Sunday, February 1, 2015

Irrefutable Proof That Oral Torah was a Necessary Complement to the Written Torah [Menachem Elon]

I'd like to hear someone try to refute the following analysis:

"One may conclude from even a cursory examination that Biblical commandments and laws were accompanied by many explanations and detailed rules--given orally or preexisting in practice--which supplement and give meaning to what is written in the Torah.  The following are a few illustrations. 

With regard to the law of the Hebrew slave it is stated:

'When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall be freed, without payment.'

The basic intent of this and the ensuing verses is to limit the number of years of work and to establish the law applicable to a slave who enters his master's service either with or without a wife.  Scripture postulates that it is possible to acquire a Hebrew slave and that how to do so is known, even though the Torah itself gives no details as to how such a slave may be acquired.
     Later in the same passage it is said:  'When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not be freed as male slaves are,' and also 'if he [the buyer] designated her for his son, he shall deal with her as is the practice with free maidens.'  What is 'the practice with free maidens' to which the verse refers?  Neither this verse nor any other part of the Torah explains the nature of this legal institution.  It necessarily follows, therefore, that these were laws that were known and accepted by the people, and the Torah's provisions were additions and refinements.
     Divorce is another illustration of the same point.  The Torah states:
'A man marries a woman and lives with her.  She fails to please him, because he has found something obnoxious about her, and he writes her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house....[Then, if the woman marries a different man and that man divorces her or dies, her first husband] who divorced her first shall not take her to wife again.'

The thrust of the passage is to prohibit remarriage to one's former wife after she has married someone else.  The passage is premised on certain legal assumptions:  that the woman was married to the first man; that he divorced her with a bill of divorcement, which he handed to her; and that she then married someone else.  The Torah is silent as to any details concerning how marriage is effected, the nature of a bill of divorcement, etc.  If no Oral Law existed to explain and give content to these legal institutions, it would have been impossible in practice to carry out the provisions that are stated in this Scriptural passage.
     The Book of Deuteronomy provides still another illustration:
'When there is a dispute between men and they go to law and a decision is rendered declaring the one in the right and the other in the wrong; if the guilty one is to be flogged, the judge shall have him lie down and be given lashes in his presence, by count, as his guilt warrants.  He may be given up to forty lashes but not more, lest being flogged further, to excess, your brother be degraded before your eyes.'

     The point of this section is to teach us that if the accused is adjudged to undergo flogging, the rule is 'He may be given up to forty lashes but not more.'  But when is a person to be sentenced to flogging?  How does the court declare the one in the right and the other in the wrong?  This, too, was necessarily law that was customary or transmitted orally, and the Torah builds on this law and merely complements it.
     Finally, many commandments by their very nature require at least some explanation in order to understand their meaning and delineate their scope.  For example, the prohibition of work on the sabbath is repeatedly stated in very general terms:  'You shall not do any work,' 'And on the seventh day you shall cease from labor,' etc.  But what manner of work is prohibited?  The Torah lists only three:   plowing, harvesting, and the kindling of fire.  However, is there any logic to prohibiting only these forms of labor and not others that are similar and even more onerous?  From the Torah itself we learn that there forms of labor were not the only ones prohibited.  The Book of Numbers states:
'Once, when the Israelites were in the wilderness, they came upon a man gathering wood on the sabbath day.  Those who found him as he was gathering wood brought him before Moses, Aaron, and the whole community.  He was placed in custody, for it had not been specified what should be done to him.'

     Thus, the people that found the man knew that he was violating the sabbath, in that this was one of the forbidden labors, but they did not know what punishment was destined to be prescribed for him.
     In short, the existence of oral laws necessarily follows from what is revealed by examination of the Written Law.  The undefined terms and vague references in the Written Law simply cannot be understood, and therefore the Written Law cannot be carried out, without the Oral Law, which provides the necessary explanation and complementation," Menachem Elon, Jewish Law:  History, Sources, Principles, Vol.1, pgs. 200-203


  1. Gee...I wonder how did the people go to the bathroom, since it is nowhere in the written Torah? I guess the OT allowed them to go in their pants....

  2. Dan,

    I don't think every word from the lips of the Rabbis is Oral Torah. They think that the entire Halachah is Oral Torah. I don't think that. Let's get that out of the way.

    I do agree with Elon's analysis above--the idea that there must have been a traditional component to the Written Torah. It simply doesn't make complete sense without a tradition to complement it.

    The Written Torah wasn't given in a legal vacuum.

  3. Of course it was. Harvard of Sinai did not exist yet....

  4. Abraham wasn't given any laws?

  5. So were the Egyptians. Were there a lawless society? So what does that prove?

    If the vacuum was filled with law, then why the Written Torah?

  6. That's like saying "If the Israelite tribes each had tribal law then why did they need more law?" They needed more law because that was the weltanschauung (worldview) inherited from Abraham--that these tribes would become One People.

    Without the ursprungnorm (source of law from which all other laws of the legal order flow) of Abraham, it would not have been possible for the Israelite tribes to have recognized the validity of the Sinaitic Revelation. Abraham prepared them for it!

    The Israelite acceptance of the Written Torah at Sinai illustrates that all the tribes belonged to the same famille juridique (legal family).

    EXAMPLE 1: The American Constitution didn't arise in a legal vacuum. Because if it arrived in a vacuum then what gave authority to it? There must be an ursprugnorm--a source of law--to which the family (or nation) has consented.

    EXAMPLE 2: If I give a written instruction to my daughter, she must obey it. Why? Because the writing is the source of law? No, because it originated from someone that she understands holds authority. She could not have understood the authority of the writing unless I took the time to explain it to her. This oral explanation is essential.

  7. Peter you seem to be misusing the term Oral Torah...

    You disagreed with Elon, thus refuted Oral Torah given at Mount Sinai as divinely inspired alongside the Written Torah when you said:

    They think that the entire Halachah is Oral Torah.

    Exactly, because this is the belief of what Oral Torah is... maybe you meant to use different terminology?

    The idea that the Torah does not give us all the details on how to carry out certain laws, does not automatically give proof to a so called "Oral Torah".

    There is nothing wrong with saying that since the Torah did not give all the details, laws would be elaborated on by the theocratic government established in the Torah, but this is not Oral Torah.

  8. Zion,

    It's the age-old battle over definitions. For example, James Pyles defines Messianic Judaism in such a way that excludes me--he says this blog is "Hebrew Roots" and does not qualify as Messianic Judaism. Who gets to define Messianic Judaism? Who gets to define Oral Torah?

    Just because I define a term a certain way doesn't mean I'm misusing the term. Saying that one person is "misusing" a term means that only one person (or group) has a legitimate claim to defining a given concept.

  9. I am sick and tired of you anachronistically bringing modern law to any biblical discussion. Zion is right, you misuse terms and time periods. Maybe you should start an "american law" blog and leave the Bible to us?

  10. Yes, however you would be fighting an up hill battle, as I am not the one defining the term, however Judaism already has, thus trying to use the term outside of Judaism, as now your own self defined term for traditional authority, doesn't work or at least makes for a very confusing argument. Just saying! :D

  11. What part of Menachem Elon's statement do you disagree with? See, you're upset because he pointed out something about Torah that you can't explain. You're afraid to acknowledge that written Torah makes references to an oral tradition because you think that would make you a traitor to Messianic Judaism.

    Since you can't attack the substance of David Stern's argument or Menachem Elon's argument, you attack in the only manner available to you: ad hominem. You say I'm being anachronistic and say nothing about Menachem Elon.

    Do you seriously think Menachem Elon, a justice from the Israeli SUPREME Court, is a moron? Are you that arrogant, Dan?

    Why don't you do yourself a favor and show a semblance of humility and respond to the evidence that he presented. But I would have to wait forever for that to happen.

    In the meantime, you're always welcome to visit. Enjoy the next post.



  12. Zion,

    I would like to avoid confusion. Please read my next post and help me to find a better term for the "four elements" of (for want of a better term) "Oral Torah."

    Personally, I don't see why they should hold the monopoly on that term. But I'm flexible and open to suggestions.

  13. The term is already loaded, you would need to redefine it to your own self definition so others could follow your argument... It would be like trying to change the name of apple to orange. Why can't I call an apple, orange, because all it does it confuse communication.

  14. I'm open to suggestions for an alternative term...

  15. I'm going to throw this in the mix. As for US civil and criminal code, there are over 2 million in 27 huge volumes. The Roman historian, Tacitus said, "the more corrupt a nation becomes, the more 'laws' it requires". The states were founded as independent republics, each with it's own constitution, state house and legislature...and before the Civil War, which the Northern Establishment used to grab power and control, the reference was "these United States ARE", but after said war, the reference was to "this United States IS". The significance of this is most of the "laws" on the books today are arbitrary. They have no foundation in anything, no standard, just the whims and wills of the masses, and the Masonic ideal of "fatherhood of 'god', brotherhood of man". There is something inherent in the word "law" that implies conformity to a standard. If you remove the standard, you no longer have law, but lawlessness. The reason I mention this is because someone brought it up in the discussion.

    BTW, for whatever this is worth, several years ago already, Monte Judah, had a message go out titled "Messianic Jewish Bigotry". You know, I was first exposed to the Messianic expression of the "faith once delivered" in the early 1990's. It took me about 10 years to study it out, and begin to embrace it for myself. If none of you can figure any of this out and come to some sort of agreement, then what are we to do? "Woe to the shepherds who scatter the sheep". I glean from several teachers, and most recently, about a year now, tune into the Weekly Shabbat Webcast from Ascension Ministries. They are not God...but they do have a balanced approach and go into great detail to make things understandable, as well as subscribe to Gates of Eden bi-monthly magazine...where I first saw this article about the Wheaton professor. For me, because we have "thrown the Law behind our backs" in this nation, who profess belief in the "Lion of the Tribe of Yehudah", we are inheriting the government that we deserve. Only 10 commandments/613 Laws...but now we are subject to over 2 million arbitrary "laws"! Some of them instituted by ethnic Jews...since 44 % of SCOTUS are ethnic Jewish, and 75% of American Jews champion homosexuality and support "gay" so called "marriage", which my personal devout Jewish friends tell me is a "shanda", a terrible disgrace. What a word! Dis-grace...

    Thanks for allowing me to comment.

    Baruch b'Shem Yeshua

  16. In your whole post you assume that because you see the Oral Torah as necessary it must be genuine, but the fact is- just because the Torah doesn't provide instructions as to certain things, for example, how a court determines if someone is guilty or not, does not entail an Oral Law.

    And even if it did; say I claim that a ancestor of mine received a revelation from G-d which I inherited,how do you know that the correct instructions are not in my Torah? Since your claim is that we need an Oral Torah, therefor G-d gave us one, why can't any Oral book be correct?

    Enable for this argument to be valid, you must now prove that the Oral Torah is of divine origin, and not something that can be made up. You cannot do this with scientific proofs since there are many pagan cultures, such as Ancient Egypt or the Maya, that had advanced scientific knowledge, but this is not proof for the sun god Ra or the Rain god Chaac is it?

    You also cannot use fulfilled prophecies since it is kept Orally, you cannot prove that the Rabbi didn't just make up this prophecy.

    Therefor your only way to prove the Oral Torah is to provide a reference to it in the Written Torah, but there are no such verses that say 'G-d gave Moses an Oral Torah," thus we have no reason to believe this Oral Torah genuine.

  17. What happened to Peter?