Have you ever wondered whether the rabbinic Jewish religion known to us all today is the same Judaism which was practiced in biblical times, in the time of Moses and the prophets?
For the past 2000 years, the common term “Torah observant”, regarding the Torah or the commandments, hasn’t really meant what most people think it means. Nowadays, it is simply impossible to keep the commandments of the Torah, as they revolve around the Temple, the Tabernacle, the priesthood, the altar and the heart of it all: Sacrificing offerings to atone for our sins. This has all ceased to exist since the destruction of the Temple, 2000 years ago. Today, the expression “Torah observant”, represents people who follow rabbinic rules. There is almost no connection to Moses and his original commandments anymore.
Truth be told, the rabbis have played the most sophisticated scheme on the nation of Israel: They made us all think that rabbinic rules and traditions, which were invented by them, are in fact “the Law of Moses”. In the next few minutes, we are going to prove to you that the Law of Moses and the rabbinic law have nothing to do with one another and that the “Oral Law” was never given by God on Mount Sinai, but that it is nothing more than urban legend.
During Biblical times, a week before Yom Kippur, the High Priest would leave his home and go to a quiet place, where he could prepare himself on a spiritual level. Come Yom Kippur, the High Priest would not sleep. He would enter the holy of holies for the one and only time of the year, and sacrifice an offering. Firstly, he would have to make an offering for himself, and then a goat to atone for the sins of the nation. The people of Israel would fast in solidarity. Fasting was a marginal, symbolic gesture, and not meant to atone for the nation’s sins of the entire year. The sacrificial blood on the altar was what atoned for the sins of the nation of Israel. Fasting was Israel’s way of expressing their deep, true and heartfelt remorse, relying on the sacrificial offering. According to tradition, when Yom Kippur came to an end, the nation awaited the “official seal”: An official approval from God that He had accepted the sacrifice and that the nation’s sins have been absolved. What was that approval? A red rope hanging in the Temple. A scarlet thread turned white. That was how the High Priest and the entire nation knew that God had accepted their Yom Kippur sacrifice. The people would dance, celebrate and be joyful. Their sins had been wiped out and absolved for another year. In the Gemara, the Sages (Hazal) describe the following:
Roughly 40 years prior to the destruction of the Temple, which was destroyed in the year 70 AD, that same red rope, the scarlet thread, stopped turning white. This caused the nation’s leaders great concern. As of the year 30 AD, God stopped giving His approval on Yom Kippur. The scarlet thread no longer turned white. God was no longer willing to accept the Yom Kippur sacrifice. As of the year 30 AD, God stopped dwelling in the Temple, which, 40 years later, was also destroyed.
Do you remember what happened around the year 30 AD?
From then on, the rabbis had to reinvent Judaism in a way that would work even without God’s approval.
Although they kept the terms “Judaism” and “Torah”, the essence had changed. It was no longer the Torah written by Moses. Instead, from now on, it was “Oral Law”. Suddenly, there was no longer a need for the altar, the Temple and offerings for atonement and absolution. Nowadays, donating money to a Yeshiva and skipping two meals a year is enough.
Change in authority
Let us go back to the time of the Second Temple. At that time, Judaism had several streams or sects, the most dominant of which were the Pharisees. The Pharisee sect grew throughout the years, and pushed the other groups (like the Saduccees and the Essenes, for example) aside. Today, we all know that sect by the name “Rabbinic Judaism”.
Upon the destruction of the Second Temple, the Pharisee sect became Rabbinic Judaism and was no longer based on a divine celestial revelation as it was in the time of Moses, the Fathers, the kings and the prophets. The new leaders of the Jewish world at the time intentionally chose to break away from the Bible. Some of you may find that surprising, but that is what the Talmud itself describes.
One famous and defining story in the Talmud demonstrates how the authority of the rabbis overshadowed the authority of God in their estimation, and to all intents and purposes, stripped God of his sovereignty, making them the new Gods. The story describes the famous debate between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua, regarding an oven, or furnace for cooking.
The Oven of Akhnai
The debate arose from a question asked by a man who owned a clay furnace (oven). He enlarged it by breaking it in pieces and then reassembling it, using sand, to create a bigger oven. The debate brought before the Sanhedrin was whether the new oven was Kosher or impure. The Talmud specifies that Rabbi Eliezer had brought forward “every imaginable argument” and proved that the oven was in fact Kosher. But the vast majority of the rabbis of the Sanhedrin would not accept his arguments and claimed that the oven was NOT Kosher. Rabbi Eliezer went on to prove his claim using supernatural signs: A carob tree miraculously uprooted itself and replanted itself on the other side of the court. A channel of water flowed uphill. But the climax of the story was when Rabbi Eliezer called out: “If the Halachah agrees with me, let it be proved from heaven.” And then, God spoke from the heavens and said: “Why do you dispute with Rabbi Eliezer, with whom the Halachah always agrees?” Meaning, God called out from the sky, saying that Rabbi Eliezer was right. Then, Rabbi Yehoshua stood and made one of the most significant claims in the Talmud and in the Jewish world: “The Torah is not in heaven!”
God no longer holds the reins.
Now, the mandate belongs to the rabbis alone.
THEY have all power and control.
God is left outside.
The Talmud goes on to say that, after the debate, God smiled in agreement and said: “My children have defeated Me, My children have defeated Me.” Meaning, according to the rabbinic legend, God submitted to the authority of the rabbis and therefore, even He admitted that their rulings not only surpassed the authority of Moses, but the authority of God Himself.
From then on, God stopped revealing Himself to the people of Israel, as He did in biblical times. From that moment on, the rabbis’ judgment and rulings are the new Torah, which they call the “Oral Law”.
The lie of the Oral Law
For the past 2000 years, Judaism has not been based on scripture, but rather on traditions and rules invented by rabbis. In order to try and convince the people, the rabbis taught that on Mount Sinai, Moses was given two different Torahs: the written Torah (or Law), and what they call the “Oral Law”.
While still under the Sinai Covenant, serving God was about the blood of offerings on the altar at the Temple. After the destruction of the Second Temple, there was no more Temple, altar or offerings, nor was there any functioning priesthood. Hazal, the Jewish leaders, found themselves in a pickle. They had to come up with a new way to keep Judaism without its heart. Desperate to find one, they declared themselves and their traditions as the new way to serve God. Thus, 2000 years ago, a new religion was created: the religion of Rabbinic Law, which was based on a new notion: “Derash” (digging for the deeper meaning of the text), which was created by Rabbi Akivah. Rabbi Akivah wasn’t even Jewish, but was a gentile descendant of Sisera, and it was ultimately he who caused the exile which fell upon the Jewish people after he declared that Bar Kochba was the messiah. Bar Kochba turned out to be a false messiah, and led the people into a failed revolt, where hundreds of thousands of Jews were burned alive and the survivors were exiled from their land.
The rabbinic Halacha that developed granted the rabbis authority and control over every religious and social aspect in the nation of Israel, under the claim that this tradition wasn’t invented by them, but passed down to them by word of mouth all the way from Moses on Mount Sinai.
However, this is where the problems begin with the legend of the Oral Law, seeing as throughout the entire Torah, Moses himself could not answer Halachic questions. In each of these cases, Moses referred the questions to God and awaited His reply. This means that Moses didn’t have an Oral Law to refer to, that could interpret the written law for him. (Examples of this can be found in Numbers 9, Leviticus 24, Numbers 15 and 27 and other places). Furthermore, the Torah itself unequivocally shows us that God’s covenant with Israel on Mount Sinai was based on a written Torah alone.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘WRITE these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’ ” [Exodus 34:27]
There is no mention of additional Torah, or of any traditions that were to be passed down from one generation to the next. So what did Hazal do? They jammed their Oral Law right into the verse. How? They came up with a Derash, according to which the meaning of the words “according to” in the verse: “according to the tenor of these words”, is “on the mouth”, meaning “Oral Law”. This homiletic comes from a purposely distorted interpretation of a common Hebrew expression. However, in Biblical Hebrew, just like in modern Hebrew, the meaning of the words “according to” is not “on the mouth”, but “as”, or “in accordance with”. See, for example, Genesis chapter 43, verse 7: “according to these words.” Numbers 26 verse 56: “According to the lot”, or Deuteronomy 17 verse 10: “according to the sentence”.
How did we fall for this?
Some of you are probably laughing and wondering: How could so many people have fallen for this? But you must remember that the Bible wasn’t available to the common people back then, who couldn’t exactly read or write on their own, but were subject to the interpretation of the rabbinic authority. Another method by which the rabbis tried to force the idea of the Oral Law on the people was by taking a single word in Leviticus 26:46 out of its context:
“These are the statutes and judgments and LAWS which the Lord made between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.”
“Laws”, according to the rabbis, refers to a written law and an oral law. The problem is that this interpretation overlooks the obvious context, seeing as the book of Leviticus itself explains what these “laws” are: The Law of the Burnt Offering, the Law of the Meat Offering, the Law of the Sin Offering, the Law of the Trespass Offering, the Law of the Sacrifice of Peace Offerings, the Law of the Plague of Leprosy and more. Those are the “laws”. A Torah which is an oral tradition is not mentioned anywhere and it’s clear in the context that Moses is not talking about anything of the sort.
There is another famous section which was taken out of context in order to establish their authority, power and control of the common people. They base this, first and foremost, on seven words of the ‘Shoftim’ portion in the book of Deuteronomy: “according to all that they inform thee” [Deuteronomy 17:10]. So, what is Moses really talking about in this portion of Deuteronomy? The people of Israel had just left Egypt and become a true nation. And just like with any new country, there is a need for law enforcement, such as police officers and judges, to create order and protect the population, apprehend criminals and prosecute the accused. Things that Israel had yet to have at the time. Therefore, in this potion, Moses appoints officers, judges and guards among the people:
“Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment…And it shall be, when the OFFICERS have made an end of speaking unto the people that they shall make CAPTAINS of the armies to lead the people. “…And thou shalt come unto the PRIESTS the LEVITES, and unto the JUDGE that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment: And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the Lord shall choose and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee:” [Deuteronomy 16, 17, 20]
Moses explains to the people of Israel: Do you have a dispute with someone who has stolen your donkey? Or who has battered your daughter? You have someone to turn to: Go to the officers, the priests and the judges who reside in the court house. This has nothing to do with rabbis or them having the spiritual authority to tell us how to live. As you can see, the term “rabbis” isn’t even mentioned in this section.
And if that’s not enough, in the Sanhedrin Tractate, Hazal took the section in Exodus 23 verse 2, which says:
“Thou shalt NOT follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many.”
Seemingly simple and clear: do NOT follow the majority in order to distort a judgment for evil. What did Hazal do? The pulled out the 3 words “follow a multitude”, while ignoring the word “NOT”, which appears before them, and claimed that, as long as there is a majority of rabbis, they may provide an interpretation or a ruling on any matter, as they see fit. And the people of Israel must follow them blindly and that, once they have provided a ruling, it is to be indisputably received. In this case as well, you don’t have to be a genius to see how they deliberately distorted the text in order to establish their power and control. Even Rabbi Joseph Zvi Hertz, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, admitted it when he wrote about this section: “The rabbis have chosen to overlook the literal sense in the last three words”.
Is there any value in the Talmud then?
Look, without a doubt, the Talmud is an impressive collection of our Jewish culture. Often times, pearls of wisdom can be found within it. But it is crucial to understand that the Talmud and the Old Testament contradict each other hundreds of times in an unequivocal and even embarrassing way, which cannot be resolved. These contradictions prove that the spirit of God could not have inspired the writing of the Talmud. After all, a perfect God couldn’t possibly have made mistakes such as these. But regardless, there is no basis, neither historical nor Biblical, to prove that an Oral Law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. In fact, a historical and theological examination proves that the opposite is correct. After all, if the “Oral Law” was in fact given to Moses on Mount Sinai, the reader could expect to see thousands of mentions of it throughout the scripture. However, God never mentions it. Moses never used the term “Oral Law” either. Even Joshua Ben Nun, who was appointed by God as Moses’ successor, provides no indication of an oral Halacha. God tells Joshua to meditate in the Torah:
“That you may observe to do according to all that is WRITTEN in it.
For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” [Joshua 1:8]
Ezra the Scribe, who reintroduced the Torah to our people 2500 years ago, never wrote a single word about any Oral Law. Not a single one of Israel’s prophets of kings ever referred to an oral Halacha; No one ever talked about it, mentioned it, or even hinted to its existence. Truth be told, there is not a single verse in the entire Bible wherein the term “Oral Law” is mentioned.
There is also not one single example in the entire Bible of anyone being scolded, punished or accused of breaking any “Oral Law”. The bottom line is that, based on what is written in the Bible, no Oral Law has ever been given. In fact, historians admit that the term “Oral Law” made its first appearance only 1500 years after Moses’ time. We are dealing with the longest, most thorough brainwash in history.
So how do we know how a sukkah is to be built, without an Oral Law?
According to the rules of literary writing, authors choose to focus on what they find important and to exclude the details they find trivial. Therefore, it would seem that the angle, size and direction of the sukkah weren’t that important to God. Thus, He didn’t want us to focus on trivialities, but on the important issues. Focusing on details which don’t appear in the text means missing the author’s heart. To put it simply: When God demanded that we sit in the sukkah during Sukkot, He probably didn’t really care what size or shape it is. That wasn’t important to Him.
Picture a young man, 3000 years ago, who works all week and, on the weekend, rather than resting and spending time with his family on the Sabbath, he goes to the forest, cuts down trees, carries the wood back to camp, chops it in pieces, a large fire and toils to light it. That is physical, tiring and difficult labor which takes hours on end. Now, imagine that the village chief asks the man to stop and no longer work on the Sabbath. Imagine that the man, rather than understanding that the chief is merely concerned about his emotional, physical and spiritual rest with his family, suddenly started inventing various prohibitions. He prohibits himself and his family for generations to come, to tear toilet paper during the Sabbath, to separate yogurt cups during the Sabbath, to turn on the air conditioner during the Sabbath, to drive over to visit his grandmother during the Sabbath, to barbeque during the Sabbath, to switch on the light in his room during the Sabbath, and thousands of additional rules, claiming that he is abiding by an “Oral Law” instructed by the village chief. A law, without which, it would be impossible to understand what the chief truly meant when he asked him not to work on the Sabbath. This is the EXACT story of the Oral Law.
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the external Jewish writings, from around the year 200 BC, never even hint at the existence of an Oral Law. The same goes for the Babylonian Scrolls, written in the sixth century BC, which describe the Jews in Babylon and their lifestyle. Not only do they never indicate the existence of an Oral Law, but actually contradict the very notion. According to Dr. Finkel, the Jewish identity of the Babylonian exiles was internal only. There was no external indication of religion whatsoever. They had no trace of any symbols of oral traditions reflected on the outside. Like them, many of the Jews of Ethiopia, who returned to Israel after thousands of years in exile, weren’t familiar with, and hadn’t even heard of, the rabbinic traditions and the concept of an “Oral Law” was entirely foreign to them. You see, if there is no actual Oral Law, there is no need for Rabbinic Halacha. If there is no need for Rabbinic Halacha, then there is no need for rabbis. And when there is no need for rabbis, there are suddenly thousands of people left without their power, without their authority, and without their paychecks. An entire industry, to which we all inject billions of shekels, would be nullified.
We would like to note that ancient traditions among the nation are periodically mentioned in the Bible, but always in a negative light. For example, see the following, written by the prophet Isaiah:
“Therefore the Lord said: ‘Inasmuch as these people
draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people,
A marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”
To summarize, An educated person to carry out research based on the Bible, history and archeology can’t afford to take the claim the Moses received the Oral Law along with the written Torah seriously. It is a fairytale, a folk myth with the sole purpose of granting anyone named “rabbi” power and control.
Eitan's professional background is in "Multimedia Design and Visual Communications" working for various secular advertising agencies in Tel-Aviv.
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