I wonder about how the Orthodox view the fluidity of the Torah and the teachings of the past. Clearly there are aspects of the Torah that have been outdated since it was written, such as stoning etc.

What relevance do such passages have to us today?


The Torah cannot be read like any other book. It is G‑d's wisdom, and thus has infinite levels of depth. There is no word in the Torah that is outdated; as G‑d is above time, so is His wisdom. It is just that different levels become more relevant at different times. While some laws of the Torah are no longer applied literally, their mystical and deeper meanings are still as relevant today as ever.

Let's take the example you gave — stoning.

Today the Jewish court does not stone people for sinning. But the message behind stoning still applies. Even today we are "stoned" by our wrongdoings. The Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) teach that when we sin our heart turns hard and cold like stone. By engaging in evil acts we become desensitised to what's good and right. After repeating a sin a few times, we start to justify it. Soon we feel that it isn't bad at all. When we are criticised for it, we respond with righteous indignation, having convinced ourselves that we are actually acting morally. This is all because we are metaphorically stoned — we are cold and impervious to the voice of our own soul.

On Rosh Hashanah, the sound of the Shofar pierces a hole in the stone blocking our heart, and the layers of indifference start to melt away.

That is the mystical view of the law of stoning in the Torah, and it explains a lot of the evil in the world today.

This is just an example. Every law, story and idea the Torah teaches can be taken literally but also has layers of meaning beyond the surface. It is an exhilarating and inspiring journey to discover how those lessons speak to us today.