Hebrew In Israel | Oral Torah Excerpt – Learn Torah

“The Israelites understood one fundamental thing about law that other nations did not...”

Oral Torah, Talmud, Mishna,

Hebrew In Israel | Oral Torah Excerpt – Learn Torah

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This is an excerpt from the first episode of my Oral Torah series on Talking Torah Round Table with Jeff Gilbert, explaining what the Israelites understood that other nations did not.

“If the Torah gives you general guidelines, what is the Torah understanding?  Torah is understanding one very simple thing, something that none of the other law codes understood:  life carries on and the world changes.  So Torah is given to you as a written Torah, and it seems to be (this is a statement made by professor Mallul of Haifa University) that unlike the entire ancient near East, there was one thing that was practiced by everyone else except for the Israelites.  It seems to be that the Israelites refused to write down any court decision. 

We have almost no inscriptions—very few of them.  Almost no case laws whatsoever, except for very, very few inscriptions like the famous gate inscription at Khirbet Qeiyafa and maybe the inscription from Meytsad Hashavyahu, but there aren’t too many inscriptions.  And if you understand what we have in the ancient near East, in the corpus of writing, a lot of it is legal material—transactions, court debates, laws being passed down and so on.  The Israelites?  We have nothing like this. 

So a lot of scholars say, “Oh, the Israelites didn’t know how to read and write.”   I challenge that claim.  I think that they just had a very, very different way of looking at what it means to write things down.  For the ancient Israelite, what is written is written, and you do not add to what is written by writing anything else.  If you want to add anything that is connected to the Torah, it has to remain oral. 

But what that creates is a very important dynamic.  For example, in American law, if the high court or the Supreme Court or any court sets a precedent of a law, that goes into the books and you’re stuck.  The Torah says, “No. I have my law–that’s the law.  If you write anything else down, it might try to override this.”  So the Israelites refrained.  And this is what Professor Mallul stated.  And when I read it, you should’ve seen the fireworks in my brain because it was like a moment of revelation when I read this! 

The Israelites understood one fundamental thing about law that other nations did not understand:  The world changes and the Torah of God doesn’t.  If I write anything down that is supposed to go together with the Torah, I will eventually undermine the Torah.  And this is why the concept of keeping Torah oral, for example in the second temple period and then after that, was fiercely kept by the Pharisees because they remembered that.  There was a very powerful memory amongst the people that you can’t write anything else. 

And this is why they rejected the apocrypha, because all the rest of the books were sanctioned and they knew where these books came from.  But the other books, the Jewish apocrypha, were put in question because they had no idea who wrote these.  They appeared at this time. And they said, if we were to accept these books and they’re not from a prophet—we can’t prove it’s from a prophet—it will undermine the Torah.  And you know what?  It did.  And it does to this very day with people who follow, for example, the Jubilee calendar, or the lunar sabbath, or the solar cycle and so on.  They understood something that people today, with all their ego—thinking that they’ve discovered the truth—do not understand.  One fundamental thing about the Torah: they deliberately did not write things down because they knew that if they would, it will be solidified and it would turn into part of the Torah.  And people would start adding that to the Torah.  And the Torah specifically says in Deuteronomy, twice, not to add or subtract from it.”

 

Hear the entire discussion here:  Oral Torah Part 1


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