The Fiction of the "Oral Law"

The Rabbis tell us that we must have the oral law (the Talmud) because the written Torah is too hard to understand. Interpretation is required. They hold that Moshe received a second Torah at Mt. Sinai, one he passed down by word of mouth over the many generations. Conveniently, only the Pharisees knew of this oral law (some eleven or twelve centuries after Moshe’s death). During this time the Israelites fell away to idolatry many times and had to be restored by a small number of observant Israelites. Indeed, the second book of Kings tells us that the Torah scroll was itself lost for at least 50 years. The Israelites had also suffered exile to Babylon. Could an oral tradition have somehow survived this long? The thought is so unlikely that it enters upon the absurd.

At some point the Pharisees simply decided not to follow the written Torah and instead to accept the words of their Pharisee leaders (Pharisee was also used as an early term for Rabbi). Rabbi, which means master/teacher, probably replaced “pharisee” because the word has an obvious root in the word “Farsi” (the language of Persia). Indeed, like the Zoroastrian Magi we find that these Rabbis can speak to G-d indirectly through His celestial servants, perform miracles, offer blessings, and so on. Later, the Rabbi gave way to the Rebbi a single miracle performing Rabbi whose word should be followed absolutely, thus replacing the disjointed opinions of the many rabbis. Today the Hasidim (those silly looking guys in locks and black hats) are the followers of a Rebbi named Baal Shem Tov (master of the good name) who started their movement. Many different Rebbis can be found today within and without Israel.

While the Talmudists argue that their Rabbis help to clarify the Torah, they are much more likely to confuse us. These Rabbis keep contradicting each other: Maimonides says this, Rashi says that, Akiva said this other thing… Their beliefs are so disjointed that they cannot follow all of them and end up picking and choosing different rabbis from whom to borrow ideas. Naturally, because of this confusion, it is a lot easier to follow a single Rebbi who can help you sort out the mess.

Another major argument for the Talmud is that it prevents Jews from picking and choosing which parts of Judaism to follow. In fact, the Talmud itself picks and chooses which parts of Judaism to follow. As an example, while the Torah clearly commands us neither to add to nor subtract from the commandments, the Rabbis have added commandments to separate meat and dairy based upon a commandment not to follow a specific ritual associated with Cananite Baal worship (that is the boiling of the meat of a calf in its mother’s milk). Meanwhile, they subtract the laws of ritual purity and cleanliness: Tahor and Tame.

So far, we have a Talmud that does not offer us a clear interpretation of the Torah, that does not help us understand the Torah, and that is too disjointed even to offer us a means of adhering more closely to the commandments of the Torah.

Perhaps we need to do something very Karaite. Among Qaraim we look for our answers in the scriptures themselves. The Torah, in Devarim (Deuteronomy) commands us neither to add to nor subtract from the commandments in the Torah:

Devarim (Deuteronomy):

4:2. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.

5:22. These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me [Moshe(Moses)].

12:32. See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.

The prophets warn us not to follow the laws learned by men and the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) makes no mention anywhere of this oral tradition. This passage in the book of Nehemiah is telling: Chapter 8:1-3:

1 And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel.

2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month [Yom Teruah].

3 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.

There you have it. The common people could understand the Torah. They did not need a Rabbi, a Rebbi, or even a Prophet.

I have also heard the argument that “Jews today are not Biblical Jews.” Why (and what does that mean, anyway)? Who decided this? When did YHVH command this? Through which Prophet did He send this message? In fact all of the Prophets extol the Israelites to follow the Torah. If there were more to the Torah would not Ezra have read also from Rabbinic commentaries?

A more disturbing question might be: if there is something wrong with the Torah why read from it? Why say prayers about it? What is so wonderful and powerful about a book that no one wants to follow?

I have yet to hear anyone (who is aware of it) defend this change from following the Torah to following the word of men. YHVH led us out of Egypt, where we were servants and dependents of the Egyptians, to be His servants that we may be dependent upon Him. We cannot be led astray after the words of men. We must live by the Torah as it is written.

For more information please read Hackam Meir Rehkavi’s article on the true meaning of Passover.

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