[b-hebrew] Common Sense

Harold Holmyard hholmyard at ont.com
Tue Oct 24 08:06:12 EDT 2006

Shoshanna Walker wrote:

> Yes 'chok' does refer to that word? which word?  All three?  You quoted 
> three words.  What is your authority?

HH: The Bible is my authority and the lexicons. 
The words I gave are relative synonyms, so it does 
not matter that I used three words. People are 
familiar with different translations. that's why I 
gave three choices. Lexicons suggest many more 
terms for the word than the ones I mentioned: HAL 
(portion, law, regulation, prescription, rule, 
prescribed task, limit), BDB (decree, statute, 
right, enactment, condition), DCH (legal 
instruction, prescription, convention, custom), 
and there are numerous others.

> Nothing that I wrote is arbitrary, I am not citing my OPINION - unlike 
> you. I am drawing from our Torah giants who knew/know Torah far better 
> than either one of us.

HH: It is their opinion. Yes, what they wrote has 
historical value, but it is not guaranteed to be 
right and is subject to evaluation and even 
correction. It is God's written word that has 
divine authority, not oral tradition that was 
eventually written down. What people say can 
change. That is why God had his word written down 
as a permanent remembrance of his thought and 
intent. That is what has authority. All human 
teachings derive from it and only have real, 
spiritual authority as they exactly reflect it. We 
are not free to add to what the Lord caused to be 
written in the Law itself.

   Everything they wrote and taught they derived
> from the Torah.

HH: That's good, but I have read the ancient 
Jewish writings, and there is a lot in them that 
strikes me as human opinions and ideas based on 
the Law in only the loosest way. People often use 
God's word in a way that is unfaithful to its true 
meaning and intent, and such pronouncements may or 
may not reflect the ideas God intended.

   They used particular, specific means of deriving
> information from Torah, that were not arbitrary, they were very very 
> careful, and even though you don't know what they are, and don't 
> understand them, this certainly does not make their teaching 'arbitrary'.

HH: You are claiming that the OT "chukim" are 
arbitrary and incomprehensible, not me. I am 
saying that they would have had meaning to the 
people to whom they were originally given.

> Which chukim can we understand?

HH: Many of them. Here are a few:

Ex. 30:21 they shall wash their hands and feet so 
that they will not die. This is to be a lasting 
ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the 
generations to come.”

HH: This was for the Levites whenever they entered 
the Tent of Meeting, and the obvious intent was to 
remind them of their human uncleanness before God, 
their need for cleaning before a holy God.

Lev. 6:18 All the males among the children of 
Aaron shall eat of it. It shall be a statute for 
ever in your generations concerning the offerings 
of the LORD made by fire: every one that toucheth 
them shall be holy.

HH: The word "statute" can also be translated as 
"share" or "due," for God considered it proper for 
the priestly families to gain their food from 
their work of offering sacrifices on behalf of the 
people. Here the grain offerings are under 

Deut. 4:6 Observe them carefully, for this will 
show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, 
who will hear about all these decrees and say, 
“Surely this great nation is a wise and 
understanding people.”
Deut. 4:7 What other nation is so great as to have 
their gods near them the way the LORD our God is 
near us whenever we pray to him?
Deut. 4:8 And what other nation is so great as to 
have such righteous decrees and laws as this body 
of laws I am setting before you today?

HH: Here the word is translated as "decrees" in 
verse 8, and it is obvious that the decrees are 
not arbitrary, imcomprehensible mysteries, because 
in that case the Gentile nations would not praise 
the laws. They were decrees that even made sense 
to Gentiles.

   Which of the 613 mitzvot are chukim and
> which are mishpatim?

HH: I suppose the ones that are identified as such.

> Do you know what the 613 mitzvot are? 

HH: Yes, they are a list of commandments the Jews 
have, taken from the Torah, that to them summarize 
their entire duty before God in terms of 
obedience in life.

  Do you have a list of them and
> where they are given in the written text, and an explanation of how they 
> are to be observed?  Do all of them truly make sense to you?

HH: Lists are readily available. I have looked at 
one in a Sunday School class. My authority and 
interest is God's word, not Jewish lists of 
mishpatim. Sorry. I am not under the law and do 
not consider modern Judaism to be a first need of 
mine to study. I may get to studying the list of 
613 mishpatim again someday, but there is no 
particular listing like this in the Torah. It is 
just a human compilation and of no particular 
significance to me, as far as I can tell.

> You would have to have all this information in order to make the claims 
> that you do.

HH: Not really.

> I gave you two other examples of chukim, explain how they make sense - 
> what is the sense behind not wearing wool and linen together?

HH: God was establishing a holy nation. It had to 
be obedient to His will, yielding unreserved 
submission. So God made distinctions for the 
people to follow that would give them a separate 
identity among the nations. It would in a sense 
isolate them from other peoples but would protect 
them from being compromised by the ungodly 
thoughts and religions of other people.

HH: The Lord was showing that his authority 
extended to the most trivial areas of life. All 
that he commanded was part of a way of life he was 
developing. As far as the specifics, we no longer 
know what reason God may have had for choosing 
these two particular fabrics to keep separate, but 
it was in line with God's constant desire for 
separation of things that differ:

Lev. 19:19 ¶ “‘Keep my decrees. ¶ “‘Do not mate 
different kinds of animals. ¶

“‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. ¶
“‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of 

HH: There was a need to make spiritual 
distinctions in life, and God gave the people 
practice by making physical distinctions. One was 
not mix Yahwism with Baalism, and this sort of 
ordinance taught the need and requirement of 
making such distinctions as God's holy people.

> about cotton?

HH: Where does the Law mention cotton? My Bible 
encyclopedia lists Isa 19:9 and Esth 1:6 as verses 
that related to cotton. But neither relevant word 
for "cotton" appears in the Law, and in fact, 
there is disagreement about these two places, with 
some taking the word in Esther to indicate fine 
linen hangings.

   Meat and milk?

HH: There was no flat milk and meat separation but 
only this (Deut 14:21):

Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.

HH: I think there are a number of lessons here 
based on the idea of the family, and not 
exploiting the animals that serve you. One was not 
to be heartless, and there is something a bit 
perverse about killing the beloved calf of a cow 
and then cooking it in its mother's milk. We are 
to use animals for our needs but not heartlessly 
exploit them or degrade ourselves in the use of 

> The written law did not make a distinction between edot, chukim and 
> mishpatim?

HH: No, it does not absolutely do that, as far as 
I can tell. Obviously, it uses the terms together, 
so they can have a different connotation. But it 
seems that often the different terms are different 
ways of looking at the same body of laws. They can 
be viewed as testimonies, as decrees, or as 
ordinances. Perhaps some function more as 
testimonies than others, or some have a more 
decreed nature than others.

>   So you think the Torah is arbitrary in its language, if, in 
> your world, there is no distinction, why did it use 3 different words?  
> Why did it call Parah Adumah a chok - twice?

HH: It did not do so to say that the statute was 
incomprehensible and to be accepted as mere fiat. 
I don't think the word is limited to that 
implication. Obviously, a legal decree must be 
accepted, whatever one thinks about it. So that 
connotation is not completely absent.

> I don't believe that you are equipped with the knowledge to teach me or 
> anyone Judaism.

HH: I am not trying to teach you Judaism. Why 
would you suppose that? Modern Judaism is a 
development of ancient pharisaism, and the 
Pharisees were not my heroes. I do not equate the 
Bible with Judaism, for I think that a 
considerable part of Judaism is human thinking, 
not divine thinking.

> You didn't demonstrate, though you barely tried, that the mitzva of 
> Parah Adumah can be understood by human intelligence because you didn't 
> even RELATE correctly to the concept of Parah Aduma in the first place, 
> even though I explained it.  It is not a SIN offering - it has nothing 
> to do with G-d's grace to forgive sin - or even to give anyone life each 
> instant.  It is a matter of spiritual DEFILEMENT.  Do you know what that 
> meant in the Torah for purposes of living in Torah society?  To my 
> religion in the times that we had a Beit HaMikdash?  Do you not 
> UNDERSTAND the difference between someone having sinned and someone 
> having become impure, defiled?

HH: They are closely related; ceremonial 
defilement was supposed to point to the reality of 
human sinfulness.

> Do you know what it means today?  Do you 
> know the different grades of defilement, do you know what various agents 
> caused them, do you know how they affected people?

HH: I know what Scripture says and have studied 
commentaries on all these points.

>  Did you bother to 
> read the text that  I referenced, did you see that nowhere does it 
> mention Parah Adumah is used to help man get forgiven from SIN?

HH: Defilement was a condition quite akin to 
sinfulness. If you don't see the parallel that I 
drew between this law and atonement by sacrifice, 
then you evidently do not want to acknowledge the 
connection between defilement and sinfulness.

> For some reason you would like to believe that we forgot our Torah and 
> our commandments and how to perform them, but you are simply wrong, and 
> you cannot prove otherwise.
> YOUR entire point of view that you impose on Judaism, not our Torah 
> giants' points of view, is arbitrary - we have a rock-solid 2,000+ year 
> old tradition of observance that has been preserved that was NOT 
> arbitrary, and that will continue to be observed as completely as 
> possible until Redemption, no matter who likes it or not.
> As for your last question, I will not bother to answer it, because I 
> explained it very clearly already.
> Maybe it would serve you, if you want to understand it, to re-read my 
> previous post, carefully and slowly.

HH: You are the one complaining because I say that 
the decrees would have made more sense to the 
ancient Israelites than they do to us today 
because we have lost some of the historical 
particulars. If you doubt that, then you are 
taking a faith position that is contrary to all 
observed reality because we are quite aware that 
we have lost much of ancient life.

Harold Holmyard

> Shoshanna
> Shoshanna Walker wrote:
>> No, chukim does not refer to the plural form of statutes, ordinances AND
>> decrees.
> HH: Yes, it does refer to that word, and your
> definition below is only a later understanding of
> the import of the word. You can't prove that the
> meaning of these biblical details has not been
> lost. This entire point of view is arbitrary.
>> The Torah distinguishes between three types of Mitzvot (Deut. 4:45) - 1.
>> Edot = testimonies, they are the mitzvot that testify to G-d's miracles,
>> such as Shabbat, which testifies to Creation, or Matzah, which testifies
>> to the Exodus.  2.  Mishpatim = ordinances, most of the mitzvot fall
>> into this category.  They are laws that make sense, human intelligence
>> even can know how necessary they are for the benefit of society; they
>> represent laws that are valid even had they not been written in the
>> Torah, such as the prohibitions against robbery, murder, and incest.
>> Mishpatim are generally accepted laws which are found in the legal
>> systems of most human cultures and civilizations.  3. Chukim = decrees,
>> they are the mitzvot which cannot be understood by ordinary human
>> intellect, such as not mixing milk and meat, not wearing wool and linen
>> together, they are decrees of G-d, and it is not for anyone to question
>> it, and they set Israel apart from the rest of the nations.
> HH: The written law of Moses does not make this
> distinction, and it is simply arbitrary to assign
> such a meaning to the word. Many times the
> "chukim" can be understood.
>> The Red Heifer "purified the impure and made impure the pure." How does
>> something that has the ability to purify one person cause impurity in
>> another - this is not subject to human understanding.
> HH: This is no more mysterious than animal
> sacrifice itself. God condescends to credit people
> with an atonement for sin that their actions can
> in no way really earn. The blood of goats cannot
> take away human sin. It was merely God's grace to
> grant forgiveness on this basis.
>> And no, we did not "forget" anything - thanks to the Oral Torah, and the
>> mesorah which was accurately transmitted through people, all the names
>> of whom we know, through the generations.  We "even" know that Parah
>> Adumah is in response to the sin of the golden calf.
> HH: This is more arbitrariness, the assumption
> that you have not forgotten anything. The Jewish
> people have doubtless forgotten plenty of things.
>> This whole conversation is a result of someone saying that Judaism, or
>> Torah, is simply a way of life that makes sense.  That is not at all
>> true, that is just trivializing it, robbing it of its depth and
>> complexities, and relationship with G-d.
> HH: Are you complaining that someone says the way
> of life in the Bible makes sense? Or are you
> complaining because someone says it doesn't make
> sense? And which are you? You seem to be the one
> saying that it doesn't make sense. I don't see how
> that gives more glory to God than saying it does
> make sense but we have lost the details of some of
> the meaning. And this assertion in no way removes
> the mystery from the Bible or assumes that all
> things are understandable without a divine
> explanation.
> Yours,
> Harold Holmyard
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