Saturday, December 20, 2014

Why Did Yeshua Endorse Those Who Bind Heavy Burdens? [For Dan Benzvi]

"All therefore whatsoever they tell you, that do and observe; but do not ye after their works:  for they say, and do not.  For they bind heavy burdens..." (Matt. 23)
Wait a second!  Why should anyone have to obey burdensome legislation?

First some legal context.  What does Yeshua mean by "bind" here?  Unless one is familiar with rabbinic law, one may not realize that "binding" refers to one aspect of rabbinic legislation. "Binding" refers to legislation that prohibits something; whereas "loosing", a corollary concept, refers to legislation that permits something.  

Did Yeshua accept any other forms of rabbinic legislation?  Actually, yes.  

A little more legal context... 

There are (roughly) three forms of Jewish law:

(1) Deoraita: (A) written Torah; (B) halacha l'Moshe miSinai (i.e. laws to which written Torah makes reference--such as tzitzit, mezuzot, etc--but does not provide written explanation of how to perform);

(2) Logical extrapolations that must arise from the written Torah;

(3) Derabban (rabbinic legislation such as takkanah and gezerah)

We have indications that, in addition to endorsing gezerot in Matt. 23, Yeshua at various times approved of takkanot such as Hannukah.

So we have strong indication that Yeshua accepted various forms rabbinic legislation (provided they did not supplant written Torah).  But why did He accept it---especially when He indicates that their gezerot (prohibitions) amounted to "heavy burdens" that were "grievous to be borne"?

Edersheim, commenting on Matthew 23, puts it this way:

" long as [the Scribes and Pharisees] held the place of authority they were to be regarded, in the language of the Mishnah [a Rosh haSh. ii. 9], as if instituted by Moses himself, as sitting in Moses' seat, and were to be obeyed, so far as merely outward observances were concerned," (pg. 754 of The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim)
It should also be noted that Edersheim interprets Yeshua in Matthew 23 as specifically observing the third tier of Jewish law mentioned above--that of rabbinic legislation:

"Not so for the third class of ordinances, which were 'the hedge' drawn by the Rabbis around the Law, to prevent any breach of the Law or customs, to ensure their exact observance, or to meet peculiar circumstances and dangers.  These ordinances constituted 'the sayings of the Scribes' or 'of the Rabbis'--and were either positive in their character [takkanot] or else negative [gezerot] was probably this third class especially, confessedly unsupported by Scripture, that these words of Christ referred (Matt. 23:3,4): 'All therefore whatsoever they tell you, that do and observe; but do not ye after their works:  for they say, and do not.  For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but with their finger they will not move them away...'  pg. 70 of The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim.
Now I know that this view that there is an oral Torah is controversial in the current anti-rabbinic climate of Messianic Judaism.  We are coming out of Christianity and we still haven't fully shed our old biases.  We still love our "Christian liberty."  We hate man-made rules (Traditions of men? Booo!).  And you know what?  We have every indication that Yeshua hated some man-made rules too!  He called them grievous burdens.  And yet we see time and again the unavoidable fact:  He respected tripartite hierarchy of Jewish law that I've outlined above.  Provided that tier 3 did not overturn tier 1, He accepted tier 3 legislation as though it was commanded by Moses himself.

And now Dan Benzvi will have some choice insults prepared for me.  So let's sit back and enjoy the onslaught.  I can't wait to hear how arrogant I must be for questioning Tim Hegg.  : )


  1. Hovav Ben Avraham AvinuDecember 21, 2014 at 6:45 AM

    I think he is not aiming so much at burdens - the gezerot and takanot - but on the practice they have concerning them. He has just said: obey but don't copy. So he is saying, you must not be like them when it comes to these rules: you must help people deal with it and act in love. The problem is not the burden but the not helping to carry them with a finger.

  2. Edersheim has an interesting take on this:

    "This constitutes the first part of Christ's charge. Before proceeding to those which follow, we may give a few illustrative explanations. Of the opening accusation about the binding (truly in bondage:) of heavy burdens anf grievous to be borne, and laying them on men's shoulders, proof can scarcely be required. As frequently shown, Rabbinism placed the ordinances of tradition above those of the Law, [e See especially Jer. Ber. i. 7, p. 3 b) and this by a necessity of the system, since they were professedly the authoritative exposition and the supplement of the written Law. [f Ab. iii. 11) And although it was a general rule, that no ordinance should be enjoined heavier that the congregation could bear, [g B. Kama 79 b] yet (as previously stated) it was admitted, that whereas the words of the Law contained what 'lightened' and what 'made heavy,' the words of the Scribes contained only what 'made heavy.' [h Jer. Sanh. 30 a. at bottom] Again, it was another principle, that where an 'aggravation' or increase of the burden had once been introduced, it must continue to be observed. [i Nidd. 66 a] Thus the burdens became intolerable. And the blame rested equally on both the great Rabbinic Schools. For, although the School of Hillel was supposed in general to make the yoke lighter, and that of Shammai heavier, yet not only did they agree on many points, [2 So notably in the well-known 'eighteen points' Ab. Sar. 36 a.] but the School of Hillel was not unfrequently even more strict than that of his rival. [3 Twenty-four such are mentioned. Jer. Bets. 60 b.] In truth, their differences seem too often only prompted by a spirit of opposition, so that the serious business of religion became in their hands one of rival authority and mere wrangling. [4 Many, very many of them are so utterly trivial and absurd, that only the hairsplitting ingenuity of theologians can account for them: others so profane that it is difficult to understand how any religion could co-exist with them. Conceive, for example, tow schools in controversy whether it was lawful to kill a louse on the Sabbath. (Schabb. 12 a; 107 b.]

    It is not easy to understand the second part of Christ's accousation. There were, indeed, many hypocrites among them, who might, in the language of the Talmud, alleviate for themselves and make heavy for others. [a Sot. 21 bS Yet the charge of not moving them with the finger could scarcely apply to the Pharisees as a party, not even in this sense, that Rabbinic igenuity mostly found some means of evading what was unpleasant. But, as previously explained, [b vol. i. p. 101] we would understand the word rendered 'move' as meaning to 'set in motion,' or 'move away, in the sense that they did not 'alleviate' where they might have done so, or else with reverence to their admitted principle, that their ordinances always made heavier, never lighter, always imposed grievous burdens, but never, not even with the finger, moved them away."

  3. Here is a perspective of Matthew 23:2-3, which advocates a Centrist position of the scribes and Pharisees possessing what would be best described as a "consultative authority":

  4. Thanks, brother. I'll read it now.

  5. Yes, good article. Here's the problem for us though. We have both reached the conclusion that rabbinic authority is not a mandatory authority but rather an advisory or, as you say, consultative authority--yet this does not get us to an operational legal system. Our ideas of rabbinic authority go to our rules of how a Messianic legal system might operate but they do not provide us with rules of Messianic practice.

    When we say "authority" we refer to power-conference--in this case, the power to persuade us as to what our sources of law should be. So we have some rules of power-conference--that's the first step.

    The next step is even more difficult. We have to develop rules of that impose actual duties.

    A working legal system must be able to (1) confer power and (2) impose duties.

    We've started with #1 but we haven't even begun with #2.

  6. I disagree, #2 exist in the form of local authority, which is already practiced by local congregations. You are looking for a central authority for Messianic practice, a one size fits all, which cannot exist. It cannot even exist in Judaism today, as there is no theocratic government in Israel. In fact, despite there being a majority view on halacha, within Judaism one must consult their local rabbi, they cannot simply look to a one definite source. IE, eating kosher and what symbols to follow, will vary from congregation to congregation, what some Jews in America consider kosher, other Jews in Israel would not consider Kosher. That is because of local authoritative practice.

  7. Zion,

    Show me where #2 exists so I can move there. : )

    I don't know of any Messianic congregation that has a fully operational halachic system in place. But if there are such congregations then I'd like to know about them.

  8. Most congregations that I have visited, follow a set of standard practices, and if you visit you are generally asked/or assumed to comply to those practices. I am only assuming you have only been to peoples houses. Have you ever been to a Messianic Congregation?

  9. Do these standard practices tell you how to build a mikvah according to traditional standards? Do these standards explain how to make an eruv? How to make tefillin?

    Standards of practices are not a complete set of instructive traditions that explain how to operationalize every single commandment in Scripture. In short, such standards are not halachah.

  10. And, yes, I attended a little Messianic congregation once upon a time. The rabbi there was the former president of the UMJC. So I'm familiar with standard practices. That rabbi actually told me to use a bathtub for a mikvah. No understanding of the purpose and value of ritual. Only interested in having the appearance of Judaism. Torah scrolls but no scribes. Kosher food but no shochet. Ketubot but no beit din. Etc, etc. Just appearances. Yes, I am familiar.

  11. The UMJC is attempting to set up something at least approaching a central beit din-like authority in the form of the MJRC. See

    Unfortunately, it is largely dominated by those who would tell you to take off your tallis and go to church. :-/

  12. I attend a (moderate, Gentile-welcoming) UMJC congregation, and it certainly has more community standards than that. Our shul is strictly K-D. We kasher our kitchen for Pesach. We encourage and instruct entirely traditional practices with regard to tefillin, tallitot, etc.

    We've only progressed so far, of course. We don't have sofrim, because we simply don't have anyone in the community who is sufficiently trained. Nor do we have an eruv, but that's not for a lack of interest in seriously addressing these issues or taking these things up should we get members of our community who were Orthodox enough to express serious interest in them. As far as a mikveh, we don't have one now - our facility was not built as a synagogue, so why would it have one, and we don't have the funds to build one. But, I've had discussions with the rabbi who has said that he would be delighted to have one - and he certainly meant a mikveh, not some bathtub mockery of one. We have immersion services yearly, and those who would like a (clothed, but otherwise traditional) mikveh in living water are welcome to do so then.

    We don't impose the standards of the more orthodox members of the community on those who are less observant. I do wish we would encourage that a bit more. But, the traditional knowledge, and the willingness to accept and embrace orthodoxy, are definitely there.

  13. Despite however elaborate they are with halacha or not, it is still a local authority. And as Jon pointed out, if there is ever a Messianic Jewish beit din authority, upholding halachah, as a gentile, you would not be included, well you might be, but it will be in the back out of everyone's way, like the ugly step child. But maybe that is what you are looking for...

    I have been to congregations where halachah is taught, however it is not enforced. Because like I said earlier, it would be hypocritical to include gentiles. Much of the traditional halachah would have to be updated to the standards of the Apostolic Writings, the Body of Messiah or community of believers, as it is missing further revelation given by God.

  14. Zion,

    The fact that it's a local authority is meaningless in and of itself--the Christian churches have local authority but I don't expect you'll be taking the wafer any time soon and making the sign of the cross on your chest.

    It's gotta be the right system and right rule-set.

    My point was just that a legal system is a joke if it only has meta rules of power-conference and nothing else. If it doesn't have duty-imposing rules relating to matters of orthopraxy then it's not halachic. The Ketuvei haShalichim describes a New Covenant community that kept halachic norms, men and women who "walked" "the Way" etc. To say they had a specific "Way" in a Jewish context means that they had halachic rules.

    Btw, would you agree with that last statement?

  15. Jon,

    I'm interested in learning more about the congregation you attend. What's the website?

  16. I have to disagree, local authority is what sustains a community, and it has worked for many centuries, for both Judaism and Christianity What you are describing is the implementation of a traditional practice. I highly doubt we will see any unified practice in what is known as the Messianic movement, at least for another 10+ years...

  17. This is a good discussion and I'm going to create a new post out of it. Basically, you seem to be saying that all duty-imposing rules must be made at the local level, approved by the local faith community--is that right? Whereas I would say that a lot of the duty-imposing rules come from (roughly) three sources: (1) G-d at Sinai; (2) Divinely authorized "Traditions of the Fathers" (see Gal. 1:14; Acts 21:21-24; (3) Messianic communal authorities. If my view is right, then the local Messianic community would be able to create certain halachah (binding and loosing, takkanot and gezerot) but it would also need to accept as authoritative the written Torah and all NECESSARY ancestral traditions that make it possible for us to put applicable mitzvot into practice.