[b-hebrew] oral Torah

Harold Holmyard hholmyard at ont.com
Fri Jun 23 08:09:44 EDT 2006

Dear Yigal,

>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 

HH: I want to clarify that this is not strictly a Jewish-Christian 
issue, because the Roman Catholic Christians have a similar view to the 
mainstream Jewish view. It is a claim that tradition is equally 
authoritative as the written word.

> 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".

HH: Is there anything internal to the Scriptures that would indicate the 
existence of these codes? I can think of nothing offhand.

> Both preists and prophets are outside 
>this "chain of command".

HH: Then there is no chain of command, is there, for who else is there 
besides priests and prophets who are God- ordained? The "scribes" are 
not God-ordained as a special authority-bearing group outside the 
priests and prophets. If there is such a chain of command, the Law 
itself ought to instruct us of that fact.

> The function of Priests, that is, decsendants of 
>Aaron, is to perform the perscribed rituals in the Temple.

HH: The function of priests was also to teach and to judge. You are 
greatly circumscribing the role of priests.

> 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 
>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.

HH: The rabbis, as a group distinct from prophets and priests, have no 
special God-given authority that I can recall from Scripture. I 
certainly don't see any "chain of command" in Scripture. There are the 
"wise men" in Scripture, but  these are a group that culturally 
functioned in every nation, simply those looked to as wise. There are 
the elders, who were heads of the various families. That is certainly a  
divinely-approved position of authority, but it is based  in culture and 
family and gives no special authority in the handling of Scripture.

>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.

HH: Thanks.

Harold Holmyard

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