[b-hebrew] oral Torah

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Fri Jun 23 04:07:48 EDT 2006


Dear All,

I stepped out of this thread as soon as it stopped being a discussion of 
Jacob's daughters and shifted to one of Jewish and Christian theology. But 
here's a point that should be clarified:

In response to a statement by Shoshanna about the Oral Torah, someone 
commented:
>>It does raise the question though of whether God's written communication 
>>is
>>greater in authority than his verbal communication [or vice versa].
>>
To which Harold answered: Not really. If God wants something to be a 
permanent rule of life
> for His people, he has a prophet write it down. That's all.
>

Here's a basic difference between Christian and Jewish views. In (Rabbinic) 
Judaism, God is considered to have given the Law (written and Oral) once, at 
Sinai (of course, this was an ongoing process which took 38 years). In his 
omniscient wisdom, God made His Torah such, that it would have solutions for 
any possible situation "built in", so that the Torah would NEVER have to be 
"ammended". A major componant of the Oral Torah is the "codes" by which the 
Torah itself is to be interpreted, and these were passed down from Moses to 
Joshua and on to the elders, the members of the Great Assembly, and from 
them to what we now call "rabbis". Both preists and prophets are outside 
this "chain of command". The function of Priests, that is, decsendants of 
Aaron, is to perform the perscribed rituals in the Temple. The function of 
Prophets, that is, people who receive "direct" messages from God, is to warn 
the people of their transgressions or to give them hope for the future, NOT 
to interpret the Law.
Of course, there were individuals who were either both priest and prophet, 
priest and rabbi, or prophet and rabbi. Ezra was all three, which gives him 
a lot of clout in Jewish tradition. But the functions themselves are 
seperate.
The Talmud recounts several stories of rabbis discussing a point of Law, 
when suddenly either a heavenly voice or a prophet (even Elijah!) appeared 
and gave "God"'s view on the matter, to which the rabbis replied "It [the 
Law] is not in heaven" (Deut. 30:12) - once the Torah was given to us, we 
have sole authority over its interpretation.

Of course, historically speaking, this interpretation has not been held by 
all Jews throughhout history. The Sadducees, who were mostly priests, both 
denied the authority of the Oral Torah and of the rabbis who considered 
themselves to be its stewards. But this has become the "mainstream" view of 
post-Destruction Rabbinic Judaism.

Yigal




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