Do we really need an “Oral Law” to understand the Bible?

Our video “The Oral Law Myth” has reached over one million views. Given the vast interest, we decided to create two sequels.

In this video we will reveal what’s wrong in the Rabbis’ claim that, allegedly, the written law of Moses cannot be understood without the rabbinical tradition clarifying it in the Oral Law.

In the other new video, we give 10 more reasons why we do not believe that there is an Oral Law given by God at Mount Sinai.

So do we really depend on the rabbinical tradition, “The Oral Law”, in order to understand the written law?

This is what the rabbis want us to believe. In that way, we stay dependent on them. This dependency brings them power which also enables them to extort people and make a lot of money. But in the Bible God tells the people of Israel the exact opposite.

From the beginning, God made it clear to Israel that his commandments are not complicated, so that in order to understand them we would not depend on a rabbi to explain them to us.

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

Therefore, according to the rules of biblical interpretation the biblical commandments are based on the most simple reading of the text.

It is the context of the verses in the Bible itself that clarifies what the original author meant. There is nothing wrong with asking for help if we don’t understand something. But we should not be dependent on one person who allegedly is the only one with the authority to interpret. That’s what the rabbis want us to think. Therefore, the rabbis frequently make use of a logical fallacy that is an appeal to ignorance, an argument from ignorance. A logical mistake in which one tries to get to a conclusion out of lack of knowledge or proof.

For example, let’s say I don’t understand a commandment like, what is an “Orla” (foreskin) and how do I need to cut it? Or, I don’t know what a “Succah” (booth) is, and what color it should be, what angle, or how to build it. Therefore, there has to exist an Oral Law that explains and interprets what I don’t know. See what Rabbi Yossi Mizrachi says:

“Listen up, there is a simple point to make here, the day you have an answer to it we’ll continue the discussion. There are 613 written commandments and none of them contains an explanation on how to implement them. Nothing.”

This typical example was taken from a lecture of one of the most famous rabbis today, Rabbi Yossi Mizrahi, given in January 2017 in Ramat Gan. 

In this lecture a 17 year old boy challenged Rabbi Mizrahi to prove the existence of an Oral Law, after telling the rabbi that he watched our video, “The Myth of the Oral Law”, a video that proves that the Oral Law was not given to Moses by God at Mount Sinai.

The rabbis don’t agree about the meaning of Biblical words

First of all, it’s important to remember that today, thousands of years after the giving of the Law, it is very likely that we don’t understand every word. Or that we understand something else than the original meaning. But we need to remember that the biblical Hebrew that the people of Israel used is similar but not identical to the Modern Hebrew we speak today. Because there are words, terms, expressions or commandments that we don’t understand it does not mean that the people living at that time did not understand either. For example, in Ezekiel 1 we find the word “Khashmal”. Obviously, the meaning of “Khashmal” at the time of Ezekiel and in the context of the text is not identical to its modern meaning, “electricity”. The word “Khashmal” is a perfect example showing how the sages contradict one another. And therefore, their words cannot be “the Oral Law” passed on by Moses. The rabbis do not agree with one another concerning the meaning of “Khashmal”. Rashi says, that “Khashmal” is the name of an angel. Rabbi Bahya Ben Asher, however, claims that it refers to animals. In Parshanut Metzudat David it is claimed to refer to flames. Then again Abarbanel states that it means “prophecy”. Malbim, saying that “Kashmal” is God’s presence claims furthermore that it is forbidden to accept Abarbanel’s interpretation. He says: “‘Khashmal’ – God forbid that we accept Abarbanel’s opinion.”

Pretty confused, this “Oral Law”.

Now … we want to go over each claim from Yossi Mizrahi’s lecture and take it apart.

Let’s start.

The example of circumcision

“What’s an ‘Orla’? How would you know what a ‘Orla’ is? How did Moses know where to cut? It’s not written how to circumcise. How come they all knew where to cut?” (Rabbi Yossi Mizrahi)

Seems like Mizrahi forgot that the command of the circumcision was given to Abraham hundreds of years before the Sinai covenant, which supposedly was when the Oral Law was given together with the written Law. So did Abraham have a rabbi who traveled back in time in order to explain to him how to circumcise?

According to Prof. Nisan Rubin and Prof. Binyamin Mazar the circumcision of the male is not only a Jewish phenomenon. It was a known tradition among the majority of peoples. In fact, in ancient times it was common also in the area of Egypt, Assyria and around the Mediterranean about 3000 years BC.

The example of Tfilin

“Tfilin”, (arm wrapping) continues Rabbi Mizrachi. “How come? How come they all put on black Tfilin all over the world?”

And how come that already for thousands of years, people in Asia make Sushi with green algae? Maybe the Japanese also received an Oral Law with Sushi rules? When a certain tradition exists for thousands of years it does not mean that God ordered it. Actually, the word “Tfilin” is not mentioned in the Bible at all. Rather, the sages took the word “Totaphot” later on and claimed it referred to Tfilin. However, whoever compares the commandment of the “Totaphot”, in Deut. 6:8, with the identical commandment given earlier in Exodus 13:9 will see that the meaning of “Totaphot” is actually “as a memory”. The commandment “as Totaphot between your eyes” does not command us to put a box on our forehead. Rather, it is a commandment to always remember God in your thoughts. 

What is a mezuzah, and who thought of it?

Rabbi Mizrachi, convinced that mezuzot were an invention of the Oral Law declared,

“The written Law does not tell us what to write in the Mezuzah. Who came up with this?” 

But when it comes to the word Mezuzah, just like the Tfilin, it’s again about a verse taken out of its context. The general concept is from Deuteronomy 6:9, but see what is written in Judges 16, verse 3:

“…and (he) took hold of the doors [mezuzot] of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron.” (Judges 16:3)

Judging by this verse, would we infer that the inhabitants of Gaza, the Philistines, also kept the commandment of the Mezuzah? Of course not! The meaning of the word “Mezuzah” becomes obvious in the context: the posts surrounding a door. Samson grabbed them when he pulled up the door of the city gate. Hence, the Mezuzah is but another term whose meaning the rabbis have changed, developed into something else, and taken out of context. 

The example of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles)

“What is a ‘fruit of splendid trees’?” Asks Mizrachi. “It’s written that we need 4 of them, 4 kinds.”

Mizrahi doesn’t understand how to discern the meaning of “4 kinds”, and in general, how to understand anything connected to Succot, without the explanation provided by the Oral Law. First of all, in Deuteronomy 4 and 13 God warns us not to add anything to the commands written in the Torah.

“You shall not add to the word that I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)

Therefore, even if we don’t fully understand the commandments regarding Succot and it doesn’t say exactly how to build the booth we still do not have the authority to add to these commandments traditions, rules and regulations that we can’t find anywhere in the Bible.

But that’s exactly what the Sages did. And as if that wasn’t enough they even did that in God’s name. And therefore, they need to be called to account for using God’s name in vain. Why didn’t God give clear and detailed guidelines in the Torah for every little thing? For example, how the booths need to be set up, how big, at which angle, color, and so on. Or which kind of splendid trees? Most likely for the same reason why God did not give all the flowers in the world the same shape and color. He does not want everything to be done the same way and look identical. Look around at God’s creation. The colors, shapes and smells show such an amazing variety. God is creative. And he made creative human beings and gave them freedom to create with creativity. So they could express their creativity.

Also in this commandment and others. If he did not let us know in which size or form, angle or direction the booth has to be set up than apparently that’s not what’s important to God. Rather, he left it up to us, to our imagination and creativity. Apparently, he did not want us to be fixed on a certain form, model or structure. Rather, he allowed us to express our creativity and individuality.

All that was important to God is that we’d remember that he brought us out of Egypt.

Imagine for a second how boring that would be: A city in which everyone wears the exact same thing. All the men wearing black suits, black pants and black hats. And all the women in black dresses and wearing black head coverings. Wait a minute. That’s Bnei Brak in Israel. Oh well, never mind.

The example of Shabbat

“It’s not written in the Bible how to consecrate the Sabbath. It’s not written in the Bible what ‘work’ is.”

“You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.” (Exodus 35:3)

Pay attention to this, an action was prohibited namely to light a fire. The fire is not the problem but the action of lighting it. Why? The context tells us. One verse earlier it is written:

“Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it  shall be put to death.” (Exodus 35:2)

Did you notice that the word “work” was mentioned twice? Not accidentally. In Egypt, the people of Israel worked non-stop. Now, they are commanded not to work, but to rest one day per week. A day consecrated to God, the family and rest. The lighting of a fire was considered work. Why? Not because God has a problem with fire, but because the lighting of a fire was physically tiring, never ending. Unlike today in biblical times to light a fire involved going to the woods, cutting down trees, bringing the wood back to the camp, cutting it into smaller pieces, building a stack of wood and then trying to set the whole stack on fire. We’re talking about hours of hard physical work that should not be done on a Sabbath. Why?

Because you should rest on the Sabbath, relax, spend time with your family and deeply consider God. It’s a rest for the body and the soul.

All the rules that the “Oral Law” added, for example not to break a yogurt cup on the Sabbath, not to rip toilet paper, not to dry off, not to look into the mirror, and other ridiculous, rabbinical rules completely miss God’s purpose and the actual goal. 

Mizrahi claims:

“Build it the way I showed you on the mountain, the way I showed you on the mountain – in general I showed you how to build the tabernacle. God showed things to Moses that were not written in the Torah. This is evidence for the Oral Law. It’s written in past tense, when I showed you – when I showed you then.”

According to Rabbi Mizrahi the wording “when I showed you” implies an oral transmission. Without noticing Mizrahi chose to use, out of all chapters, one that proves the exact opposite of his claim. Since Moses did write in meticulous detail and in numerous chapters ALL the commandments connected to the tabernacle. See Exodus Chapters 25 to 30, chapters 35 to 40, and you will find that Mizrahi’s claim backfired on him, since Moses actually does clarify, in writing, the way the tabernacle has to be built in all its details. 

“What would the sages gain from coming up with thousands of rules?”

Glad you asked!

Let’s take for example Succot, feast of booths. Or for the sake of argument, all the other customs. In simple words, their gain is power, control and money. The Rabbis are the only authority and have the right to determine for the people of Israel what a kosher Succah (booth) is and what the four species are. What would the Etrog sellers do without their customers being tied down to the rules of the Rabbis? So it turns out that Religion is a lucrative business. The rabbinical tradition preserves and encourages this business, typical for other religions too, that gets validation from one source only. It functions like a monopoly or a cartel. For example, according to the website “Kipa” the market of the “four species” alone has a turnover of tens of millions in one single week, once a year. Now imagine how many starving people could be fed with the billions of turnover in Yeshivas and and the kosher market, money coming from all of us. In a way it seems we could have already ended poverty in Israel.

So did you understand what’s the agenda of the “Sages” behind the creation of thousands of rules? It gives them power and control over the people. It makes us dependent on them alone and this brings in lots and lots and lots of money. 

To sum it up:

We proved that we do not need the rabbinical tradition to explain the Bible to us, rather, this is about how the Rabbis can gain exclusive control over our lives. And this, obviously, expresses itself in money – lots of it. Lastly, we want to challenge Rabbi Yossi Mizrahi and the Rabbis in general with this question:

If according to your logic the written law cannot be understood without the rabbinical tradition explaining it to us, how then did Adam and Eve understand the meaning of the commandment

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

Or … the commandment not to eat from the tree of knowledge.

“…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)

Could Adam and Eve check in the Oral Law? Impossible, since according to the Sages the Oral Law was given together with the Torah at Mount Sinai thousands of years after the expulsion out of the Garden of Eden. Maybe Adam and Eve traveled into the future, studied at a rabbinical Yeshiva and traveled back to the past.

Eitan Bar

Eitan Bar

Eitan Bar is a native Jewish-Israeli who was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel (1984). Graduated with his B.A. in Biblical Studies from Israel College of the Bible (Jerusalem, 2009), his M.A. in Theology from Liberty University (2013) and is now pursuing his Doctorate with Dallas Theological Seminary. Eitan currently serves as ONE FOR ISRAEL's Director of Media & Evangelism. (From 2006 to 2013, Eitan worked for CRU, in which his roles included serving as Israel's VLM-SLM leader.)

Eitan's professional background is in "Multimedia Design and Visual Communications" working for various secular advertising agencies in Tel-Aviv.

Eitan is the producer of:
1) I MET MESSIAH (Jewish testimonials).
2) Answering Rabbinic Objections to Jesus.

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