by Rabbi Avraham Feld
co-founder of KOL HATOR Vision for the Retoration of 12-Tribed Israel
When G-d gave the Laws of Booths (Succoth) to Moses (Leviticus chapter 23), He did not only say you should dwell in the Succah for 7 days, He also explained what exactly would comprise a valid Succah; minimum measurements, suitable vs. unsuitable materials for the roof, and other necessary details of construction. However, these measurements and requirements do not appear in the Written Torah.
Would G-d order you to sit, pray, eat, and sleep in something, without defining what that something is? As well as telling Moses what compromises the construction of a Succah, and what defines dwelling in the Succah, so G-d also explained to Moses, who exactly was obligated to dwell in it: Men are obligated to dwell in the Succah, while women are not. If they do dwell however, they receive credit for doing so. Likewise, someone in the middle of a journey is relieved of the obligation to dwell in a Succah (see Rambam, Introduction to Zeraim).
We have numerous terms, nay – whole instructions, that are left undefined by the written Torah. We have entire legal institutions, the basis of whose existence is derived from the Oral Law. These crucial institutions, legal categories, practical systems are not clarified, explained, or elaborated upon in the Written Law. Almost complete reliance is placed upon the Oral Tradition for the application, implementations, and specific details (Yehudah HaLevi, Kuzari 3;35). The indisputable fact is that the Bible often involves itself with the exceptional situation rather than with generalizations and principles. This shows that Scripture relies on other statements of direction and law.
The Oral Law fulfills this need.
The Bible introduces the Hebrew Civil and Criminal Statute with this verse: “Now these are the Judgments which thou shalt set before them” [Exodus 21:1].
The Bible then goes on to the slavery laws:
“If you buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing” [Exodus 21:2].
What happened to the “Judgments” that had to be set before them? They were included in the Oral Teaching. The laws of slavery are discussed without concern to the issues of individual freedom. These are included in the Oral Tradition. This is the way of the world and will always be: Teacher-student, Professor-disciple, Rabbi-Talmid. Thus in the areas of crafts, dance, martial arts, history, science, music, arts, information, and knowledge, etc., there is always vital explanation passed on through an oral dimension. This oral transmission is crucial in all fields of endeavor – be it sheep farming or riding class V rapids. There is a crucial dimension of oral transmission involved. The Torah too was passed on by the relationship between student and teacher. This is the way of the world, the way God created it and intended for His word to be passed on.
In antiquity this manner of Oral Tradition was used by all nations in order to insure the transmission of their beliefs and spiritual treasures. All of Greek and Roman law, civil and criminal, as well as codes, culture, epic poems – all this was transmitted orally. Once something is written down, it is bound and dated, locked in one inflexible form, immovable and subject to distortion. As it is said, “the devil too can quote scriptures”. Transmission of Oral Law however, protects it from distortion and insures the preservation of the original intent and meaning of the Commandments.
The teacher-student relationship insures the benefits of active learning and dialogue. During oral teaching, a student can always pause and request his teacher to elucidate upon an important point. Also important, an Oral Tradition affords each generation the glorious challenge of establishing its own intimate relationship with the Torah’s teachings, practice and wisdom. Thus, each new generation becomes the key player in transmitting the tradition to the next generation, and so on and so forth, this continues on into eternity.
In the distant past, the world operated with simpler standards and more natural ways. The relationship between the written texts and the verbal explanation of these texts was harmonious and in sync with natural order of things. Theory/abstraction was likewise in a healthy natural relationship with implementation, actualization and practice. Therefore the Talmud calls the Bible, “Mirkra”, i.e. text. The root of this Hebrew word is “KoRA” which means “read”, because the Torah is read publicly (as heard from Rav Shlomo Riskin, 1972: Yeshiva University). The word also means to “call” – because it’s not really Torah if it doesn’t call out to you in your practical daily life. Theory must lead to practice, and those who reject the Oral Tradition are distorting the divinely created natural order, and upsetting the perfectly balanced system of transmitting the heavenly wisdom and will of G-d to humanity. A healthy, lively system of learning, protects our precious wisdom, and insures that in every generation there exist learned men and a system of justice and law to implement this wisdom.
“If there arise a matter too hard for you in judgment, a case of murder, legal rights and assault, being matters of controversy within your gates: then shall you arise, and get yourself up into the place which the L-rd your G-d shall choose;” [Deuteronomy 17:8]
“And you shall come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the Judge then in office, [we have only the sages of our present day] and enquire; they shall hold an inquiry and give a decision for you.” [Deuteronomy 17:9]
“You must abide by the decision they pronounce for you, in that place which the L-rd shall choose; and you must take care to carry out all their instructions.” [Deuteronomy 17:10]
“You must abide by the verdict they give you, and and by the decision they declare to you swerving neither right nor left of the sentence they have pronounced for you.” [Deuteronomy 17:11]
This is so simple, true, logical, and pure. No field of activity is devoid of a teaching tradition that involves some oral communication to clarify and define itself. In any field if a question arises one naturally goes to the experts in that field at the time. Our sages and wise men have been charged with passing on the Oral Tradition.
The Bible legislates that we maintain a certain amount of faith and respect for the spiritual leadership of the sages and judges of our people. Certain religions twist this sentiment and turn it into ancestor worship. Judaism does not. The Bible and Talmud state that as long as people are running G-d’s show on earth, they are subject to error in certain circumstances of detailed religious practice. The Bible discusses what to do in the case of a court that mistakenly legislates for the application of a certain religious practice. We can work it out. The biblically ordained system has its checks and balances. Never the less, the Bible instructs us to have faith in our spiritual leadership. Whom did Abraham need to believe in order to take his son on that covenantal journey and offer him up? He had of course to believe in G-d. Who did Isaac need to believe in? Isaac also believed in G-d but he needed in addition to respect and believe in the integrity, sanity, and wisdom of his father, Abraham. In every generation we are bidden to likewise respect and believe in the sages that will be in our time.
The problem in healing the broken down relationship between Judah and 10-Israel, lies much with Replacement Theology. Non-Jewish believers claim themselves the right to correct the 3000 year old academy of Jewish Torah experience and to replace it with their new-found wisdom, which they regard as superior. Historically, and based on broad generalizing according to the main stream development of 10-Israel in Exile, the process may be summarized as follows:
Loss of their Torah identity by the Ten Tribes of Israel amongst the nations
Their adopting of Christian Messianism with all its anti-Torah and anti-Judaism teachings, which swept through the nations, claiming their Divine election and replacement of Judah (Judaism)
As prophesied, an End-Time Return to Torah by the Lost Ten Tribes.
It should be self-evident, that this adopted spirit of “replacement”, mingled with the ancient in-bred anti-Judah spirit of the 10 Northern Tribes, and their zeal to establish their own independent Temple and Holy City, would not be shed instantly. It should also be evident, and we in fact observe this in practice, that across the world today, there is a gradual return to the realization and acceptance of the need to return to Rabbinic interpretation of the Torah – which includes the Oral Torah of Judaism.
“Teach you”, “declare to you” (Deut. 17:11), means Oral Communication. The Written Law is to the Oral Law like short notes or a formula are for a lecturer. For those who have not heard the lecture from the Master, such notes would be completely useless. Words and marks that serve those scholars who have heard the lecture, are instructive guiding stars illuminating the wisdom that had been taught. These same words and marks stare at the uninitiated as unmeaning sphinxes.
It also applies, throughout the world, in what is known as the Common Law, consisting of recorded verdicts of the past which form a basis and foundation for current and future law interpretations as required in ongoing cases and verdicts. The written Law of any country, can never ever be so broad as to include every possible real case scenario that comes before the courts. All written laws require interpretation in order to define its real implications. The wisdom and truths, known and appreciated by the diligent student, are sneered at by the uninitiated, and considered to be merely a clever or witty play of words, and to contain empty dreams without any real foundation (Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch – Exodus Commentary 21:2).
In Physics, we have the formula E=mc 2, meaning energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared. The volumous explanations of this formula is comparable to the Oral Tradition that brings the concept down to the physical world and makes it applicable to everyday life. To those who are uninitiated and have not heard the explanation, the short notes or formulae appear to be mere markings or plays on words.
The Oral Law is in fact expressed in the Written Torah. If one persists with the right Hebrew language tools (its rules and structures) he would reveal the Oral Law deep in the Written Law. The Malbim is an important source that illustrates this concept. In one of his texts the Malbim organizes and categorizes the sages’ interpretation on the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus). These interpretations contain: six hundred and thirteen rules, two-hundred and forty-eight linguistic principles, and three hundred and sixty five guidelines for understanding verbs and synonyms. This shows, that even if all of Oral Torah was forgotten, using these divine principles, we could reconstruct the proper understanding of the written text.
Jews have studied and pondered the Divine words. They cherished, loved, honored, and revered the Oral and Written Torah. All this existed centuries before Christianity or Islam existed, while most of the world was illiterate and ignorant. Jews have been devoted to the scrolls and pages of our holy books. These holy books preserved us as much as we preserved them, binding together our people throughout the diaspora and across the generations in exile.
“We’ll be as close as pages in a book, my love and I.
So close that we can share a single look, share every sigh.
So close that before I hear your laugh, my laugh breaks through.
And when a tear starts to appear, my eyes grow misty too.
Our dreams won’t come tumbling to the ground.
We”ll hold them fast Darling,
as the strongest book is bound, we’re bound to last.
our life is my life, and while life beats away in my heart,
we’ll be as close as pages in a book.”
(Dorothy Fields, Sigmund Romberg, 1944.)
“These are the Statutes and Judgments and Laws [Hebrew: “Torot” i.e. the plural of Torah], which the L-rd made between Him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses” [Leviticus 26:46]. These laws were given at Sinai to the Children of Israel through Moses. G-d did not make a Covenant with Israel except by virtue of the Oral Tradition (Talmud, Gittin 60b). Both Torahs were communicated by the same prophets, and derived from the same source. The Torahs are the words of G-d that in part were written in the Bible, and in part exist in the authoritative statements of the righteous teachers of the Oral Tradition (Hoffman, Die Erste Mischna, Berlin, 1882, p. 3).
Jewish leaders of scholarship and piety were blessed in having Divine Inspiration (“So they not err in Judgment” Midrash Leviticus Rabah 29). This tradition existed from time immemorial and will continue into the future. The Bible set up a system to deal with the possibility of error on the part of the elders and sages. Judaism never claimed infallibility for its spiritual leaders and Rabbis (Rabbi Dr. Jacobovots, “Journal of a Rabbi”, NY 1966). This system has always worked and always protected the integrity, truth, and faithfulness of our traditions. We were never left adrift in the ocean without sexton or compass. G-d in His wisdom gave us a Torah that would stand the test of time and the vicissitudes of Exile and persecution, of redemption, and return.
Indeed, dear Friends, any objective view of the Scriptures would yield much evidence that an Oral Tradition was the mode of transmission from parents to children. “And you shall teach them diligently your children” [Deuteronomy 6:7]. This means that the teacher must clarify the axioms with decisiveness and not allow the listener to remain in doubt. The Hebrew word translated as TEACH THEM DILIGENTLY is derived from the root “ShNeH” that connotes the meanings of “the number two, repeat, and teach”. From this we learn that the Oral and Written Law must be taught not once but over and over again. Before telling us to teach our children diligently the Torah says, “These Words will be upon your heart” [Deuteronomy 6:7]. This means that we can teach diligently only if we are ourselves convinced in our own hearts that the Torah is true and is the right way of life (Sforno, Rabbi Don Yistchak Abarbanel, Rabbi Moshe Alshik). It has always been the students, the Torah bearers, who received the most support in religious communities, not the athletes or entertainers. The Talmud teaches that in comparison to a host of good deeds, the study of Torah is equal to them all (Talmud Shabbos 127a). Where is it written that Torah must be taught until we know it fluently? The Torah says, “That the L-rds Law may be in your mouth” [Exodus 13:9]. This also connotes the Oral Transmission. From where do we know that the teacher must also explain the reasons behind the Torah? Exodus 21:1 says, “These are the Ordinances that you shall put before them”. The Hebrew expression “put before them” implies something similar to a table spread out with food ready to be partaken of.
“And you shall teach them diligently to your children” [Deuteronomy 6:7]. Teach them to your children? That’s a mouthful! Even G-d couldn’t keep his first two from breaking some rules. This is really important; you had better teach your kids kindness; they might be the ones to choose your nursing home! G-d directed that the Torah be transmitted to future generations by means of Oral teachings. Every age has a next generation; so the generation that was freed from Egypt and received the Torah has a next generation until the end of time.
[Deuteronomy 6:7] “You shall teach them diligently unto your children”. These are your students, ergo, the relationship between teacher and student is like that between parent and child, and the relationship to fellow pupils, is like that to siblings.
“And you shall teach them diligently unto your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, or walk abroad, at your laying down or at yourrising.” [Deuteronomy 6:7]
A substitute Rabbi in an elementary school yeshiva opened class by telling his students, that they could feel at ease with him, as they would with their father. To which piped up one of his small charges, “Can I have a dollar then, Dad?”
G-d commands us to speak of the words of the Holy Torah when you sit in your house, walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. This is a major priority of the Bible, namely its transmission to the present and future generations. The first blessing given to a child is that they grow up in Torah, to marry, and do good deeds. The minute Torah learning slowed down, acculturation and assimilation grew rampant. When a Jewish town stopped learning Torah they vanished. We also believe that the State’s military prowess is ultimately determined according to the number of children chirping like little birds in the study house of Torah learning. Once, G-d forbid, they are interrupted, then we are open to physical annihilation by the enemy. To paraphrase Rabbi Emmanuel Feldman in “On Judaism”: “Beyond all the good, rational reasons, Torah is the mysterious bridge connecting the Jew with G-d and by extension all of humanity.”
Through the Torah we interact and communicate. This is the means by which G-d fulfills His covenant with His people, to sustain and protect them.
Co-Founder of the Kol HaTor-Project.
His association with the Kol HaTor Vision and Project draws from his passion for the Biblical Prophetical Promise of the Restoration of the House of Israel. Read more.