EVIDENCE FOR THE ORAL LAW
When God gave the Laws
of Booths (Succoth) to Moses (Leviticus chapter 23) He did not only say
you should dwell in the Succah for 7 days. He explained what would comprise
a valid succah; the minimum measurements, what materials are suitable for
the roof, and what are not, etc. Would God order you to sit in something,
pray, eat, sleep in something and not define what that something is? God
explained to Moses that the full legal obligation to actually be in the
Succah, sleep there, etc., actually applies to men and not to women. Yet
women still receive reward for doing so. That the
obligation to sleep in a Succah is not operative on someone in the middle of a journey and all the other details (Rambam, Introduction to Zeraim).
We have numerous terms,
nay - whole instructions that are left undefined by the written Torah.
We have entire legal institutions the basis of whose existence is derived
from the Oral Law. These crucial institutions, legal categories, practical
systems are not clarified, explained, or elaborated upon in the written
tradition. Almost complete reliance is placed upon the Oral Tradition for
the application, details, implementations, and specific details (Kuzari
3/35, Yehudah HaLevi). The indisputable fact is that the Bible often involves
itself with the exceptional situation rather than with
generalizations and principles. This shows that Scripture relies on other statements of direction and law. The Oral Law fulfills this need.
The Bible introduces the
Hebrew Civil and Criminal Statute with this verse:
“NOW THESE ARE THE JUDGMENTS WHICH THOU SHALT SET BEFORE THEM” [EXODUS 21:1].
The Bible then goes on to the slavery laws:
“IF THOU BUY AN HEBREW SERVANT, SIX YEARS HE SHALL SERVE: AND IN THE SEVENTH HE SHALL GO OUT FREE FOR NOTHING” [EXODUS 21:1].
What happened to the “Judgments” that had to be set before them? They were included in the Oral Teaching. The laws of slavery are discussed without concern with the issues of individual freedom. These are included in the
Oral Tradition. This is the way of the world and will always be: Teacher-student, Professor-disciple, Rabbi-Talmid. Thus in the areas of crafts, dance, martial arts, history, science, music, arts, information, and knowledge, etc., is always passed on with an oral dimension. This oral transmission is crucial in all fields of endeavor, -be it sheep farming or
riding class V rapids, there is a crucial dimension of oral transmission involved. The Torah, too was passed on by the relationship between student and teacher. This is the way of the world, the way G-d created it, and intended for His word to be passed on.
Whom did Abraham need to believe in order to take his son on that covenantal journey and offer him up? He had of course to believe in G-d. Who did Isaac need to believe in? Isaac also believed in God but he needed in addition to respect and believe in the integrity, sanity, and wisdom of his father Abraham. In every generation we are bidden to likewise respect and believe in the sages that will be in our time.
[DEUTERONOMY 17:8] IF THERE ARISE A MATTER TOO HARD FOR THEE IN JUDGMENT, BETWEEN BLOOD AND BLOOD, BETWEEN PLEA AND PLEA, AND BETWEEN STROKE AND STROKE, BEING MATTERS OF CONTROVERSY WITHIN THY GATES: THEN SHALT THOU ARISE, AND GET THEE UP INTO THE PLACE WHICH THE LORD THY GOD SHALL CHOOSE;
17:9] AND THOU SHALT COME UNTO THE PRIESTS THE LEVITES, AND UNTO THE JUDGE
THAT SHALL BE IN THOSE DAYS, (we have only the sages of our present day)
AND ENQUIRE; AND THEY SHALL SHEW THEE THE SENTENCE OF JUDGMENT: [DEUTERONOMY
17:10] AND THOU SHALT DO ACCORDING TO THE SENTENCE, WHICH
THEY OF THAT PLACE WHICH THE LORD SHALL CHOOSE SHALL SHEW THEE; AND THOU SHALT OBSERVE TO DO ACCORDING TO ALL THAT THEY INFORM THEE:
[DEUTERONOMY 17:11] ACCORDING TO THE SENTENCE OF THE LAW WHICH THEY SHALL TEACH THEE, AND ACCORDING TO THE JUDGMENT WHICH THEY SHALL TELL THEE, THOU SHALT DO: THOU SHALT NOT DECLINE FROM THE SENTENCE WHICH THEY SHALL SHEW THEE, TO THE RIGHT HAND, NOR TO THE LEFT.
“TEACH THEE”, “SHALL TELL
THEE”, means Oral Communication. The Written Law is to the Oral Law like
short notes or a formula are for a lecturer. For those who have not heard
the lecture from the Master, such notes would be
completely useless. Words and marks which serve those scholars who had heard the lecture as instructive guiding stars to the wisdom that had been taught, stare at the uninitiated as unmeaning sphinxes. The wisdom and truths, which the initiated reproduce from them are sneered at by the uninitiated, as being merely a clever or witty play of words and empty dreams without any real foundation (Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch Exodus Commentary 21/2). In Physics, we have the formula E=mc2 meaning energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared. The explanation of
the formula is comparable to the Oral Tradition that brings the concept down to the physical world and makes it applicable to everyday life. For those who are uninitiated and have not heard the explanation the short notes or formulae appear to be mere markings or plays on words. The Oral Law is in fact expressed in the Written Torah. If one persists with the right Hebrew language tools (its rules and structures) he would reveal the Oral Law deep in the Written Law.
Jews studied and pondered the Divine words. They cherished, loved, honored, and revered the Oral and Written Torah. All of this existed centuries before Christianity or Islam existed, while most of the world was illiterate and ignorant.
This is so simple, true, logical, and pure. No field of activity is devoid of a teaching tradition that involves some oral communication to clarify and define itself. In any field if a question arises one naturally goes to the experts in that field at the time. Our sages and wise men have been charged with passing on the Oral Tradition.
ARE THE STATUTES AND JUDGMENTS AND LAWS [Hebrew: “Toros” i.e. the plural
of Torah], WHICH THE LORD MADE BETWEEN HIM AND THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL IN
MOUNT SINAI BY THE HAND OF MOSES>” [LEVITICUS 26:46]. These laws
were given at Sinai to the Children of Israel through Moses> God did not
make a covenant with Israel except by virtue of the Oral Tradition (Gittin
60b). Both Torahs were communicated by the same prophets, and derived from
the same source. The Torahs are God’s words which in part were written in the Bible, and in part derive from the authoritative statements of the righteous teachers of the Oral Tradition (Hoffman, Die Erste Mischna, Berlin, 1882, p. 3).
Jewish leaders of scholarship and piety were inspired by Divine Inspiration (“So they not err in Judgment” Leviticus Rabah 29). This tradition existed from time immemorial and will continue into the future. The Bible set up a system to deal with the possibility of error on the part of the elders, sages, Judaism never claimed infallibility for its spiritual leaders and Rabbis. (Rabbi Dr. Jacobovots, “Journal of a Rabbi”, NY 1966). The system worked and always protected the integrity, truth, and faithfulness of our traditions. We were never left adrift in the Ocean without sexton or compass. G-d in His wisdom gave us a Torah that would stand the test of time and the vicissitudes of Exile and persecution, of redemption, and return.
Indeed, Dear Friends,
any objective view of the Scriptures would yield much evidence that an
Oral tradition was the mode of transmission from parents to children. “AND
YOU SHALL TEACH THEM DILIGENTLY TO YOUR CHILDREN”
[DEUTERONOMY 6:7]. This means that the teacher must clarify the axioms with decisiveness and not allow the listener to remain in doubt. The Hebrew root “shnay” connotes the meanings of ‘the number two, repeat, and teach’. From
this we learn that the Oral and Written Law must be taught not once but over and over again. Before telling us to teach our children diligently the Torah says, “THESE WORDS WILL BE UPON YOUR HEART” [DEUTERONOMY 6:7]. This means that we can teach diligently only if we are ourselves convinced in our own hearts that the Torah is true and is the right way of life (Sforno, Rabbi Don Yistchak Abarbanel, Rabbi Moshe Alshik). It has always been the students, the Torah bearers, that received most support in the religious communities, not the athletes or entertainers. The Talmud has always said after describing a host of good deeds, that the study of Torah is equal to the sum of them all (Shabbos 127a). Where do we know that the Torah must be taught until we know it fluently. The Torah says, “THAT THE LORD’S LAW MAY BE IN YOUR MOUTH” [EXODUS 13:9] - which is Oral transmission. Where do we know that the teacher must also explain the reasons behind the Torah? EXODUS 21:1 says, “THESE ARE THE ORDINANCES THAT YOU SHALL PUT BEFORE THEM”. The Hebrew expression “put before them” implies something similar to
a table spread out with food ready to be partaken of.
YOU SHALL TEACH THEM DILIGENTLY TO YOUR CHILDREN” [DEUTERONOMY 6:7].
G-d directed that the Torah be transmitted to future generations by means
of Oral teachings. Every age has a next generation; so the generation that
was freed from Egypt and received the Torah has a next generation until the end of time.
[DEUTERONOMY 6:7] AND THOU SHALT TEACH THEM DILIGENTLY UNTO THY CHILDREN, AND SHALT TALK OF THEM WHEN THOU SITTEST IN THINE HOUSE, AND WHEN THOU WALKEST BY THE WAY, AND WHEN THOU LIEST DOWN, AND WHEN THOU RISEST UP.
G-d commands us to speak
of the words of the Holy Torah when you sit in your house, walk by the
way, when you lie down and when you rise up. This is a major priority of
the Bible, namely its transmission to the present and future generations.
The first blessing given to a child is that they grow up in Torah, to marry,
and do good deeds. The minute Torah learning slowed down acculturation
and assimilation grew rampant. When a Jewish town stopped learning Torah
they vanished. We also believe that the state’s military prowess is ultimately
determined according to the number of
children chirping like little birds in the study house of Torah learning. Once, God forbid, they are interrupted then we are open to physical annihilation by the enemy. To paraphrase Rabbi Emmanuel Feldman in ‘On Judaism’, Beyond all the good, rational reasons, Torah is the mysterious bridge connecting the Jew with G-d and by extension all of humanity.
Through the Torah we interact and communicate. This is the means by which G-d fulfills His covenant with His people, to sustain and protect them.
THE SAGES - GIANTS OF MIND AND SPIRIT
The sages of our Oral tradition had impeccable character; they were honest, wise, devoted, compassionate, and good hearted. Look at some of the qualities demanded of them:
[DEUTERONOMY 16:18] JUDGES AND OFFICERS SHALT THOU MAKE THEE IN ALL THY GATES, WHICH THE LORD THY GOD GIVETH THEE, THROUGHOUT THY TRIBES: AND THEY SHALL JUDGE THE PEOPLE WITH JUST JUDGMENT.
[DEUTERONOMY 16:19] THOU SHALT NOT WREST JUDGMENT; THOU SHALT NOT RESPECT PERSONS, NEITHER TAKE A GIFT: FOR A GIFT DOTH BLIND THE EYES OF THE WISE, AND PERVERT THE WORDS OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
[DEUTERONOMY 16:20] THAT WHICH IS ALTOGETHER JUST SHALT THOU FOLLOW, THAT THOU MAYEST LIVE, AND INHERIT THE LAND WHICH THE LORD THY GOD GIVETH THEE.
Josephus said thousands
of Jews declared their readiness to be trampled upon by Roman cavalry rather
accept symbols of a man’s divinity as ordered by Caligula. Rather
than allow the outrage of belief in the absolute unity of G-d, the Jewish
sages and ordinary folk suffered martyrdom. As Fuerst points out in the
worldwide Roman Empire it was the Jews alone who refused to pay homage
to the “divinity” of Caligula. They thereby saved the honor of the
human race. The rabbis always defended the Unity of God against pollution
be it the Gnostic or Zoroastrians who claimed a duality of
godhead or the doctrine of three in one. (Dr. J. H. Hertz).
The People of the Book
were, after all, closer to explain and pass on the torch of tradition of
Oral Law to the next generation. Remember the scribes and Rabbis sat in
the seat of Moses (according to Matthew 23). This meant
that they retained the Oral Law that Moses had received. The form this has taken today is the Talmud and its commentaries.
Obedience to the Oral
Law is a Commandment