The Talmidi view of the Oral Law
Talmidaism does not accept the binding authority of the Oral Law – the Talmud and rabbinical decisions. From past experience, this statement needs clarification.
In Rabbinical Judaism, the Oral Law comes first. If the Torah says one thing, and the Oral Law says another, the rabbis say that we should go with what the Oral Law says. We disagree with this.
We agree that there are things which are not contained in the written Torah, and so clarification has to be sought elsewhere. In such circumstances, we agree that learned decisions are needed. However, we often disagree with the decisions that the rabbis took.
Followers of the Way look rather at the spirit of Torah, interpreting and extrapolating what is necessary by asking ourselves what is intended by certain commandments. We agree that the oldest parts of the Talmud are useful as historical documents, giving us an insight into how Judaism was practised by a significant portion of the ancient Jewish community, but the Oral Law is viewed as no more than a collection of fallible human decisions.
For a more detailed treatment of the Oral Law, see:
Torah, not Talmud: Living God’s Way
Yeshua`’s Criticism of the Oral Law
A Comparison of Talmidi and Rabbinical Teaching
Yeshua` and Torah: For or Against?
Why the Oral Law exists
One hugely overlooked group in ancient Judaism is the one consisting of the ordinary man and woman in the street. Most Jews at the end of the Second Temple period did not formally belong to any specific sect, and practised something termed “Common Judaism”. I believe that it is this sector of early Galilean Jewish society that the Prophet Yeshua` first began to minister to.
Ordinary Jews looked to the Torah (the Written Law) and the books of the Prophets for their guidance. However, there are some points in the Written Law which are unclear. For example, every Israelite male child must be circumcised on the eighth day of his life. Also, on the Sabbath, one is forbidden to do any work. One of the activities forbidden is cutting, and circumcision is obviously cutting. So the dilemma is, if a child’s eighth day of life falls on a Sabbath, what do you do? The Torah gives no clarification.
Pharisaic elders (forerunners of the rabbi’s) were greatly respected teachers among ordinary Jews. When faced with a difficult question such as this, many people would go to a Pharisaic elder to resolve the issue. The Pharisees had built up an unwritten tradition of answers for these problems, known in those days as “The Traditions of the Elders”. This was what is now known as the Oral Law, and would in time become incorporated into the Talmud.
There were other Jewish parties who would provide legal resolutions, but it seems that no other party possessed such a systematic and widely respected body of answers as the Pharisees. Everyone had the right to choose which party or elder they went in order to resolve issues of Torah, but Pharisaic teaching permeated much of Jewish society and greatly influenced it. Even the Sadducees, who usually rejected the Oral Law, had to bow to the authority of the Pharisees when it came to the proper conduct of trials – only Pharisees had extracted and expanded on Torah sufficiently for a Jewish trial to become a just and fair process.
I have no doubt that ordinary Followers of the Way often went to Pharisaic elders for advice. Despite what the Christian tradition would have us believe, there was in fact quite a close relationship between Pharisaism and the Way.
Conversely, some historians who wish to affirm the Jewishness of Yeshua`’s party, maintain that it developed out of Pharisaism, as if the Pharisees were the only Jewish party ever to have existed. This was certainly not the case; some ancient authorities list as many as fourteen.
I rather believe that Yeshua`’s movement had close ties with Pharisaism, in the same way that other, non-Pharisaic Jews had similar links.
Before the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE, there seems to have been a lot of mutual respect between Talmidaism and Pharisaism. When Yeshua` spoke against Pharisees, he wasn’t criticising Pharisaism per se, but rather the religious hypocrisy of certain individuals.
For example, in Matthew 23:2-3, Yeshua` says,”The Pharisees sit on Moses‘ seat (the chair of religious instruction);therefore practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” Yeshua` wasn’t against the Pharisees, he was against religious hypocrisy, which exists in every religion. The failure of people today to realise this has led some people to carry on with the same very behaviours that Yeshua` criticised.
The parting of the ways
It would seem therefore, that Followers of ancient times took Pharisaic rulings into consideration. However, at the end of the 1st century CE, surviving Pharisees convened a council in Yavneh, a town near the southern coast of Israel. It sat for about 50 years until c. 126 CE.
Many wise things came out of Yavneh, but on the other hand, some of the most hateful and evil things to have been pronounced by the mouths of religious teachers were promulgated in Yavneh. It was the council of Yavneh that closely defined what the rebuilt Jewish religion would be, and unfortunately it had no place for Followers of the Way in it.
Rabbinical Jews were forbidden to have any contact with Followers of the Way; you were forbidden to buy from or sell to a Follower; if a Follower touched anything, you were forbidden to use it; if you were sick and if the only healer were a Follower, then you were to die, rather than gain benefit from a Follower’s care; if there were cries from a pit, and it was a fellow Pharisee, you could pull him up. If it were a Gentile, you could rescue them as well. If it was a donkey, you had a duty to pull the poor animal up. However, if it were a Follower of the Way who had fallen into the pit, the rabbi’s ruled that you had to leave them there.
Talmidi marriages were declared invalid, and the rabbi’s of Yavneh ruled that the children of Followers were therefore mamzerim – bastards.
Nowhere is it recorded that Talmidin ever said anything even remotely so hateful or vindictive as these things. It was not, and is not, our way.
Like our ancient counterparts, modern Followers do take informal advice on matters of Torah from modern rabbinical Jews. However, we do not consider rabbinical rulings, such as those in the Talmud, to be final and binding. After all, if we did, we would have to accept all of it, including those bits where we would have to curse and humiliate ourselves!
A comparison of Talmidi and Rabbinic practice
In mainstream Judaism, the Oral Law is considered to have been given by God. Even though many decisions were not made until the end of the 1st century CE, the Oral Law is viewed as having been given to Moses on Mount Sinai in 1446 BCE along with the written law.
Followers do not accept this viewpoint. We accept advice on various issues, but we do not consider the Talmud to be final and authoritative.