Thursday, January 05, 2012

Improvising on Oral Torah

I occasionally surf over to Reform Jewish sites to see what stuff they're putting out. They represent our modern-day "Hellenists" and we have to nudge these good people over to Torah truth ever so carefully and gracefully, lest we shove them further away. Usually my comments get censored out. (Reform "bouncers"). Here's one that made it through.

I responded to a commenter, who knew some Hebrew, who said the following:

"There are no vowels in the Torah. Thus, את השמים ואת הארץ ( heaven and earth) can also be read as, “At hashamaim ve at haaretz”, meaning: "You are heaven and you are earth."

I wrote back:
You can say the same thing about ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום אחד, "And it was one day and one night; Day one." (Gen. 1:5); You can say, since vowels are missing, what it really says is, "There was a crow and there was cattle, one day". Because crow and evening, and cattle and morning, contain the exact same letters, respectively!

There's obviously a problem here. Vowels are a part of oral Torah! The problem is - that part of oral Torah you do accept, as when you accept ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום אחד to mean, "And it was evening and it was day; Day one," but another part of oral Torah you unwittingly deny - by creating your own "oral Torah" - namely, "You are heaven and you are earth."

That's not to say Torah cannot be explored in unique ways, but it must be done under certain guidelines, otherwise you "short-circuit" perfect code and make preposterous sense. This happens when we leave it to our own machinations, instead of relying on our sages.

You cannot twist text where it suits you and leave the rest intact. There are 13 particular ways to expound Torah, as our sages specify. (We read these specifications in our daily morning prayer.) In fact, even our sages carefully trod where no one trodded before. You see this often in Talmud where one sage says something by quoting another sage, in the name of yet another sage.

The very first premise to expounding, however, must be a complete respect for the original as being perfect, otherwise, like I said, you build castles in the air. With that premise in tow, we can cautiously look for our own secrets in Torah. But how wise would it be to look for these secrets if, like yours, they negate Jewish sensibilities (confining an infinite Hashem into finite physical entities)?

Such inventiveness actually denies oral tradition rather than adds to it.

During the Mount Sinai experience and in the aftermath years in the desert, God gifted the Jewish people with TWO Torahs - a written one and an oral one, later transcribed to constitute the Talmud.

If one TOTALLY denies the Talmud, as did the Saduccees in early Jewish history, that's bad enough. But to PARTIALLY accept Talmud is even worse! How can this be?

When Elijah the Prophet rebuked the Jews (during the "competition" he held with false prophets at an ad hoc altar), he declared, "How much longer will you straddle the fence? If you want to worship Hashem, then do so; And if you want to worship the foreign god, then do that!" (Kings 1, 18:39)

Note his precise words. Eliyahu was telling the Jewish people that even idol worship is better than straddling the fence! But why are fence straddlers worse than idolaters? Why does Elijah unleash such contempt for straddlers more so than for idol worshippers?

"Fence straddlers" dip into oral Torah, when and as it suits them, and into their own whimsical terrain, when and as it suits them. Such people seek convenience or self-aggrandizement more than they seek truth. For them spirituality plays second fiddle to self-satisfaction. They delude themselves into thinking they are "Torah Jews" because, after all, much of what they do is congruous with Judaism, and as for what they do otherwise, their love of self easily rationalizes away these "imperfections". Logic cannot budge such people. Much like a sick person who doesn't recognize he's ill.

Worse still is another effect straddlers have. They may influence others who lack insight or knowledge. For straddlers cannot be easily identified for what they are as easily as total deniers can be. A Jew knows enough to realize idol worship clashes with Judaism, but he may not detect the attitude of one who compromises his Judaism, as does his straddler friend. It is for this very reason gentile missionaries often prey on targets among this group of weak Jews by portraying a Jewish facade. A good lie always starts with a bit of truth to it! Rashi (13:27)


  1. Exodus 18:20, and many more sources throughout Tanach.

  2. People, like horses, will only do what they have a mind to do. You need to shed your anger, negate your hyperinflated ego, and absorb Torah to expand your mind; Like a seed that first has to rot before it grows into a tree, like a highjumper who must take a few steps backwards so he could then reach his high point, like the need to empty dirt from the glass if you want to pour into it clean water to drink - a descent for the sake of an ascent!

  3. Vanguard, I wish to copy your blogpost on my site.

    as for Shiloh - thinking this person is the 1st level

    The opinions of the people of the Torah regarding belief and the acceptance of the service of God, may He be exalted, are on ten different levels.

    The first [level]: people who are led by ignorance, and by the overwhelming effect upon them of base desires, to reject the Torah. They consider the Torah to be like the customs used to guide the other peoples, and like the laws used to govern the fools. [They form this opinion] due to the overwhelming effect of base desire upon their minds and on account of the coarseness of their natures. They do not take upon themselves the yoke of Torah, nor will they be boundby the restraints of reason, for they desire uncontrolled license. Of people of this sort the Wise Man said: A fool does not find pleasure in understanding, but only in baring his heart." (Mishlei 18:2)

    Duties of the Heart Feldheim Torah Classics Library

  4. Shiloh, your first question ("Why not specify...") is a sound one. The reason is because infinity cannot be confined into finiteness! (Laying everything out in detail, as you suggest, even if impossible, Torah would become too immense, overweight, with endless volumes, and, of course, impractical and useless. Plus the fact that it would leave no room for thinking, ingenuity, wisdom, brain power, logical reasoning, etc.)

    Given the concentration of infinity into one written Torah, you end up with hints in the form of numerical (eg, gematria), vocal (eg, cantillation notes, vowels), visual (eg, shape of letters, word proximity, word omission, extra words, use of synonyms, rearrangement of words, and many more sorts of ways to project the underlying infinity.

    Much of Torah, therefore, comes by way of hints from the Written Torah, and this is Oral Torah. One example is all the laws that pertain to Tefillin.

    ALL OF TALMUD, THEREFORE, MUST BE ANCHORED IN WRITTEN TORAH! And rules apply as to how to elaborate or extrapolate from Torah to oral Torah, otherwise it becomes a messy free-for-all, whimsical interpretation that loses its divine essence.

  5. Bless u for your unswerving emunah my friend.:)

  6. Shiloh, you say, "The simple fact is that Talmud is just opinions of men who are prone to error."

    The Talmud is perfect. No mistakes at all. You, however, think they are "just" opinions, and, being that they are "prone to error", you feel you are right, e.g., that tefillin does not derive from Torah, and you, of course, in this matter, as in probably so many more, from your perch, are not prone, as the sages are, to error, or you're much less prone than they, therefore you steadfastly subscribe to Sadduccee logic.

  7. Shiloh my friend,

    If Jewish tradition were made of people like myself, people like yourself could have good reason for your misconceptions about our sages. But we have mountains of literature written by Torah-giants and utter geniuses throughout the centuries who I take my information from, like Maimonides, Maharal, Shlah, Orech Chaim, Ben Ish Chai, Kli Yakar, Rashi, Ramban, Rashba, the authors of the Shulchan Aruch, and millions of other seforim, all our more recent sages and European Admorim, Yemenite greats, North Africa greats, as well as the likes of like the Arizal, Ba'al Shem Tov, all the Lubavitcher Rabbis.

    I honestly believe you are more or less living in a vacuum. If you knew all of Talmud and then, afterwards, came to your Sadduccee-like conclusions, that would be another matter, but as of now, it appears as if you want to shoot bullets and you have in your pouch only feathers.

  8. Why we suffered for over 2000 years. God's thoughts are not man's thoughts. We do not know. Why God let 6,000,000 die horrificly, we do not know! The Lubavitcher Rebbe too said we do not know. This world is a testing ground, that's all. In the end, like you say, we will see the truth for what it is. Right now, we have to go by our Midot and mind. I say Midot BEFORE mind because the midah of humility, of self-negation (the proper word is BITUL) must come before mind, because the latter is quite limited. Which is one reason why we must trust our forefathers and sages who were smarter than we are - excluding current-day savants such as yourself.

  9. In view of the blog owner's recent initiative of posting an article named "Shiloh - The Masquerading Missionary" (published on Sunday, January 22, 2012), where the said talkbacker is finally unmasked and publicly exposed as an intruder, I would kindly request the dear blog owner to "de-shilohize"/ clean up his comments from all previous articles, or at least to censor the most obscene and intolerable parts where he disparages the Talmud and our holy sages in general. It's offensive to all authentic, pure-hearted Jews who visit the blog daily.
    I take the opportunity to congratulate the blog owner for his excellent production.

  10. R. Halevy, thanks. OK I'll remove the creep's worthless comments.