Saturday, February 7, 2015

Black Fire, White Fire: The Spirit vs. the Letter of the Law

"The relationship of the orally transmitted Torah to the written Torah is also likened to this image of 'black fire on white fire' (Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim 6:1, end).  Just as a white background contains no meaning for man, representing the metaphysical world beyond his grasp, the written Torah given at Sinai carries no meaning for man until it is 'humanized' by the orally transmitted Torah...The mystical white space between the letters on the Torah parchment is [like] the written Torah, but the black letters--[which are like] the orally transmitted Torah--make the knowledge of a higher world accessible to man through the human language of narratives and laws," Nathan T. Lopes Cardozo, The Written and Oral Torah.

Earlier today I realized that the concept to which I'd been referring as Oral Torah (knowing full well that the Rabbis use this same term to refer to a different concept), can more accurately be termed "Meta Law" or "Meta Torah."  The prefix "meta" is helpful because it refers to all the necessary elements beyond a given object.  Previously I've outlined that there are 5 necessary elements beyond the written Torah (LINK), elements which do not necessarily correspond to the Rabbinic Halachah.  So, going forward, I will refer to these 5 necessary elements as Meta Torah in order to avoid terminological confusion.

The term "Oral Torah", as it is commonly understood, applies the 5 meta elements directly to the Rabbis, to Rabbinic Halachah--indeed to Rabbinic Judaism.  To use this term as a descriptor for reality thus gives the appearance that one is attributing mandatory authority to the Rabbis and Rabbinic Judaism.

As a follower of Yeshua, I certainly want to avoid attributing mandatory authority to a Judaism that rejects Yeshua.

If the Rabbis had the meta Law then they would understand the written Law as referring to Yeshua.  But they have only the Letter (written Torah), not the Spirit (which is arguably an aspect of meta Torah).
"If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me," John 5:46 
Yet, Tsvi Sadan, a writer for First Fruits of Zion, would have us believe that the Rabbis must be obeyed as if their words are the very words of Torah:
"Because the new Testament teaches Yeshua’s followers to observe Torah, it also necessarily teaches to keep the tradition of the fathers, or the Oral Law [i.e. Rabbinic Authority]," Tsvi Sadan, Halakic Authority in the Life of the Messianic Community
He even goes so far as to say:
"Those who demand that we reject [rabbinic] authority are actually calling for the rejection of our Jewish identity," ibid.
On one level, I'm almost agree with him...

After all, my view is susceptible to the following attack:  I say the Rabbis have advisory authority and yet I totally depend on them for the tradition of the written Torah as well as many of the traditions.  By all accounts I'm left looking like the arrogant and idiotic Gentile from midrash:

"About two thousand years ago, there were two great sages in Israel: Shammai and Hillel. A certain gentile came to Shammai and asked, 

“How many Torahs do you have?”  

Shammai answered, 

“Two. The Torah that is in writing, and the explanation of the Torah that we know by tradition.”

So the gentile answered, 

“About the written Torah, I believe you. About the oral Torah, I don’t believe you. Make me a Jew on condition that you will teach me the written Torah.”

Shammai responded with wrath and deprecation, chasing the man away.

So, the gentile went to Hillel. And Hillel performed the conversion. Then came time for the first lesson.

“This is an alef,” said Hillel, “and this is a bet.” 

And so Hillel taught the new convert the Hebrew alphabet that he would need to read the written Torah.  The next day, the man returned for his second lesson. But this time, Hillel reversed everything. 

This is a bet,” he said, pointing to the alef. “And this,” he said, pointing to the bet, “is an alef.

Hold on a minute!” cried the convert. “Yesterday you told me the other way around!

And you trusted me?” said Hillel.

Well . . .”

So, why not trust me about the oral tradition as well?

Hillel’s point was that without an oral tradition, there is no written Torah. Written symbols on a scroll are meaningless without context. We have no clue what the words mean, or even whether they are at all true,"  Shabbat 31a, as amplified by Chabad. From:

I don't agree with Tsvi Sadan...and yet some of his points are solid.  The Rabbinic Halacha ("Oral Torah" has preserved the written Torah and the Jewish People.

Yet this Rabbinic Judaism mandates the rejection of Yeshua...

Any thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. My understanding is there must be "Oral Torah" in order to follow the Written Torah, but the Rabbinic Halacha is only one way to follow Torah. An example would be how to close Shabbat, you may do it one way I another.