THE WRITTTEN WORD OF GOD:
The TANAKH. The Written Torah, The Written Law of God, The Written Scriptures, The Writtten Word of God. The Ten Commandments, The Five Books of Moses, encompassed in The TANAKH. The TANAKH is an acronym (TNK) meaning “T” for The Torah, The Five Books of Moses, “N” for The Neviim, The Prophets, and “K” for Ketuvim, The Sacred Writings. The TANAKH embraces all of The Books of Moses, The Books of The Prophets, and The Sacred Writings, in other words, all of the Ancient Holy Scriptures, as having come from Heaven. As it is said, "Torah min HaShamayim," The Torah comes from Heaven. And so with all of The TANAKH. The writers of all twenty four Books were inspired by "Ruach HaKodesh," the Holy Spirit. In other words, God Himself dictated The Scriptures. He wrote them. He sovereignly transmitted them. They were sent from Heaven and imparted to man. Absolutely no myths of mere mortals can be assigned such a rank. No legends or stories or traditions of men, regardless of how lofty or good, can be ranked with The Holy Scriptures. At Mt Sinai, more than 3,300 years ago that “transmission” began. The last of The Prophets to prophesy the Word of God comprising the Hebrew Canon, was the the prophet Malachi, approximately 450 B.C. Thus the period forming The TANAKH spanned a little under a thousand years, and closed, 2400 years ago. Not long after the completion of The Second Temple, the revered and godly Men of the Great Assembly in Jerusalem, the Anshei K'nesset HaGedolah, recognized and determined and established those twenty four Books to be the completed Canon of Scripture. 300 B.C. can safely be assumed for the final setting of The Canon.
THE CHART BELOW, SHOWS THE WRITTEN SCRIPTURES AT THE TOP, INDICATING IT IS RANKED AS THE HIGHEST AUTHORITY. WORKING YOUR WAY DOWN THROUGH THE LEVELS IS NOT ONLY A DESCENT AWAY FROM PURE DIVINE TRUTH, BUT ALSO THE MARCH OF TIME, FROM MOSES IN ANTQUITY, CLEAR TO THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY.
For any trackable or identifiable body of beliefs to be a candidate for a presumed “Oral Law” we have to come forward in time to 200 A.D! That is not only five centuries after the close of The Canon, but fully 1,300 years after Moses lived! That’s right. The Mishnah was not compiled until Rabbi Akiva and Yehudah HaNasi, in 200 A.D., 1,300 years after Moses! 1,300 years is an awful long time to claim that things were passed down “orally” and not written or recorded in any manner whatsoever. No records, no paper trail, nothing to point at as proof. Nothing but a giant gap of 1,300 years.
I would here simply ask the reader of this article; Can you, with the existence of absolutely no written family diaries, no written family letters, no written material of any kind, cite the precise beliefs of your own great grandfather about gardening or science, or politics or music? Remember, if there was a family diary or journal or book, that’s cheating. To make this work, it must be knowledge that was passed down from your great grandfather to you, “orally” only! Your great grandfather probably lived in the 1860s, only say 135 years ago. Do you know his precise thoughts about the American Civl War, slave ownership, politics, music, and the rigging on sailing ships? I dare say you do not, unless something was written down on paper by somebody. But an “oral” transmission from your great grandfather to you, over 135 years is nothing! Let’s make it your great great grandfather in 1825 instead, 176 years ago. Better yet, make it his father, 216 years ago, in 1785. Tell me some opinion or belief or teaching in your family from 1785 that came down to you strictly and only “orally” or “verbally” without any written diary or paper record of any kind. Do you have such a thing? Are you the recipient of a “verbal” teaching from 1785? Remember, family diaries and letters are disqualified. We are testing the science of “oral” transmission. I dare suppose that no, you do not have any, not one, piece of information on your ancestor’s opinions and stand on issues, much less his in-depth verbal expounditure on things from 1785. Not handed down purely verbally, or “orally” without a written record, you don’t. And the matter is made clearer by the fact you probably don’t have anyone in your whole circle of friends and acquaintances who does, either.
Now consider this dimension: If, on the outside chance you or a friend of yours did have such a thing (an actual teaching or expounditure of opinions passed down in your family without paper for 216 years), would you trust it? Would anyone? Would a court of law? Suppose the 216 year old tradition in your family (without paper records or diaries) was that you are royalty, that one of your ancestors, was the abandoned child of a great king in Europe, and that the throne ought rightfully have passed down to you. Not one word was ever put to paper in the whole 216 years. Now all your family have died except you. You are the last one with “the knowledge.” Do you think you can go get that country to put you on their throne and toss out the other guy? No. Nor will your children be able to, if you pass on this “oral” tradition to them. No court of law anywhere, would give you the time of day, if you don’t have one scrap of paper you can produce. So you have a family “story” that says George Washington, America’s first president, was in love with your ancestor 216 years ago, and they had an affair on the side. Let’s say the story is lengthy and detailed. But here again is the catch: There never was a diary. There was not one love letter. Not even a mention of it in some other side letter. Nothing. And the same for the next generation. No paper. No mention. And the next generation. Blank. Complete non mention. And so with the next generation, and on down to you. And now you want to tell the world that Washington loved your great grandma. Sorry kid, that is the stuff of fairy dust, and leprecaun’s gold. No court of law will give you the time of day if you can’t produce sme scrap of paper from 1785 or from along the way. The world is full of fables and legends and heresay. But you’ll never get installed on a European throne as the long lost heir, just on your say so, that the secret was passed down to you.
But in all this, we’ve only treated of a span of 216 years at the maximum. We can all see that such claims would never be treated seriously, much less entered int the record of history! Not without a scrap of paper. Never. But those who hold to the idea of “The Oral Law” in Judaism want you to accept as authoritative, not merely a 216 year span of supposedly purely verbal transmission, but a span of 1,300 years! 1,300 years with no documentation! No records! no paper! Good heavens! Smell the coffee for goodness’ sake! Your own family hasn’t kept a verbally transmitted family teaching or expounditure intact for 130 years, let alone one thousand, three hundred years! We are here expected to swallow a tale that is ten times wilder, ten times less reliable, ten times less “do-able” than our little 130 or 216 year scenario we have found rediculous! And, we are not simply talking about a single claim about an event, like “Washington loved grandma,” or “we are the lost royal heirs to the throne of Transylvania.” No, not just a claimed fact. This mega legend is far more vast. It claims that an entire lengthy, exhaustive, intricate, detailed religion was handed down with no records! No paper. An entire encyclopedic body of teachings! Not for 100 years or 200, but 1,300 years!
The claim regarding the Mishnah’s beginning in fact begins with an ironic contradiction. The explanation for why the “Oral Law” was not written down, is that from Moses on, it was commanded that it not be written. It was not intended to be written, but transmitted verbally, only. Then, amazingly, while claiming to be faithful to that “Oral Law,” the Mishnah began 1,300 years after Moses, by violating it, and writing the unwritable, putting down on paper that which was supposed to be only “oral.” Those make for odd “credentials” indeed. 1,300 years after Moses, in 200 A.D., Yehudah HaNasi violates the “Oral” imperative and makes the so-called “Oral” tradition a “written” one. Hmmm... so the Mishnah, today’s so-called “Oral Law” was born in an act of ending the so-called “Oral Law!” How ironic, that the man who ended the tradition is held up as the saint of the tradition! What’s wrong with this picture?
The next claim, accepted by the credulous today, is that the reason for that decision to end the “oral” nature of the so-called “Oral Law,” wiping out how Moses did it, how Joshua did it, and wiping out how 40 generations over 1,300 years did it, was supposedly due to “difficulties” the Jewish people were facing; wars, and the diasopra, etc.. How very odd indeed! We are asked to believe first, that from the time of Moses onward, this “Oral Law” survived the death of Moses, the invasion and settling of Canaan, the death of Joshua, countless wars with Philistines, Girgashites and Hittites, survived the reign of Solomon even after his foreign wives turnd his heart away from God and he permitted idolatry, survived the numerous apostacies of Israel, survived the resurgence of Baal and Moloch worship, survived the split of the Kingdom under Rehoboam and the dividing of Israel in two, survived invasions of Egyptians and Syrians, survived the invasion of Assyria and the hauling away of all Israel of the north into slavery, survived the invasion of Babylon and the destruction of the Temple and the carrying away of all of Judah into Babylon, survived the conquest and horrific desecrations by Antiochus Epiphanes, and, survived the numerous wars with and conquest by the Romans, and yet another Temple destroyed. Pray tell, what was it about Yehudah HaNasi’s day, 200 A.D., that supposedly threatened the “Oral Law” with extinction, this “Oral Law” that had supposedly survived so marvelously through fire and sword and captivities in foreign lands for 1,300 years before Yehudah HaNasi came along? Something here just does not wash. The very birth of the written Mishnah is fraught with contradictions. It was always to be “Oral” but now gets written. It had supposedly been invincible and survived 1,300 years of every sort of upheaval and change, but now needed Yehudah HaNasi to save it so it wouldn’t be lost. Another story that is told for why the invincible “Oral Law” needed to be made non-oral is that fanatical Zoroastrians were on the rise in Persia around 500 AD and the rabbis feared the extinction of the “Oral Law.” Accepting this emergency with its later date casts even more question upon why such steps were taken 300 years earlier.
I do not challenge for a moment that a man can pass his beliefs on to his son, or a teacher to his student. They can, and they do. My main challenge to the so-called “Oral” tradition that some call the “Oral Law” or “Oral Torah” centers on the matter of reliability. Many people today have an unreasoned, almost superstitious mindset toward the so-called “Oral” tradition. They embrace it the way myths are embraced. But much of the myth falls apart under reasoning examination. It is impossible for a strictly verbal, “oral” tradition on a religion as detailed and exhaustive as Judaism to be passed down for 1,300 years, unchanged and reliable. Only writing can accomplish that. Even God Himself resorted to the written word for that reason. If “oral” transmission was as reliable and blessed as the gullible imagine, then Moses would not have needed to stress as he did, that the Torah be written. The Torah, indeed the entire TANAKH bears witness to the claim of God and His prophets that it is the Written Scripture that will keep God’s people in the path of truth.
There is no question that in all generations verbal commentary has been made on The Torah and the whole TANAKH. But there is one, and only one pillar of reliability. The Written Torah, and the Written TANAKH. There is one, and only one, way in which any “oral” tradition had any quality of reliability in it at all. The presence and the study of, and constant referral to, the Written Scriptures. That, and only that, makes it possible for any “oral” tradition to remain “on track.” Oral traditions can stray. The Divine Written Torah cannot. Any and all oral traditions, the work of mere mortals, must be scrutinized and judged in the light of the Written Scriptures. Absolutely never the reverse. Never must the Word of Almighty God be lowered and put on a par with the religious speculations of mere mortal men, and most certainly never made subject to them! To do so deposes God from His throne in men’s hearts and installs mere relgious men as the new God.
It is an ugly picture indeed, to envison a “scholar’s” study, in which The Written TANAKH lays closed and gathering dust, while the Talmud lies open on his desk under a bright study lamp, being feverishly explored. When a man loves the word of men more than the Word of God, this man is no shepherd of God’s flock. Virtually all oral, verbal tradition, and all commentary on The Written TANAKH, has only as much “good” in it as moves men to greater love of The Written TANAKH, greater faith in The Written TANAKH, and more direct obedience to The Written TANAKH. That is the only worthy aim of any contemplation of so-called “oral” traditions. And any wandering theoretical speculative mulling of commentaries that does not have that aim, or end in that result is worthless musing, and is not of God. The only reason there were any “oral” traditions and commentaries in 200 A.D. for Yehudah HaNasi to gather and compile as Mishnah, is because The Written TANAKH existed and was being used. That was the only legitimate source for them to “make religion” from. There were indeed “oral traditions” based on The Written TANAKH and subject to it. And so it must ever be. And Yehudah HaNasi collected them and codified them. That was the birth of the Mishnah. Fine. But that is not the same as the rediculous myth of an “Oral Torah” passed down in unbroken succession for 1,300 years from Moses to Yehudah HaNasi. That is pure fancy. What Yehudah HaNasi did is easy to understand. He simply scraped together all the existing respectable teachings of his day and codified them into the Mishnah. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it should not be turned into a fantastic fable of unbroken transmission from the time of Moses at Mount Sinai. No. What existed in the days of Akiva and Yehudah HaNasi was taken, brought together, and codified, giving us the Mishnah. What Akiva and Yehudah HaNasi did was good and noble and beneficial. Accept that, and appreciate that, but don’t aggrandize it with legend and fable and superstition and exaggerations. Don’t attribute it to Moses, nor to an imagined 1,300 year transmission. No. God, by Moses, gave us The Torah, pure and simple. Attribute that to Moses as you should. But not the “oral” traditions. Them, make exactly what they are: The attempts of mere mortal men in the days leading up to the time of Akiva and Yehudah HaNasi to understand and make commentary on The Written Torah and/or The whole Written TANAKH. There is absolutely no reliable basis for making Moses a contributor to any part or element of the Talmud except for what men in later times were able to take from The Five Written Books of Moses and comment on. That is the contribution of Moses. It is a purely Written contribution.
The Written TANAKH bears powerful witness to what I say: Read the events recorded in II Kings 22:3-23:3 and in II Chronicles 34:8-33. It took place in 624 B.C. For a length of time, The Book of the Law had been missing, and the people f Judah and Jerusalem were ignorant of what the laws of God entailed. Then a copy of The Book of the Law (possibly Deuteronmy specifically, according to some scholars). By reading the contents of this Book of the Law, King Josiah and all of Judah learned that they had not been doing all that God’s Law calls for. A full scale revival broke out and led to the restoration of those demands of The Law. Here we read that before finding The Book, Judah had priests and scribes. Also, besides the prophetess Huldah spoken of in these passages, the prophet Jeremiah and the prophet Zephaniah were active in Judah at this time. Where is the fabled unbroken transmission of “The Oral Torah” at this time? The Scriptures here plainly tell us that when this Book of the Law was missing, Judah fell ignorant of the ways of God. No “Oral Torah” had stepped in and shored them up against decay. Only by directly learning what is Written in the Torah was Judah able to re-instate Observance. This blows a huge hole in the myth of the unbroken “Oral Torah” descending from Moses himself. We are shown a period of at least 75 years where absence of The Book meant absence of the knowledge of God’s requirements. If the mythological sort of “Oral Torah” existed, surely someone in the company of good King Josiah and the prophets Jeremiah, Zechariah and Huldah, and the priests and the scribes would have been apprised of it. But, no. It didn’t exist. There was a major gap. And it was mended only by the dscovery of The Book.
And for there to be even one tiny break, just one generation missing from the supposed transmission of the “Oral Torah,” it is plainly impossible that a faithful transmission of such could have come down from Moses to Akiva, and to Yehudah HaNasi in 200 B.C.. As I have asserted, the only chance of forming a reliable oral tradition or commentary, in any generation, depends entirely on having and studying The Written Scriptures.
Rabbi David E. Lipman, is rabbi of Temple Sinai in Cranston, Rhode Island.
The following comments are from Rabbi Lipman on the Web, from 5/6/01
Speaking of the Saducees, Pharisees, and Essenes in Judea “as early as 151 BCE” Lipman writes, “The Sadducees ... came primarily from ... priestly families ... involved in the sacrificial cult of the Second Temple. ... The Sadducees recognized the authority of the written Torah ... The Pharisees represented a NEW stream of Jewish thought. They maintained that, in ADDITION to the written Torah, God had handed down an ORAL Tradition ... They challenged the priests and maintained that the priests didn't know the correct laws because they DIDN'T STUDY THE ORAL TRADITION. ... THE PRIESTS IGNORED THE ORAL TORAH. ... The Essenes viewed both the Sadducees and the Pharisees as corruptors of Jewish law.”
I would just like to draw attention to the Pharisee claim of an “oral law” being “a new stream” of thought, circa 151 BCE, and that the priests of Israel “DIDN'T STUDY THE ORAL TRADITION” of the Pharisees, “THE PRIESTS IGNORED THE ORAL TORAH” of the Pharisees.
The Jewish historian Josephus says the same thing as Lipman. Josephus wrote in AD 77 “What I would now explain is this: the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many rituals by succession from their fathers which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to accept those rituals to be obligatory which are in THE WRITTEN WORD, but are NOT TO OBSERVE what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers.” Josephus, Antiquities 13:10
The people of Israel, indeed even the PRIESTS of GOD'S Temple, were objecting 2,100 years ago to the "NEW" idea being pushed by the Pharisees, that the ORAL traditions of the Pharisee's and their own teachers, be elevated in rank and be made as binding as the WRITTEN WORD OF GOD. The idea was denounced as preposterous. Josephus well spoke the mind of the priests, that the people of Israel were to hold only those things "obligatory which are in THE WRITTEN WORD, but are NOT TO OBSERVE" these later commentaries by the Pharisees and the teachers they were sitting under and following. And Rabbi Lipman well notes that the priests of Israel “DIDN'T STUDY THE ORAL TRADITION” of the Pharisees, “THE PRIESTS IGNORED THE" so-called "ORAL TORAH” of the Pharisees.
That is not some new outcry of modern times, but a voice that has been crying out to Jews for twenty or twenty-three centuries!
But this Website is not actually calling for that. This is not a forum calling for the rejection of the Talmud, the so-called "Oral" Torah. We point out these issues not for their own sake, but only to lend weight to our own suggestion, which is far more moderate. Our plea here is not for REJECTION of the Talmud, but simply for the appropriate SUBORDINATION of it. It does not belong on an equal level with THE WRITTEN WORD OF GOD, THE HEBREW BIBLE. One should not judge SCRIPTURE by the Talmud. The Word of GOD is not to be judged by the word of MAN. The Talmud is to be always judged by the SCRIPTURE.
That is the main point of this particular page. The Scriptures are superior to the Talmud, or any so-called "oral" tradition.
And to re-assert the primary message of the entire Website: no element of the KABBALAH should ever have been allowed to creep in and be considered LIKE those OTHER so-called "oral" traditions that became Talmud. Kabbalah should have no place in Jewish religious life or culture whatsoever.
Utterly purge out Kabbalah and Kabbalism, and as for the Talmud, keep it where it belongs, second in rank to the written Word of God, the Scriptures.