- Was there an Oral Torah given at Sinai?
- Chapter 1: Two Torahs – one written and one oral. What does the Tenach say?
- Chapter 2: Arguments from Judaism for the Oral Torah.
- Chapter 3: Is the Oral Law necessary to understand the Written Law?
- Chapter 4: An unbroken chain back to Moses?
- Chapter 5: So where did the Oral Law come from?
- Chapter 6: The Traditions and the New Testament.
Was there an Oral Torah given at Sinai?
- What evidence is there in the Written Torah for the Oral Torah being given to Moses at Sinai?
- Why are there references in the historical books of the Tenach to the Written Torah, but none to the Oral Torah?
- Does the Talmud interpret the Tenach or add new information to it?
- Where did the Oral Torah come from?
- The Pharisees, the traditions of the fathers and the New Testament.
Chapter 1: Two Torahs – one written and one oral. What does the Tenach say?
According to Jewish teaching when Moses received the Torah at Sinai, he also received what is known as the Oral Torah. This was not written down but was transmitted by Moses in spoken form and then passed on orally from teacher to student in an unbroken chain that is said to lead back to Moses. The Tractate Avot 10.1 states: ‘Moses received this law (Oral Law) from Mt Sinai and delivered it to Joshua, Joshua to the elders (the judges), the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the Great Synagogue (the sopherim / scribes in the time of Ezra).’ This means that from the time of Moses until Rabbi Judah Hanasi began to compile the document called the Mishna (a period of about 1500 years) the Oral Torah was passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation.
In around 200 CE Rabbi Judah Hanasi decided that the time had come to write down the Oral Law. He wrote down what the rabbis remembered of the oral traditions. He put those recollections together, edited them and the result was the Mishna (which means repetition). A commentary on the Mishna was added called the Gemara, the entire compilation being known as the Jerusalem Talmud which was completed in around the year 350. In around 500 CE a second Talmud was completed in Babylonia and was called the Babylonian Talmud.
In his book ‘26 Reasons why Jews don’t believe’ in Jesus page 7, Asher Norman writes: ‘The Torah specifically refers to two Torahs (one written and one oral): ‘These are the Torahs (Hatorot in Hebrew) that the Lord gave at Mount Sinai through Moses.’ The Christian translation strategically mistranslates Torot as ‘laws’ because Christianity does not accept the Mishna (the Oral Torah).’
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan wrote on this subject: ‘In many respects, the Oral Torah is more important than the Written Torah. It is a foundation of our faith to believe that God gave Moses an oral explanation of the Torah along with the written text. This oral tradition is now essentially preserved in the Talmud and Midrashim. We thus speak of two Torahs. There is the Written Torah (Torah SheBiKetav) and the Oral Torah (Torah SheB’Al Peh). Both are alluded to in God’s statement to Moses, “Come up to Me to the mountain, and I will give you… the Torah and the commandments” (Exodus 24:12). http://www.aish.com/jl/b/ol/48943186.html
The Talmud claims that God made His covenant with Israel on the basis of the Written Law and the Oral Law: ‘The Holy One, Blessed be He, did not make His covenant with Israel except by virtue of the Oral Law.’ Gittin 60B.
If this is the case we would expect to find reference to this fact in the written Torah. So does the Tenach give evidence of the existence of an Oral Torah which was in existence from the time of Moses and was used to interpret the Written Torah throughout the history of Israel recorded in the Bible?
If we examine the text we find that there are a number of passages in the Tenach which speak of the words which were written and read to Israel, but none about passages which were unwritten. Consider the following:
‘And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. … Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has said we will do and be obedient.’ Exodus 24.4, 7.
‘Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write these words for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’ Exodus 34.27.
The Book of Leviticus concludes with this verse: ‘These are the commandments which the LORD commanded Moses for the children of Israel on Mount Sinai.’ Leviticus 27.34. This refers to the written words found in the book, not unwritten commands.
At the end of the book of Deuteronomy we read about Moses writing the words of the law and putting it in the Ark of the Covenant, but we find nothing about an Oral Torah. ‘So it was when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book when they were finished that Moses commanded the Levites who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord saying, ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God that it may be a witness against you.’ Deuteronomy 31.24-26.
Joshua was told to meditate on the written book of the law: ‘This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate upon it day and night that you may observe to do all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success.’ Joshua 1.8
The Book of Joshua goes on to tell 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 blessing and the curse, 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, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.” (Josh 8:34-35)
If Joshua read all the words of the law and did not leave out a word of all that Moses commanded, where does that leave the oral Torah? None of these verses in the books of the Torah or in the book of Joshua speak of an unwritten oral Torah, which precedes the written Torah, given by God at Mount Sinai.
Over and over we read in the Tenach about what is written in the Law of Moses. The Written Law was the basis of God’s covenant with Israel. Obedience to the commands contained in the law brought God’s blessing on Israel, disobedience brought His judgement. The following verses in the Tenach bear witness to this: Exodus 24.4-12, Leviticus 26.46, Numbers 36.13, Deuteronomy 17.18-20, 27.2-26, 28.52-62, 29.20-29, 30.8-10, 31.9-13, 24-26, Joshua 1.7-8, 8.31-35, 23.6, 1 Kings 2.1-4, 2 Kings 22.13-16, 23.2-3, 21-25, 1 Chronicles 16.39-40, 2 Chronicles 23.18, 30.5-16, 31.3, 35.12, Ezra 7.1-10, Nehemiah 8.1-18, 10.28-29, Daniel 9.3-13. In not one of these passages and nowhere else in the Bible is there any mention of an Oral Torah.
When the exiles returned from Babylon to Judea, Ezra realised the importance of keeping the commands of the Torah. So he read the Torah to them in order to instruct them in the ways of the Torah so that they would keep its commands:
‘Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.’
He was helped by those who explained the Torah to the people. ‘The Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.’
The reading was completed in eight days: ‘Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner.’ There is no mention here of reading or reciting the Oral Torah. If he simply read the words of the Torah with some instruction being given alongside the reading, this exercise could easily have been completed in eight days. If he had given them the Oral Law which in its Talmudic written form is an immense library of books, eight months or eight years would probably have not been long enough.
Dr Dan Grubner has written: ‘According to the Torah it is the Written Law that comprised God’s covenant with Israel. It is the Written Law that is the guide to proper governance, and the standard by which those who govern will be judged. It is disobedience to the written law that will bring judgement and exile. It is obedience to the written law that will bring restoration. It is the Written Law that is to be taught to future generations. There is no mention of the Oral Law. … If there was an Oral Law given to Moses, Moses never mentioned it, nor did Joshua, Ezra or any other person in the Bible. If it existed it was not part of God’s covenant with Israel. Nor was it relevant to the blessing or judgement of God. No prophet, priest or king either mentions it or demonstrates any concern to know it or obey it. It was not relevant to the governance or required worship of Israel. Nor did it play any part in the instruction of the people or their children. In other words on the basis of what is recorded in the Tenach, there was no Oral Law given by God to Moses at Sinai.’
For a full list of references in the Tenach to the written Torah and an absence of references to the Oral Torah go to the article ‘Tenach and the Oral Torah’ at http://www.elijahnet.net/
Chapter 2: Arguments from Judaism for the Oral Torah.
Dan Grubner’s conclusion that there was no Oral Law given by God to Moses at Sinai conflicts with the teaching of Orthodox Judaism. So it is not surprising that rabbis dispute this and say that there are references to the Oral Torah in the Written Torah.
Maimonides begins his Law Code, the Mishneh Torah, by stating that God gave both the Written and the Oral Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai: ‘Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.’’ Exodus 24.12
On the basis of this verse, Berakoth 5a claims: ‘What is the meaning of this verse: And I will give you the tables of stone, and the law and the commandment, which I have written that you may teach them? ‘Tables of stone’: these are the Ten Commandments; ‘the law’: this is the Pentateuch; ‘the commandment’: this is the Mishna; ‘which I have written’: these are the Prophets and the Hagiographa (i.e. the Writings, the third division of the Tenach); ‘that thou mayest teach them’: this is the Gemara (i.e. the Talmud). It teaches us that all these things were given to Moses at Sinai.’
So not only the Ten Commandments, but also the whole of the Pentateuch, the Mishna, the Prophets and the Writings, and the Talmud were given to Moses at Sinai! This interpretation is far fetched to the point of being impossible to believe. The logical conclusion of it is that that Moses received the whole of the Jewish Bible, the Tenach, at Sinai. So how could Moses have received historical details of events which would take place hundreds of years after this event – for example of the reign of King David, the backsliding of Israel, the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and the exile, the return and rebuilding of the Temple under Ezra and Nehemiah?
In fact Exodus 24.12 refers specifically to the written word: ‘the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.’ Earlier in Exodus 24.4-7 we read, ‘Moses wrote all the words of the Lord …Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has commanded we will do and be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said; ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.’
This passage refers to words which have been written down which were to be the basis of God’s covenant with Israel. There is no reference to an Oral Torah at all here. The only way we can come to this conclusion is if we say that the ‘tablets of stone, the law and commandments’ are referring to different compartments of the Torah, i.e. the written and the oral Torah. But the only authority we have for saying this is the Rabbinic teaching. And still this does not work because the passage speaks of words which were written and rabbinic teaching is that the Oral Law was not written but passed on by word of mouth from one generation to another. So this verse does not refer to the Oral Law.
We are told that we should accept the Rabbinic teaching that this verse shows that the Oral Torah was given at Sinai, because this is the majority opinion of the rabbis. In Rambam’s introduction to the Mishna we read: ‘If there are 1000 prophets and all of them of the stature of Elijah and Elisha, giving a certain interpretation, and 1001 rabbis giving the opposite interpretation, you shall ‘incline after the majority’ and the law is according to 1001 rabbis, not according to 1000 venerable prophets. God did not permit us to learn from the prophets, but only from the Rabbis who are men of logic and reason.’
The teaching that you should ‘incline after the majority’ is based on the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Metsia 59.b): ‘Thou has long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, after the majority must one incline.’ In other words the Torah gives the rabbis the right to give the correct interpretation of scripture by a majority vote. So where does it say this in the Torah? The answer given in the Talmud is Exodus 23.2. ‘You shall not go after the majority to do evil, neither shall you testify in a matter of strife to incline after the majority to pervert justice.’ (Literal translation from Hebrew).
At this point you may be scratching your head and wondering how this verse justifies the majority interpretation of the rabbis being the correct one. In the context it has nothing to do with the Oral Law or with rabbis. It is a passage dealing with not perverting justice. In the New Jewish Version it reads: ‘Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give a testimony in a lawsuit do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.’
The meaning of this verse in the context is quite clear. It refers to giving testimony in a lawsuit and instructs the person giving testimony to speak the truth and not be swayed by pressure from the crowd to pervert justice by giving a false testimony. It says that you should not side with the wicked (who may be rich and powerful) against the innocent (who may be poor). It is an example of God’s desire for righteous judgments based on truth not partiality. The rabbis use ‘midrashic’ interpretation to take words out of context and read meaning into them. In this case they delete all of the first part of the verse and the last words ‘to pervert justice’ so they are left with the positive command ‘incline after the majority,’ whereas in fact the verse gives a negative command: ‘don’t follow the majority to pervert justice’.
Explaining how this conclusion is reached, Michael Brown writes: ‘The explicit message of Exodus 23.2 is ‘Don’t follow the majority to do evil!’ The Talmud takes the last three words out of context, incorrectly interprets the Hebrew verb to mean ‘follow’ rather than ‘pervert’ and comes out with the meaning, ‘Follow the majority!’ This is an extraordinary misuse of the biblical verse, and it is all the more extraordinary given its Talmudic context in which it justifies the rabbinic majority’s overruling the voice of God.’ (Answering Jewish objections to Jesus, Volume 5 page 67.)
On this basis the conclusion is reached that the majority opinion of rabbis determines the meaning of the Bible and cannot be questioned. Maimonides’ conclusion from the interpretation that Exodus 23.2 means you should ‘follow the majority’ is that the majority opinion of sages overrules the plain sense of the Torah, even when coupled with a prophetic word. Therefore according to Maimonides 1001 sages overrule 1000 prophets even if all of them were of Elijah’s character. Ultra Orthodox rabbi Yosef Reinman wrote with reference to this verse: ‘The Torah further states that the majority rules. If the majority of rabbis express the same opinion, then that is the law.’
So the rabbinic explanation for this verse referring to the Oral Law is based on ‘the majority opinion of the sages’. In other words this is the correct teaching because this is what the rabbis teach. But it is not what the verse actually says according to any plain logical process of interpretation.
In practice what then happens is that the word of man becomes more binding than the Word of God. When there is disagreement between the two, the word of man prevails. According to Orthodox belief, the Written Torah can neither be understood nor followed without the Oral Torah. Since the Oral Torah is in the mouths of the Rabbis, whatever the Rabbis say, one must do, regardless of what the text of the Written Torah says or seems to say.
In this sense, the Oral Torah overrides the Written Torah. If the text of the Written Torah says one thing while the Rabbis say the opposite, it is the Rabbis who must be obeyed. ‘It is more punishable to act against the words of the Scribes (Sopherim / Oral Law) than those of the Scriptures.’ Tractate Berachot 3.2, Tractate Sanhedrin 11.3. ’Give more heed to the words of the Rabbis than to the words of the Law.’ Tractate Eruvin 21b.
As a result the Talmud is treated as more important than the Bible and rabbinic opinion is given authority to overrule the plain meaning of Scripture. There is a famous Talmudic story which illustrates this. It is found in the Talmudic tractate Baba Metsia 59b. This follows a discussion according to halacha in which the rabbis debated whether an oven that had become impure could be purified. While almost all the sages felt it could not be, Rabbi Eliezer, a lone voice but a great scholar, disagreed:
‘On that day, Rabbi Eliezer put forward all the arguments in the world, but the Sages did not accept them. Finally, he said to them, ‘If the halacha is according to me, let that carob tree prove it.’ He pointed to a nearby carob tree, which then moved from its place a hundred cubits. They said to him ‘One cannot bring a proof from the moving of a carob tree.’
Said Rabbi Eliezer, ‘If the halacha is according to me, may that stream of water prove it.’ The stream of water then turned and flowed in the opposite direction. They said to him, ‘One cannot bring a proof from the behaviour of a stream of water.’
Said Rabbi Eliezer, ‘If the halacha is according to me, may the walls of the House of Study prove it.’ The walls of the House of Study began to bend inward. Rabbi Joshua then rose up and rebuked the walls of the House of Study, ‘If the students of the Wise argue with one another in halacha,’ he said, ‘what right have you to interfere?’ In honour of Rabbi Joshua, the walls ceased to bend inward; but in honour of Rabbi Eliezer, they did not straighten up, and they remain bent to this day.
Then, said Rabbi Eliezer to the Sages, ‘If the halacha is according to me, may a proof come from Heaven.’ Then a heavenly voice went forth and said, ‘What have you to do with Rabbi Eliezer? The halacha is according to him in every place.’ Then Rabbi Joshua rose up on his feet, and said, ‘It is not in the heavens’ (Deuteronomy 30:12).
What did he mean by quoting this? Said Rabbi Jeremiah, ‘He meant that since the Torah has been given already on Mount Sinai, we do not pay attention to a heavenly voice, for You have written in Your Torah, ‘Decide according to the majority’ (Exodus 23:2).
Rabbi Nathan met the prophet Elijah. He asked him, ‘What was the Holy One, Blessed be He, doing in that hour?’
Said Elijah, ‘He was laughing and saying, ‘My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me.’’’
The British-Jewish scholar and writer Hyam Maccoby has commented: ‘This extraordinary story strikes the keynote of the Talmud. God is a good father who wants His children to grow up and achieve independence. He has given them His Torah, but now wants them to develop it….’
The real point of this story is the opposite of this. It means the Sages of Israel are treated as being a higher authority than God Himself and that the words of the Oral Torah are greater in importance than the word of God. This authority is given to the Sages on the basis of a misinterpretation of Exodus 23.2 (‘Decide according to the majority’ – Talmudic interpretation – ‘Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong’ – actual interpretation).
This leads to some quite serious misinterpretations of the Bible. For example in Malachi 2.16 we read in the New Jewish version of the Bible: ‘For I detest divorce said the Lord God of Israel.’ In the NKJV we read, ‘For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce.’ This statement seems quite clear. In the context this passage is a rebuke to those who were dealing treacherously with their wives:
‘The LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.’ Malachi 2.14-15.
The message is very up to date. Breaking the covenant of marriage is a serious violation of God’s order and has bad consequences for the children of the marriage.
What is the Talmudic interpretation of this verse? ‘If you hate her, divorce her.’ The Orthodox Jewish Stone translation of the Bible renders this verse: ‘For he who hates (his wife) should divorce (her), says HASHEM, God of Israel.’ Rashi comments on this: ‘A man who insists on retaining the wife he hates is concealing his dislike, as if covering injustice with a garment. You should at least divorce the wives you dislike so that they would be free to marry.’
There are other interpretations of scripture in the Talmud which change the sense of the original. In Deuteronomy 31.16 the Lord says to Moses: ‘Behold you are about to sleep with your fathers; then this people will rise and play the harlot after the strange gods of the land where they go to be among them and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I made with them.’ Incredibly this verse is used as a proof of the resurrection of the dead in the Talmud from the phrase ‘the people will rise’ – i.e. they will rise from the dead. Clearly it is saying nothing of the kind. It says they will rise and play the harlot after strange gods!
Chapter 3: Is the Oral Law necessary to understand the Written Law?
Rabbi Kaplan has written: ‘The Written Torah cannot be understood without the oral tradition. Hence, if anything, the Oral Torah is the more important of the two. Since the Written Torah appears largely defective unless supplemented by the oral tradition, a denial of the Oral Torah necessarily leads to the denial of the divine origin of the written text as well. The Oral Torah was originally meant to be transmitted by word of mouth. It was transmitted from master to student in such a manner that if the student had any question, he would be able to ask, and thus avoid ambiguity. A written text, on the other hand, no matter how perfect, is always subject to misinterpretation.’ http://www.aish.com/jl/b/ol/48943186.html
While it is true that a written text is always subject to misinterpretation, there is no logical reason to believe that the answer a teacher gives to his student may not also be subject to misinterpretation. So does the Oral Torah reduce ambiguity and the possibility of misinterpretation of the written Torah? Ami Hertz writes from the point of view of a Jew who wants to follow the Torah but rejects the Oral Torah. He says, ‘As it turns out, the statement is patently false. The amount of ambiguity in the Oral Torah is massive, and is much greater than any possible ambiguity in the Jewish Bible. Thus, even if we do accept that ambiguity reduction is a good thing, which the Rabbis do not prove, then that is actually an argument against the Oral Torah, not for it.’ ‘Critique of the Oral Torah.’ http://peshat.com
In reality there are many disputes within the Talmud about how to interpret the written Torah. In his book ‘Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus’ (Volume 5, pages 73-78), Michael Brown lists a number of legal disputes relating to the text of the Torah which rabbis held. In many of these cases the Talmud provides contradictory opinions. Some examples are comments on Exodus 34.38 ‘He wrote down on the tablets the terms of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.’ ‘Is it saying that God wrote on the tablets or is it saying that it was Moses who did the writing? …. Rabbinic sources for both interpretations are cited.’ (p 73).
Commenting on animal sacrifices in Leviticus 1.8 ‘Then the priests shall lay the parts, the head and the fat’ there is a dispute about what is meant by the fat (Hebrew word ‘padar’). Is it fat in general, the membrane dividing the intestines from the stomach, the chest organs, the lungs, the windpipe and everything attached to them, or is it all internal organs including the heart and the liver? In the divorce law in Deuteronomy 24.1, which permits a divorce to be written if the husband finds ‘something indecent’ in the wife he has married, there is disagreement about what ‘something indecent’ means. The animals which are considered kosher in Leviticus 11 includes twenty non kosher species of birds, but as a result of dispersions and the language of the Torah falling into disrepute, the exact identities of the non-kosher birds became doubtful. Therefore the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is forbidden to eat any species of bird unless there is well established tradition that it is kosher.’ This lack of clarity on the interpretation of passages from the Torah goes against the rabbinic claim that the Talmud is able to clarify what is not clear from the written Torah.
According to Maimonides (Introduction to Mishneh Torah 1-3), ‘All the commandments that were given to Moses at Sinai were given together with their interpretation, as it is written ‘and I will give thee the Tables of Stone, and the Law [torah], and the Commandment (mitzvah) (Exodus 24,12). ‘Law’ is the Written Law; and ‘Commandment’ is its interpretation: We were commanded to fulfil the Law, according to the Commandment. And this Commandment is what is called the Oral Law.’ Therefore the Oral Law is necessary in order to understand the Written Law.
Note that Maimonides uses the word interpretation when referring to the Oral Torah — this is common Rabbinic usage. The use of the word interpretation differs greatly from the common use of this word which is to clarify meaning which is already present, not to add new information. To illustrate what I mean, I give an example from my former work as an English teacher. In the course of a lesson on Shakespeare the class looked at Hamlet’s famous line: ‘To be or not to be that is the question.’ I gave this interpretation: ‘Hamlet is distressed at all the terrible events taking place around him and is questioning whether life is worth living. He is considering suicide.’ In saying this I have added no new information to the text but given a reasonable interpretation of it. If I were to say, ‘Hamlet is here justifying assisted suicide in the case of terminally ill patients if they give their consent,’ I am not interpreting it but adding new information and an opinion not found in the text.
The Talmud adds information and commandments not found in the Biblical text. For example according to the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 2b), God offered the Torah to all the nations of the earth, and the Jews were the only ones who accepted it. It is true that God gave the Torah to Israel through Moses, but there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that He offered it also to the Gentiles and they rejected it. This is not interpretation but addition.
The Talmud adds a vast number of commandments to the commands of the Torah. On this subject of the Sabbath Gil Student writes: ‘What does the Torah mean when it (Ex. 20:10) forbids ‘work’ on the Sabbath? What work is forbidden and what is not? Without an oral explanation of the details of this forbidden work, it is impossible to know what the Torah means.’ http://www.amhaaretz.org/critique-oral-torah On the basis of explaining what ‘work’ is in relation to the Sabbath, the Talmud has divided work up into 39 classes of work:
Sowing, ploughing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, cleansing crops, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, washing or beating or dyeing it, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying [a knot], loosening [a knot], sewing two stitches, tearing in order to sew two stitches, hunting a gazelle, slaughtering or flaying or salting it or curing its skin, scraping it or cutting it up, writing two letters, erasing in order to write two letters, building, pulling down, putting out a fire, lighting a fire, striking with a hammer and taking out aught from one domain to another.
There are up to 1500 laws on the Sabbath alone comprising over 300 pages of difficult and complex reasoning in the Talmud. Since the average person has neither the time nor the ability to read all of this material, he must rely on the Rabbis to rule on what he may and may not do on the Sabbath. Regulations applying to modern life forbid switching on light or any electrical appliance, using public transport, driving a car, pressing button on pedestrian crossing, what kind of brush you can use to brush your hair in order to prevent inadvertently pulling out a hair, pushing a push chair outside the home on the Sabbath, whether you can eat food in a fridge if you open it and the internal light comes on, and so on.
The adding of these laws is justified by the Talmudic command to ‘Make a fence round the Torah.’ Aboth 1.1. Why does the Torah need a fence around it? J. Israelstam explains that, ‘The Torah is conceived as a garden and its precepts as precious plants. Such a garden is fenced round for the purpose of obviating wilful or even unintended damage. Likewise, the precepts of the Torah were to be ‘fenced’ round with additional inhibitions that should have the effect of preserving the original commandments from trespass.’ J. Israelstam, Aboth I,1 n.7 Cf. Pes. 2b, Er.100b, and Sanh.46a. This explanation is affirmed in different places in the Talmud, e.g. ‘The Rabbis erected a safeguard for a Scriptural law.’ Pesachim 2b.
In other words laws were to be added to the original laws in order to make sure that the people of Israel did not break the laws inadvertently. One example of this concerns the milk and meat laws which today are interpreted to mean that a ‘kosher kitchen’ must have two sets of dishes, cutlery, sinks etc to ensure that milk and meat are kept separate. The reasoning behind this is the Mosaic Laws forbid the boiling of a kid (baby goat) in its mother’s milk (‘You shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk’ Exodus 23.9).
Why might anybody want to boil a kid in its mother’s milk? A reasonable interpretation of this would be because it is associated with a pagan fertility ritual. But the rabbinic application of this verse based on the concept of putting a fence around the law is that it is forbidden to eat meat and dairy products in the same meal, or even to eat meat products off the same dishes one eats dairy products off. As a result laws are added to the law of the Torah which many would see as having little or no connection to the original meaning of the commandment.
Under this influence laws can continue to be added and rabbis have been able to invent rulings which have no basis whatsoever in the Bible through the sanctification of traditions. Chidushei Ramban (Pesachim 7b) says ‘A custom of Israel is Law (Torah)’ therefore it becomes binding on the community. One example of this is the wearing of a kippah by Jewish men. According to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Hayyim 2.6) a man may not walk four paces without his head covered. Where do we find this command in the Bible? Nowhere. Nor is it even in the Talmud. The practise arose in the Middle Ages and after a few hundred years the custom became binding. Adding commands to those given by the Lord is a violation of the Torah to add to the commandments that God has given: ‘You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.’ Deuteronomy 4.2.
In the process of doing this the writings of the Talmud give the rabbis complete authority to themselves. Ket.84a ‘the Sages have imparted to their enactments the same force as that of Torah laws.’ ‘Our Rabbis taught: They who occupy themselves with the Bible are but of indifferent merit; with Mishna, are indeed meritorious, and are rewarded for it; with Gemara — there can be nothing more meritorious; yet run always to the Mishna more than to the Gemara.’ Baba Metsia 33a. Studying the Bible was said to be of no great importance. Studying the rabbinic writings brought great reward. Israel was told to trust in the Rabbis.
Since the Talmud has over 2700 double-sided pages and is extremely difficult to read, it follows that only those who have spent years studying it will be able to give rulings on its teachings. Ordinary people will have to accept what they say.
As a result it can be said that the ‘fence’ actually works in an opposite direction from the stated one of safeguarding the Scriptural Law. ‘The goal was to fence the people off from the Torah and from all other influences that would have competed with rabbinic interpretation and authority. In the system which was erected, no one else had the right to interpret Torah. Not the am ha’aretz ‘people of the land’, nor the priests, nor the prophets, nor the Sadducees, the Qumran Covenanters, the disciples of Yeshua (Jesus), nor anyone else. Not even God. Only the Rabbis could give the authorized interpretation. Who said so? They themselves. As a fence, the Oral Law is a means to assert and entrench rabbinic hegemony. Without it, nothing needs rabbinic approval. With it, everything does.’ ‘Rabbinic Judaism’ www.elijahnet.net/
Chapter 4: An unbroken chain back to Moses?
As we have seen it is taught that the Oral Torah was given to Moses at Sinai and has been transmitted orally from that time onwards, from teacher to student in an unbroken chain that leads back to Moses. The Tractate Avot 10.1 states: ‘Moses received this law (Oral Law) from Mt Sinai and delivered it to Joshua, Joshua to the elders (the judges), the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the Great Synagogue (the sopherim / scribes in the time of Ezra).’
Rabbi Kaplan writes about the time of Ezra: ‘The Great Assembly codified much of the Oral Torah in a form that could be memorized by the students. This codification was known as the Mishna. One reason for this name was that it was meant to be reviewed (shana) over and over until memorized. The word also denoted that the Mishna was secondary (sheni) to the Written Torah. It was required that the oral tradition be handed down word for word, exactly as it had been taught. The sages who taught this first Mishna were known as Tannayim, Tanna in the singular. This word comes from the Aramaic word tanna, equivalent to the Hebrew shana meaning “to repeat.” http://www.aish.com/jl/b/ol/48943186.html
If this is the case then we must assume that the chain had to be unbroken, because just one generation failing to pass on the Oral Law would have resulted in it being lost forever. This means there must have been those in every generation who could remember the vast amount of information contained in the Oral Law and pass it on to the next generation. The history of Israel should therefore testify to the piety of each generation and their ability to keep the commandments of God and pass on this oral material faithfully. Certain passages in the Talmud do point to such a condition for the people of Israel:
‘Search was made from Dan unto Beersheba and no ignoramus was found … and no boy or girl was found who was not thoroughly versed in the laws of cleanliness and uncleanliness.’ (b. Sanh. 94b)
According to the Being Jewish website, ‘After Moses passed away the Children of Israel continued to study Torah. In the land of Israel they built yeshivas, and Teachers taught the Torah to thousands upon thousands of students constantly.’
On the other hand the Talmud itself says that oral laws were forgotten. According to b. Tem 16a ‘Immediately after the strength of Moses weakened, and (Joshua) forgot three hundred laws and there arose in his mind seven hundred doubts (concerning laws).’ Tem 15b says, ‘Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel ‘Even after Moses’ death, the people mastered as well as Moses whatever halachos they received from him that they still remembered. Nevertheless 3000 halachos were forgotten during the period they mourned his death.’
In the account of Israel’s history found in the Bible we find a different story from the picture of the children of Israel continuing to study Torah, given above in the ‘Being Jewish’ website. As already stated we find no mention of an Oral Torah. We also find that quite basic teachings of the Written Torah were forgotten or not applied. In Judges 2.10-14 we find that the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, then the next generation ‘did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals; and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger.’ The book of Judges records the most blatant disregard of the commands of the written Torah and concludes with the words: ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ (Judges 21.25). Are we to believe that all this time people were also remembering the hundreds of additional laws of the Oral Torah and faithfully passing them on from generation to generation? It is much harder to remember to do something which is not written down than something which is written down.
The historical books of the Bible continue with the pattern of backsliding followed by God raising up a Prophet or a godly King who will bring the people back to the Torah and His ways. We read of essential Temple services being neglected and festivals having to be re-instated because they had not been kept.
By the time of King Josiah we discover that the knowledge of the Torah had almost completely disappeared from public life. Following the long and wicked reign of Manasseh in 2 Kings 22.8-13 we read of the discovery of ‘the Book of the Law in the Temple of the Lord.’ So great is the ignorance of this book that when Shaphan the secretary informs the king of this discovery he says, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.’ This implies he does not even know what the book is! The text goes on to describe the response of the king when he reads the book:
‘Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king, saying, ‘Go, inquire of the LORD for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.’’ 2 Kings 22.11-13.
The text implies that the words which King Josiah heard read from the Torah were unknown to him previously. He correctly understood that the nation was under God’s judgement for failing to practice the words of the Torah which were accessible in its written form. The Stone edition of the Bible has a footnote to this passage saying: ‘Manasseh had systematically destroyed all the Torah scrolls and alienated the nation so thoroughly from the Torah that the people were completely unfamiliar with its contents. Sixty seven years had elapsed since the beginning of Manasseh’s reign so that this discovery was a surprising revelation to everyone.’
Moving on to the account of the returning exiles from Babylon in Ezra and Nehemiah we read that the people were ignorant of the most basic principles of the Torah. They were intermarrying with the surrounding nations (Ezra 9, Nehemiah 13), the rich were charging usury on their own people (Nehemiah 5), the people in Jerusalem were working on the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13).
According to Nehemiah 8.14-17 ‘They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month.’ As a result they kept the feast. In verse 17 we read: ‘So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness.’
So if they had not kept the feast of Tabernacles according to the Law of Moses since the days of Joshua, what chance is there that they remembered all the details of the Oral Law in an unbroken chain going back to Moses during this period? If there were periods when the people were alienated from the Torah and unfamiliar with its contents is it possible that at the same time they were also remembering a vast accumulation of oral laws and faithfully passing it on to the next generation? The logical conclusion is that these laws did not originate with Moses but with teachers who came much later and sought to ascribe to them divine authority by connecting them to Moses.
The following passage in the Talmud shows that its laws came after Moses and that Moses would not have recognised them: “When Moses ascended on high he found the Holy One, blessed be He, engaged in affixing coronets to the letters. Said Moses, ‘Lord of the Universe, Who stays Thy hand?’ [I.e., ‘is there anything wanting in the Torah that these additions are necessary?‘] He answered, ‘There will arise a man, at the end of many generations, Akiba b. Joseph by name, who will expound upon each tittle heaps and heaps of laws‘. ‘Lord of the Universe’, said Moses; ‘permit me to see him’. He replied, ‘Turn thee round’. Moses went and sat down behind eight rows (and listened to the discourses upon the law). Not being able to follow their arguments he was ill at ease, but when they came to a certain subject and the disciples said to the master ‘Whence do you know it?’ and the latter replied ‘It is a law given unto Moses at Sinai’ he was comforted. Thereupon he returned to the Holy One, blessed be He, and said, ‘Lord of the Universe, Thou hast such a man and Thou givest the Torah by me!’ He replied, ‘Be silent, for such is My decree’.” Menahoth 29b, P.190,190n.
Dan Gruber makes the following comments on this story:
- The halacha is an elaborate interpretation of the Torah – an infinite number of laws generated from the scribal ornamentation of individual letters.
- Moses did not know the halacha. He did not recognize what Akiba taught.
- Rabbi Akiba is credited by God as being the originator of the oral law.
- Neither Akiba nor his disciples recognized Moses. They had no interest in what his understanding of the Torah might be.
- Moses is inferior to Akiba. This is demonstrated by the response of Moses to the Holy One–“Thou hast such a man and Thou givest the Torah by me!”–and by the placement of Moses behind the eighth row. http://www.elijahnet.net/ ‘The Oral Law as Interpretation.’
Chapter 5: So where did the Oral Law come from?
Not only do we not find reference to the Oral Torah in the Tenach. It is also absent from Jewish writings prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. There is no reference to the Oral Torah or two Torahs in the first century writings of either the Pharisees or their opponents. There are later stories written about Hillel referring to the Oral Torah, but nothing written about it from this period. Josephus, the most important Jewish historian of the first century, described the customs and beliefs of the Pharisees but made no mention of the Oral Torah. However he does write something which gives us a clue to the origin of these teachings: ‘The Pharisees had passed on to the people certain regulations handed down by former generations and not recorded in the Law of Moses. And for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers.’ (Antiquities 13.297). Interestingly a similar expression ‘tradition of the elders’ is used in the New Testament to describe the oral traditions of the Pharisees. (Mark 7.3 and 5, Matthew 15.2).
Jewish professor Albert Baumgarten wrote: ‘The claim that the traditions of the Pharisees were of great antiquity was disputed in the first century by Sadducees, members of the Qumran community and Christians. The Pharisees probably invented the idea that their traditions were ancient to encourage contemporary Jews to join their party.’ (‘The Pharisaic Paradosis’ Harvard Theological Review  p 63).
Commenting on this Michael Brown has written (Answering Jewish objections to Jesus Volume 5 p 90): ‘How then did the myth of the Oral Torah arise? The explanation is fairly simple. The Pharisees whose origins can be traced back to the second third of the second century BCE began to develop traditions of practice and of biblical interpretation, passing them on over several generations. These traditions became known as ‘the traditions of the fathers / elders.’ Over time, as the Pharisees claimed to be the true representatives of Judaism, they began to claim that these traditions which went back several generations were considered to go back in time all the way to Moses, hence leading to the myth of a divinely inspired Oral Torah being given to Moses on Sinai.’
Following the destruction of the Temple, the Pharisees emerged as the preservers of Judaism. The Zealots were crushed by the Romans, the Sadducees whose teachings were closely connected to the Temple, disappeared with its destruction. The Essenes too disappeared, perhaps because they were sacked by the Romans at Qumran. Significantly there is no reference to ‘two Torahs’ or the Oral Torah in any of the writings of the Essenes discovered at Qumran.
Of all the major Second Temple sects, only the Pharisees remained with the ability to replace Temple worship with their own teachings which are the basis of modern Judaism. Following the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Rome governed Judea through a Procurator at Caesarea and a Jewish Patriarch. Yohanan ben Zakkai, a leading Pharisee, was appointed the first Patriarch (the Hebrew word, Nasi, also means prince, or president), and he re-established the Sanhedrin at Yavneh under Pharisee control.
Ben Zakkai recreated Judaism without the need for the Temple and its sacrifices. This involved changing the Torah commands that ritual atonement is gained through the blood of the sacrifices: ‘The life of the flesh is in the blood. It is the blood that make atonement for the soul.’ Leviticus 17.11. According to the classic midrash in Avot D’Rabbi Nathan (4:5): ‘The Temple is destroyed. We never witnessed its glory. But Rabbi Joshua did. And when he looked at the Temple ruins one day, he burst into tears. ‘Alas for us! The place which atoned for the sins of all the people Israel lies in ruins!’ Then Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: ‘Be not grieved, my son. There is another way of gaining ritual atonement, even though the Temple is destroyed. We must now gain ritual atonement through deeds of loving-kindness.’’
Instead of giving tithes to the priests and sacrificing offerings at the (now-destroyed) Temple, the rabbis instructed Jews to give money to charities. Moreover, they argued that all Jews should study in local synagogues, because Torah is ‘the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob’ (Deut. 33: 4). The traditions which later were written down as the Oral Torah arose out of this stream of Judaism.
These traditions were later written down in the Mishna in around 200 CE. However Michael Brown goes on to write that even in the Mishna there is not one reference of ‘two torahs’: ‘There is not a single reference to ‘two Torahs’ in the entire Mishna, while the three references in the Tosefta (compiled shortly after the Mishna) are completely unrelated to the doctrine of a written Torah and an unwritten Torah. Pirkei Avot (the Ethics of the Fathers), which is generally dated toward the end of the compilation of the Mishna, does in fact make the claim that Moses received ‘Torah’ on Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua who transmitted it to the elders who transmitted it to the judges and prophets, all the way down to the rabbinic sages (see m. Avot. 1.1), clearly articulating the rabbinic myth of the orally transmitted Torah. Yet even here the text does not make reference to two Torahs, one oral and one written.’ (op cit p 91).
Michael Brown concludes: ‘There is absolutely no truth to the claim that the plural form ‘torot’ in the Tenach refers to two Torahs, one written and the other oral. Rather it refers to the teachings or laws in the plural, almost always in the context of ‘commandments’ and ‘statutes’ and other legal terms.’ (op cit p 95).
Chapter 6: The Traditions and the New Testament.
In the time of New Testament there was no Oral Law written down. However ‘the traditions of the fathers’ taught by the Pharisees were very much in evidence. Jesus told His disciples to ‘beware of the leaven (teaching) of the Pharisees.’ He said of the scribes and Pharisees of His day ‘they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders.’ Matthew 23.4.
In Mark 7.6-7 He quoted Isaiah 29.13 to illustrate the point: ‘ This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God you hold the tradition of men – the washing of pitchers and cups and many other such things you do. He said to them ‘All too well you reject the commandment of God that you might keep the commandment of men.’ He is saying that the added laws which were brought in to ‘make a fence around the Torah’ were not given to Moses by God at Sinai, and are no more than ‘the commandments of men’ and should not be treated as ‘commandments of God.’
It is interesting that the Karaite Jews, who uphold the written Torah, but deny the validity of the Oral Torah, use the same verse from Isaiah 29 to give their reason for rejecting the Talmud and its rules. Significantly the verses which precede Isaiah 29.13 prophesy of a time coming when spiritual blindness would come upon Israel causing the words of the book to become sealed: ‘Pause and wonder! Blind yourselves and be blind! They are drunk, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with intoxicating drink. For the Lord has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; and He has covered your heads, namely, the seers. The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Isaiah 29.9-11.
In other words something will happen which will cause a spiritual blindness and slumber to come upon Israel which will make the words of the book (the Tenach) like a sealed book which cannot be understood. Is this brought about by the added laws and the Talmudic interpretations which give authority to the rabbis to be the sole interpreters of the scriptures?
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3.13-15: ‘But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains un-lifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Messiah (Christ). But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.’ The words of the prophets point to Yeshua, Jesus, as the Promised Messiah. However the majority ruling of the rabbis is that Jesus is not the Messiah and that Jews should not even consider any opinion which points in this direction. As long as Jewish people submit to this ruling, then the ‘veil’ will remain on their hearts and they will not be able to see Jesus in the scriptures. When they turn to the Lord in repentance and faith in Yeshua as the Messiah then this veil will be removed.
According to rabbinic Judaism the Oral Law is necessary in order to understand the Written Law. Therefore the Torah on its own is insufficient to guide us. Actually there is a truth that the Torah needs another book to be added to it. On its own there are issues in the Torah which cannot be resolved.
Since the fall of the Second Temple a vast area of the written Torah has become impossible for people to keep literally. All of the commandments concerning the tabernacle, the priesthood and the sacrifices cannot be kept by anyone today. This involves a large amount of the text of the Torah – most of Exodus 26-40 and Leviticus 1-10. The instructions concerning the keeping of the feasts (Leviticus 16-17, 23) are only kept in part by Orthodox Jews because of the absence of the tabernacle / Temple, priesthood and sacrifices today.
In his book ‘The Handbook of Jewish Thought’ Rabbi Kaplan states: ‘There is a tradition that God included 613 commandments in the Torah. Of these, 248 are positive, while 365 are negative. Many of these commandments, however, deal with the laws of purity and sacrifice, and were thus only applicable when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem. Therefore, of all the commandments, only 369 apply today. Of these, 126 are positive, and 243 are negative. Even of these, however, many only pertain to special cases or circumstances. The total number of commandments which apply to everyone under all conditions is 270. Of these, 48 are positive, and 222 are negative.’
After the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, established the academy at Yavneh where he set up a way to preserve Judaism without sacrifices, priesthood and Temple, saying in effect that good deeds replaced the sacrifices of the Torah as the means of gaining atonement for sin. Jewish critics of Christianity accuse Christians (Paul in particular) of changing the Torah. But so did Yochanan ben Zakkai. In fact Judaism resolved the problem caused by the destruction of the Temple by changing the Torah. In effect a new religion emerged as a Jewish commentary on the work of ben Zakkai admits: ‘Judaism did not disappear (with the destruction of the Temple). What it did is transform itself. From a religion centred around Temple, priesthood and sacrifice it became a religion centred around Torah study, prayer at home and in the synagogue, and gemilut hasadim (acts of loving kindness). From a historical point of view it is accurate to say that Biblical and Rabbinic Judaism are two different, though of course related, religions. It was Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai more than anyone else who made this possible.’ http://rabbiarian.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/rabban-yohanan-ben.html
Today Orthodox Jews zealously keep aspects of the Torah which are possible to keep – kosher food regulations, Sabbath observance, ritual purity, festivals and holy days. They add numerous laws on these subjects which are found in the Talmud. But this does not answer the question as to why God has permitted more than 1900 years to pass, during which time it has been impossible to keep so many aspects of the Torah.
The New Testament does give an answer to this question. Since the coming of Jesus as the suffering servant Messiah, the Torah, with its sacrifices, priesthood and tabernacle, has been replaced with the new covenant. In his book ‘Hebrew Christianity’ Arnold Fruchtenbaum writes: ‘The clear-cut teaching of the New Testament is that the Law of Moses has been rendered inoperative with the death of Christ; in other words the Law in its totality no longer has authority over any individual. This is evident, first of all, from Romans 10:4 : ’For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one who believes’ Very clearly, Christ is the end of the Law and that includes all 613 commandments, hence the Law has ceased to function. There is no justification through it: ’Yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified’ (Gal. 2:16) Thus it should be very evident that the Law has come to an end in Christ and cannot function in justification or sanctification. For the believer especially it has been rendered inoperative and shows that the Law has ceased to function for all. The Law of Moses has been disannulled and we are now under a new law. This new law is called the Law of Christ in Galatians 6:2 and the Law of the Spirit of Life in Romans 8:2. This is a brand new Law totally separate from the Law of Moses.’
The law of Christ has many similarities to the Law of Moses, because both are given by the same God. The moral aspects of the Torah are restated in the New Testament: ‘Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.’ Romans 12.8-10. If we look at the New Testament we find that worship of God only is called for fifty times; idolatry is forbidden twelve times; profanity four times; honour of father and mother is commanded six times; adultery is forbidden twelve; theft six; false witness four; and covetousness, nine times.
The New Testament book of Hebrews shows how the ceremonial side of the Torah (priesthood, tabernacle, sacrifices) is fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah (see Hebrews 7-10). He is the High Priest who has made the final sacrifice for sin through shedding His blood, which has been accepted by God. As the writer to the Hebrews states: ‘According to the law almost all things are purified with blood and without shedding of blood there is no remission.’ Hebrews 9.22-28. The items in the tabernacle and even the High Priest’s vestments all point to Jesus (see Hebrews 7-10). In fact in this interpretation Biblical Christianity can claim more continuity with Torah teaching than modern Judaism which replaces the sacrifices with prayer and good works in order to atone for sin.
The civil laws of the Torah require Israel to be a self-governing people living in the land of Israel. During the time of the Diaspora when Jewish people lived as a minority people in other people’s lands, they were not in a position to make laws which would be binding on the lands in which they lived. They could keep those aspects of the Torah which were possible to keep within their communities. These include circumcision, Sabbath observance and kosher food laws which have actually become central to modern Judaism and the things which define the Jewish community.
As a result of the fall of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people, there are a number of laws written in the Torah which no one can keep today. In his book ‘Answering Jewish objections to Jesus’, Volume 4, page 233, Messianic Jew, Michael Brown lists 51 commandments found in the Torah which are said to be kept for ‘olam’, the Hebrew word which is translated ‘forever’ in most Bible translations, or ‘throughout your generations.’
He writes: ‘The word ‘olam’ may be used to speak of eternity or forever in the Bible. The common Hebrew expression ‘olam ha ba’ meaning the world to come is used of the afterlife. However olam can also mean in the far distance. A common phrase in the Hebrew is ‘l’olam va’ed’ and is usually translated as ‘forever and ever’ but in the Hebrew it means ‘to the distant horizon and again’ meaning ‘a very distant time and even further’ and is used to express the idea of a very ancient or future time.’
Out of 51 commandments that are said to be ‘forever’ or ‘throughout your generations’ for the last 1900+ years we have not been able to keep more than three-quarters of them as written in the Torah. Traditional Jews say, ‘That’s why we have the Talmud and the Law Codes and the traditions and the rabbis!’ I say in reply, ‘That’s why we have Yeshua the Messiah, the New Testament and the Holy Spirit! Is it merely a co-incidence that He was the one who prophesied that the Temple would be destroyed and that our people would be scattered and it happened just as He said? Is it merely a coincidence that before the Temple was destroyed he offered his own blood to usher in the new covenant? Perhaps we should listen more closely to the rest of what He said. It is so clear that so much of the Torah presupposes (and requires) Israel to be living in the Land with the Temple / Tabernacle standing, in a basically agricultural society. Scatter our people out of the land, destroy the Temple – and much of the Torah becomes strangely irrelevant or outmoded or impossible. Contrast the universal nature of Yeshua’s teaching and commands which do not need a Talmud and Law codes.’ ‘Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus’ Volume 4, page 233.
Yeshua said, ‘Come to Me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’ Matthew 11.28-30.