Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why Every Believer (Jew and Gentile) Should Care About the Talmud [UPDATED]

What would happen if all the Talmuds in the world were destroyed in a single day?
Some might say, "No big deal.  It preached against Yeshua anyway."

But what if there is more to the Talmud than its statement relating to the Gospel?  What if it has the potential to be helpful despite its flaws?

Some might say, "The destruction of the Talmud would be bad but not catastrophic so long as the halachic Codes remain such as Shulchan Aruch and Mishneh Torah."  

But what if the Talmud was much more than a legal commentary on the Mishnah?  What if, aside from the halachah, the Talmud contained something priceless?

Some might say, "The destruction of the Talmud would be bad for the Jews but it wouldn't affect me as a Gentile Believer."  

But what if your ignorance of the practical instructions for community-building and mitzvot-observance was already affecting you?  What if your ignorance of Jewish traditions was already preventing you from reaching your full potential?

So these three objections are based on three false beliefs:

(1) the belief that one cannot learn something from a book that is flawed;
(2) the belief that the Talmud is merely a book of legal commentary;
(3) the belief that Gentiles have nothing to gain from studying the Talmud.
The reality is as follows:

(1) Yeshua taught that it was possible to learn from imperfect/flawed teachers: 
"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you," (Matthew 23:1-3) 
(2)  The Talmud contains roughly one thousand years of Jewish thought:  culture, tradition, philosophy, wisdom, experience, aggada (folklore), hermeneutics, rhetoric.  There's so much more to it than halachah.  (And yet it also is a source for halachah).  
(3) The Talmud contains proven wisdom--I say proven because it was only the Diaspora communities that respected and studied Talmud that resisted assimilation.  And, as it happens, the Gentiles are sorely in need of wisdom: 
"O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble, to you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say: “Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit," (Jeremiah 16:19) 
And the prophet's words are corroborated by history:  wars, oppression, immorality, idolatry (including modern idolatry:  humanism and materialism).  The book that Gentiles so liked to burn throughout European history contains the very sort of wisdom that they so desperately need!
Yet there are legitimate risks associated with Talmudic study.  We need sound doctrines, strong communities, a set of hermeneutical rules for Messianic halachic interpretation, etc.  But that's for another post.  

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