More often than not, the general non-Jewish public has a preconceived notion of what a Jew is. They think all Jews have curly hair (peyot), wear a black suit, doesn’t mix dairy with meat, and has their own prayer books (a Siddur). The reason for these images is due to the “Oral Torah” found in the Rabbinic writings.
The Oral Torah theory states that “G-d gave orally to Moses other laws and maxims, as well as verbal explanations of the written law, enjoining him not to record these teachings, but to deliver them to the people by word of mouth (Giṭ. 60b; Yer. Meg. iv. 74a; comp. also IV Ezra [II Esdras] xiv.).” In other words, in addition to the written Torah being given at Mount Sinai, G-d gave Moshe, according to this theory, the other half of the Torah verbally and commanded him not to write it down but to transmit it orally, thus being named “Oral Torah”.
The Oral Torah does not often add to the written Torah, but rather explains the written Torah, as the Judaism 101 website explains: “In addition to the written scriptures we have an “Oral Torah,” a tradition explaining what the above scriptures mean and how to interpret them and apply the Laws.” Perhaps Chabad explains it best:
“The Oral Law includes all that Moses learned from G‑d by heart which he did not write down, but transmitted orally to his successors. This tradition passed on from generation to generation. The Oral Law also includes edicts and ordinances enacted by the sages throughout the generations, and laws and teachings extrapolated from the Torah‘s verses — employing methodology prescribed by Moses (as he was instructed by G‑d).”
We see this tradition is explained thoroughly by the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, which is too long to share in this post. The issue with this theory and tradition is that the Torah, nowhere, says anything about an Oral Torah. In fact, it teaches contrary to this theory!
Before we get into the texts that prove there is no Oral Torah, let us first look at an article that a Facebook friend sent me to review. This is a good way to show how Rabbinic Jews seem to work. They do not dive right into the Torah; rather, they like to bring up scenarios and never really address the Torah.
The article in question is dealing with Exodus 21.22-25, where we read:
“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
Somehow, this article equates this passage with abortion and never really provides any more verses of the Tanakh, but instead continues talking about different schools of thought in the Talmud Bavli, Philo, etc. The passage seems to say that the act of harming the fetus (or child) is deserving of the punishment of whatever happened to the child/fetus is what happens to the person responsible. It honestly depends on whether the individual judge believes the fetus is considered a living person or not. The author of the article explains his position as follows:
“The meaning of the law about fighting men, then, is this: If the woman miscarries but suffers no other injury, the person responsible must pay compensation for the loss of the unborn child, but suffers no other penalty. If, however, the woman dies, he is guilty of a much more serious offence [sic] (the sages, in Sanhedrin 79a, disagreed as to whether this means that he is liable to capital punishment or not).One [sic] thing, however, is clear. Causing a woman to miscarry – being responsible for the death of a foetus [sic] – is not a capital offence [sic]. Until birth, the foetus [sic] does not have the legal status of a person.”
I have no problem with his interpretation. I do find it surprising, however, that the article doesn’t mention any verses to support the claim being given – that is, there is an Oral Torah.
Let’s consider the two main verses that are given to support the Oral Torah, and then we will consider two issues that the Rabbinic Jews will bring up. The main go-to passage for most Rabbinic Jews is Deuteronomy 17.9-12 as follows:
“And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the Eternal One will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the Eternal One your G-d, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.”
Looking at this passage presented just like it is, I agree that it does seem to say that the Judges were given authority to interpret the Torah and if we disobey their rulings, the punishment is death. However, this is not the case at all. In fact, if we consider the context around these verses, we will receive quite a different view. Deuteronomy 7.6-12 is as follows:
“On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. “If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the Eternal One your G-d will choose. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the Eternal One will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the Eternal One your G-d, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.”
In context, we see that G-d is not giving anyone the authority to interpret the Torah and then have the ability to make rulings on it that are binding on all Israel. Instead, we see that right after the Eternal One says that on the “person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness”, the judges are mentioned. Indeed, we read specifically that the cases require the rulings of the judges is not theological at all but civil: “between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault or another…” It doesn’t say, “If one commandment is difficult to interpret, these judges will give you the correct understanding.” No, rather, the passage in question deals only with civil disputes, not theological interpretations of the Torah.
The next verse that the Rabbinic Jews use is Genesis 26.5, where we read that: “because Avraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”From English, this seems to be no problem or issue at all. There isn’t a mention or hint of Oral Torah in this passage. In Hebrew, though, the word used for “laws” is “Torot”, which is the plural of Torah. In discussion with one Rabbinic Jew, he said that the text says, “because Avraham obeyed my…Torah’s.” While gleeful, they point to this text as to mean there are two Torah’s.
Their error is that they are attempting to impose English grammar on biblical Hebrew. You cannot do that. The texts does not say that Abraham obeyed G-d’s “Torah’s”. Torah itself means “instruction”. Therefore, the plural Torot would mean “instructions”. There’s more than one instruction in the Torah. There are instructions for priests, for farmers, for women, for men, for all Israel, for kings, etc. There’s no singular instruction. Indeed, the Torah contains many instructions. What Genesis 26.5 is saying is that Abraham obeyed all of the Eternal One’s instructions.
Another passage that is often quoted is that in Nehemiah. This is after the Jews returned to the Land and they did not understand the Torah at all. In Nehemiah 8.8, we read: “They read from the book, from the Torah of G-d, clearly, and they gave the understanding, so that the people understood the reading.” Many want to take this verse and say that not only did they read the Torah, but they also gave the interpretation of the Torah. This would be true if not for the reason of this understanding being given explained in Nehemiah 13.23-24, as follows:
“In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people.”
In other words, due to the assimilation that was happening, many people could not even understand Hebrew, the language of Judah! Nehemiah had to not only read the Torah but also give the understanding or translation of it due to assimilation. This passage nowhere teaches an Oral Torah existed. Indeed, the Torah itself doesn’t – why should we expect the rest of the Tanakh to give such teachings?
Let us now begin to examine some of the verses which teach that the Torah was written – the entire Torah – and none of it was left unwritten. My comments will follow each passage.
Exodus 24.3-4: “Moshe came and told the people all the words of the Eternal One and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Eternal One has spoken we will do.” And Moshe wrote down all the words of the Eternal One. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Notice that it does not say that Moshe “wrote down some of the words of the Eternal One.” It doesn’t say half of the words are transmitted orally and half is written. No, it says that Moshe “wrote down all the words of the Eternal One”.
Exodus 24.12: “The Eternal One said to Moshe, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.
Exodus 31.18: “And he gave to Moshe, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of G-d.”
Exodus 32.15-16: “Then Moshe turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. The tablets were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d, engraved on the tablets.”
Exodus 34.37: “And the Eternal One said to Moshe, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”
Exodus 33.2: “Moshe wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Eternal One, and these are their stages according to their starting places.”
Deuteronomy 4.13: “And He declared to you His covenant, which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Words, and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.”
Deuteronomy 17.18: “And when he [the future king] sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this Torah, approved by the Levitical priests.”
Note that G-d says that the future king will “write for himself in a book a copy of this Torah”. G-d did not say or mention not to write an Oral Torah. Instead, G-d said that he will write the Torah in a book. That is, there is no Oral Torah – the king writes the whole Torah, approved by the Levites.
Deuteronomy 27.3,8: “And you shall write on them all the words of this Torah, when you cross over to enter the land that the Eternal One your G-d is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Eternal One, the G-d of your fathers, has promised you…And you shall write on the stones all the words of this Torah very plainly.”
Deuteronomy 28.58-61: “If you are not careful to do all the words of this Torah that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Eternal One your G-d, then the Eternal One will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. And He will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this Torah, the Eternal One will bring upon you, until you are destroyed.”
Deuteronomy 31.9,22,24: “Then Moshe wrote this Torah and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Eternal One, and to all the elders of Israel…So Moshe wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel…When Moshe had finished writing the words of this Torah in a book to the very end…”
Joshua 1.8: “This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful 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 8.31: “just as Moshe the servant of the Eternal One had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Torah of Moshe, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Eternal One and sacrificed peace offerings.
Joshua 8.34: “And afterward he read all the words of the Torah, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Torah.”
Notice that in every instance we see that the Torah was written. The Torah was read. The Torah is in a book or document. Nowhere does it say that there’s an Oral Torah. The best that the Rabbinic Jews can ever come up with is a few obscure passages whereas we have dozens that state that the Torah was written – a written document.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXhJDlO7ABc (A video by Felipe Gutierrez compiling verses)