Contact Us

Is It Really the Torah, Or Is It Just the Rabbis?

Is It Really the Torah, Or Is It Just the Rabbis?

 Email

Question:

I believe in my heart that the Five Books of Moses and the Prophets are from G‑d. When it comes to the Talmud, however, I am beginning to believe it was made up over the centuries to control the Jewish believer with all its added laws. The rabbis add scores of laws to each of the 613 commandment and you end up having to obey all kinds of things that were never part of Judasim when it all started.

I guess what I’m saying is that although we claim to believe in the Bible, in reality we are controlled by a small group of old men and their Talmud.

Answer:

I appreciate your concern, since this is the trap institutionalized religions have fallen into time and time again: It starts off with a lot of good ideas, and then come along a priestly cult to hijack those ideas for their own benefit.

The question is, does Judaism include some mechanism to avoid this trap? If, as we say, the Torah is truly a Divine document, you would expect it to foresee all obstacles to its own survival—including this one—and to include some safeguard to prevent it from happening.

The answer, it seems to me, is that this is why G‑d chose Moses, of all men, to be the agent by which Torah would enter earth-space.

Moses was the first populist civil rights leader. Already at a young age, he demonstrated his contempt for abuse of power when he struck and killed an Egyptian taskmaster. He was well aware of the dangers of a hierarchical religious cult, familiar as he was with the priestly cult of ancient Egypt. He cared for the people and empathized with them—so much so, that he even took G‑d Himself to task in Egypt, demanding, “Why have you done evil to this people? Why did you send me?” More than his wisdom, more than his courage, it was this trait of Moses that made him a faithful shepherd of his people. And for this, he was chosen to bring Torah to them.

Moses, the Populist

They say that a prophet hears the voice of G‑d speaking in his own voice.1 In the story of the Exodus and the giving of the Torah, we see how G‑d works with Moses in accordance with Moses’ own style.

Other prophets came and told the people, “This is what G‑d told me. Trust me.” G‑d tells Moses to gather all the people at the foot of Mount Sinai, to hear for themselves the revelation that he hears. When the people complain that they cannot bear such revelation—”You go find out what He wants and tell us”—Moses is sincerely disappointed. G‑d must console him, telling him that this is good, that they should be in such awe—and all Moses has to do is to tell them what G‑d wants and they will do it.

But Moses is not satisfied with that. When he teaches the people—we’re told that all the people participated—he does it publicly, repeatedly, disclosing everything he hears and explaining in further detail. He tells them to teach it to one another and to their children, to speak of it, “when you sit in your house and when you go on the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” He asks the people to bring to him those that they choose as their judges, from the people and of the people, who will judge each case according to the law he has taught them.2 He even urges each person to write down the entire law for himself, so that he can study from it and know it well.

Typical of the Moses approach is the book of Leviticus. Leviticus may be Moses’ most radical productIn Ancient Egypt, the priesthood was an occult, with mysterious rituals and secret knowledge. In Leviticus, that scheme is deliberately overturned. Everything is spelled out in black and white for every Jew to read. The initiation ceremonies are performed before the entire community. The punishments due to the priestly class for improper performance of their duties is spelled out clearly. Any five-year-old would be able to yell out, “Hey, that kohen didn’t sprinkle the blood the way it says in the Torah!” The priests of any society throughout history would have considered this ludicrous and self-defeating. But this was G‑d speaking through Moses the populist, restructuring society.

Pop-Culture

Similarly, with all the legislation of Torah: Moses commands the people again and again to learn all these laws and to know them well. He tells them to write them down and study from the written word. And so, the Jewish people became the first literate society in history—and remained such until the advent of popular literacy in the modern era.

A fascinating tidbit of history: We know that the ancient Egyptians had a sophisticated system of writing, known to us as hieroglyphics, using graphic symbols to represent words and phrases. So complex was their system—using over 2,000 distinct glyphs—that only the initiated few were able to decipher the meanings. Phonetic writing, representing the sounds of the words individually—with only 22 letters—appears first in Canaan. When it spread, it revolutionized culture and thought by making the written word accessible to the general populace. All of the hundreds of historical phonetic alphabets, including our present day alphabet, can easily be traced back to that original aleph-bet. There’s even a vestigial remnant—the letter “Q”, which is useless in Latin and Greek, but represents the Semitic guttural “Quf” (originally made deep in the throat).

What’s not so well known is that the Egyptian hieroglyphs also comprised a complete set of 24 consonants, quite similar to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. To us, in retrospect, it seems quite puzzling: What prevented them from making the logical step of rejecting all those esoteric symbols and reducing their printing needs to a small and simple set?

To us, a bewildering puzzle. To Pharaoh’s priests, however, it is the question that would be most bewildering: “Why on earth,” they would retort, “would we want to make our hidden code more accessible?”

As the great anthropologist, Claude Levi Strauss, writes, ancient writing’s main function was, “to facilitate the enslavement of other human beings.”

To take that great step needed not a genius but a revolutionary. When Moses transmitted G‑d’s message to his people that they were to be “a nation of priests” and committed the Torah to phonetic writing, he was creating the most significant watershed event in the history of populism: The flattening of the hierarchy of knowledge with the advent of public education and literacy.

Everyone a Moses

If he had stopped there, Moses would without a doubt have been the greatest social revolutionary of all time. But he didn’t. It wasn’t enough for Moses that all Jews be educated. He wanted them to be participants as well, everyone involved in the debate. That’s why he deliberately devised an institution of Torah study and debate, to circumvent just those issues you mention.

Moses wanted more than education. He wanted participation.

Moses didn’t have to go this far. He could have written the book, handed it to his brothers, the Levites, and told them to ensure the masses follow the law. Perhaps the common people would read it as well, even write each man his own copy. But they would read it only as one reads a holy incantation, a script to follow, a path to walk down straightly, without stopping to examine its cobblestones. He could have preserved the hierarchy: The law comes from Above, and the people receive it below.

And what if some new circumstance would arise, the solution for which could not be found in this written Torah? Once again, Moses would have to go to the Divine Authority and ask—as he did in several instances. When he saw that his time of passing was near, he could have appointed his children and confidants to discuss among themselves any difficulties that would arise and issue new rulings in accordance with what he had been taught.

Sure, G‑d told him to teach the people, to ensure that they knew the dos and do nots. But who says he had to empower them to decide new laws, and to incite them to discuss and debate? He could have claimed that this way, the law would remain pure and intact, as received, the Divine Word from Above.

But Moses knew that was a lie. He knew that knowledge in the hands of a minority corrupts both the minority and the knowledge. He knew that truth is only truth when it can sprout forth from the grassroots of the populace. So he urged his people not just to learn the rules, but to debate and discuss, to dig deep into the details and nuances of every word and to find there new meanings, new applications, new wonders of G‑d’s infinite wisdom and its relevance at every time. He taught them the way of the Talmud.

This what Rabbi Yossi, son of Rabbi Chanina, explained.3 He said that in truth, G‑d only gave the Torah to Moses and his descendants. After all, when G‑d told Moses to write the second tablets, He told him, “Write for yourself two tablets of stone…”.

The other rabbis argued with Rabbi Yossi, “But didn’t G‑d tell Moses to teach the Torah to all the Children of Israel?”

But what Rabbi Yossi meant was, as I said, that the instructions of the Torah—”do this and don’t do that”—were for all the Jews. But the power to deduce one thing from another, to examine deeply and unfold the inner workings of the Torah—that was meant for Moses and his progeny alone.

But this was Moses, a man who began his career by striking down the taskmaster to rescue the slave. Who, when his disciple Joshua attempted to muzzle “those who prophesied in the camp,” protested, “Would it be that all the people should be prophets!”4 Who, when told by G‑d that the Jewish nation, having sinned with the golden calf, would have to be erased and rebuilt from Moses’ own progeny, replied, “If this is the way Your story goes, you can erase me from the script!”5 Moses, who smashed the tablets of G‑d to save his people.6

So what did Moses do? He determined that every Jew should be his progeny—just as he had brought every Jew to hear G‑d at Mount Sinai to hear what he heard. They would not only hear the voice, they would participate in knowing it, in resonating with it and in amplifying it further.

In effect, Moses deemed that the collective consciousness of the Jewish nation should be Moses, through whom G‑d’s voice is heard.

Moses and Rabbi Akiva

Moses’ dream was perhaps best realized in a much later leader of popular revolution, a man also from the people and of the people: The famed Rabbi Akiva, a man of humble beginnings who lived his life by humble means, and stood behind the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans. Rabbi Akiva, when making a crucial decision would take serious account of popular custom, saying, “Let’s go out and see what the people do.”

The Talmud illustrates the relationship of Rabbi Akiva to Moses in the form of a story7:

They told that when Moses went above to receive the Torah, he found the Holy One, blessed be He, sitting and attaching crowns to the letters. (Of course, G‑d doesn’t sit, neither does He need to use cut and paste when composing the Torah. Once you get used to the style of the Talmud, you learn to take these things figuratively. But without them, the story is very dry.)

Apparently, Moses didn’t see any need for these crowns. He asked, “Master of the Universe! Who forces You to go to such extremes?”

G‑d answered, “There is a man who will live many generations after you and his name is Akiva, son of Yosef. He will examine every single spike of every letter and draw from them piles upon piles of halachot.”

So Moses asked, “Master of the Universe! Show him to me!”

G‑d replied, “Step backwards.”

And Moses stepped back until he found himself standing in the 18th row of Rabbi Akiva’s class. You see, the students were arranged in this class by order of their understanding. It seems the only thing left after the eighteenth row was out in the hallway.

So Moses stood there and listened—and was unable to follow a thing that was said. He became weak with despair. Until finally, the story tells, a ruling came up for which Rabbi Akiva could provide no source. A student asked of Rabbi Akiva, “Where do you learn this from?”

Rabbi Akiva responded, “This is an oral tradition passed down from Moses.”

By those words, Moses was set at ease.

You see, when Moses heard Rabbi Akiva teaching, he was concerned. How could he know for certain that this was the Torah as he had received it? But once he heard that this man was not one to take credit for himself, but rather to quote in Moses’ name, he understood that Rabbi Akiva’s teachings were pure, unadulterated Torah, the same Torah Moses was to receive, only unfolded and unpacked.8

Pop-Tradition

Back to Moses’ “power to the people” revolution: This populist approach was also the distinction between the Sadducees and Pharisees. The Sadducees were an elite class, removed from the common people, whereas the Pharisees – who later were known as the Chachamim – were well integrated with the working class. Most were working people themselves. This is why, after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Romans saw the Chachamim as the only true spokesmen of the people and chose to deal exclusively with them (see Lawrence Schiffman’s “From Text to Tradition”).

That the Chachamim continued this tradition of populism is evident in the tradition that no greater a scholar than Hillel the Elder earned his living as a woodchopper9. So did Rabbi Akiva10. The tradition was still intact centuries later when Rav Huna, while head of the academy of Sura in Babylonia, earned his livelihood as a water carrier11. Similarly, the Talmud provides accounts of the menial trades and crafts of many other respected rabbis.

Consider the context of the era, when menial labor was considered by Greeks and Romans as odious and degrading. Cicero wrote to his son, “Vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen.12” Members of the Roman upper class were precluded by law to engage in any craft. Work, in their view, was for slaves, not for men. Rabbi Judah the princely leader of the Sanhedrin at that time, on the other hand, taught, “Studying Torah without working will produce nothing and only brings to sin.”13 Indeed, the work ethic extends back to King David himself, “Work with your hands that you may eat, you will be glad and it is good for you.14

So it continued, up until most recent times, that we were an anomaly among the nations. Throughout most of history, whatever bodies of lawmakers we had appointed were not from an elite class, but composed of men active within common society, concerned with the needs of the common man and sympathetic to his plight. Throughout our history, the rabbis were men who struggled with the same poverty, prejudice and persecution as the rest of us.

How To Make a New Law

This social dynamic is reflected in the method by which legislation is passed in the Talmud and later. Although complex, we can distinguish three encompassing principles that define what makes new halachic legislation binding:

1. The legislation is passed after discussion and debate by a governing body or appointed individual whose authority has been established by consensus of the people.15 At one time, this body was the Sanhedrin, which was composed of scholars and judges who had been accepted by the people in their particular communities and gradually moved up to the highest authoritative body. The decisions of the Sanhedrin were made by majority rule.

At a later date, this authority became the Gaonim of Babylon. Since the times of the early Rishonim, halachic decisions have been the product of intense discussion and debate between diverse opinions on an international scale. Who debates? Whoever has the knowledge and whits.

2. The legislation must be based on strong precedent. No Jewish court ever said, “Let’s make up a new law today” out of the blue. An educated populace would never accept such a law. Rather, as every student of the Talmud can see, every law is either:

a) a clarification of an ambiguous matter of accepted law

b) a stamp of approval on an accepted custom

c) an establishment of required stringency due to extenuating circumstances

This is all clarified in Maimonides’ introduction to Sefer HaMitzvot, as well as in his introduction to his Commentary on the Mishnah.16

This is the way of the Talmud when dealing with a new circumstance: Plunge the depths of the original text of Moses, examining every nuance, following the principles of exegesis that were passed down to us in his name. Compare every known ruling on similar cases, searching for the reasoning behind each one and seeking a harmony between them. Discuss, debate, build and tear down, until an opinion arises that can be accepted by a majority.

If I can provide my own parallel: The process of devising a new halachah is not much different than the process of good environmental design.Halachah and environmental design have much in common It’s perfectly possible to build a factory in the middle of a forest without adversely impacting the ecology of the wildlife and resources—it just takes a thorough knowledge of the dynamics of that ecology and a desire to leave no footprint behind. Similarly, any decision in halachah can only be enacted after weighing into consideration the entire gamut of pre-existing Jewish law and custom. One can say that halachah grows organically, without grafting or genetic modification.

3. Perhaps most significant: Every new legislation is contingent upon its acceptance by the Jewish community at large. A striking example (real brief): At one point in the history of the Sanhedrin, the Schools of Shammai and Hillel passed several key points of legislation, including a prohibition against using the olive oil of a gentile. They also declared that none of this legislation could ever be overturned. Yet, years later, the Bet Din of Rabbi Judah the Prince overturned their ruling and ruled that this oil was permissible. How were they able to do this? Simply because they saw that the original legislation had never become accepted by the community17.

Similarly, in each community, there are rulings made by the accepted authoritative body of that particular community. Not only do these rulings not apply to another community, but if they are not accepted by the members of that particular community, they are subject to reversal.

And we are not speaking of ignorant masses. In every community, whosoever has the mind to do so is urged to learn the ways of the Talmud from his youth, so he, too, can fathom the rationale of any decision.

Under Divine Authority

In sum, the process of halachah is a populist dynamic, by the people, for the people, yet simultaneously, on the authority of Divine Law.

This is the answer to your question, where do these rabbis get the authority to make such laws to begin with? The answer is that they receive it from three sources: From G‑d, from Moses and from the people.

From G‑d, because the Torah itself provides ample authority to the seventy elders and to the “priests and the wise men who will be in your times” to answer “all that is difficult for you” to the point that “you should not turn from their words to the left nor to the right.”18 (Click here to see those verses in their context.)

From Moses, as we have seen, that he decided those wise men should be from the masses, and that all the people should learn to be wise. It was Moses, after all, who declared that the Torah is no longer in heaven “that you should say, ‘who will go up to heaven and get it for us?’”.19

And from the people, as we have seen, that it is the people who establish these rabbis as their authority, not out of ignorance or apathy or blind faith, but within the context of a literate and educated society.

Finding G‑d in the Details

And here is my vital point: Torah, you see, is not a staid book, nor is it a malleable plastic, but a living organism. An organism adapts, but doesn’t change. As the weather changes and so, too, its environment, the polar bear, the dolphin and the bacterial cell find the keys within their own DNA to cope with the new and survive. Similarly, as the Jewish People travel through the vicissitudes of history, storming every form of culture and society ever known to humankind, they look in the Torah and find, “Yes! Here is the solution for this particular situation. All was foreseen, everything was provided for us, by He by whose word all things come to be.”

For this, the Maharal of Prague provided another parable. He likens our situation to a man who moves into a home built by a master architect. The man finds all in place, in exquisite design and order. Yet, in one place, it seems a door is missing. There is a lintel, there are doorposts, even hinges in place. Within is a room that needs to be shut off from the rest of the house. So the man fashions a door, in accordance with every other door in the house, to match the fittings of the open doorway.

So, too, says the Maharal, when the story of Esther occurred and the rabbis established the festival of Purim; when merchants began to trade on the Shabbat and the rabbis established the laws of muktzah; when Jewish society became primarily mercantile and the rabbis established the pruzbul. And in our day, as we deal in medical halachah and supervision of the food industry—at each step along the way, we find the lintel, the doorposts and the hinges awaiting our finishing touches.

And whose door are we placing? Not our own, says the Maharal, but that of the Master Architect. For all is His design, only that He has provided us the privilege of being His partner in completing His world.

This was precisely Moses’ intent: That Torah should come from within, not from without, from below, not from above. He recognized that, even though he had not been Divinely instructed so, this was the true intent. It’s just that you can’t direct a populist revolution from above, so it had to come from Moses himself.

That is why what we do is called Judaism—and not “Scripturalism” or “Torahism” (there was such a movement, called Karaism). Judaism believes in the Jews, meaning, in the Torah that is revealed through the Jewish People. Because G‑d relies upon our communal understanding through history to unfold His wisdom in the world. He knows that if He tells us, “an eye for an eye,” we will understand from the context that He really meant monetary compensation. He knows that if He tells us to study Torah, we will read it in public three times a week and dance with it at the end of the cycle. He looks at those stringencies and customs of ours and says, “Yes! They got the idea!” He sees our collective consciousness not as an obstacle to His wisdom, but rather as its conduit, since, as the Zohar teaches, “no place is void of him”—not even the human mind.

Further reading: See Likutei Sichot vol. 19, pp.252–255; Sefer Hasichot, 5752 vol. 2, pp. 504–510.

Footnotes
1.

See Rabbi Chaim Vital, Shaar HaNevua.

3.

Talmud, Nedarim 38a.

6.

See Rashi to Exodus 34:1

7.

Menachot 29b.

8.

See Rashi ad loc.

9.

According to the version of Yoma 35 cited in the Kessef Mishna, as well as the commentary of Maimonides to Avot 4:5.

10.

Avot D’Rabbi Nathan, 6.

11.

Ketubot 105a.

12.

On Duties, 1:151.

13.

Avot 2:2.

15.

See Maimonides, Laws of the Sanhedrin, chapters 1–2.

16.

The Letter of Rabbi Sherira Gaon is also an important document in understanding the formation of halachah. Those interested in understanding further are urged to read the popular work, “The Essential Talmud” by Adin Steinsaltz.

17.

Avoda Zara 36a.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
54 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Guy September 10, 2016

A democratic republic Hello rabbi, after reading your answer, I think the process shouldn't be called "populist", but a"democratic republican" one.
My basis for this assumption is that according to my understanding, every ruling in every generation, can make decisions by majority of voices, whether judges or the community, but at the end of the day they all based their rulings and decisions on the Torah, and that gives us the classic explanation of what a republic is.
While the majority gets to decide in most cases, if there is a decision that goes against the Torah and GD, it cannot pass, thus conserving GD as the ruler and its divine law, and not making the majority a GD, like in ancient Greece.
Please correct me if I'm wrong, thank you. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel November 14, 2015

Milk and Meat and Updated Mishnah 1. The milk and meat avoidance rule does not apply to waste materials thrown away together. So presumably it is forbidden to eat them but not to mix them in other circumstances. This is not covered in the Torah--strange. Can anybody explain?
2. Many of the oral laws from the Mishnah and Talmud are applicable to past times but seriously need rewriting for today's different social conditions. Yet there are no regularly re-issued Mishnah-Torahs and no new Talmudim being revised and edited. We don't seem to have a rabbinical authority with sufficient power to do this. Hope I am wrong, but I would like to see a serious way for our faith to be modernized in a logical and correct way. Reply

Irena West Hills via chabadofwesthills.com May 19, 2015

Giordano, well said. I completely agree. What upsets me is how it has resulted in dividing us Jews from one another. Reply

Giordano London May 17, 2015

Reference to the law regarding boiling a kid in its mother's milk, it seems that from this law, which has an ethical dimension, there has developed the ruling that meat and milk shall not be mixed on any account. However, this has led to incidents where
people have accidentally broken the law because of the complexity of the 'fencing'. If the law was left as it was originally written, and not unnecessarily extrapolated, then frum Jews wouldn't get into such a muddle. Again, we are told that these laws were meant to be simple…any man can grasp them. Yet the Chassidic world today is far from that regrettably. Reply

Patrick FL September 17, 2014

Michael 1. There are several places in scripture which negate both the need for an oral tradition and the possibility that one was handed down from Moses. Deut. 30:11-14 and Joshua 8:34-35

2. Part of the problem is that languages change over time. Many words in the Tanakh are unknown because they were only used once. Most can be guessed at by context, or by the root words that make them. I do not know of any that affect the overall message or even any direct commands that we are to follow today. Reply

Tzvi Freeman September 15, 2014

To Irena, Patrick, Shel, etc. Torah is a living, breathing and growing tradition. It began as a seed planted in the fertile earth of the children of Israel, and all that has grown from that seed remains deeply rooted in the original text and tradition as it was received by Moses.

Those protesting would do well to read the document first and attempt to implement it in their daily lives. I would like to see how you fulfill "no man shall move from his place on the Sabbath day." How do you make your daily offerings? Have you stoned a rebellious child to death lately? Have you avoided sitting on the chair of a menstruating woman? Why do you pray in the synagogue? Do you forego the holidays of Purim and Chanukah?

Implementing Torah today directly from the text would put us not so distant from the militant muslims currently destroying the world.

Torah is a tree of life and the Jewish People are alive. This is not a Chabad doctrine, it has been the doctrine of normative Judaism since Torah was first given. Reply

Tzvi Freeman September 12, 2014

For Irena I am very surprised that you attribute this way of thinking to Chabad specifically, and that you consider it blasphemous. Jews have considered the Mishnah and the Talmud and associated works to be Torah for many hundreds of years. This is normative Judaism.

Of course, as I have written, everything that is in the Talmud grows directly and organically out of the Torah of Moses. But the Torah of Moses is a living breathing teaching, "a tree of life for all who cling to it." I don't think you want to go back to marrying off your daughter at age eleven, or enslaving conquered peoples, or stoning those who break the Sabbath. Reply

Michael Houston, TX September 12, 2014

Part 2 There are many instances in the written Torah of vague and seemingly ambiguous verses. These verses necessitate interpretation. The forum doesn't allow me to post links but there are a few which are very well constructed. Maybe you can do a search for the following?

There is a video by Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen called "A Rational Approach to the Divinity of the Oral Tradition". Another resource is The Oral Law by Gil Student. Gil's essay includes verses which without the Oral Law have no rational explanation (or are so ambiguous any number of things could be meant).

If the (written) Torah is perfect, G-d's written word instructing us on how we are to conduct ourselves and what is required of us, why would there be a single vague and ambiguous verse?

Good Shabbos! Reply

Michael Houston, TX September 12, 2014

Part 1 Patrick and Irena, your understanding of the verses Patrick quoted already include the bias that there is no oral law/tradition. "Do not add or subtract from (from what I command)" by your understanding excludes an oral interpretation of the laws. But there is nothing in the verses referenced (or anywhere else in Torah) that preclude an oral interpretation of the laws. To put it simply, how do you know Moshe wasn't referring to the written AND oral Torah?

I think it's very important to define what the oral law is, and what it is not. It is an interpretation and expounding on the text of the Torah through an oral tradition which further explains Torah laws. It is not an additional set of laws aside from those in the written Torah. While there may be fences created so we don't (knowingly or unknowingly) transgress the laws, the fences are not new laws. Reply

Irena West Hills via chabadofwesthills.com September 8, 2014

Patrick, well said. Moses said repeatedly "do not add nor detract from the law I give you" and "this law is not so difficult that you need another to go far and bring explanations down to you". I respect Chabad always providing a place to celebrate Shabbat and holidays, money or lack thereof, not getting in the way. However, I have come to understand that they worship the writings of rabbis of the past 2,000 years and call their writings Torah, which is blasphemous, rather than the divine writings of Moses and the worship of God. Their expanded rules to Judaic rituals and law has accomplished only one thing: separation of us Jews. Reply

Patrick Florida September 8, 2014

Sarah on July 8 The only place that has a command to erect fences is the talmud. In Deuteronomy, there are two verses saying the opposite.
Deut. 4:2, 12:32

Do we really need the talmud to understand the scriptures? Not according to Moses in Deuteronomy 30:11-14.

As for the 'kid and mother's milk'; I had always heard that this was commanded because it was a pagan tradition of one or more nations around Israel. After all, Israel had a habit of picking up bad habits from others. There is an article by Jacob Milgrom about it online, but I will not give the URL due to the posting guidelines here. Reply

Shel Haas USA September 6, 2014

Rabbi Freeman omits the other rabbis who were opponents of Rabbi Akiva and time has proved they were right and he was wrong. Remember, he was but one of five!
His story evolved sympathy and his followers today put study above service to their homeland. His rabbinical foes stressed service then study as did the great Maimonides. The rabbis had the audacity to make up the Days of Awe, a different New Year's Day, and even recognized the scroll of Deuteronomy as given to Moses.
The matters stated on the Ten Commandments could not have been written in hieroglyphics. If one reads the text carefully, Moses gave the people the Ten Commandments before God engraved them! Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, MI, USA July 10, 2014

Patrick & R. T Freeman I stand corrected.

Though I have to admit, sometimes the rabbis seem to argue about even inarguable non-issues. I always assumed that sometimes some of them took the part of devil's advocate just so the topic, through argument, would become crystal clear. Reply

Tzvi Freeman July 9, 2014

Correction "Kid in its mother's milk" was never meant to be taken literally, and is a Torah prohibition against cooking any meat with any milk.

The Torah is full of such idioms, which can only be understood by those familiar with the culture and context.

The best evidence that this is so is that the rabbis of the Talmud, who argue about just about everything arguable, are all of one consensus on this interpretation. They argue only whether meat of fowl is included. Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, MI, USA July 8, 2014

Patrick You have it right. The Torah is an instruction manual. It fails as a history book.

You are correct, anyone who has studied knows that the commandment is to not cook an animal in it's mother's milk. We fully admit the rest is fence, known as Rabbinic law.

In other words, nobody thought that G-d didn't know where to stop, "some" people thought he stopped too soon!

But you have missed that there is another commandment to "erect" these fences! So if we violate one of them we are transgressing the commandment of obeying the rabbis! It is a lesser transgression, so if I were forced to eat my choice of pork or cheeseburger, I'd take the burger. Birds are considered meat, even though they don't produce milk. It is another fence. (So I'd rather eat chicken with milk than cheeseburger.)

There were Jews who followed only the written law, Karatites. They died out. The restrictions of Torah without the interpretation of the rabbis made life impossible. Reply

Patrick Florida July 6, 2014

Speed Limit Analogy Looking back at it, my post, and the analogy, were not as clear as I would have liked. I see the Torah as a guide to how we should live. I think parts are purposely vague, to give you freedom to do some things in different ways than others. Whether a fence around the law is onerous or not, it curtails the freedom we have been given to some degree. And, to me at least, putting a fence around Torah means that someone thinks that God doesn't know when to stop.

Look at one of the big fences, that of not eating meat and dairy products together. The original Rabbinic prohibition of separating beef and dairy was expanded several times over the last two millennia to include any meat except possibly fish. As commercial milk cattle and dairy cattle are not even the same breeds anymore, there is no danger of cooking a kid in its mother's milk, so there is no actual law against cooking or eating meat and milk together. Yet how many people keep separate dishes and all the rest for a fence? Reply

Tzvi Freeman July 1, 2014

For Patrick Let me provide a better analogy, since I just drove from Toronto to NY. There's a highway. On one side the cars are going in one direction. On the other side, they're going the opposite direction. Thank G-d, the engineers had the sense to put a divider between them so that at night, or after 8 hours of driving, I don't wander accidentally into the other lane.

The rabbinical fences are there as a protection. If someone accidentally breaks one of them, there's no fee to pay or punishment to mete out. But you are obligated to learn them, and that could save you from crashing into something you would rather miss. Reply

Sarah Masha WB, MI, USA June 24, 2014

Patrick In your analogy you make clear that the driver of the car is caught off guard because s/he didn't know the rules had been changed. You also wrote that the driver was given a ticket, seemingly the same as if s/he had gone over the limit.

However, the fences are as well published as the Torah law, so there are no surprises. And we do study which part is law (from the Torah) and which is the fence. The punishments for disobeying the Torah law are much more severe than the Rabbinic law. The analogy would be that the ticket this driver would be given is $20.00, but if s/he had gone over the old limit it would have been $100.00. And in Torah law there are allowances made for one who does not know the law, as opposed to the civil system where ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

If you are wondering: If you must violate a law, knowing where Torah law ends and Rabbinic begins, you can try to violate only Rabbinic fences, thereby avoiding the more strict results. Reply

Michelle Weizmann Alabama June 24, 2014

I'm Curious I wonder what the Talmud might be like today if it had remained oral? I mean considering the fact that humans are notorious for exaggerations...leaving information out...making mistakes either accidentally or intentionally...or just making things up that are completely untrue. I will not deny that I do find commentaries to be useful at times...e.g. "...When the prohibitions become too onerous people may disregard them and come to disregard the basic intent of the law itself. 'Make a fence too high and it may fall and destroy what it was meant to protect.' (Genesis Rabbah 19.3)" -Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary Reply

Patrick Florida June 14, 2014

Answer to Michael in Houston If you make fences for yourself, no problem. It is when you, or anyone else, make fences for others that it becomes a problem. What would you think if the following happened to you?

You are driving to the store, using the road you always use. The speed limit is 55 mph, and your cruise control is set at 53. Halfway there, you see blue lights in your mirror. When all is said and done, you get a ticket for speeding. In order to keep people from going too fast, they have begun to ticket anyone driving within 3 mph of the maximum speed limit.

That is why a fence around the law is wrong. Reply

Related Topics