‘OK. So Jesus can be the Saviour for the Christians if you like, but we Jews have
their own way to God. You go to the middle man, we go straight to the boss!’ This
is a common response to the kind of argument presented so far on this website. As
far as Judaism is concerned there is no need for a Mediator, because God reveals
himself directly to Israel through the Torah.
‘Torah is the mysterious bridge which connects the Jew and God, across which they
interact and communicate, and by means of which God fulfils his covenant with his
people to sustain them and protect them.’ (1)
So says Rabbi Shraga Simmons in an article on the Aish website about Shavuoth, the
Jewish festival of Pentecost, which according to Judaism commemorates the time when
God gave the Torah to Israel. He also tells us that:
At Mount Sinai when the Torah was given, the entire Jewish nation - 3 million men,
women and children – ‘directly experienced divine revelation’.
In addition to the written Torah God gave the Oral Torah, which in fact preceded
the written Torah.
One reason why dairy foods are eaten at Shavuoth is found in the Biblical book Song
of Songs (4:11) which refers to the sweet nourishing value of Torah by saying: ‘It
drips from your lips, like honey and milk under your tongue.’
On the night of Shavuoth it is a widespread custom to stay up all night learning
Torah. And since Torah is the way to self-perfection, the Shavuoth night learning
is called Tikkun Leil Shavuoth, which means ‘an act of self-perfection on the night
of Shavuoth.’ (1)
Let us examine these statements.
Direct revelation or divine mediation?
Did the entire Jewish nation ‘directly experience divine revelation’? Rabbi Simmons
bases this claim on this verse from Deuteronomy:
God spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you were hearing the sound of words,
but you were not seeing a form, only a sound. He told you of his covenant, instructing
you to keep the Ten Commandments, and he inscribed them on two stone tablets. Deuteronomy
However the following verse shows that Moses was the mediator through whom God gave
the Torah to Israel:
And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that
you might observe them in the land which you cross over to possess. Deuteronomy
This section of Deuteronomy retells the events that took place 40 years earlier at
Sinai for the benefit of the generation that survived the 40 years of wandering in
the wilderness and were about to enter the Promised Land.
In the Exodus account of the Torah actually being given to the generation that came
out of Egypt, the emphasis is on the separation of the people from Mount Sinai and
from the encounter Moses had with the Lord:
‘And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at
the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord
descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the
whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and
became louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him by voice. Then the Lord
came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses
to the top of the mountain. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down and warn the people
lest they break through to gaze at the Lord and many of them perish. … But Moses
said to the Lord, ‘The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai: for you warned us saying,
‘Set bounds around the mountain and consecrate it. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Away!
Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and
the people come up to the Lord, lest he break against them.’ Exodus 19.17-23.
‘Now all the people witnessed the thunderings and the lightning flashes, the sound
of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they trembled
and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, ‘You speak with us and we will hear;
but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’ Exodus 20.18-20.
These passages show that the communication of God’s commandments did not come directly
to Israel but through the chosen mediator, Moses. In fact far from being able to
come ‘straight to the boss’, God denied access into his presence to all but a handful
of chosen and sanctified men. Moses in particular acted as the mediator through
whom God spoke to the rest of the people.
The need for a mediator is even clearer in Leviticus 16 where we read of the elaborate
ritual involving sacrifices made for his own sins and the sins of the people which
the High Priest was required to make before he could enter into the Holy of Holies
to offer sacrifices. The reason for this was that the presence of the Lord dwelt
in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and in the Temple and if the High Priest
failed to make the sacrifices correctly he risked being struck dead on entry into
What about the Oral Torah?
According to Rabbi Simmons the Oral Torah preceded the Written Torah. It is believed
that when God gave the written word to Israel he also gave the Oral Torah, which
was not written down but passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation,
eventually to be codified in the Rabbinic writings known as the Mishna and the Gemara
compiled in the Palestinian Talmud around 400 CE and the Babylonian Talmud around
Rabbi Simmons writes: ‘The Oral Torah is not an interpretation of the Written Torah.
In fact, the Oral Torah preceded the Written Torah. When the Jewish people stood
at Mount Sinai 3,300 years ago, God communicated the 613 commandments, along with
a detailed, practical explanation of how to fulfil them. At that point in time, the
teachings were entirely oral. It wasn’t until 40 years later, just prior to Moses’
death and the Jewish people entering the Land of Israel, that Moses wrote the scroll
of the written Torah (known as the Five Books of Moses) and gave it to the Jewish
Admittedly we do not have any detailed record of how the Torah came to be written
down, but at the same time we have no mention in the Bible of the existence of an
oral Torah separate from the written Torah. Here is something very strange. If
God had given Moses both the written and the oral Torah surely something would have
been mentioned in the written Torah pointing to the existence of this other teaching,
which was necessary to understand the written Torah. But what do we find? Not a
word about it.
In fact we find evidence to the contrary. It is hard to see how Rabbi Simmons can
justify the statement that the oral Torah preceded the written Torah when Exodus
24 says ‘Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. … Then he took the Book of the Covenant
and read in hearing of the people.’ Exodus 24.4-7. According to the text this
happened immediately after Moses came down from the Mountain.
Moreover the Book of Joshua tells us that Joshua (to whom Moses is supposed to have
communicated the unwritten oral Torah) possessed a written word, which he read to
the people of Israel as they entered the Land. This written word contained all that
Moses had passed down:
‘And afterward he (Joshua) read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings,
according to all that is written in the Book of the law. There was not a word of
all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel
with the women, the little ones and the strangers who were living among them.’ Joshua
It is hard to reconcile these verses with the idea of an unwritten oral Torah, which
precedes the written Torah and is equally inspired given by God at Mount Sinai.
In the practice of modern Judaism the oral Torah in the form of the Talmud becomes
equally important or even more important than the word of God in the Bible. If
the Talmud is the word of God that is fine. But if not, then we have a serious problem.
It means that rather than hearing direct from God through his word, Jewish people
have it filtered through human traditions passed down from generation to generation
which obscure its meaning. It means that human tradition and teaching become more
important than the Word of God, exactly the same problem as we have in the Roman
Catholic Church. As a result things are believed to be the will of God which have
no foundation at all in the Bible, but which originate in human teachings which are
given equal weight to the Word of God.
In conversations with Orthodox Jewish people I have found that there are many things
that are commonly believed which actually have little or no foundation in the Bible
and some which actually contradict it. For example the whole elaborate system of
separating milk and meat products is based on a very flimsy foundation in the Bible.
In the London Borough of Barnet where I live there has been great controversy concerning
the setting up of an ‘eruv’ (3), by placing a wire surrounding the Jewish neighbourhoods
of Golders Green, Finchley and Hendon. Within the boundaries of this it is permitted
to carry things or use push chairs on the Sabbath. I can find nothing in the Bible
which suggests that this wire has any significance in the eyes of God.
I have been told by many Orthodox Jews that God offered the Torah to all the nations
of the world and they refused and then he offered it to the Jewish people and they
accepted. The Torah actually states the opposite, that God chose the Jewish people
of his own sovereign will for his purposes to be made known to the earth:
‘For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you
to be a people for himself, as a special treasure above all the peoples on the face
of the earth. The Lord did not set his love on you nor choose you because you were
more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all the peoples;
but because the Lord loves you, and because he would keep his oath which he swore
to your fathers, the Lord your God has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed
you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh King of Egypt.’ Deuteronomy
Placing emphasis on the Talmud also means that Jewish people are discouraged to read
the Bible for themselves and to seek God for its meaning. On one occasion when I
was working as a teacher at the Hasmonean School I was sitting in a classroom during
the lunch hour on my own reading Isaiah in my Bible. An orthodox boy came in and
saw what I was doing and was quite shocked. ‘We would never sit down and read the
Bible like that,’ he said. ‘You have to read it with the commentaries, otherwise
you cannot understand it.’
The Bible is the greatest gift the Jewish people have given to the world. God who
inspired its authors by the Holy Spirit is able to give the interpretation of it
by the same Holy Spirit to those who ask him today.
Is the Torah bitter or sweet?
It is true that the Torah has sweet nourishing value to those who study it. As David
wrote in Psalm 19.7-11:
‘The Law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is
sure making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is
clean enduring forever; the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold yea than much fine gold; sweeter also than
the honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned and in keeping
of them there is great reward.’ See also Psalm 119.
Yet there is another side to the Torah. The people responded to the words, which
Moses had written down and read to them by saying ‘All that the Lord has said we
will do and be obedient (Exodus 24.7)’. Yet not long afterwards they were worshipping
the Golden Calf, causing God to move in judgement against them:
‘And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people and behold it is a stiff-necked
people! Now therefore let me alone that my wrath may burn hot against them and I
may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation. (Exodus 32.9-10)’
Without Moses acting as the mediator on this occasion God would have destroyed the
entire nation as a judgement. Even with Moses’ mediation, 3000 perished as a result
of this sin.
In the summing up of the Torah in Deuteronomy 28, God tells Israel of the blessings
which result from obedience to the Torah as they enter the land, but also warns of
the curses (judgements) which result from disobedience. The last of these is to
be scattered from the land and live ‘with a trembling heart, failing eyes and anguish
of soul’ (Deut 28.65) amongst the Gentile nations. The history of Israel written
in the Bible tells of the outworking of this principle in the blessings in the land
at times of obedience and the judgements following disobedience. The bitter side
of the Torah is to be found in these judgements.
Is the Torah the bridge to God?
The bitter side of the Torah shows us the gulf, which separates us from God. On
the other hand Rabbi Simmons claims that studying Torah all night at the time of
Shavuoth is ‘an act of self-perfection.’
But the Bible shows that no person can reach self-perfection by his own efforts.
In Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 7.20 we read, ‘There is not a just man on the earth who
does good and does not sin.’
Isaiah 64.6 tells us ‘We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses
are like filthy rags; we all fade as the leaf and our iniquities like the wind have
taken us away.’
Human experience testifies to the truth of this and religious people of all faiths
often lead the way in putting people off from believing in God by the gulf between
what they claim for themselves and what they actually do.
One of the accusations brought against Jesus in the quotation from Maimonides in
chapter 4 is that he caused the ‘Torah to be altered.’ Clearly Christians are not
for the most part keeping Jewish festivals and the kosher food laws today. One has
to agree that the New Testament downplays these as being a requirement for believers.
According to Romans 14 it is very much up to individual conscience what a person
does in this regard. Many Jewish believers in Jesus do feel that they should keep
the biblical kosher food laws, however it is clear that the New Testament writers
did not make this an issue which in any way affected a person’s standing with God.
Because the emphasis in the New Testament is on taking the message of Jesus to the
nations of the world it would have been difficult for the Jewish disciples in Jesus
who were doing this to keep the kosher food laws and the Sabbath laws. They had to
mingle with pagan people and eat with them in order to share their message with them.
In Acts 11 we read how Peter was rebuked by the Jerusalem church for eating with
‘uncircumcised men’. This issue was resolved by the Apostolic council in Acts 15
in which it was decided that Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus should not eat food
‘polluted by idols’ or with its blood in it (Acts 15.20), but beyond this no obligation
to eat kosher was placed upon them.
On the other hand the emphasis in Judaism since the fall of the Temple and the dispersion
into the nations has been to keep the Jewish people separate from non Jews in order
to prevent inter marriage and absorption into the predominant Gentile community.
Keeping kosher and the Sabbath has been a major way for Jewish communities in the
Diaspora to keep their identity separate from the mainstream of society.
It can be argued that modern Judaism has missed some major points of the Torah in
its emphasis. I was talking to some ultra Orthodox Jews in Stamford Hill, London,
with a friend who is a Jewish believer in Jesus. The main accusation which came
against my friend was that he did not keep all the kosher food regulations. ‘Do
you eat chometz (food containing leaven) at Pesach (Passover)?’ was the big question
he was asked.
When my friend said he did not keep strictly to the Rabbinic regulations of not eating
leaven during Passover, they blamed his faith in Jesus for what they considered to
be a great sin. This was not really fair, since he did not keep these regulations
before he believed in Jesus. Of course he is not alone in this, as the majority
of Jewish people do not keep all the rules of Orthodox Judaism.
It is also significant that so many of these rules have to do with the kitchen rather
than the whole of life. In particular the rabbinic interpretation of the verse ‘You
shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk’ (Exodus 23.19) has come to mean you
must not eat milk and meat in the same meal or even off the same plates and cutlery.
In context this verse is more likely to be about pagan fertility rituals involving
cooking an animal in its mother’s milk. It is hard to believe the Creator of the
Universe is seriously concerned about whether a tiny minority of people on earth
eat meat off plates which might have a trace of cheese on them, when vast numbers
of people on earth have neither meat nor cheese to eat and no plates to eat off!
The heart of God’s revelation of himself in the Bible is a concern for righteousness
and justice on earth, not minutiae of kitchen regulations, as has become the preoccupation
of many of the rules for living applied by modern Judaism. As we read in Micah 5.8,
‘He has shown you O man what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to
do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’
The prophets reveal that God’s aim for Israel is to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah
49.6) and to declare the difference between the idols of paganism and the one true
God of Israel (Isaiah 45.18-25). The promise to Abraham in Genesis 12.3 is: ‘I will
bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the
families of the earth shall be blessed.’ From the very beginning of choosing Abraham
as the father of the Jewish people God had a purpose that his descendants should
be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.
In Deuteronomy 28.10-13 we read that God promises that if Israel is obedient to the
Lord, ‘Then all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name
of the Lord and they shall be afraid of you. … The Lord will open his good treasure
the heavens to give rain in its season and to bless all the work of your hand. You
shall lend to many nations but you shall not borrow. And the Lord will make you
the head and not the tail; you shall be above and not beneath, if you heed the commandments
of the Lord your God.’
The picture here is of the Gentile nations seeing what God has done for Israel and
receiving blessing from Israel and therefore wanting to know about the God of Israel.
We see that happening in the beginning of the reign of King Solomon, but sadly the
history of Israel since then has been one of decline, ultimately experiencing the
scattering into the Gentile nations as a judgement in accordance with the rest of
the chapter in Deuteronomy 28.15-68.
The professing Christian church too has failed God as outlined in the first chapter
of this book. But however much false Christians have misrepresented their Saviour,
true believers in Jesus have gone into all the world to bring blessing to the nations.
It was Christian missionaries to India, led by William Carey, who campaigned against
the horrible practice of ‘sati’ whereby the widow of a Hindu man who died was burned
alive on his funeral pyre. It was Bible believing Christians like William Wilberforce
and John Newton who fought for the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. Christian
missionaries like David Livingstone brought medicine and education to African tribes
and sought to free them from bondage to witch doctors and superstition. Above all
Bible believing Christians have translated the Bible into the major languages of
the world, as a result of which there are people today from China to South America
who know about Abraham, Moses, David and the Hebrew Prophets as a result of their
faith in Jesus. From the point of view of God, which activities are more important
– not eating meat off a plate which is for milk products only or giving people the
Bible to read and freeing them from slavery?
If we want to be really picky we can show that modern Judaism also fails to keep
a number of commands given in the Torah. It is interesting to read on the Aish website
the list of 613 commandments as recorded and classified by Maimonides. (4) This listing
is taken from his classic compendium of Jewish law, the ‘Mishneh Torah.’ Numbers
301 to 442 are all to do with the Temple and sacrifices and cannot be kept literally
by anyone today. In defence of this it is argued that if the Temple did stand the
sacrifices would be kept, but it is clear that a religion has developed which has
no need of these sacrifices and has no Levitical priesthood. Therefore well over
100 of the 613 commandments are not kept by Jewish people anywhere in the world today.
Nor have they been for nearly 2000 years.
According to Rabbinic opinion Numbers 596-8 no longer apply because the nations referred
to have already disappeared. This is just as well because they read: 596 ‘Destroy
the seven Canaanite nations. 597 Not to let any of them remain alive. 598 Wipe
out the descendants of Amalek.’ Numbers 37- 41 as listed on the Aish website are
also rather unfriendly! 37 ‘Not to love the missionary. 38 Not to cease hating the
missionary. 39 Not to save the missionary. 40 Not say anything in his defence. 41
Not to refrain from incriminating him.’
Even leaving these out, the commands which clearly are relevant today are hard if
not impossible to keep. How many people can read the 10 commandments and honestly
say, ‘I have never broken one of these’? Even if we do not steal do we never covet
another person’s possessions, lifestyle or family? If we do then we are breaking
one of the 10 commandments. Who really fulfils the command to love God ‘with all
your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength’ (Deuteronomy 6.5 – number
4 in the 613 commandments)?
It is interesting that on the Aish website the command, ‘You shall love your neighbour
as yourself’ (Leviticus 19.18 - number 13 in the 613 commandments) becomes ‘to love
Jews’ (i.e. not a general command to love your neighbour whoever he / she is, but
only if he / she is Jewish). When we come to the New Testament this was the very
issue which Jesus commented on in his best-known parable, the Good Samaritan (Luke
10.25-37). To interpret the command to love your neighbour as meaning you should
love your fellow Jew is to reduce the God of the Bible to being a tribal deity of
the Jewish people, not the God of the whole world.
If no one is able to keep all of these commandments, those who seek salvation by
this method are left in a state of condemnation. As we have said our failure to
keep God’s commandments shows the gulf, which separates us from God and our need
of a mediator to bridge this gulf. This is why God promised that he would make a
new covenant with the house of Israel, not because he found fault with the old one,
but because of the impossibility of keeping it. Concerning this new covenant we
read in Jeremiah:
‘Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with
the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that
I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out
of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,
says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law in their minds, and write it
on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people. No more shall
every man teach his neighbour and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’,
for they shall all know me from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the
Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.’
The New Covenant.
According to this passage the new covenant offers forgiveness of sin, knowledge of
God in a personal way and having God’s law written on the heart. This will replace
the covenant given at Sinai as the means by which God relates to humanity (i.e. the
bridge to God). When Jesus took the bread and the wine on the eve of Pesach (Passover)
he described the cup containing the wine as ‘the new covenant in my blood which is
shed for you (Luke 22.20).’ In doing this he reinterpreted the familiar symbols,
which speak of the Exodus from physical slavery in Egypt applying them to himself
as the Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. He brings about our Exodus
from spiritual slavery in a world, which has fallen from God’s commandments and is
in bondage to sin.
In his letter to believers in Messiah, living in Galatia, Paul described the Torah
as ‘our tutor to bring us to Messiah, that we might be justified by faith’ (Galatians
3.24). By this he meant that the Torah shows us that we cannot achieve ‘self perfection’
and that there is a huge gulf between what God requires and what we achieve. It
was for this reason that I turned to the Messiah on January 1st 1970 when I realised
that I had broken God’s commandments and was under his judgement.
The Torah shows us that we all fall short of the glory of God and need to be made
right with God by repentance and faith in the sacrifice God has appointed. Under
the old covenant this was through the blood of the animals offered on Yom Kippur.
Under the new covenant it is through the blood of the Messiah. In this way Messiah
Jesus becomes our bridge to God, fulfilling His word, ‘I am the way and the truth
and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me (John 14.6).’
When speaking to a learned rabbi of his day, Nicodemus, Yeshua said that in order
to enter into this new covenant ‘You must be born again’ (John 3.7) – not physically
but spiritually, an experience also prophesied in Ezekiel:
‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will take the heart
of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within
you and cause you to walk in my judgements and you will keep my judgements and do
them (Ezekiel 36.26-7).’
Just as the covenant at Sinai had to be mediated through God’s chosen servant, Moses,
so the new covenant had to be mediated through ‘a Prophet like Moses’ (Deuteronomy
18.15-18). Isaiah reveals that this one would be more than a prophet. Although
he would be born as a child, ‘His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty
God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9.6).
As we have seen in chapter 6, Isaiah went on to describe how this anointed Servant
of the Lord would be put to death for the sins of the people: ‘All we like sheep
have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on
him the iniquity of us all. … For he was cut off from the land of the living; for
the transgression of my people he was stricken (Isaiah 53.6, 8).’
Yeshua, Jesus, is the Messiah of whom Moses and the Prophets spoke, who has mediated
the new covenant through which we can find the true bridge to God. Through his death
and resurrection he has paid the price required for sin and made it possible for
all humanity, Jewish and Gentile, to come to know God’s forgiveness and eternal life.
Those who truly accept him as Messiah, Saviour and Lord experience the new birth
which Jesus spoke about to Nicodemus which empowers us by the Holy Spirit to walk
in newness of life and gives us the desire to keep his commandments. Although we
remain liable to sin and fall short of the glory of God, the blood Jesus shed is
sufficient to cover our sins and to give us peace with God so that we know that when
we appear before God on the Day of Judgment he will receive us into eternal life
Footnotes: (After reading the footnote click the Back button)
The ABC of Shavuoth. aish.com/holidays/shavuot
What is Oral Torah? Aish ha Torah’s Discovery Seminar. Aish.com
‘Eruv’, a Hebrew word meaning ‘mixture’ is a rabbinic device which permits the relaxation
of prohibitions against carrying objects on the Sabbath outside the home. It involves
putting a boundary around an area which then is considered as an extension. In the
case of the north London eruv a wire has been placed on connected poles to mark out
the area within which Orthodox Jews are permitted to carry objects or push wheelchairs
outside their homes on the Sabbath.