[b-hebrew] oral law

Harold Holmyard hholmyard at ont.com
Fri Jun 23 12:21:20 EDT 2006

Dear Yitzhak

>>The idea that there is an oral law equally as authoritative as the
>>written law is highly dubious to me. You say that this prevents
>>mistranslation, but it allows the importation of every kind of merely
>>human idea and even perversion of God's word. God warns against adding
>>to his word, and a proposed "oral law" does just that. It presents
>>something as having the same authority as the written word, from what
>>you say, and thereby adds to God's word.
>The claim that there is no oral law is just as external to the Torah/Bible
>as the claim that there is.

HH: But if there is an oral law, the written law ought to notify us of 
that fact. That really is a crucial point. How could God expect people 
to submit to an oral law that he does not even indicate has any 
existence? Perhaps the point we need to emphasize is that God was the 
sovereign of Israel and ideally was always directing the leadership. Yet 
we see that this did not always happen. Since the leadership was 
supposed to come from God working through his servants, we don't have to 
hypothesize the existence of an oral law to guide future details in all 
the applications and interpretations of the law given once for all. God 
was still there. Now some may be saying that this phenomenon continues 
through the history of Israel right through the Talmud. No doubt that is 
possible. But as we see from history, that may not be the case. So any 
particular statement by anybody that is not in Scripture itself is open 
to scrutiny.

>  More to the point, and without identifying
>the oral law as the Mishna/Talmud, it is very likely that there is an oral
>law, simply because any code of law that is written is written in a certain
>context, and further generations must interpret that law to allow new
>situations to be addressed.

HH: But this does not require an oral law passed down from Moses. The 
new generations can interpret the written law that Moses gave and apply 
it to their new situation.

>  While something may have seemed clear
>to the author of the law, it may not be so clear to its practitioners several
>generations hence.

HH: But this does not call for an oral law from Moses. It only calls for 
a cultural heritage that remembers, if remembering is needed. Whatever 
the point was that is not so clear, if Moses did not write it into the 
law, it is evidently something left to the discretion of the people or 
to the direct divine guidance that was available.

>  All of this creates the background whereby any code
>of law that is written down, has along with it, associated understandings
>that are not written down, and also must be interpreted continuously in
>further generations.

HH: I am aware of the tradition of constitutional law in the U.S. with 
precedents based on later Supreme Court decisions, which often take 
guidance from lower court decisions. But these subsequent precedents and 
legal cases do not flow out of the Constititional framers in any direct 
way. There was no oral Constitutional law given by the framers. There 
was only the Constitution. We have written records of the thoughts of 
the framers in many particulars, but the Constitution is a sufficient 
document in itself.

>However, Shoshanna's interpretation of Rashi and Midrash as part of this
>oral law is not shared by all Jews.  It is an extreme interpretation that
>essentially says that Rashi or the Rabbis of the Midrash whom he often
>quotes was not a great scholar but simply a scribe who wrote something
>handed down to him from the days of Moses.  While that may describe
>much of his work (much of Rashi is effectively quotes from the Midrash),
>he was also a great scholar and a true understanding of Rashi can only
>be achieved by seeing all his quoted sources (which are many!) and
>identifying which parts he chose to quote, which he chose not to quote,
>what he chose to add of his own, and answering why he chose to do what
>he did.

Hh: Yes, he was a person with a viewpoint, jsut as the rest of us are 
people with viewpoints.

Harold Holmyard

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