[b-hebrew] I think this is what Kirk asked for

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Sun Jun 25 19:19:26 EDT 2006

On 25/06/2006 04:21, Shoshanna Walker wrote:
> "Levicus 23, the Bible speaks about Atonement, Yom Kippur, and the 
> Bible says on this day we have to afflict our souls. How do you 
> afflict your souls? This is a commandment of 'God.' It is not clear 
> how you would fulfill this law, and 'God' is giving this as a very 
> important law.
This is a translational issue. It is clear that the Hebrew phrase in 
23:27 `NH NEPE$ was meaningful to the original audience. This could be 
because Moses had in fact explained the meaning of this phrase before 
giving this law to the Israelites. But an alternative and far more 
probable interpretation is that this was a Hebrew idiom whose meaning 
was well known to all Hebrew speakers of the time, even if it is not 
entirely clear to us today.

> When it says [Exodus 12:2] "This month shall mark for you the 
> beginning of the months"?  To which months is this referring?  Is it 
> referring to Egyptian months (where the Jews were living at the time) 
> or Chaldean months (from where their patriarch Abraham originated)?  
> Solar months or lunar months?  Without an oral tradition, there is no 
> way to know to what this verse is referring
The meaning is entirely obvious: the Hebrews were to follow a calendar 
in which this month was the first month of the year. There is no 
relation to any other calendar, but the inauguration of a new one. 
Accompanying commands about new moons etc make it clear that the months 
were lunar.

> When the Torah forbids certain birds [Lev. 11:13-19], does that mean 
> that all other birds are permitted?  Or are there sign for birds like 
> there are for animals [Lev. 11:2-8]?  How can anyone know whether 
> biblical law permits or forbids eating ducks, geese, and turkeys?
The text says that these birds are not permitted, and implies that all 
other birds are permitted. We must again presume that the original 
audience knew exactly which birds were referred to, even if we don't. 
And as these laws were intended for inhabitants of the land of Israel 
they listed only birds likely to be found there. So they don't list 
American birds. There is of course an issue about which American birds 
should be considered unclean, but there is no way you can present that 
as a tradition going back to Moses.

>   When the Torah [Ex. 16:29] says "Let no man leave his place on the 
> seventh day" to what place is this referring?  Does it mean his home, 
> his property if he has more than one home, his neighborhood, his 
> city, or something else ? ...

Again, this is something which would have been more clear to original 
Hebrew readers than it is to us what the word MAQOM refers to in such a 
context - although a careful study of how this word is used in biblical 
Hebrew might provide sufficient clarification.

> ... In fact, Isaiah [66:23] says "It shall be 
> that at every New Moon and on every sabbath all mankind will come to 
> bow down before Me - said the L-rd" which implies that people will 
> leave their homes on the sabbath and go to worship the L-rd .  
> Evidently, Isaiah did not understand this verse in Exodus as the 
> simple reading would have it.
Well, there are all kinds of issues here about the relationships between 
the Torah and the Prophets. But in this context does "come ... before 
me" mean "come to Jerusalem" - something clearly impossible for much of 
"mankind" on a weekly basis even in this age of jet travel! - or does it 
just mean that they come each week to their own special place (perhaps 
even within their homes) where they worship the Lord?

> 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.  How did G-d command our 
> fathers to keep Shabbat?  "You shall keep Shabbat holy, as I have 
> commanded your fathers" (Jeremiah 17:22).
I accept that the Torah does not carefully define this. Indeed this was 
one of the main disputes between Jesus and the Pharisees e.g. was it 
permitted to heal someone, or even to carry a mat, on the Sabbath? But 
the question arises, did God intend to specify precisely what was permitted?

> The sections of Exodus [ch. 21] and Deuteronomy [ch. 21-25] that deal 
> with monetary and physical crimes do not seem to contain enough 
> information to formulate a working legal system.  How can a court 
> legislate with so few guidelines?  Certainly, for courts to function 
> based on biblical law there must have been more information given in 
> the form of an oral law
But was the biblical law intended to be the basis for courts to function?

> The laws of inheritance as stated in Numbers [27:8-11] cannot begin 
> to address all of the many complicated situations that can and have 
> arisen throughout the generations.  Without an oral law, how does a 
> society apply the biblical inheritance laws?
> How does one fulfill the biblical commandments of circumcision [Gen. 
> 17:10-14], fringes [Num. 15:38-39], and booths [Lev. 23:42]?  There 
> is not enough detail in the biblical directive to know how to fulfill 
> these commandments properly.  What are fringes?  What is a booth?  
> How much and where must be cut off in circumcision?  The biblical 
> text is too silent to enable following these commandments unless 
> there was an oral explanation

You have an underlying assumption that it actually matters precisely how 
these commandments are fulfilled. I don't. As the prophets as well as 
Jesus made clear, what matters is not the detailed fulfilment of laws 
but the intention behind it.

Peter Kirk
E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.qaya.org/

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