doesn’t seem to exist. After all, in Church, we generally are taught to view Jews and particularly religious Judaism as a single, unified entity. It’s difficult for many believers (or non-Jews in general) to picture multiple viewpoints among Jewish people (even though it is said “two Jews, three opinions”). And yet, there can be different groups, even within religious Judaism, that are highly polarized.

Consider this recent video that has been circling the various social media venues. Here we have Jewish people saying some rather unkind and perhaps inaccurate things about the “Oral Law” and Rabbinic Judaism.

This is the sort of thing Christians eat up with a spoon.

And they have, or at least one Christian group has within the Hebrew Roots movement as represented by TorahResource.com (For reference, I’ve included a screenshot below taken from Facebook of a discussion on this video by Hebrew Roots proponents).

Oral Law opinionI don’t feel particularly comfortable “calling out” people or groups, but in this case, I think it’s important to illustrate that there are different points of view involved. What your Pastor preaches from the pulpit about Jews and Judaism may not be the only way we disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) are “allowed” to think. I say this coming off of two years attending a local Baptist church where its members do authentically love the Jewish people and the nation of Israel but who are also at least “uncomfortable” if not downright opposed to the practice of religious Judaism. They would, with all good intent, love to see all Jewish people convert to Christianity and leave all but the most superficial practices of the mitzvot behind.

More’s the pity.

Earlier today, Rabbi Stuart Dauermann wrote a blog post called On Not Bashing the Oral Law and the Rabbis of Israel. Here’s part of what he had to say and how he ended his missive:

I don’t think the rabbis are always right. Nor are they always wrong. But I do think it is wrong to attack the rabbis as a class. After all, it wasn’t the ministers and Christian Bible students that kept the Jews and their Judaism alive in the blood- and tear-soaked exilic wanderings of the seed of Jacob. What kept the Jews alive and in faith was the work of the rabbis and the religion they presented and subscribed to.

We owe something to the rabbis of Israel. But is not contempt and mistrust. It is gratitude and admiration, even where and when they disagree with us.

And to the extent that we have entertained the kinds of spurious and nasty arguments I outlined here, we owe them one thing more.

An apology.

You can click on the link I provided to read his entire message and I encourage you to do so.

I’ve already rendered my opinion on interpretation as tradition so I won’t repeat that message except to say that, like R. Dauermann, I don’t believe that the Rabbis are always right in their rulings or opinions. Nevertheless, the Oral Law in post-Biblical times, was (and is) highly instrumental in sustaining the Jewish people and without what we call “Rabbinic Judaism,” it’s quite possible the Jewish people would have faded from the pages of history long before now.

Of course the Jews have always been protected and nurtured by God but who is to say that the existence and process of the Rabbis was not His method of preserving Jewish people and Jewish practice of the mitzvot. After all, the Sinai Covenant (all of the covenants, actually) didn’t vanish (and it certainly wasn’t replaced) simply because of the Temple’s destruction and the dispersion of the Jewish people among the nations. In fact, about a week ago I mentioned the opinion that one of the functions of the Jewish people being in exile was to be a light to the rest of us. This “being a light to the nations” wouldn’t have been possible without the Mishnah and Rabbinic Judaism.

Why am I saying all this? Just to throw my hat into the ring on this topic?

Not exactly, although that’s part of it.

While we can somewhat separate an opposition to Rabbinic Judaism from how we feel about Jewish people, at least in theory, it’s important to remember that there are those who have no love at all for Jewish people, Judaism, and national Israel, and reports of one of their more heinous acts has been all over the news lately.

Talmud StudyAs was said on a Hebrew Roots blog recently, we aren’t going to agree on a great many things in the realm of religion, and that’s not really the problem. As I’ve already mentioned, there is a significant amount of debate and disagreement within the various streams of Judaism including Messianic Judaism, let alone all of the expressions of the Christian faith including what I think of as “Christian Hebrew Roots.”

I know I’m probably going to get some pushback for that last comment, but I think of Hebrew Roots as Gentile Christians expressing their devotion to Messiah using Hebraic practices within primarily non-Jewish community, and Messianic Judaism as Jews and associated non-Jews, expressing their devotion to Messiah within a wholly Jewish religious, cultural, and community context.

Given those definitions, it stands to reason that Hebrew Roots will take a traditionally Christian stand, that is a “low view” on many aspects of Judaism including the authority of the Rabbis and Oral Law, while Messianic Judaism, as a Judaism, will take a “high view” of those same elements.

However, depending on which perspective we employ, our attitudes about Judaism and thus Jewish people will be affected. This doesn’t mean that holding a low view of Oral Torah necessarily equals taking a low view of Jewish people or even the Jewish practices in general, but it does require making an effort not to let what one believes about the Rabbis spill over into other Jewish realms, particularly if you are supposed to believe that “One Law” fits all (though I obviously don’t subscribe to the One Law perspective).

If you have a low view on Oral Torah and the Rabbinic Sages, you are certainly within your rights to hold such an opinion, but it doesn’t mean that those who have a high view of Rabbinic Judaism are bad or even particularly wrong. It does mean they’ve made a decision about how to express their faith on the level of lifestyle as well as belief. If that is not your decision also, that ‘s fine and dandy, but please don’t denigrate someone who has taken a different path from your own. For them, that path is right and correct, particularly if they are Jewish and you’re not.

For more on this topic, read Rabbi Stuart Dauermann’s article Who Needs Oral Torah? On Living a Jewish Life.

Also, you can read what Rabbi Mark Kinzer has to say about Messianic Judaism and the Oral Torah in a paper (PDF) located at Ourrabbis.org (which can also be found in the body of Rabbi Dauermann’s blog post and over at the Rosh Pina Project).

Addendum: I’ve written something of a sequel on this topic called Jews Defining Their Own Relationship With God And The Torah. I invite you to have a read and let me know what you think.

The Tradition of Rosh Hashanah

And all believe that He is the faithful God.

-from the Machzor

This ninth-century, twofold alphabetical acrostic has been ascribed to Yohanan ha-Cohen, but M. Zulay says that Yannai (ca.550 C.E.) may have been it’s author. Declaring that God holds in His hand the scales of justice, the piyyut affirms that He is merciful even as He fathoms our secret devisings.

-Max Arzt
Chapter 2: “The New Year (Rosh Hashanah), pp 175-6
Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement

This morning (as I write this), I listened to part of an audio teaching by Aaron Eby called “The Shofar and the Signs of the Times: A Lesson for Rosh Hashanah” as I commuted to work. Since I can’t take notes and drive at the same time (my wife says that men can’t multitask), I can’t reference large portions of the content, but one thing Aaron said has stayed with me. He said that the Bible teaches us almost nothing about how to celebrate or commemorate Rosh Hashanah, which is more accurately called “Yom Teruah” (which literally means in Hebrew “Day of Loud Noise”). Almost everything we know about celebrating Rosh Hashanah was developed much later by the various Rabbinic sages across Jewish history.

I find this rather telling and even amusing in a way, since most Christians (including Hebrew Roots Christians) tend to believe the Talmud or Oral Traditions are wholly manufactured by people and have nothing to do with the Bible. But while traditional (church going) Christians are highly unlikely to have anything to do with Jewish observance, including the commemoration of Rosh Hashanah, Hebrew Roots devotees this year almost certainly marked the occasion through a form of observance that attempted to mirror that of religious Jews in the synagogue.

The “disconnect” in the behavior of the latter group is that they not only tend to dismiss Rabbinic authority in establishing binding methods of worship, but they rather avidly declare that Hebrew Roots believers follow only the written Torah and not the Oral Law.

And yet, the Rosh Hashanah services many of them attended a few days ago were largely established, not in Biblical times (and remember, the Bible contains few if any instructions on how to commemorate Rosh Hashanah), but by the later Rabbinic Sages.

I’m not trying to start another in a long, long series of arguments relative to Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, but I do want to point out something that I think we all need to “get”.

But the very notion that the whole people [who received the Torah at Mt. Sinai] was the vehicle of divine revelation saved Judaism from an arid, literal biblicism. It gave rise to the belief that the “oral law” is the authentic and living interpretation of the “written law,” so that Revelation came to be regarded as a continuing process. The Rabbis seem to have grasped intuitively an idea akin to the modern concept of historical evolution, when they asserted that at Sinai both the oral and the written laws were revealed.

-ibid, p. 186

Further…

What was implicit in the rabbinic expansion of the concept of revelation must become an explicit principle in our day, when Jewish tradition faces the challenge of new ideas and of discoveries of major proportions. As a viable religion, Judaism must continue to be a vehicle of God’s continuous Revelation to His people, for the voice that Israel heard at Sinai “did not cease” (Onkelos on Deut., 5:19).

-ibid, pp. 186-7

Torah at SinaiOK, that’s not going to sit well with a lot of people. These statements presuppose that either a written Torah was given to the Israelites at Sinai along with an oral set of instructions on how to interpret the written texts, or that God gave an ongoing authority to the Jewish teachers of each generation to make binding interpretations of how to operationalize the written Torah and apply that to the Jewish people. The problem is that for most of Israel’s history, there has been no one apparent standard of interpretation. In the time of the Apostle Paul, for example, there were numerous streams of Judaism in existence, most of which contracted one another.

But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

Acts 23:6-8 (NASB)

But then how can Jewish Rabbis and scholars say they have God-given authority to make binding halachah for the Jewish people when not only more than one standard exists, but these different standards are at odds with each other?

An even bolder extension of the idea of Revelation is implied in the statement that where scholars offer two mutually contradictory opinions on a legal problem or on the interpretation of a biblical verse, both opinions are considered to be “the words of the living God,” since both are equally the result of a reverent search for an understanding of the Torah (Erub. 13b).

-Artz, p. 186

Talmud Study by LamplightI have a tough time wrapping my brain around that one, but it does seem to be accepted in Judaism that the various sages and teachers for each community or stream of Judaism have the right to establish binding standards for their own groups.

This point is disputed, not only in traditional and Hebrew Roots Christianity, but in Messianic Judaism. In the comments section of this blog post which I quoted in part in the body of this article, such a debate between two Jewish men in Messiah is demonstrated.

Carl Kinbar said:

I would like to contend these thoughts, at least in the absolute way you have expressed them. You’ve drawn this from the story of Achnai’s Oven, in which God does miracles to support the opinion of Rabbi Eliezar over the opinion of the majority of rabbis. But they reject not only God’s miracles but his also voice, which declares “the halakhah is according to Rabbi Eliezer. The majority “defeated” Rabbi Eliezer and God by pointing out that the Torah is not in heaven but on earth. God’s opinion doesn’t matter. Then God laughs in delight that “my sons have defeated me.”

So, as a Jew, I can imagine myself standing before the majority of rabbis as a believer in Messiah Yeshua. God says, “Carl is right–Yeshua is the Messiah.” But the majority refuses to accept God’s voice and declares me a min (heretic). God then laughs, “My children have defeated me again!” God is pleased with them and displeased with me for rejecting the majority, even though he knows full well that Yeshua is his Messiah.

The identity of Messiah is just the beginning of areas in which the majority would overrule God. They do not recognize the Brit Hadashah and they do not recognize the joyous obligation of Jewish believers in Yeshua to love all our fellow Yeshua believers as Messiah has loved us. Should Jews accept the traditional majority in these matters, too?

Hopefully, one day I will find an opening to express the depth and beauty of my relationship with Torah and rabbinic tradition. For now, I just want to say that accepting the majority’s right to interpret and apply Torah is not absolute and God does not laugh when his voice is ignored.

ProclaimLiberty said:

I understand your contention and I share in your frustration with the unpleasant reality that the leaders of the Jewish people actually have the authority to be WRONG. However, for good or for ill, this is an irrevocable gift of authority, which only increases the responsibility borne by these authorities. I do not say that HaShem holds them guiltless for any divergence from His Torah in applying or interpreting the Torah. The episode of Aknai’s oven only underscores the degree of this awesome legal responsibility. It then becomes our responsibilty as Rav Yeshua’s hasidim to work toward opening the eyes of current authorities to the finer distinctions between the negative elements that previously were inveighed against with some statements, and the positive aspects of ourselves and Rav Yeshua’s approach to Torah.

Chazal reiterates some of Rav Yeshua’s Matt.23 criticism of the Pharisees (or a recognizably faulty subset of them), for example, illustrating that corrections and improvements are possible. I believe that the power lies within us (b’ezrat HaShem) to demonstrate that the modern MJ community is not defined by the characteristics that impelled earlier generations of rabbis to present a rejectionistic front. However, there is still much improvement required of the modern MJ community in the aggregate to support such a demonstration. Thus we should not wish for miraculous signs or voices from heaven to justify us in our appeal to these authorities. Rather, the miraculous signs should be evident in improving our behavior and our demeanor on earth as a community and as individuals, that we should be seen as walking examples of Torah whose positive contribution to the Jewish enterprise cannot be denied as sectarian or separatist.

debateI can’t pretend to have the ability to resolve this apparent dissonance within Messianic Judaism specifically and within larger religious Judaism as a whole, but as I said more recently, an adaptive dynamic to the interpretation of Torah for Jewish communities existing in different geolocations and across time is one of the requirements for the continuation of Judaism and the existence of the Jewish people. Without the ability of different streams of Judaism to be able to continually interpret their own scriptures, there either would be no Judaism at all or one that existed as a complete anachronism within the modern landscape, totally incapable of managing even the simplest elements of 21st Century life.

Interestingly enough, Christianity (and probably any other current religion with ancient origins based on ancient texts) engages in a similar dynamic. Imagine transporting a church leader or elder from some popular Christian community of five-hundred years ago into even the most conservative, Fundamentalist church in modern times. Would this person, even if they shared a common language with the modern believers he was placed among, understand what was going on around him? How would he view the modern attire being worn, especially of the women in the chapel? What would be his feelings about the music, about youth groups, about Sunday school, about all of those early 16th Century Christian practices and traditions he holds dear and true and Biblical that are likely not to be evident at all in any 21st Century church?

Christianity is as adaptive as Judaism. It has to be. If it wasn’t, if it took some ancient standard of practice and behavior and suspended it like a fly in amber, forever isolated, immobile, and ageless, its members most likely couldn’t manage modern life outside the church’s walls at all. The Church, as it were, operates with a sort of historically developmental “oral law” just as Judaism does. Only the “clothing” that process is dressed up in is different.

The Jewish people today could hardly be expected to know how to commemorate Rosh Hashanah and many other events and practices without its history of adaptive interpretation of the mitzvot. Whether an objectively existing Oral Law was given to Moses by God at Sinai, or whether it just became an accepted standard in Judaism that the Rabbis would be considered as having authority assigned them by God to make binding rulings, the effect is the same. Judaism has continued to exist for the past two-thousand years after the destruction of the Temple, the razing of Jerusalem, and the scattering of the Jewish people to the four corners of the Earth, because the Jewish people have allowed themselves the ability to progressively interpret Biblical canon as historic and geographic conditions have changed.

The secret to Rosh Hashanah isn’t in the Bible, it’s in Talmud.

Saving Israel

Several reasons are given why it is prohibited to record the oral Torah in written form.

Ritva (Gittin 60a) and Ra”n (14a) explain that once something is put into writing, it is subject to being interpreted or misinterpreted according to the viewpoint of the reader. Putting such developed ideas into written form necessarily restricts the concepts into rigid sentences, which is too limiting for their true meaning. When, however, concepts are transmitted orally from rebbe to talmid, they are able to be articulated and explained with emotion and clarity.

The give and take which follows allows a student to ask and pursue that which needs further elucidation. This is essential for the transmission of the mesorah, and this is why the Torah prohibits us to record the oral law in written form.

P’risha (O.C. 49:1) also notes that the written word limits the ideas it represents by the usage of particular phrases and expressions. This leads to subjective interpretation and understanding based upon the author’s choice of words, which may or may not convey the accurate intent of the writer to the reader.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“The oral law may not be written down”
Termurah 14

I have to admit, I’ve never comprehended this. It’s always been my understanding that information transmitted orally from one generation from the next was subject to distortion over time. We see this demonstrated in the children’s game where kids sit in a circle and one child whispers a short story to the next. The story is transmitted around the circle, and by the time it gets to the person who told the original story, it (in all likelihood) has significantly changed. Even an individual’s memory of a single even tends to change over time, making eyewitness testimony in court unreliable, although legally, it is still considered one of the more reliable forms of evidence.

Add to all that the fact that during different periods of exile in Jewish history, there were “breaks” in the transmission process when it is very likely that the Oral Law was not transmitted at all. Once such a break occurs, how could this information be recaptured if it has not been preserved in some documented form? Once the last of the old generation dies, if they haven’t passed on the oral law to the next generation, the oral law dies with them.

That’s why we have written information. That’s why we have books, magazines, newspapers, and other physical and virtual documents. So that information can be preserved over time, unaffected by a distortion of transmission or a distortion of memory.

And yet, the above commentary is right in that, once information is nailed down in written form, it becomes accessible to everyone’s individual and subjective interpretation. We see this commonly in Bible interpretation, particularly within the church, where any individual can tell themselves that a scripture means “such and thus” to them, even if it doesn’t carry that meaning for anyone else.

(I say “particularly within the church” because Judaism tends to interpret the Bible based on established tradition rather than an individual’s “feelings.” To be fair though, it is true that Christianity also has traditions that are applied to Bible interpretation, but the “freedom” the average Christian has seems to include the freedom to ignore scholarship, at least on occasion)

Don’t look to me for an answer to this conundrum, because I have none to give you. We know that the Oral Law was finally redacted around 200 CE because of the fear that it would be lost due to the Jewish exile from Israel, and so we have a rich body of interpretation and commentary on Jewish Law that is with us to this day.

But in studying this topic in today’s Daf and the original reasons that documenting the Oral Law was forbidden, I did come across this.

Yefei To’ar (to Shemos Rabba 47:1) explains, based upon the Midrash, that if the oral law would be written there would be a risk that the gentiles would take our law and copy it for themselves. They would implement many of the aspects of our system of life, and the clear and obvious differences between the Jews and the non-Jews would be less apparent, causing many Jews to blend into the non- Jewish society.

Most Christians reading this quote will find it rather a strange concern for the Jewish sages to have, since one of the foundations upon which Christian faith is built is on the destruction of Jewish Law and it being wholly replaced by the grace of Christ. In fact, in the long history of the Christian church, most church theologians, scholars, and clergy have gone out of their way to avoid any type of practice of anything that looks like Judaism in worship or belief. Christians are not only completely uninterested in copying Jewish law, they actively disdain it.

(OK, this is overly simplistic and there are a number of parallelisms historically between Christianity and Judaism, but for the sake of this “mediation,” let’s assume that the schism between Jewish and Christian thought, faith, and practice is absolute)

But in the here and now, we have a glaring exception. Messianic Judaism.

To be more accurate, there’s a branch of Messianic Judaism called “One Law” that states Gentiles who are “grafted in” to the root of Israel are also grafted in to the full “yoke of Torah” such that, there is no distinction between Jewish and “Christian” practice of the Law. In essence, the dire worry of the sages has come to past. The Gentiles have taken the Law and copied it for themselves. Let’s read part of the quote again that predicts the result:

They would implement many of the aspects of our system of life, and the clear and obvious differences between the Jews and the non-Jews would be less apparent, causing many Jews to blend into the non- Jewish society.

This is precisely the concern many ethnic, cultural, and religious Jews in the Messianic movement have, and it seems the concerns of the sages are well justified.

But wait.

It’s not the Oral Law that is being copied by the Gentiles, it’s the written Torah. The Gentiles in “the movement” have about as much interest in the Oral Law as their traditional Christian counterparts. So it seems that documenting the oral traditions really hasn’t yielded the feared result.

But the core of the concern remains. Gentiles are copying Jews and the distinction between Jews and Christians is eroding. Some Jews who have only a tenuous understanding of what Judaism actually is, are gravitating to One Law congregations rather than pursuing more significantly Jewish communities (Again, to be fair, many One Law Jews have been raised in Jewish homes and have a very strong Jewish identity). Many Gentiles who have become disillusioned with the church are flocking to One Law congregations in droves, believing they are embracing their “lost” Jewish roots and in practice, becoming “pseudo-Jews.” It doesn’t matter then, whether the Oral Law was written down or not, since the written portion of Torah was sufficient to produce a collection of Gentiles who, for all intents, believe they are “spiritual Jews,” and who have adopted many of the Jewish religious practices and traditions.

Praying with tefillin(It should be noted here that many non-Jewish One Law practitioners actually do adhere to some of the Oral Law without realizing it, since the traditions involving how to put on a tallit gadol, lay tefillin, perform a blessing before a meal, conduct a Torah service, and many other worship activities, are rooted in the Oral Law rather than in written Torah. Some of the prayers in the siddur originate in the Zohar, thus even small portions of Kabbalah are unknowingly included in One Law practice)

The irony is that, in utilizing the written but not Oral Law of the Jews, One Law Gentiles fulfill the concern of the sages which has lead to…

…a subjective interpretation and understanding based upon the author’s choice of words, which may or may not convey the accurate intent of the writer to the reader.

Modern Judaism believes that the written Torah, and the intent of the author’s choice of words, cannot be accurately understood unless seen through the lens of the oral Torah. In disregarding the oral traditions and rulings, the Jews and Gentiles in One Law may be falling into the trap that so concerned the ancient sages. Of course, there are branches of Judaism that historically have rejected the Oral Law, such as the Sadducees and Essenes, but unlike the Pharisaic tradition, they did not survive into modern times. The Kararites have survived and currently exist, but they are the only Jewish sect I’m aware of, that does not, in some manner or fashion, recognize the Oral Law.

(It is true that between Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism, there are differing levels of adherence to Oral Law, but none of these branches does away with the it altogether).

Usually, in discussions like this one, the primary concern presented is Gentile “misuse” or “misapplication” of Jewish Law, which I’ve certainly addressed, but the Story Off the Daf for Temurah 14 illustrates another problem.

It is tragic that so many Jews have fallen away from Torah observance in the modern period. Immigration to America—the “Goldeneh Medinah” —played a large role in a historic shift away from tradition. The vast majority of those who arrived here from “der alter heim,” the “old country,” fell away from observance. At a superficial glance, this seems a bit hard to fathom. Throughout our long past, the Jewish People faced so many obstacles, a multitude of decrees forbidding Torah, which did not deter us at all. What was it about America, and the rest of the free world, that had such a detrimental effect on Torah and mitzvos?

Perhaps we can understand the solution to this puzzle in light of how the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, explains a statement on today’s daf. “In Temurah 14 we find that it is better for the Torah to be disrupted then forgotten. When various parties rise up and block us from learning Torah, the situation is not so spiritually dangerous as one might have thought. When they chase after people who learn, usually we find a solution. Jews learn in caves, attics and cellars, and Torah is preserved.

“A far worse situation is when Jews forget the Torah—when it is abandoned and considered unimportant. Then, learning Torah is something that Jews simply do not aspire to at all. In such circumstances, there is a vast spiritual danger.

“To understand the true state of a Jew without Torah let us consider a person who is completely paralyzed. Just as such a person is sadly unaware of what the senses of a normal person would perceive—since he is completely unfeeling—the same is true of those who have no feel for the value of Torah.”

My wife was raised in an intermarried family. Her mother was Jewish and her father, raised as a Christian Scientist, had left the faith and was non-religious. Her mother also had left religious, and for the most part, cultural Judaism to such a degree that my wife didn’t even realize that she was Jewish until early adulthood.

After my wife and I converted to Christianity some fifteen years ago or so, her first sustained exposure to “Judaism” was via the One Law congregation we started to attend. If she had stayed there, she more than likely would have continued her faith in Jesus. However, she wouldn’t actually have understood what it is to be a Jew, since the congregational leader and most of the board of elders were not Jewish. Even those Jews who participated in the congregation back then, had not been raised in cultural and religious Jewish homes.

But the drive in her to understand what it is to be a Jew would not let go, and she eventually gravitated to first the Reform, and then the Chabad synagogues. There, she established herself among other Jews and enjoyed the full measure of participation in a completely realized ethnic, cultural, and religious Jewish community.

But the cost was her faith in Jesus.

What would have made a difference? I’m not sure anything would have. I’m not some sort of dictator in the home, and I cannot simply tell my wife where to go, how to feel, and believe. I’m not going to tell her she must embrace Jesus as the Messiah. I believe each human being negotiates his or her own relationship with God and no one can act as a go-between. If, perhaps, we had a congregation available that offered a fully Jewish community and true Jewish worship of the Jewish Messiah, maybe…maybe it would have made a difference. Maybe my wife could have securely explored her Judaism while preserving her faith in Jesus. But we don’t live in a world of “what ifs”. We live in a world of completed actions and what is done, is done.

I know that my friends in the One Law movement (who will no doubt be upset at today’s “meditation”) will tell me that if she had stayed in One Law, she could have lived a completely Jewish lifestyle and a continued to be believer, but I know that congregation well. I love the people who attend and who lead, and they are sincere in their faith and wonderful disciples of the Master…but it’s not a Jewish congregation. The men may wear kippot and don tallitot in prayer, they may use siddurim, and call the Master, “Yeshua,” but the vast, vast majority of them are Gentiles, and most of the Jews weren’t raised within Judaism.

tallit-prayerSo should I raise Judaism above the Messiah? As Paul might put it, “heaven forbid.” But I can’t separate a Jew from the Jewish worship of the Jewish Messiah, either. I cannot demand that a Jew, in order to maintain faith in the Moshiach, water down or delete their Jewish identity in any aspect. 2,000 years of history have created the illusion that there must be a separation between Judaism and Jesus and sadly, that separation is being maintained, not only by traditional Judaism and traditional Christianity, but by (hold on to your hats) the One Law expression of the Messianic movement. For in removing the Oral Law and traditions, which I’ve said before have been the only things that preserved Jewish cultural and religious existence in post-Second Temple times, they have removed almost everything that comprises historic and modern Judaism, and that tells a Jew what it is to be a Jew.

(I’m not making this up. For an excellent illustration of the meaning of Oral Law, tradition, and Talmud to the Jewish lifestyle, read Rabbi Daniel Gordis’ book God Was Not in the Fire)

I know I’m going to be criticized for yet another one of my opinions, but like the proverbial baseball umpire, “I calls ’em as I sees ’em.” I continue to be grieved that my wife no longer recognizes Jesus Christ as the “hidden” Messiah who will one day be revealed to Israel, but I cannot behave toward her as have countless generations of Christians across the long march of history, and demand that she stop being Jewish, even in the smallest detail, for the sake of worshiping a Messiah most of Judaism disregards. I do however, continue to pray that this is not the end of her story or the final destination of her path, and that there is a milepost up ahead, or an unseen bend in the trail, where she will one day be reunited with the “Maggid of Natzaret.”

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness 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 banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” –Romans 11:25-27 (ESV)

Defining Judaism: A Simple Commentary

Talmud StudyWe find on today’s amud that one who is called up to the Torah has to have heard at least three verses—two if three is impractical—for his aliyah to count.

Someone once presented Rav Moshe Feinstein with a very common concern. He asked, “What if someone failed to hear some words of the Torah reading? Did he discharge his obligation if he missed a few? Many great scholars and tzaddikim were very careful and would make up any word missed by joining another minyan during their reading. But perhaps such stories are not because of any halachic obligation. Maybe they are merely a stringency?”

Rav Moshe ruled decisively, “It is obvious that one should not skip even one word of the reading if it is at all possible. Post facto, if one skipped and it was a day where we lain three verses, on the surface it would appear as though one does discharge his obligation. It is not permitted to read less than three verses. Since the person in question did not hear the minimum, he did not discharge his obligation. This is no different than the case of one who was called up to the Torah and they did not lain three verses—he also did not discharge his obligation if he did not hear the minimum number of verses.

Rav Moshe concluded, “If the reading contains more than three verses and he heard three he discharges his obligation with this aliyah, and if he heard another two aliyos he has fulfilled his obligation. Of course, on Shabbos and Yom Tov one has the problem that if he missed a part of the reading he will not merit to finish the public reading of the Torah for that year. However, in such a case one often has no recourse since he cannot have them repeat the reading only for him!”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“The Minimum”
Siman 137, Seif 5-6

Recently Dan Benzvi on his blog Fellow Heirs challenged me to discuss the relationship between the Torah, Oral Law, and the Talmud in his blog post The oral Torah. Authority of God or man. I’m not sure we “solved” anything, but at least we got the opportunity to (again) air our different perspectives on the matter.

Dan really does bring up some good questions, though. Can we believe that everything in the Mishnah and all of the rulings in the Talmud are indeed directly tied to the oral Laws God gave Moses at Sinai (assuming you believe that event actually took place) and that a Jew must obey all of the relevant Rabbinic rulings?

Take a look at the example I posted above from Mishna Berura Yomi Digest. There’s nothing in our written Bible that lends itself to describing the traditional Jewish Torah readings in anywhere near this level of detail. Can we believe that God gave these specific details to Moses? If so, why is there a question here? If not, then where did these questions and answers come from and why are they considered binding in Judaism?

If you’re a (non-Jewish) Christian, this entire discussion is moot. People who aren’t Jewish aren’t considered bound by any of the Rabbinic judgments under any circumstances, so we don’t have to give all this a second thought. But what about if you’re Jewish, and especially if you’re a believer (i.e. a “Christian” or a “Messianic Jew”)? If it’s not in the written Bible we have with us today but rather, in the extended Jewish documented wisdom, does it really matter?

Indeed, the Mishnah contains not a hint about what its authors conceive their work to be. Is it a law code? Is it a schoolbook? Since it makes statements describing what people should and should not do, or rather, do and do not do, we might suppose it is a law code. Since, as we shall see in a moment, it covers topics of both practical and theoretical interest, we might suppose it is a schoolbook. But the Mishnah never expresses a hint about the authors’ intent. The reason is that the authors do what they must to efface all traces not only of individuality but also of their own participation in the formation of the document. So it is not only a letter from utopia to whom it may concern. It also is a letter written by no one person – nor by a committee, either. Nor should we fail to notice, even at the outset, that while the Mishnah clearly addresses Israel, the Jewish people, it is remarkably indifferent to the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Mishnah makes no effort at imitating the Hebrew of the Hebrew Bible, as do the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Mishnah does not attribute its sayings to biblical heroes, prophets or holymen, as do the writings of the pseudepigraphs of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Mishnah does not claim to emerge from a fresh encounter with God through revelation, as is not uncommon in Israelite writings of the preceding four hundred years; the Holy Spirit is not alleged to speak here. So all the devices by which other Israelite writers gain credence for their messages are ignored. Perhaps the authority of the Mishnah was self-evident to its authors. But, self-evident or not, the authors in no way take the trouble to explain their document’s audience why people should conform to the descriptive statements contained in their holy book.

from the introduction to
The Mishnah: A New Translation
by Jacob Neusner

Talmud Study by LamplightThat description of the Mishnah is fairly similar to others I’ve read from various sources such as The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, edited by Charlotte Fonrobert and Martin Jaffee. But given all of that, what can we say about Mishnah, Talmud, and Gemara?

I’m not particularly qualified to respond, not being a scholar in Jewish studies or anything related, but from what I gather, it’s extremely important to Judaism that these texts, opinions, commentaries, and judgments do exist. Here’s why.

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. and the subsequent eviction of most of the Jews from the Holy Land, what existed to define Judaism? Prior to this point, it was always the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Even in the times between the Temples of Solomon and Herod, it was the ideal of the Temple and the Torah that, more than anything else, defined Jewish identity in exile. The longing for the Jewish people was always the return to Israel, both as nation and paradigm, and to worship again “as in days of old and as in previous years” (Malachi 3:4).

With the Second Temple reduced to scorched and shattered rubble, and the vast majority of the Jewish people exiled to the diaspora, what was to prevent the eventual assimilation of the Jews into the nations surrounding them and outnumbering them?

Judaism was always about being distinctive, as the scripture says, “and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:8 [ESV]). All of the laws we see given to the Israelites in the Torah were designed to impact every area of their lives, serving as national constitution, penal and civil law, business ethics, social mores, and even personal and behavioral guides. In virtually every way, the nation of Israel was to stand out and stand apart from the nations of the world, primarily to lead its inhabitants to a holy life with God, but also to be a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 51:4), leading the world to God by example.

But a huge amount of the Torah laws apply only if you have a Temple, a functional priesthood, a system of courts including the Sanhedrin, and live within the geographic boundaries of the Land God gave in perpetuity to the Jewish people.

The Romans took all of that away, and then subsequent conquerors kept the Land and national self-rule from the Jews for the next 2,000 years.

Why didn’t the Jewish people assimilate and disappear into the pages of history? Many, many other people groups and religious traditions from that time have utterly vanished from our view. Why did the Jews, though extremely small in number, remain a people vitally alive with purpose and function; with faith and identity?

What do you think of when you think of a religious Jew?

The stereotypes some people have are guys in black hats and coats, wearing some sort of string off of their waistline, having large, bushy beards, and bowing over and over again when they pray. Some people think of “Jewish prayer shawls and prayer books” while others think of events such as Passover or Chanukah. Whatever religious stereotypes seem to identify the Jews, the activities are almost always different than any other people group in the world. Jews worship in different places than anyone else, pray differently, pray in a different language than anyone else, wear different clothes (at least sometimes), have different holidays, eat differently, sing differently and…well, you get the idea.

I can hardly say that the Mishnah and Talmud are direct representations of the “Oral Law” that goes back over 3,500 years to Moses and God on Sinai, especially given the description (or lack thereof) of the origins of the Mishnah. What I can say, is that what the Jews have as “people of the book”, are a set of laws and rulings that set them apart from any other nation and group on earth, and that has defined them and kept them and preserved them when everyone else was doing their best to completely annihilate the Jewish people.

No, I’m not denying God’s involvement in the preservation of Judaism and in fact, I’m counting on it. As God went down into Egypt with Jacob (Genesis 46:3-4), so too did He go into the death camps with the Jews during the Holocaust. So too did he go with the Jews into the newly created state of Israel and He is there with them now.

But in a very great way, one of the primary mechanisms that has maintained Judaism as Judaism for the past twenty centuries has been the Talmud. It has now taken on the status of “Holy” among the Jews, especially the Orthodox, and it has many critics, including within more liberal religious and secular Judaism. But without it, would there be a man or woman alive today that we could point to and know he or she is a Jew?

You can love the Talmud or you can hate it, but if you are a Jew, no matter who you are, you cannot dismiss its existence or its role in preserving your existence.

As an afterword, I want to apologize to all of the Jewish people reading this. I’m not trying to pass myself off as some sort of expert (I’m anything but an expert on Judaism) or to co-opt anything belonging to Judaism. I am just presenting the perspective of one Christian writer on why I think the Talmud is not just important, but historically vital for the existence of the Jewish people. Please keep that in mind when or if you decide to comment.