Volume 23 Number 06
                       Produced: Wed Jan 31  0:55:59 1996

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Authenticity of the Torah She-Ba'al Peh (Oral Torah)
         [Israel Botnick]
J.C. False prophet  (v.22 #94)
         [Aaron Seidman]
Jesus who?
         [Joshua W. Burton]
Judaism and Christianity
         [Zvi Weiss]
Questions on Judaism and Christianity
         [Joe Slater]


From: <icb@...> (Israel Botnick)
Date: Mon, 29 Jan 1996 10:31:12 +0500
Subject: Authenticity of the Torah She-Ba'al Peh (Oral Torah)

A recent poster asked for sources regarding the authenticity of the Oral
Torah (Torah She-Ba'al Peh).

Although accepting that there is an Oral Torah is ultimately a matter of
faith, there are traditional sources that attempt to prove it's
authenticity and importance.

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chajes in his Mavo Le-Talmud explains how without the
Oral Torah, the written Torah is rendered a closed book. Terms such as
work (on sabbath), slaughter (for animals), are not explained in the
written Torah. The Esrog is described in the Torah as 'fruit of the
beautiful tree'. It is difficult to imagine that G-D would give a Torah
that is so vague. The Oral Torah as we know, defines all of these terms
to the finest levels of detail.

A number of reasons are given for why the Oral Torah had to be given orally.

1) Talmud Bavli Eruvin 21 - It would be impossible to write down
authoritatively, all details of all laws that would ever be relevant.
The Oral Torah, although it has a fixed component, also has general
rules which allow it to expand and cover new situations.

2) Midrash Rabba Parshas Ki Sissa - The Torah is meant as a inheritance
to the jewish people. If the entire Torah was written, then it would no
longer be uniquely the possession of the jewish people, since it would
be accessible to all (as the written Torah is today).

3) Ritv'a - Having the majority of the Torah in oral form, insures a
very strong teacher - student relationship, since the teacher is the
sole repository of the information. Written texts are almost always
subject to differing interpretations (no matter how clearly they are
written). Instruction recieved from a teacher is much more reliable.

Israel Botnick


From: Aaron Seidman <seidman@...>
Date: Sun, 28 Jan 1996 14:46:15 
Subject: Re: J.C. False prophet  (v.22 #94)

>She is seeking the "TRUTH" wether or not it conflicts with her 

The problem is that this kind of "TRUTH" is really about beliefs and 
not about "facts."  If one believes in the divine origin of the 
Torah (written and/or oral) then one can "prove" the Jewish point of
view from the texts.  If, on the other hand, one believes that the
Christian scriptures are divinely inspired, they "prove" the position
of the Church.  If one believes that both Jewish and Christian texts 
are of human origin then one would conclude that neither is reliable 
"proof" of either position.

I find myself wondering whether your friend is trying to understand 
Jewish beliefs or trying to resolve her own doubts about her beliefs.

>I am also having trouble convincing my friend of the authenticity of 
>the Torah Ba'al Peh (oral Torah). How do I explain that this is a 
>major part of the fundamental Jewish beliefs?

There are two different issues here.  One is whether the Torah Ba'al 
Peh is authentic and the other is whether this belief has been 
central to traditional rabbinic Judaism.

With respect to the first point, one either believes or does not 
believe in the divine origin of the oral Torah.  The second is 
something that can be demonstrated as historically true since
at least late Mishnaic times (e.g. starting at least with Pirke Avot, 
the Mishnaic tractate that spells out this fundamental assumption--
most siddurim include Avot).

<seidman@...>  http://world.std.com/~seidman/aaron.html


From: Joshua W. Burton <jburton@...>
Date: Thu, 25 Jan 96 23:00:05 -0600
Subject: Jesus who?

Moses Levy asks, on behalf of a good Catholic friend:
> - What were the reasons that the sanhedrin, at the time of jesus, declared
> J.C. to be a false prophet?
> - What signs did J.C. have or not have that proved that he was not the
> Mashiach?
> - Where do we find references to the above discrepancies in the Torah.

First of all, the following is a layman's view, and everything I say is
subject to immediate and forceful correction from anyone who actually
understands the Gemara stories that are alleged to be about Jesus, or
(l'havdil) has a better handle on their primary sources, including the
non-canonical gospels like Thomas.

But I think it is conceding far too much to the Christian worldview to
frame the question in these terms.  Matthew and Luke disagree frequently
when they are not quoting Mark, even to the point of listing different
genealogies for Jesus.  John, who claims to have witnessed nearly all
the key events, and who has the most to say about Jesus's three years in
Jerusalem (one _week_ in the other gospels), is now almost universally
regarded as a very late 1st- or even early 2nd-century text.  The
various noncanonical gospels (Thomas, James, Bartholemew, Nicodemus) are
not so clearly derivative, but their rather gruesome tales of Jesus's
childhood sorcery put them in the category of folk tales or worse for
most modern readers.  And the leading historian of the era, Josephus,
who was born less than a decade after Jesus's alleged ministry and who
spent the next three decades in the Galilee and Jerusalem, did not
mention Jesus, nor Saul of Tarsus, even once in The_Jewish_War or in the

I am inclined by the texts to stipulate that there was a Galilean (or
Judaean?) heretic named Yeshua, actively preaching in the reign of
Caesar Tiberius, and executed by Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem.  There
might have been more than one such; in particular, the stories about
John the Baptist seem to closely parallel those about his successor.  It
stands to reason that such a person must have been somebody's, if not
(hv"s!) Somebody's, son.

But beyond that, I don't think we as Jews can readily go.  The texts in
question are not canonical to our sages, and so we need only accord to
them the weight of other historical documents of the period.  None of
them survived in Aramaic.  The oldest Greek copies date from the 3rd
century.  The one text (Mark) from which the others seem to derive says
nothing about the resurrection, except in a postscript that does not
appear in the oldest extant copies.  There is not a scrap of
corroborating physical evidence for anything, nor of Roman contemporary
documentation---in contrast to, for example, the much older books of
Kings and Jeremiah (which were written out, by their own account, with
the help of Barukhyahu ben Neryahu ha-Sofer, whose very own seal you can
physically observe in the Israel Museum today!).  And the man who tells
us most of what we know about daily life in the time of the Tannaim
(unabashed traitor or no, Josephus told a good yarn) never noticed a
thing.  Given all this, I think a valid answer might start by
questioning the claim that this Nazarene was of the line of
David...since, after all, the two texts that claim this are in clear
conflict on the lineage.

> I am also having trouble convincing my friend of the authenticity
> of the Torah Ba'al Peh (oral Torah). How do I explain that this
> is a major part of the fundamental Jewish beliefs?

A nice introductory approach is that laid out by Rav Steinsaltz in
The_Essential_Talmud.  He observes that there has never been, and can
never be, a legal system that exists in its entirety in written form.
The body of `case law' and `jurisprudence', as we might call it in a
secular context, is essential the moment you begin to translate fixed
words into actual practice.  Even the Karaites, who denied the Oral
Torah, found that they needed to develop a practical understanding of
how the law was to be applied.  `Pure' law without rules of
interpretation and application is a contradiction in terms.

Now, once your friend has conceded this commonsensical point, it seems a
very small leap to accept that our sages actually knew what the Oral Law
was, since after all it was in their hands at the time!  Even if she
doubts (as we must not) that they were entirely accurate in transmitting
the Mishnah to us, she must at least agree that they knew more about it
than she, or you, or the Pope, or any modern scholar, can learn by
staring at the Humash itself.  Imagine that Shakespeare's fantasy were
fulfilled, and we hanged all the lawyers.  Would anyone be able, simply
by reading the raw statute books, to reconstruct the daily practice of
American law?  Or would our descendants seize upon old Perry Mason tapes
and LA Law episodes, in the hopes of learning how it was actually done?
What she proposes, in striking out the Oral Torah, is precisely this
situation of deliberate blindness, though obviously when the law in
question is Torah mi-Sinai the stakes are immeasurably higher.

 `So who is General  |=========================================================
Failure, and why is  |   Joshua W. Burton     (847)677-3902     <jburton@...>
he reading my disk?' |=========================================================


From: Zvi Weiss <weissz@...>
Date: Fri, 26 Jan 1996 13:35:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Judaism and Christianity

Anyone who is serious about confronting Xtianity and responding should
subscribe to m-debate which is a group operating off of
 (I think that I got the specificaiton correct here...)



From: Joe Slater <joe@...>
Date: Sat, 27 Jan 1996 22:53:59 +1100 (EST)
Subject: Questions on Judaism and Christianity

> From: <levym@...> (Moses Levy)
> My name is Moses Levy. I am an orthodox Jew (kosher, shomer shabat
> etc...)  with some difficult questions.
> I have a very good friend who happens to be a catholic. She has asked me
> some direct questions which I was unable to answer to her sattisfaction.
> - What were the reasons that the sanhedrin, at the time of jesus,
> declared J.C. to be a false prophet?
> - What signs did J.C. have or not have that proved that he was not the
> Mashiach?

The dispute between Judaism and Christianity is not primarily about
whether Jesus was Mashiach or a prophet. The dispute is whether he was
G-d. Your friend may not be aware that the concept of a Melekh
haMashiach is merely that of a righteous king, not a divine figure. If
Jesus claimed to be G-d (as Christians believe) then a claim to be a
prophet or Mashiach would be rejected as coming from a liar or madman.

> I am also having trouble convincing my friend of the authenticity of the
> Torah Ba'al Peh (oral Torah). How do I explain that this is a major part
> of the fundamental Jewish beliefs?

Christians tend to see the laws in the Torah as either superceded
("fulfilled") or as being of only symbolic value. Jews believe that they
are actual and presently valid. Any laws must come with interpretation:
G-d says "don't work on the seventh day" and our tradition tells us
which day is the seventh. Similarly with all the commandments that
specify ritual objects or acts; we need a tradition to tell us what they

The text of the Torah itself refers to the oral tradition. Jews are told
to slaughter animals "as I have commanded you", but we are nowhere told
in the text what these commandments were. Similarly, Ezra is appalled to
find Jews performing certain acts on Shabbat, but these acts were not
specifically forbidden by the text of the Torah, only by our tradition.
It is important that your friend understand that the Written and Oral
Torah are not separate; the latter guides us in the performance of the



End of Volume 23 Issue 6