Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Getting a Read on the Oral Torah: An Ongoing Dialogue with Tim Hegg (Part 1)

"One does not read oral Torah," --Tim Hegg, from Oral Torah and The Seat of Moses: A Response

Your interpretation of Matthew 23 affects your entire way of life.  

If you read Yeshua's "do and observe" as an endorsement of oral Torah then you might find yourself seeking out rabbinic halacha--either as an advisory opinion (as to the nature and substance of oral Torah) or as a mandatory authority to be followed in its own right.   If, on the other hand, you read Yeshua's statement as merely an endorsement of written Torah then you will have little interest in searching out rabbinic halacha for normative value.

Hegg seems to take the latter position.

His exegesis of Matthew 23 depends upon a single keystone argument that could be articulated as follows:

Premise 1:  Yeshua commanded His disciples to obey the Scribes
Premise 2:  However, the Scribes were merely transmitters of the written Torah and not the oral Torah
Conclusion:  Therefore, Yeshua's command was for His disciples to obey the written Torah (not the oral Torah as some claim)

[Let's skip the rather glaring exegetical omission that Yeshua also said to obey the Pharisees--a group that was indisputably known for its adherence to an oral type of Law in addition to the written Law]

And so I challenged this argument, citing to Nehemiah 8 in which the Levites (Scribes) went around giving the sense of the Torah so that people understood what it meant ("sechel vayabinu").  Now, I didn't go into a deep exegesis because the logical and textual proofs for the oral Torah are widely known.  However, sechel (wisdom) and understanding (binah) are associated with the process of turning mitzvot into halacha (i.e. the process of oral Torah):

"Only the LORD give thee wisdom and understanding [sechel ubinah], and give thee charge concerning Israel, that thou mayest keep the law of the LORD thy God," 1 Ch. 22:12.

Hegg, however, in exegeting Neh. 8:7-8 focuses on three things (1) the connection between Scribes and "writing"; (2) the term mephorash which "may well mean to 'divide the text into sections,' that is, reading a section, then making sure the people understood the meaning of what was said"--meaning that the Scribes were purely concerned with presenting the text itself to their audience; (3) the fact that "One does not read oral Torah."  In short, he argues that the Scribes were strictly concerned with presenting the written Torah and not any sort of oral explication of the Torah.

REBUTTAL:  2 BRIEF POINTS

First, how can one understand (binah) the written Torah without an oral Tradition?  If the written Torah is perfect then it must either contain no ambiguity or come with a tradition to resolve that ambiguity.  However, it does contain ambiguities as to how one should put into practice--how one operationalizes--various commandments (e.g. tzitzit, totafot, ritual slaughter, Shabbat, etc).  David Stern writes:
"The common Christian idea that Judaism became 'degenerate' because human tradition was added to God's Law is mistaken.  The five books of Moses have rightly been called the constitution of the Jewish nation, but a nation needs more than a constitution.  There could never have been a time when tradition of some sort was not a necessary adjunct to the written Torah -- for the written Torah simply does not contain all the laws and customs needed to run a nation.
      For this there is evidence even in the Pentateuch.  Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 12:21 that the people of Israel could slaughter animals 'as I have commanded you,' but no commands concerning how to slaughter are found anywhere in the written Torah.  Something external is implied--legislation, tradition, an oral Torah.  God could announce his will from heaven whenever uncertainty arises, but this not his normal means of guidance either in the Old Testament or in the New.  Nothing in the Bible suggests that God opposes accumulating knowledge and experience or creating guidelines and rules,
"  pg. 148 of Messianic Jewish Manifesto by David Stern
Therefore, the Scribes must've known some sort of proto-oral Torah in order to "give the sense so the people could understand" (sechel vayabinu).  

Second, we have examples where the Tanak refers to serious consequences for violating prohibitions that do not exist anywhere in the written Torah!  Consider that in the book of Jeremiah (17:21-27) the L-rd says that He will destroy Jerusalem if the People of Israel violate the prohibition against carrying burdens on Shabbat.  But where is this command to be found in the written Torah prior to the writing of the book of Jeremiah?  

The inescapable conclusion is that G-d entrusted His Scribes with something beyond the written Torah.  There must have been an oral Torah.  

Many thanks to Mr. Hegg for engaging in this dialogue.  I look forward to your response.

Shalom and Blessings to the Torah Resource Staff,

Peter










Tim Hegg Responds to My Recent Post on Oral Torah and Matthew 23

Moments ago I just received notification that Hegg responded to my recent post entitled "[Respectfully] Challenging Tim Hegg's View That Yeshua Did Not Endorse Oral Torah in Matthew 23".  I'm going to start reading it now.  

To read his response, click the following link:  Oral Torah and the Seat of Moses: A Response.


Messianic Adventures in Church (Deconstructing Christian Rule Aversion)

The teacher in the Sunday school class at church touched on the issue I've been addressing in my on-going "The Difference Between How Christians and Jews Approach the Bible" series.  He was discussing the book of Revelation--specifically chapter 2, heading "To the Church in Pergamum."

It's an interesting passage.  The teacher talked about the reference to Balaam and how it implied that the sin of the Pergamum church was licentiousness.  They were permitting idolatry mixed with sexual perversion.  And so the Son of Man is telling them that if they repent then everything will be fine.  But if they don't, He will destroy them with the sword of His mouth which is the Word.

So the teacher attempted to synthesize this into a practical teaching.  And he kind of struggled.  On the one hand, he wanted to say that licentiousness is wrong (gotta have rules).  On the other hand, he said we don't want to be legalistic (don't wanna have rules).

I found this somewhat amusing.  The age-old struggle of Christianity:  a love-hate relationship with rules!

What's in a rule anyway?

Here's some food for thought:

if there's no rule governing conduct in a given situation then the logical implication is that you can do whatever you want!  

No rules=arbitrary.

Think about it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Exodus: Gods and Kings" Movie Review [SPOILER WARNING--they escape]



I recently watched Ridley Scott's movie "Exodus: Gods and Kings" starring Christian Bale as Moses.  My initial impression was perhaps a little naive.  There are so many things to love about the movie, the story about the brothers who become enemies (and yet somehow remain brothers), the role reversal of the Prince of Egypt turned Hebrew slave, etc.

But, like any Bible-Believer, I was curious how they would treat the text.  How would they make Moshe's character?  How would they treat the miracles?  Would there be any anti-supernatural bias?

The first thing out of the ordinary was the burning bush scene.

In the movie, Moshe goes up to Mount Horeb chasing after some misbehaving lambs when suddenly he's overtaken by a rock slide and knocked unconscious.  When he awakens, he's buried in mud up to his face.  We then expect to see a burning bush that talks.  But instead we see a burning bush and a talking nine-year-old boy which we quickly realize is a petulant, child-god.

Yet I was willing to give the movie the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps this was meant to be a "poetic" reinterpretation of the Exodus story, a kind of midrash if you will.

The next thing out of the ordinary was that movie-version Moshe leaves his family behind in Horeb even though the Biblical text indicates that he took them with him.

Well, that does alter his character a bit...

And then the plagues.  We don't see the cause of the plagues as being the hand of G-d but rather whimsical mother nature.  Alligators eat fishermen, turning the sea blood red, this causes frogs to escape to land which then leads to massive decomposition with lots of flies, etc, etc.

Even the crossing of the Red Sea in the movie could be the result of natural processes.  Something caused the waters to recede temporarily.  The Egyptian pursuers were simply unlucky enough to be crossing in the middle of the Red Sea when the water levels returned to normal.

They say hindsight is 20-20.  Well, after the movie I realized, "Hey, there was no staff that turned into a serpent!"  And wasn't that the sign in the Biblical text which was supposed to convince everyone that something supernatural was happening?

I guess there's two ways you can read the Exodus story.  Either it's a supernatural story of how the G-d of Israel delivers the Israelites from Egypt or it's the story of a deluded yet fearless leader fighting oppression.  In the case of Exodus: Gods and Kings, Ridley Scott takes the latter reading.

This isn't the Biblical story of Exodus but rather a humanist reinvention of it.


Friday, December 12, 2014

The Difference Between How Christians and Jews Read the Bible (Part 2)

Pete Rambo raised a point in the first post, "Where is the Ruach in the whole discussion?"

And so we're going to delve into this a bit.  First, let's lay out some approaches to "halacha":

Christian approach:  we don't need rules; we've got the Spirit to guide us.

Anti-Rabbinic Messianic:  we don't need rules; we've got the Spirit to guide us.  Here's the example of David Stern (which feebly tries to differentiate itself from the Christian approach but ultimately ends up expressing disdain for rules):

"All of this is by way of background to considering what the role of halakhah might be in the light of the New Covenant.  According to the New Testament, every believer has in him the Spirit of God....It is clear that people need guidance...But Christian [worldview] tends to float above specific rules...to a [world] of general principles...[which is] inspiring but far from the brass tacks.  Messianic halakhah can provide specific guidance for those who seek it.  It can provide a basis for discussion, for probing the direction of finding godly solutions to ethical questions, as well as for ceremonial situations, helping to establish communal norms--norms, not hard-and-fast rules!" pgs 153-154 of Messianic Jewish Manifesto by David Stern.

Pro-Rabbinic Messianic:  we need rules; otherwise, our communities will disintegrate into lawlessness.  We should be "righteous before God, walking [i.e. practicing halachah] in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless," (Luke 1:6).  We must be followers of the Way (Acts 22:4) not followers of the Ways--there must be logical consistency because our G-d is logically consistent.  We must "walk" as Paul walked ("Brothers, join in imitating me, and keey your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us" Phil. 3:17).

Now let's return to Chaim Saiman and his story about the rabbi who walked into a church.  He was trying to find out how the Christians operationalize the command to be fruitful and multiply:

"I then paused, saying, 'Let's leave the rabbinic answers to these questions for now, but let me hear how in your tradition, you reason towards the answers.  Surely you want to fulfill the word of God, so how do you know when you have done it?'

....

     The answers clustered into a few categories.  Some thought that it was not a command to individuals as much as a charge to society as a whole, such that the verse did not direct individuals to undertake specific acts.  The majority, however, responded with something like, 'as many as you can handle,' 'read the Bible and let the holy spirit guide/inspire you to the correct answer' or 'discuss it with a pastor and other members of the faith community in order to reach the conclusion that is right for you.'....Repeatedly, the churchgoers told me that by focusing on the law rather than the heart, by not allowing faith to guide the answers and by legalizing what should be an intensely spiritual experience, the Talmud completely misses the point.
   
....

Stepping back, it became clear that I was watching radically different methods of Biblical and textual interpretation at work.  The Mishna and Talmud, and in their wake rabbinic Judaism, conceptualize each of these questions as inherently legal.  The reasoning process involves (to use the modern lawyer's terminology), reading statutory language, examining relevant case law, identifying the latent ambiguities and employing conventional forms of legal analysis to arrive at a conclusion...there is little in the rabbinic process that surprises the classically-trained legal mind.
     The perspective I heard at the church that morning was very different.  Very little of it resembled 'law' in the way lawyers would use the term.  In fact, many in the group felt that supplanting the letter with the spirit was the central goal of Jesus' ministry.  Jesus spoke to the heart.  [Christians believe] that Jesus resisted the Pharisees' impulse to refract the religious experience through the prism of law.  [Christian aversion to Talmudism] expresses a theological commitment embedded deep within the Christian worldview.
     The divisions between the approaches can be usefully, if somewhat crudely, articulated in the terms of contemporary legal thought.  The rabbinic view tends towards solving these problems via the application and analysis of rules, while the church group approach tended to resist rules and favored the application of broader, less fact-specific standards.  Moreover, on its own account, halakhic reasoning is understood to be objective.  It involves the application of texts and precedents to facts, and at least in theory is unrelated to the faith or spiritual temperament of either the questioner or the rabbi charged with answering him.  Finally, and most broadly, the Talmudic mode assumes that any issue relevant to religious, social or economic life is both justiciable and answerable within the normative bounds of the halakhic-legal framework.
     The Christian (particularly the contemporary Protestant) mode inhabits a very different discursive realm.  Law is not the relevant platform through which to analyze and decide important religious and social issues.  It is thought to be overly restrictive, and unjustifiably replaces faith and love with rules and precedents.  Instead, the reasoning process is directed inward, and exhibits more overtly religious, spiritual and subjective modes of reasoning.  While a discourse, premised on seeking inspiration from prayer, Bible reading, and conversations within the fellowship, may produce fewer specific conversations guidelines, the believer readily trades rabbinic legalism for a method that actively engages the hearts and souls of the faithful,"  from "Jesus' Legal Theory--A Rabbinic Reading" by Chaim Saiman, Journal of Law and Religion Vol. 23, No. 1, 2007/2008.

DISCUSSION

Does having the Spirit mean we must abandon the reasoning process associated with Law?  Does having rules mean that we have rejected the Spirit?

Or could it be that rejecting rules leads to self-deception, self-legislation (i.e. lawlessness), and ultimately self-destruction?

Does G-d command us to put our heart before our head?  Or our head before our heart?  Remember that the heart is desperately wicked and will tell you "Well, Messianic halacha is vague anyway so I don't need to keep Shabbat" and "Well, I don't feel led by the Spirit to do anything at the moment so I'm not gonna keep any of those Pharisaical rules."



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

[Respectfully] Challenging Tim Hegg's View That Yeshua Did Not Endorse Oral Torah in Matthew 23

In Hegg's "What version of the Mishnah Did Paul Read?", Hegg says many things that we can agree on.  He says the Mishnah did not exist as a written document in the pre-destruction era.  He says that 1st Century Judaism was pluriform.  He says that the Mishnah does not necessarily reflect an accurate historical record of the beliefs and practices of 1st Century Judaism.

However, he does make some extremely bizarre assertions that run counter to the Tanak.  He slowly builds the case that there was always a fairly strict separation between written and oral Torah:

"The distinction between oral and written Torah is also marked by the locations in which each was taught and learned....In contrast to the beit sefer, the means of instruction in the beit midrash was that of oral repetition...We see, then, that though there was a mixture of written and oral learning in both the beit sefer as well as the beit midrash, the beit sefer was predominately concerned with the written text of the Tanach...and thus with reading and writing.  The beit midrash, on the other hand, was almost entirely dominated by listening and repeating the traditions...Here, then, in the methodology for learning and transmitting the oral and written Torah, we see that a clear distinction between the two was carefully guarded and maintained even into the post-destruction era."

And the big finale:

"But the second point is even more important:  while the exact identification and function of the 'seat of Moses' in 1st Century Judaisms eludes us, most scholars agree that 'the seat/chair of Moses' was connected with the synagogue, not the beit midrash.  Moreover, that Yeshua speaks of the 'scribes and the Pharisees' sitting in the 'seat of Moses' would very likely make a connection to the written Torah, not the oral Torah.  First, as noted earlier, the scribes (soferim; grammateis) were the preservers and transmitters of the written, biblical text, not the orally repeated traditions.  Second, the fact that Yeshua states the scribes and Pharisees 'sit in the seat of Moses' favors a linkage to the written Torah given at Sinai by the hand of Moses.  Some might argue that the oral Torah was also linked to Moses, for the rabbis taught that all of the oral Torah was also revealed at Sinai.  However, the rabbinic teaching that God gave the oral Torah to Moses at Sinai was not extant in the 1st Century..."
REBUTTAL

First, we should all note that Hegg says the scribes were NOT the transmitters of orally repeated traditions.  However, this directly contradicts Scripture:

"...the fourth meaning of the term [sopher].  The scribes who were scholars of scripture belonged to the group of the Levites (2 Chronicles 34:13).  According to Nehemiah 8, several Levites assisted Ezra during his Torah reading in the temple: 
'The Levites explained the Torah to the people, while the people remained in their places.  And they read from the scroll, from the Torah of God, interpreting it and clarifying its meaning; so they understood the reading. [Neh. 8:7-8] 
The fact that the Levitical scribes operated as a group is significant.  This does not mean that they took turns in reading and explaining.  It is far more plausible that they gave instruction simultaneously but at different points and to different audiences.  The Levitical scribes were teachers of Torah. 
'They offered instruction throughout Judah, and they had with them the Scroll of theTorah of [HaShem].  They made the rounds of all the cities of Judah and taught among the people.' [2 Chron. 17:9] 
Having the written Torah 'with them'...the Levites were 'teaching' [2 Chron 17:9], 'interpreting [Neh. 8:7], 'explaining' [Neh. 8:8], and 'clarifying the meaning' [Neh. 8:8] of the Torah.  As scholars of scripture, the Levites acted as the successors of Moses who had been the first to 'explicate'...the Torah (Deut 1:5; compare Deut 30:1-13)," pgs. 79-80, Scribal Culture by Van Der Toorn
These Scriptural passages also tell us that in addition to the reading of Torah being joined with "interpretation" (i.e. tradition), there is no indication that locations for learning were strictly, separated as Hegg maintains, into Bet Midrash and Bet Sefer.  He even admits that there is limited evidence to support his conclusion:

"While historic documentation describing the educational methods in the Judaisms of the pre-destruction era is sparse..."

In fact, we can only speculate about whether there was a separate "Bet Midrash" in the 1st Century because our evidence only goes back to the 2nd Century:

"In rabbinic literature, the bet midrash figures prominently, although the rabbis never define precisely the nature of the institution.  Sometimes the bet midrash appears to be a place where a master and his disciples gather for study; sometimes it appears to be an actual building.  An inscribed door lintel found in the Golan states, 'This is the bet midrash of R. Eliezer HaQappar,' a rabbi of the second century...One rabbinic text of the second century refers to 'the bet midrash at Ardaskus,' another to 'the bet midrash at Lod.'  These texts imply that by the second century the bet midrash was becoming a permanent institution in some localities.  As a rule, however, the rabbis of the second century did not need a special place for the instruction of their disciples..." pg 116 From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Shaye Cohen.

Next, we should consider that Scripture also teaches that the oral Torah was, in addition to being a hallmark of the scribes, a hallmark of the Pharisees (whom Yeshua said sit in Moses' Seat):

"The New Testament is in full accord with Josephus' view that the hallmark of the Pharisees was the twofold Law, the 'tradition of the elders' (Matt. 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13; Phil. 3:5-6; Gal. 1:13-14)," pg. 20 Judaism in the Time of Jesus by Irving Zeitlin

One last thing, "Moses' Seat" being singular and "Scribes and Pharisees" being plural, indicates that this was not a literal seat but rather a symbol of authority.  But let's say that Hegg is right that this only refers to a literal seat.  Hegg says it couldn't be associated with bet midrash.  Other scholars disagree:

"Of course, 'Seat of Moses' need not necessarily refer to a chair and could, by metaphor, refer directly to the teaching authority of Moses, which his successors took up.  (This was the usual interpretation before archaeology offered and alternative.)  Such a derivation of authority from Moses is the burden of m. 'Aboth 1.  The term 'Seat of Moses' suggests that a teach could be viewed as a 'vicar' of Moses.
     The chair, if there was one, need not necessarily have been located in a synagogue;  Davies and Allison suggest that Jesus means that the scribes and Pharisees run Moses' 'school.'  As seen above, 'teacher of Torah' was one of the Rabbis' favorite conceptions of Moses, and he was thought of in some respects simply as their most senior colleague.  The 'seat of Moses,' then, might refer to the authority of those who taught the Law and its interpretation, perhaps in the beth midrash," The New Testament Moses, by John Lierman

Now, I respect and love Tim Hegg.  I'm writing this to show that Hegg's ideas about Yeshua not endorsing oral Torah need to be examined.

Also, if Hegg reads this, I would invite him to respond.

Shalom,

Peter




Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Difference Between How Jews and Christians Read the Bible

This little anecdote from Chaim Saiman's article "Jesus' Legal Theory" shows a glimpse of the difference between how a Christian approaches Biblical commands and how a Talmudist approaches Biblical commands:

"A RABBI WALKS INTO A CHURCH ... I was recently invited to speak to an adult education class at a mainstream Presbyterian church.  The topic of the lecture was how the rabbis read the Bible.  I began by asking the group, 'What is the first commandment in the Bible?'  After a short pause, I received two responses:  'love the Lord your God' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'  Both fine answers, but neither was what I was looking for.  The group apparently interpreted me as asking either:  what is the first of the Ten Commandments (Decalogue), or, what is the first, i.e., primary, commandment?  The question I intended to ask [was 'what is the first commandment one encounters in the Biblical test?]
     After a short discussion, I told the group that the Talmudic rabbis maintain that the first 'commandment for generations' (applicable beyond Adam and Eve) was to '[b]e fruitful and multiply.'  The group nodded in approval, and I sensed we were on the same page.  Next, I asked a simple, almost inevitable, question from a Talmudic perspective, but one deeply foreign to my audience.
     
     C.S.:  "How many?"
     
     Group:  "How many what?"
     
     C.S.: "How many children?"
     
     Group:  "What do you mean, how many children?"
     
     At this point I realized that we reached a bit of a brick wall, so I backed up.
     
     C.S.:  "Do you believe the Bible is the word of God that expresses His Will?"
     
     Group: "Yes."
     
     C.S.  "Do you believe you have to follow it?"
     
     Group:  "Yes."
     
     C.S. "Well, then how do you know when you have done it?  How do you know when you have been sufficiently fruitful?"
     
     Again, blank stares from the audience.  It was clear that the last question produced some discomfort.  I proceeded to explain that when the rabbis read the Bible, they look to put it into practice, to operationalize it.  Thus, most of their questions, and the rabbinic discourse as a whole, look to define the nature and scope of various provisions in the Bible and Talmud....When the rabbis read the verse 'be fruitful and multiply,' they immediately attempt to define the properties and scope of this commandment...Here the issue boils down to how many children are required to fulfill the Biblical command.
     ... I explained that the rabbis assume that producing two children would satisfy the Biblical duty of fruitfulness...[But in] the Talmud's way of thinking, this is only the beginning.  The tradition continues to wonder:  If one remarries, must he or she have children again?  Is the obligation binding upon the man, the woman or the marriage?  What about children from an adulterous or illicit relationship?  If the children are incapable of reproducing, do they county? ....
     Not surprisingly, at this point I was beginning to lose the group.  I got the bug-eyed, 'you've got to be kidding,' expression from nearly everyone, as if to say, 'If this is what the Talmud is about, then the criticism of the Pharisees is dead on.'
     I then paused, saying, 'Let's leave the rabbinic answers to these questions for now, but let me hear how in your tradition, you reason toward the answers.  Surely you want to fulfill the word of God, so how do you know when you have done it?'
     The most obvious and telling response was the ensuing silence.  The uneasy quiet indicated that the group had never thought to break down this question into the level of detail found in the Talmud.  The command was not conceptualized as binding or operational in quite the direct way the rabbis assumed.  While all agreed that the Biblical directives are binding, in the churchgoers' minds the Biblical commandments took on a less concrete form.  The assembled group did not interpret the verses as having the same degree of presentness and immediacy as assumed by the rabbis,"  from "Jesus' Legal Theory--A Rabbinic Reading" by Chaim Saiman, Journal of Law and Religion Vol. 23, No. 1, 2007/2008.

However, both the Talmudist and the Christian read certain "New Testament" passages the same way.  For example, the story of the disciples plucking grain on Shabbat.  Citing to such incidents, Saiman concludes:


"Jesus and his followers sought to decrease the overall importance and density of the Torah's legal regime..."

But is this accusation really true?  Did Yeshua really advocate normative uncertainty?

Most people don't grasp that Law is actually a composite concept, consisting of two very different types of rules.  There are the rules themselves, those laws promulgated by the legal system.  But a legal system cannot itself exist without three meta-rules.  H.L.A. Hart calls them "secondary" rules but let's call them "systemic rules" or "systemic law"--the rules that necessarily must exist in order for a legal system to exist.  They are:

(1) the rule of recognition:  this rules establishes the criteria for legal validity.  Put another way, this rule establishes the sources of law.  Otherwise, there would be uncertainty as what "laws" in a given society were actually valid;

(2) the rule of change:  this rule confers power on the lawmaker to update the law to changing circumstances;

(3) the rule of adjudication:  this rule confers power on a person or institution to determine authoritatively whether on a particular occasion a primary rule has been broken.

It is self-evident then that each legal system necessarily contains systemic law:  rules of legal validity, rules of change, and rules of adjudication.  So if one accepts a law then one testifies that he accepts the underlying systemic law--one acknowledges that he accepts the entire legal system as valid.

THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE STORY OF GRAIN PLUCKING ON THE SABBATH

But isn't the story of the grain plucking evidence that Yeshua rejected Rabbinic halacha?  

In actuality, this story is not dispositive.  There are many ambiguities that have been the subject of scholarly debate:  (1) what was the full factual context at the time? (2) what was the legal context in first-century Judaism?  Were the Pharisees correct that Yeshua had violated a rabbinic law? Were the laws at that time in a state of flux?  (3) how to we reconcile Yeshua's stated justifications?  He says some things that are very difficult to understand and open to different interpretations.

The upshot:  we lack sufficient information to draw conclusions from this story about Yeshua's personal theory of law.  

But that's fine because we have Matthew 23.  

WHAT MATTHEW 23 TELLS US ABOUT YESHUA'S THEORY OF LAW

It's wrong to cite Yeshua's tension with the Pharisees or even particular Pharisaic commands as evidence that Yeshua was against the Rabbinic legal system.  As long as Yeshua endorsed the "rule of recognition" (i.e. the criteria for legal validity in the Rabbinic system) then Yeshua can still be said to have accepted the Rabbinic system of halacha.  In those instances where Yeshua rejects a particular teaching, He can be read as arguing from within the halachic system, citing to rules of recognition for His assertion that a particular proposed law is actually an invalid law according to the Rabbinic system itself. 

From Matthew 23, we see that Yeshua endorses both (1) the Pharisaic teaching (i.e. laws) and (2) the rules of recognition (i.e. that the Pharisees had expert authority with which to determine what the halacha should be).  Hagner says it best:

"MATTHEW 23...Another favorite passage among Jewish scholars in their reclamation of Jesus is Matthew 23:1-3, 23 (cf. Luke 11:42).  Here Jesus says to the crowds and his disciples that the scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses' seat and that therefore it is right to 'practice and observe whatever they tell you.'  Moreover, when Jesus faults the Pharisees for neglecting the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faith (Luke 11:42, 'justice and the love of God'), he says, 'These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others' (i.e., the tithing of dill, mint, and cumin--matters involving the Pharisaic extension of the Mosaic commandment concerning tithing).
How are we to reconcile these statements with the fact that, as we have seen, both Jesus and his disciples transgressed the teaching of the Pharisees (cf. Matt. 9:11, 14; 12:2)?  How can Jesus say, 'Practice and observe whatever they tell you' (23:3), when in the following sentence he indicates that the teachings of the Pharisees (especially in contrast of his, cf. 11:29-30) constituted heavy burdens and seems to rebuke the Pharisees for not making their demands lighter (23:4).  Furthermore, in the criticism of the Pharisees that follows, it must be noted that Jesus criticizes not only their conduct but also their teaching (e.g., 23:16, 18).  Indeed, earlier in the Gospel he has warned the disciples about 'the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,' which is explicitly identified as their teachings (16:11-12).  How are these apparently contradictory utterances to be reconciled?
The answer can only be that the Pharisees are to be honored simply because they concern themselves with the interpretation of the Law (they 'sit in Moses' seat').  They are to be obeyed, but only to the extent that what they teach is not inconsistent with the true meaning of righteousness, which the disciples learned from Jesus, or--put positively--to the extent that their teaching is in accord with the true intention of the Mosaic Law.  In principle, the Pharisees are correct;  in actuality, they are often wrong (cf. Luke 11:52:  'You have taken away the key of knowledge').  The issue is again the real meaning of the Law and the nature of true righteousness....There is, then, first and foremost a strong continuity between the Law and the teaching of Jesus:  Jesus brings the Law to its definitive interpretation.  His fulfillment of the Law by bringing it to its intended meaning depends directly on his messianic office and mission," pgs. 126-127 of The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus by Hagner

The key point I'm trying to establish is that Yeshua could not have been for rabbinic halacha and yet against the rabbinic halachic system.  Accepting one, you must accept both.

THAT SAID....

Does anyone have a different opinion?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Open Letter to David Rudolph

Below is a copy of the email I just sent to David Rudolph (see previous blog post for context):

David,

Just in case you care at all about how a Gentile feels when he reads Tikvat's slogan, here's a comment I just posted at my blog:

"I'm a non-Jew reading this slogan and my mental flowchart goes something like this: 
"Where Jewish People..." 
That's not me. So let's see if there's some sort of exception that would allow me to fellowship at Tikvat... 
"and Their Family and Friends..." 
Obviously the family of Jewish people are ALSO Jewish and so they are welcome.....I don't have any Jewish friends...thus, this congregation of so-called Believers in Yeshua has deliberately UNinvited me."
THAT'S how a Gentile interprets the main page of Tikvat's new website.  You will have to answer to Yeshua for that.
Shalom,
Peter

Thursday, December 4, 2014

UNINVITED: Our Former Congregation Has a New Slogan



Tikvat Israel, as of today, has a new website (HERE)...and a new slogan (see below):



Upcoming Post

So I'll be adding a "Messianic Commentary" to the Mishneh Torah section dealing with Shabbat.  But to do so I need to re-read a couple books:

Jewish Law From Jesus to the Mishnah by E. P. Sanders and also Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament by David Instone-Brewer

The goal will be to lay out a Messianic legal hermeneutic specifically for Shabbat.

Stay tuned...

Halacha Update: The Book of Women

...is now available.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Exposing the Recent Influx of Pseudo-Scholarship on John 8:58 (Great Article by Rob Vanhoff)

CLICK HERE FOR LINK


Halacha Update

Book of Seasons now available in the Halacha tab.  NOTE:  the file is so large that Google doesn't allow a "preview"; rather you have to download the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Halacha Update: The Book of Love

The Book of Love is now available.  I included a brief commentary about the "shelo asani goi" prayer.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Halacha Update

Book of Knowledge is now uploaded.  Please read through and comment as you feel led.  The goal here is to provide a place on the internet where Messianics can see what other Messianics think about each halacha.