Saturday, November 18, 2006

How Do We Know That There is an Oral Law?

Logically speaking, there has to be. In the Torah there is a commandment that mentions what is done with a habitually goring bull; it is put to death. The presence of this commandment in the Torah leads to a proof that G-d gave the Oral Law to Moses along with the Written Torah. The question that naturally comes from this commandment is, "What constitutes a habitually goring bull?" The importance of this question cannot be underplayed; if a society is a product of its laws, then a society needs to have good and coherent laws. If my bull continuously gores other bulls, it would be in the best interest of bull-owners as to what exactly constitutes a habitually goring bull. The inability to define this particular status of bull would lead the bull to continue damaging peoples' property and would create an element of strife and even hatred in the society. Therefore, peace rides upon the ability to define just what exactly a "habitually goring bull" is.
The Talmud explains that a bull which has gored three times constitutes a habitually goring bull. We know this because it is written in the physical Talmud, which the holy Sages of the Sanhedrin wrote down in a codified form during the destruction of the Second Temple during the Roman occupation. They considered that the events taking place after this destruction, namely dispersal, would also decompose the Jewish society and so they felt it an obligation to codify which had not been codified since its deliverance to Moses along with the Written Law. The Oral Law was meticulously written down as Jews now took to studying it on their terms with Rabbi's and most likely amongst themselves, and later as printing became a possible industry, it appeared in printed form in mass quantities. Now every Jew (and person) has access to the Talmud
There are some people whom seek to prove the invalidity of the Oral Law, or rather its supposedly corrupting rigorous approach to Law, in order to validate their own beliefs. It is these people, namely a certain "brand" of Christians (and most likely all of them), whom seek to show the universal role of Jesus in the Second Temple time by playing him against the assumedly dead routine of the Law and the corruption of which it is charged (there are also Muslims whom seek to show the universality of Muhammad in a similar fashion). Therefore, these Christians argue that the Oral Law was not Divinely authored, unlike the (Written) Torah, which they believe was, and therefore must logically conclude that the Sages invented it in the Second Temple time. Make no mistake, to be under "Divine influence" is not the same thing as receiving something from G-d, as did Moses, and therefore even if the Sages were inspired by (what they thought was) the Will of G-d, the Oral Law would be useless and even dangerous.
Fortunately reality saves the day. There is a problem with the view that the Sages invented the Oral Law upon its codification in the year 70 C.E.; how did the Jews of Moses' time understand the commandment to put to death a bull which had habitually gored? If we ask the question "What constitutes a habitually goring bull," then we can assume that the recipients of the Torah, the Jews whom G-d liberated from Egypt and were wandering in the desert, also had that question. Can it be possible that the question only became relevant in the 1st Century and therefore the Jewish Sages only codified the Oral Law in that time? Absolutely not! However, this is what we must conclude if we go by the view of the people whom state that the Sages invented the Oral Law. Rather, that the Talmud elucidates an answer, which is not found anywhere in the Written Torah, is a proof that there was both a question and an answer, and since they were not originally in written form, they must have been in oral form. It is not only silly to say that the Sages invented an arbitrary answer to the question, it also does not hold water due to the fact that if there is no Oral Law, G-d has given the Jews a useless commandment (a habitually goring bull...), and if we believe in G-d we are not free to assume that. If we do assume this, however, then we also assume that the entire Torah is useless since we cannot decipher it. What bigger tragedy would there be than an incomprehensible Torah? Yet that is what people assume the Torah is when they say that there is no Oral Law. It also makes room for people to enter their interpretations into the Torah. The existence of an Oral Law does not allow for that to occur.
But if logic is not your cup of tea, then perhaps you would enjoy a proof that is found in the text of the Torah itself. In Exodus18:13-26, Moses has the sole responsibility of providing conclusions to legal matters that the Jews bring to him. His father-in-law, Jethro, seeing that this task is daunting for Moses, says to him,
"You shall caution them regarding the decrees and the teachings, and you shall make known to them the path in which they should go and the deeds that they should do. And you shall discern from among the entire people, men of accomplishment, G-d-fearing people, men of truth, people who despise money, and you shall appoint them leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, and leaders of tens. They shall judge the people at all times, and they shall bring every major matter to you, and every minor matter they shall judge, and it will be eased for you, and they shall bear with you. If you do this thing - and G-d shall command you - then you will be able to endure, and this entire people, as well, shall arrive at its destination in peace." (Exodus 18, 20-23)
Just a second here; "Leaders of thousands? "They shall judge the people at all times?" "Every major matter... every minor matter?" Why so many judges, why at all times, and there were so many cases that there was actually a difference between minor and major cases? Sounds like a huge group of people had a massive amount of questions for Moses, a case factory. Could it be that they, just like us, were puzzled by the nature of many of their legal disputes? From where exactly was Moses retrieving this information that he was giving them in order to resolve their disputes? Did he make up the answers as he went along? The answer is that G-d gave to him the Oral Law on Mt. Sinai to accompany the Written Law. Remember, Moses made several trips up and down Mt. Sinai, only receiving the first Ten Commandments during his first forty-day period ascent.

How Do We Know that Isaac (and not Ishmael) Inherited all of Abraham's Property?
Logically speaking, since Ishmael was the G-d-chosen progenitor of Abraham according to Islam, which says that Isaac's being the Torah's chosen one of Abraham was a Jewish cover-up of the true record of history, there should be a written historical record of the descendants of Ishmael in the same way that there is a written historical record of Isaac's descendants, whom are the Jews. We know that this is not true, first, because there is no historical record in writing of the events of Ishmael's descendants. Secondly, all of the major events in the Torah happened to the descendants of Isaac, such as the 400-year slavery in Egypt, which culminated in their deliverance of the Torah and their being brought into the Land that G-d promised Abraham's descendants (Isaac or Ishmael?). How do Muslims explain that the descendants of Isaac were given the Torah and brought, under Joshua, to possess the Land that G-d promised Abraham? The descendants of Ishmael, whom appear infrequently in the Tanakh, are referred to as "Ishmaelites" and are not central to any of the themes other than being the ones to whom Joseph's brothers sold him. Near the end of the Tanakh (I am not sure where) appears the word "Arabs."
Thirdly, the formation of the religion of Islam in the 6th Century, with the Qur'an as its text, is the first time to make mention of any sort of history preceding it, and guess what, the entire Biblical history encapsulated in the Qur'an is the history of the Jews! If Ishmael's descendants recorded their history in the manner that did the descendants of Isaac, the new Muslims should have made reference to that as their religion's history, but they did not! Why not!? Why did they have to use the history of Isaac's descendants? The answer is that there was no other recorded Biblical history! We have to face it, after the Torah's final mention of the person Ishmael (Genesis 25:12-18) he is no longer mentioned; what becomes of him seems to be unknown. Suddenly in the 6th Century (more than 3,000 years later) a religion arises with its founder claiming to be the descendant of Ishmael coming to claim his rightful inherited legacy of Abraham; why had none of Ishmael's descendants taken it upon themselves to rectify this historical injustice and discrepancy earlier? Where were they, who they they, and what were they doing this whole time (more than 3,000 years)? That Muhammad brought the message of Islam to a civilization of Arabs whom were polytheists alludes that somewhere along the line the descendants of Ishmael became polytheists, i.e., veered from the monotheism of their fathers Ishmael and Abraham and their mother Hagar. Their history is nowhere to be found, and even if it was, it would all be rife with polytheism and so Islam has nothing (no historical monotheism) on which to stand. Grappling with this reality, the founder of Islam claims that all of the Biblical figures (including Jesus) are the progenitors of Islam, and they were all Jews!
Further, even though Islam claims that Ishmael is the heir to Abraham's legacy, which would suggest a blood, and therefore "genetic" association with being a Muslim, it makes an interesting contradiction; Islam claims itself to be a pure religion having nothing to do with genetics, ethnicity, or bloodline, i.e., to be strictly about faith. If this is true then why does the Muslim tradition emphasize that the true legacy of Abraham comes from the lineage of a specific son? If bloodline is irrelevant, why does it matter that Muhammad was a descendant of Ishmael, why does one have to be a descendant of any particular son if Islam is based purely on faith and has no blood, ethnic, or genetic component? I would advise not to rack your brain trying to find an answer because there is is no answer, but don't take my word for it, ask a Muslim. Islam has dealt with this discrepancy relatively well, but not well enough, by saying that both Ishmael and Isaac are the inheritors of Abraham's legacy, but just that Ishmael inherited the larger and better portion of that legacy. How is this an acceptable view to Muslims when the Torah's view, which says that Isaac inherited the larger and better section of Abraham's legacy, is what they find unacceptable? Simultaneously, the Muslim tradition insists on the equality of Ishmael and Isaac and states that Ishmael received the larger portion, yet only one could be true.
The Jewish tradition has nothing to hide; Isaac received the larger portion of Abraham's legacy by Divine command, while Ishmael received the legacy of monotheism as well but none of Abraham's property. To our modern eyes this can seem politically incorrect, but not according to the social and cultural standards more than 3,000 years ago. It was a commandment but G-d but we have no reason to ignore the sociological element. Further, let us be honest: Muhammad did not establish the religion of Islam in order to correct an age-old injustice for the same reason I stated earlier; why wasn't there a revolutionary Arab whom started Islam at an earlier point in history. The truth is that Muhammad tapped into Biblical history simply because it would give Islam the appearance of antiquity and would afford him the followers whom he desperately needed, and therefore he did was necessary. The reality of Islam is that Muhammad created it because 6th Century pagan Saudi Arabia was in desperate need of monotheism and an entire new political system, which Muslims treat as a validating reason for the establishment of Islam.
Now to those who prefer Biblical proofs over logical ones, Genesis 25:5 says, "Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac." Remember, if the Muslim tradition has no problem with the notion of one son getting more than the other, then it should have no problem with Isaac getting more than Ishmael, which is the truth. Have no fear! Genesis 9 says, "His (Abraham's) sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre." Further, all of the promises that G-d promised would happen with Ishmael to Hagar come true, and even further, the end of this Parsha (Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah), ends with the statement, "These were the years of Ishmael's life: a hundred and thirty-seven years, when he expired and died, and was gathered to his people." (Genesis 25:17). This is the same ending that all of the respected figures of the Torah receive, namely Abraham and all the other Patriarchs and Matriarchs.


Anonymous said...

Shalom Vekol Tuv.
Im glad that somebody is approaching this issue in a calm manner. As someone who came from the Yeshivah world, I have in the past few years asking questions regarding the Ba al Peh.

Let me take an example oft used. The Succah and its measurements. How, do those who hold closely to a Ba al Peh ask, do we know what the dimensions of the Succah should be? and materials used. Without the Torah Ba al Peh we wouldnt. Fair enough. But this can allow for the omission of many things.Example. What tools may you use on a Succah??? May you use Iron/Metal ,the weapon of war, to put it together? How should you dress when putting it together??? Surely you cant be doing this mitzvah in shorts can you??? And during what hours may we build it, day night 24/7. Yes it does sound ridiculous but if you are going to say we dont know this without the BP, then surely we can ask many details about the building and never finish.
When we bring a Korban we only care, in many cases about its age and that it has no mum. How bout how tall it is, surely there must be some height of the korban from ground to head??? How long its tale is??? The same with a Succah. The chashuv about a Succah is why we dwell in them, not which wood or scach etc, Hashem could have told us that in a few lines just like he gave Noach the word about Gopher Wood being the type needed for the Teivah. People know what a temporary shelter, thats all the Succah is, would look like. What schach, what size isnt chashuv unless your looking to prove that its chashuv from ommission in the Ktav.IE. The Torah didnt say it so therefore some important info is missing, so there must be something called the Oral Torah to fill in the blanks. Since I doubt we were

In short Yaniv, just because the Torah dosent mention it doesnt mean we sit poor in knowledge. The Torah assumes we know what Shor Is, What an eil or keves is because they are in our lives today and we dont need a mesorah to identify that animal called a shor, so we dont need a mesora to explain to us how to build a temporary dwelling which no doubt was common in those days when people travelled and built temporary accomodations till they could build their permanent home.
I will stop here and take a breath. I hope that this discussion will blossom with derech eretz and leshaim shamayim.



jjew said...

Hey, that's a pretty good post, thanks. I don't feel entirely qualified to answer the topics you brought up. I'll ask a rabbi when I get the chance and put his answer up here. Thanks, have a good week. Yaniv...