Torah, not Talmud – Living God’s Way
The most common retort that we face from Rabbanites, when they learn of our objection to the authority of the Oral Law, is: “The Oral Law is needed, because it clarifies omissions in the Written Torah”. Admittedly, the Oral Law does smooth out some contradictions that have come from different historical traditions in the text of the Written Torah, and does provide solutions for problems which are not covered by Torah.
However, this is not what we object to; we agree that there are certain instances where the Written Torah is unclear, but we believe that each practising Israelite community must work out how to deal with these omissions for themselves.
What we object to specifically, is how the Oral Law overrules what is in the written Torah, and how the ancient rabbis took pride in how they were able to overrrule God. It also contains contradictions within itself, overrides otherwise clear rulings in Torah, and actually gives us some unjust laws (e.g. rabbinic laws on divorced women, which causes a lot of anguish and unnecessary suffering, are a case in point). We also object to how the Oral Law – the Talmud – is given greater authority than God and the Hebrew Bible.
It is claimed that because Written Torah doesn’t cover the exact details of how its commandments are to be applied, God gave Moses the Oral Law at the same time as the Sefer ha-Brit (Book of the Covenant). We might accept this if it were not obvious that rabbis went on arguing about the minutiae of halakhah for centuries to come; it is obvious that rabbinic halakhah is just that – rabbinic, and not from God. God’s word is God’s teaching; the word of the rabbis is rabbinic – human – teaching, and therefore fallible.
In Torah, it specifically says that we are not to add to, nor subtract from the words of Torah:
‘Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of YHVH your God that I give you.’
‘See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.’
This is the basis of our objection to the Oral Law – the ‘Traditions of the Elders’, the Talmud. God told us not to add to the written Torah, and the Prophets warned us of its dangers.
Examples of how the Talmud says the opposite of what the Torah says
The Torah tells us that we should not touch the dead carcass of a non-kosher animal (see Lev 11:8, Dt 14:8). This means that we cannot even make things out of non-kosher animals (Lev 11:24, 26, 36). However, the Talmud goes against these commandments, by saying that the blue dye for tsitsit must be made from the bodies of dead sea-snails (which are not kosher), and that the the outer covering of the Holy Tabernacle (Mishkan) was made from badger, dolphin or dugong skin (none of which are kosher). In contrast, non-Oral Law scholars say that the dye for tsitsit is made from Jerusalem woad, and that the word used (‘tachash’) in reference to the outer skin-covering of the Mishkan, was a word which referred not to a particular animal, but to the particular way in which the skin was prepared (like modern suede), and how it was dyed a particular colour (blue-purple hyacinth).
The blatant iniquity of the Oral Law
The Oral Law teaches the absolute authority of the Rabbis, even when they say something that is illogical, contradictory, or against Torah.
For example, it says in the Oral Law:
“Even if they instruct you that right is left, or left is right, you must obey them.”
(Sifrey Deuteronomy S154 on Deut 17:11).
This is in contrast to what The Prophets say:
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who call darkness light, and light darkness; who call sweet bitter, and bitter sweet.”
What is decided by Rabbinic authority on religious matters is binding, even if it is factually untrue. Even if Torah says one thing, and the Oral Law says another, they must go according to the Oral Law:
“If there are 1000 prophets, all of them of the stature of Elijah and Elisha, giving a certain interpretation, and 1001 rabbis giving the opposite interpretation, you shall incline after the majority, and the law is according to the 1001 rabbis, not according to the 1000 venerable prophets.”
This, despite what it says in Torah:
“You shall NOT follow the majority when they do wrong,”
How the ancient Rabbis took pride in how they overrule God
The Oral Law decrees that, the fact that God says something through one of His prophets, we are still not to listen:
“By God, if we heard the matter directly from the mouth of Joshua son of Nun, we would not obey him, nor would we listen to him.”
“God did not permit us to learn from the Prophets, only from the Rabbis who are men of logic and reason.”
In a story from the Babylonian Talmud, in the tractate Baba Metsia, the tale is told where God speaks out in agreement with just one rabbi, against the majority of other rabbis, but the majority reject God’s judgment, saying, “Sorry, we do not listen to Heaven.”
The Oral Law teaches further, that if a prophet agrees with Torah, and the Oral contradicts Torah, then that prophet must be executed:
“He who prophecies in God’s Name . . . if he changes anything in the Oral Law, even if the plain meaning of Scripture supports what he says . . . that prophet is to be executed through strangulation.” (Maimonides)
If this is true, and God sends the Son of David, and even if the Anointed Son of David says that something in the Oral Law is wrong, then the Rabbis, according to the Oral Law, are duty bound to have him executed!
We have only to look at The Prophets to see what God thinks of the Oral Law:
“This people comes near with their mouth, and with their lips they honour me; but their heart is far from me, and their worship of me is only rules taught by men.”
What an iniquitous and wickedly shrewd thing is the Oral Law, that they have twisted logic so that even if God tells the rabbis that they are wrong, they have decreed that they are not to listen even to God. The Oral Law, in effect, usurps God’s authority, and replaces Him.
The Consequences of Wrongful Teachings in the Oral Law
A number of modern Jewish beliefs – ones that most people think are biblical beliefs – actually have their sole origin in the Oral Law. For example, the absolute necessity of the Messiah for the salvation of the Jewish people (i.e. instead of YHVH), and the belief that Elijah will come to announce the coming of the Messiah, are beliefs which do not come from the Hebrew Bible, but rather from the Oral Law. If modern rabbis berate Christianity for believing that the Messiah is essential for personal salvation, and that John the Baptist came to announce the coming of ‘Jesus Christ’, then they have only their own erroneous teachings to blame.
For example, the rabbinic position regarding Elijah is based on what the Oral Law says, not on what the Miqra says. The Oral law says that Elijah will come to announce the messiah (incidentally, early Christianity took this idea from the early rabbis). However, what the prophet Malachi says is this:
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of Yahveh. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”
Another example of how Talmudic decisions cause problems, is with regard to paternal Jews. In the Hebrew Bible, there is no direct mitsvah on how to determine who is an Israelite, but it is implied that tribal descent is reckoned through the male line, and in extraordinary circumstances, it can be determined through the female line as well. However, the Oral Law says that only the child of a Jewish mother is Jewish; if the father is Jewish, but the mother is not, then the child is not Jewish. The result of this ruling, is that it unjustly cuts off a great many childen (known as ‘Paternal Jews’) from membership of the House of Israel. If this is allowed to go on, the Jewish population will become smaller and smaller. The Talmidi position, in contrast, is that the child of any Jewish parent is legally Jewish (i.e. does not require conversion), regardless of whether that descent is only through the mother or the father.
The Oral Law has also had some sad consequences for the Jewish people. When Nazism loomed over the Jewish people, God could have sent us a prophet to warn us and guide us – but that option was closed off to God by the Oral Law, so we shall never know if God could have sent prophets to save those 6 million who lost their lives. Because the Talmud forbids prophets or even listening to them, no one would have listened to prophets, even if God had sent any to warn the Jewish people about what was coming. And the ancient Pharisees made a rod for their own back when they declared they wouldn’t listen to prophets, only a messiah. Yeshua was a prophet, not a messiah. So they wouldn’t listen. Yeshua warned people of the desolation that was coming (amongst other things), so in desperation to get people to listen to these warnings, it’s possible that out of pure desperation, some of Yeshua’s followers began making the (erroneous) claim that he was a messiah. We all know where that desperate mistake led to.
The two extremes
In Talmidaism, Torah as written comes first. If something in Torah is unclear, we then turn to the books of The Prophets, and the Jewish (i.e. non-Paullist) words of Yeshua`, Jacob the Pious and Yochanan the Immerser (‘John the Baptist’). If the words of the Prophets are unclear, we can then be guided by ancient tradition (Massorah) as practised in the Land of Israel. Usually, this is sufficient. If something is still unclear, then we can go to a learned Torah scholar, but his/her decision is not binding, or to be considered infallible.
This is in complete contrast to the Oral Law, where the decisions of the Rabbiscome first, and are binding, even if they are blatantly unjust, nonsensical, illogical, irrational and ridiculous.
In Yeshua`’s day, there was one group that accepted the Oral Law – the Pharisees, and another that completely rejected it – the Sadducees. In Yeshua`’s opinion, it was one thing to reject the Oral Law, and quite another to stick so literally to the word of the Written Law, that one misses the point:
In Jerusalem, a priest who belonged to the party of the Sadducees said to Yeshua`, ‘Your words are adding to the Torah of Moses! You do the same as the Pharisees with their Traditions of the Elders. But we observe the Torah and keep it faithfully, since we have never added to it.’
So Yeshua` answered and told him that this was true – that they had never added to the Torah. But he also said that neither had they gained anything.
‘It’s like when a rich landowner prepared to go on a long journey. He called three of his servants, and entrusted to them his gold. To the first he gave five kikkarin, to the second, two kikkarin, and to the last, he gave just one kikkar. Then he went away.
After a long while, the rich landowner returned, and commanded those servants, to whom he had entrusted his money, to be brought to him to settle accounts with them.
The first came to him and said, “Master, you entrusted me with five kikkarin; so I traded with them and look, I’ve made five kikkarin more!”
‘His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Because you’ve been faithful in a little matter, I’ll set you over much – I shall give you authority over all my estates!”
‘So the second servant also came forward, and said, “Master, you entrusted me with two kikkarin; see, I’ve made two kikkarin more!”
‘So his master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant! And you shall be in charge of selling all my produce.”
‘But the third servant came forward and said, “I know you to be a harsh man; you reap what you didn’t sow, and withdraw what you didn’t deposit. So I went and buried the kikkar you gave me in the ground to keep it safe. Here, have what’s yours.”
‘But his master answered him, saying, “You wicked and lazy servant! So, you knew that I was a harsh man, reaping what I didn’t sow, and withdrawing what I didn’t deposit? Then you should’ve invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would’ve collected it with interest!”
‘Then he said to those standing nearby, “Take the kikkar from him, and give it to him who has ten.
‘ “Be gone from here, you lazy and spiteful servant!” ’
(Sefer Yeshua`, passage 80)
The third servant stuck so literally to his master’s instructions, that he profited nothing by it. What we object to about the Oral Law, is the teaching that it is God’s Word. It is not. It is a collection of human – and often contradictory – opinions. Much of today’s Jewish law comes not from the Bible, but from the Talmud.
Hebrew Customary Law (Mishpat Minhagi)
In Ex 18:13, Moses sits in judgment giving rulings for the people in their disputes. However, this is before the giving of the Torah and the Book of the Covenant, so one needs to ask, according to what system of laws was Moses giving rulings under? In Talmidaism, this is interpreted as evidence of the existence of a tradition of Customary Law (mishpat minhagi) among the Israelites before the giving of God’s Torah (which were considered still to be from God through the Universal Covenant), together with the unrecorded statutes and rulings that were given at Marah (see Ex 15:25b). Since the Book of the Covenant does not cover things like marriage, business dealings, inheritance or transfer of property, the laws in the Book of the Covenant were dramatic changes to what already existed – God’s rulings to override human rulings. The significance of the Sefer ha-Brit was that it introduced definitive new rulings and principles.
Whereas in mainstream Judaism, the Oral Law is considered infallible (even though it is of human origin), and cannot be changed, in the ancient Israelite tradition, Customary Law can be amnded and improved if it is later found to be wanting or unjust. The Rabbinic Oral Law overrides Torah and takes precedence, whereas Hebrew Customary Law is always subservient to Torah; the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai established this precendence of Divine Torah over Customary Law.
The place of Massorah (‘Tradition’) in Talmidaism
There were things which were so well known in Israelite culture, that it wasn’t recorded – knowledge was assumed. In modern times, some commandments in Torah are unclear. There are gaps which assume knowledge of a particular culture and way of life. We agree that Talmud is a good reference for how things used to be done in ancient times, and when it doesn’t contradict the written Torah, we will take information contained in the Talmud into account.
Talmidaism bases its culture on 1st century CE Judaism in Galilee and Judea. We have built up a body of information on that culture to which we can refer when necessary, called Massorah (which is Aramaic for ‘Tradition’). It is not intended to add to the written Torah; it only acts to fill in the gaps when something is unclear, and unlike the Talmud, is not seen as the word of God, only describing the culture in which Torah operates. It is hoped that, over time, the Talmidi community will build up its own body of Customary Law (see above), to be used to fill in gaps in the Torah, while remaining forever subservient to it.
The prison fence around Torah
How can even God persuade the rabbis to walk according to God’s glorious will, when the rabbis have decreed that they should not listen to it or obey it? While the majority of religious Jews are under the dictate of the Oral Law, how can God fulfil His promises in the future, when His future prophets will be ignored at best, or at worst executed?
God intended us to be a light to the nations, and Torah was God’s way of showing us how to become that light. God promised that Torah would cause the nations to hold us in respect and high honour, as it is written:
“And YHVH has declared this day that you are His people, His treasured possession as He promised, and that you are to keep all His commands. He has declared that He will set you in praise, fame and honour high above all the nations He has made, and that you will be a people holy to YHVH your God, as He promised.”
“YHVH will establish you as His holy people, as He promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of YHVH your God and walk in His ways. Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by YHVH’s name, and they will have an awesome respect for you.” (Deut 28:9-10)
God gave Torah to us, a numerically insignificant people, to enable us to be free of persecution and hatred – God promised it on oath. But what did the Pharisees and then the Rabbanites do? They built a prison fence – the Oral Law – around Torah. They built an impenetrable fence, so that the nations could not see God’s light. The nations were not able to see the light that was to bring us ‘respect, praise, fame and honour high above all the nations’.
The Prophet Yeshua` and the Oral Law
Yeshua` prophesied against the Oral Law, because he knew how dangerous it would be. He knew it would hide Israel’s light; he knew that it would deny us the respect that God promised His people. Yeshua` told us that a light is not hidden under a bushel or a basket, but put on a stand, so that everyone could see that light. What the Pharisees and the Rabbanites did, was to put the light – which is God’s shining Torah – underneath a basket – which is the Oral Law – and as a result, the nations were not able to see the light that was to bring us respect and peace, and freedom from persecution and fear.
In ancient times, Gentiles were able to see how our ancestors took delight in God’s appointed customs. The Gentiles who were able to see our ways, and were awed by the God of Israel – so much so that a steady stream of foreigners converted and became one with the House of Israel. Those who chose not to convert still held us in high esteem.
But the Pharisees, then the Rabbanites made it a virtue to hide Torah with the Oral Law. Yeshua` constantly criticised the Oral Law. Yeshua` saw the Oral Law as a burden, and an obstacle. The day that the fence of the Oral Law is breached, the light of Torah will begin to shine through once more. The nations will once more be able to see the awesome God that we follow, and they will finally realise what we are doing, why we do it, and will be ashamed of what they have done to us throughout the centuries. I believe that the nations will increasingly respect us, and the unjustified hatred they have towards us will decrease.
One more thing I think I should say here. Our criticism of the Oral Law should never lead to hatred of our fellow Jews. Criticism should be in the spirit of concern for siblings, not akin to confrontation with enemies. We are not to hate our brother and sister Israelites in our hearts (Lev 19:17). In presenting our concerns to our fellow Jews, our concerns should be presented with reason and rationality, not anger or hatred.
Oral Law and Tradition have their proper place. It is not their place to replace God’s Torah, or have greater authority than God’s Word.
Without the burden of the Oral Law, the Torah and the Prophets comes alive. Living God’s ways is like swimming in a sea of clear, warm water – it is a pleasure to do, and revitalises the body and soul.