While I have given an argument regarding the Oral Torah not being authoritative, I did not answer specific objections which are often brought into conversation. The arguments in favor of an Oral Torah can be explained, in my opinion, in a single sentence: the written Torah contains errors or is incomplete, as this video attempts to show. It is in the opinion of the Rabbinic Jews that the written Torah seems to have errors that only make sense when read with the Oral Torah, which they consider to be the “other half” of the Torah. Is the written Torah riddled with errors or incomplete? What about making the Tefillin, Tzitzit, Mezuzah, Sukkah, and keeping Shabbat, Yom Kippur, and other vital mitzvot that we are not given specific instruction on how to fulfill? Let us see what the Tanakh has to say about this important topic.
One of the immediate questions I receive is how we make Tefillin. Tefillin are boxes, attached by black straps, that contain passages of Torah in them in order to fulfill Deuteronomy 6.8, where we read: “Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead…” Indeed, Chabad has the following article to explain Tefillin:
“Tefillin consists of two small leather boxes attached to leather straps. The two boxes each contain four sections of the Torah inscribed on parchment. These passages cite:
The Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) – pronouncing the Unity of The One G‑d.
Vehayah (Deut. 11:13-21) – expressing G‑d’s assurance to us of reward that will follow our observance of the Torah’s precepts, and warning of retribution for disobedience to them.
Kadesh (Ex. 13:1-10) – the duty of the Jewish people to always remember the redemption from Egyptian bondage.
Vehayah (Ex. 13:11-16) – the obligation of every Jew to inform his children on these matters.
One of the boxes (the “hand Tefillin”) is placed upon the left arm so as to rest against the heart – the seat of the emotions, and the suspended leather strap is wound around the left hand, and around the middle finger of that hand. The other box (the “Head Tefillin”) is placed upon the head, above the forehead, so as to rest upon the cerebrum. In this manner our attention is directed to the head, heart and hand. It teaches us to dedicate ourselves to the service of G‑d in all that we think, feel and do. It is also to teach us not to be governed solely by the impulse of the heart, lest that lead us into error and transgression. Nor are we to be governed by reason alone, for that may lead to harsh materialism.
Placed on the arm opposite the heart, and on the head, the Tefillin signify the submission of one’s mind, heart and actions to the Almighty, as well as the rule of intellect over emotion.”
How do we know how to make Tefillin if we do not accept Oral Torah? Do we just ignore the mitzvah the Eternal One gave us? G-d forbid! The issue with Tefillin is that it is completely metaphorical and figurative. It is not literal. It is the same as G-d commanding us to circumcise the foreskin of our hearts, as we see in Deuteronomy 10.16: “Cut away, therefore, the foreskin about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more.” Is G-d literally saying that we should do open-heart surgery and slice a part of the heart off? Of course not.
In Proverbs 1.8-9, we read: “My son, heed the discipline of your father, And do not forsake the Torah of your mother; For they are a graceful wreath upon your head, A necklace about your throat.” Does this mean we should literally make a wreath for our heads and place a necklace around our throats? Of course not. The Eternal One is speaking metaphorically. We should speak about the Torah so much that it would be like having the Torah between our eyes and around our throats. Nehemia Gordon explains further:
“The Torah is to be like a fine bracelet or necklace which we are to wear proudly. In other words, the Torah is supposed to be precious to us and be remembered always. It is worth noting that of the four places in the Torah which use this expression 2 of them are telling us to remember the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:8-9; 11:18) while the other two are commanding us to remember the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 13:9, 16).”
Since we understand that the Tefillin is metaphorical, how do we understand how to make tzitzit? How do we know what color of blue to make the cord? We are told in Numbers 15.37-41 the following:
“The Eternal One said to Moshe as follows: Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the Eternal One and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your G-d. I the Eternal One am your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your G-d: I, the Eternal One your G-d.“
The tzitziyot (tassels/fringes) are meant to remind us to keep the commandments of G-d. There needs to be four with a blue cord or thread attached with it. As you may have noticed, Rabbinic Jews do not normally wear a blue cord on their tzitzit. The reason is described by Chabad:
“The Torah commands us to include a blue (“techelet“) fringe among the tzitzit fringes. This fringe must be dyed blue with the blood of a shellfish called “chilazon.” This rare fish is a denizen of the Mediterranean Sea. After the Jewish people were exiled from the Holy Land, the chilazon was no longer available. For many centuries Jews wore tzitzit without a techelet fringe.”
According to the Rabbinic Jews, the blue is supposed to have come from a shellfish’s blood. Yet, nowhere are we taught this in the Tanakh that we have today. Numbers 15.37ff does not speak of fish at all – it simply says to attach a blue thread or cord to the tzitzit. Indeed, Karaite-Korner explains:
“The Rabbanite reason for abandoning the commandment to place a blue string on the Tzitzit is that the dye needed for the blue has been lost. However, Karaites point out that the Torah does not state which dye must be used to create the blue strings. Any dye that produces the color blue is sufficient.
The strings of the Tzitzit are to be tied into a chain-like knot and placed on the corners of four-cornered garments. This is commanded in Deuteronomy 22:12 which states “Chains [Gedilim, cf. 1 Kings 7:17] shall you make for yourself on the four corners of your clothing, with which you cover yourself with.” The chain-like knots can be made in any number of ways and do not have to be made in the Rabbinic fashion (today’s Karaites make the knots in a slightly different way than the Rabbanites). The important thing is that they have the appearance of links in a chain (Gedilim) and that they include at least one blue strand. The word Tzitzit itself literally means a “braid, plait” as in the verse “and took me by a plait (KJV: lock) of mine head”. Thus the design of the Tzitzit must be like that of a braid/plait of hair which is the same design as the links in a chain.”
Contrary to Rabbinic Jewish tradition, there is no specific formula to create the dye for the blue thread of the tzitzit. The Rabbinic tradition is simply adding to the Torah, which is in violation of the Torah, where we read in Deuteronomy 4.2: “You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, but keep the commandments of the Eternal One your G-d that I enjoin upon you.” Again, for the rest of the Tanakh, we read in Proverbs 1.5-6: “Every word of G-d is pure, A shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He indict you and you be proved a liar.“
Moving on, we also see the Rabbinic objection regarding the Mezuzah. How do we know how to make Mezuzah to fulfill the mitzvah? Mezuzah is the Rabbinic way of fulfilling the commandment in Deuteronomy 6.9, where we read: “inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” The Aish website explains:
“On the doorpost of every Jewish home rests a mezuzah. Some may think it’s a dainty decoration or a good luck charm. Put one up to keep the evil spirits away! Actually, a mezuzah is a daily reminder – and a public declaration – of Jewish identity and faith. Though mezuzah literally means “doorpost,” it commonly refers to a scroll of parchment containing biblical verses, placed on the doorpost. The mezuzah recalls the Exodus from Egypt, when the lamb’s blood smeared on the doorpost “identified” the Jewish homes that G-d passed over during the plague of the first born. From that day forward, the mezuzah has always identified a home as being Jewish. Travelling throughout the world, one can often seek out fellow Jews by looking for a mezuzah on the door. In areas where Jews have been exiled (e.g. Eastern Europe and Middle East countries), many doorposts still bear the mark of a mezuzah removed. The scroll contains the first two paragraphs of the “Shema” prayer, declaring the oneness of G-d, and commanding us “to write [these words] on the doorpost of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:4-9). The second passage (Deut. 11:13-21) teaches that Jewish destiny, both individually and nationally, depends upon fulfilling G-d’s will.”
Indeed, Chabad explains through the following:
“A mezuzah mounted on the doorpost designates the home as Jewish, reminding us of our connection to G‑d and to our heritage. A mezuzah is not, contrary to popular belief, the outer container. The mezuzah is actually the parchment scroll within, on which the “Shema” — a biblical passage declaring the oneness of G‑d — is handwritten by an expert scribe. The mezuzah is also a symbol of G‑d’s watchful care over the home. The name of G‑d, Sha-dai, which appears on the reverse side of the parchment, is an acronym for the Hebrew words which mean “Guardian of the doorways of Israel.” The placing of a mezuzah on the doors of a home or office protects the inhabitants — whether they are inside or outside.”
So, how do we make Mezuzah if we reject the Oral Torah as authoritative? The answer is, like the Tefillin, Mezuzah is considered to be a figure of speech. Nehemia Gordon, in his previously mentioned “Tefillin – Phylacteries” article (Source number four), explains
“It should be noted that the Karaites also interpret the verse “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your houses and your gates” (Deuteronomy 5:9; 11:20) to be a metaphor equivalent to “write them upon the tablet of your heart.” (Prv 3:3) and not as referring to the Rabbanite Mezuzah.”
Even if a Jew were to take the commandment as literal, there is no explicit instructions regarding it so they could, theoretically, create a sign and have the Shema written on it. There is no instruction not because the Torah is incomplete or in error but because G-d chose not to give us any. Again, this is what separates us from the Rabbinic Jews – we see that G-d, in His infinite wisdom, gave us His perfect Torah in order for us to study and learn. Where it is silent, we too must remain silent and not make things up in an attempt to correct an already perfect document.
Continuing with the objections, how do we build a Sukkah, if we do not accept the Oral Torah’s instructions? Nehemia Gordon explains:
“In Levitcus 23:40 the Torah commands that we “take” on the first day of Sukkot “fruit of a splendorous tree [or, a splendorous fruit tree], date branches, the branch of a thick tree and willows of the creek”. To the modern reader, it is not immediately clear what to do with these branches and reeds. The Rabbis claim that one is supposed to make these plants into a bundle which is waved during the prayer service. However, this is not said anywhere in the Tanakh. On the contrary, in the Biblical book of Nehemiah chapter 8 we are told of a national gathering in which the Torah is read to the people and they rediscover what is commanded in it. We are told in verses 14-16:
“And they found written in the Torah that [the Eternal One] commanded through Moses that the Children of Israel dwell in Booths (Sukkot) in the Seventh month. And concerning that which they heard [in the public reading] they passed a voice through all their cities and Jerusalem saying ‘Go out to the mountain and bring olive branches and oil tree branches and myrtle branches and date branches and branches of thick trees to make booths, as it is written.’ And the people went out and they brought and they made for themselves booths, each man on his roof and in their courtyards and in the courtyard of the House of G-d and in the broad areas of the Water Gate and the broad areas of Ephraim Gate.”
There is no mystery to creating a Sukkah and how to fulfill it. There’s no errors, flaws, contradictions, or missing parts in the Tanakh. We are given everything that the Eternal One wanted us to have. Nehemia continues in the same article:
“After comparing the two passages in Lev 23 and Neh 8 it becomes clear that there are 4 categories of vegetation which can be used to build a Sukkah:
Any leafy tree that can give shade (compare Ezekiel 20:28).
A date palm and presumably any palm tree.
Any fruit tree (compare Leviticus 23 and Nehemiah 8).
Arvei Nahal – usually translated as “willows of the creek”. Based on Nehemiah 8 which replaces “Willows of the Creek” with “myrtle branches” it would seem that this refers to various types of trees that grow along the banks of the Wadis (see Isaiah 44:4) of Israel and Babylon (see Psalms 137:2).
The word Sukkah comes from the root S.Kh.Kh. meaning “to cover”, and the main part of the Sukkah is the roof or covering which must be made from one or all of the above materials. The walls can be made of any material available.”
Continuing with the common objections of the Rabbinic Jews, how do we keep the Shabbat? I’m often asked, “If you reject the Oral Torah, how do you define ‘work’? If you attempt to define it, you’re creating your own Oral Torah!” Before I answer this, let’s look at the Rabbinic definition of “work” as found in the Oral Torah. The following is considered “work“:
“Sowing, Plowing, Reaping, Binding sheaves, Threshing, Winnowing, Selecting, Grinding, Sifting, Kneading, Baking, Shearing wool, Washing wool, Beating wool, Dyeing wool, Spinning, Weaving, Making two loops, Weaving two threads, Separating two threads, Tying, Untying, Sewing two stitches, Tearing, Trapping, Slaughtering, Flaying, Salting meat, Curing hide, Scraping hide, Cutting hide up, Writing two letters, Erasing two letters, Building, Tearing a building down, Extinguishing a fire, Kindling a fire, Hitting with a hammer, Taking an object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in the public domain.”
Even though I disagree with the Rabbinic laws, they did not just make this up. They understand “work” to be defined as anything that was done to the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. None of this is in the Torah, however, or in the Tanakh. What is work? Work is anything prohibited in the Tanakh. We see that working – in terms of yard work, farming, or business-related ventures, are forbidden based upon the entirety of Exodus 20.8-11:
“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Eternal One your G-d: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the Eternal One made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Eternal One blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.”
The book of Nehemiah, chapter ten, verse 32, explains: ““The peoples of the land who bring their wares and all sorts of foodstuff for sale on the sabbath day—we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day.” Jeremiah 17.21-27, we read the following:
“Thus said the Eternal One: Guard yourselves for your own sake against carrying burdens on the sabbath day, and bringing them through the gates of Jerusalem. Nor shall you carry out burdens from your houses on the sabbath day, or do any work, but you shall hallow the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. ( But they would not listen or turn their ear; they stiffened their necks and would not pay heed or accept discipline.) If you obey Me—declares the Eternal One—and do not bring in burdens through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day and do no work on it, then through the gates of this city shall enter kings who sit upon the throne of David, with their officers—riding on chariots and horses, they and their officers—and the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And this city shall be inhabited for all time. And people shall come from the towns of Judah and from the environs of Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the Shephelah, and from the hill country, and from the Negeb, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, meal offerings and frankincense, and bringing offerings of thanksgiving to the House of the Eternal One. But if you do not obey My command to hallow the sabbath day and to carry in no burdens through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will set fire to its gates; it shall consume the fortresses of Jerusalem and it shall not be extinguished.“
In Nehemiah 13.15-22, we read similar:
“At that time I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the sabbath, and others bringing heaps of grain and loading them onto asses, also wine, grapes, figs, and all sorts of goods, and bringing them into Jerusalem on the sabbath. I admonished them there and then for selling provisions. Tyrians who lived there brought fish and all sorts of wares and sold them on the sabbath to the Judahites in Jerusalem. I censured the nobles of Judah, saying to them, “What evil thing is this that you are doing, profaning the sabbath day! This is just what your ancestors did, and for it G-d brought all this misfortune on this city; and now you give cause for further wrath against Israel by profaning the sabbath!” When shadows filled the gateways of Jerusalem at the approach of the sabbath, I gave orders that the doors be closed, and ordered them not to be opened until after the sabbath. I stationed some of my servants at the gates, so that no goods should enter on the sabbath. Once or twice the merchants and the vendors of all sorts of wares spent the night outside Jerusalem, but I warned them, saying, “What do you mean by spending the night alongside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands upon you!” From then on they did not come on the sabbath. I gave orders to the Levites to purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to preserve the sanctity of the sabbath. This too, O my G-d, remember to my credit, and spare me in accord with your abundant faithfulness.“
From the above passages, it is abundantly clear that carrying burdens and doing commerce on the Sabbath is strictly prohibited by G-d. Further, we see that kindling a fire – of any kind – on the Sabbath is prohibited (Exodus 35.3); and, that we are not to leave our dwellings on the Sabbath day (Exodus 16.29). There are obvious things we should not do on Sabbath from the above commandments such as cooking, making crafts in order to sell them, and working on anything work or school related. If anything causes stress, causes us to earn an income, or is similar to the examples of work given in the Tanakh, they are forbidden. There is no need for an Oral Torah to be made in order to explain these things as the Tanakh has already explained them and has given us examples of what not to do on the Sabbath day, or any other holy day where work is prohibited.
Finally, how do we keep Yom Kippur if we do not have the Oral Torah? How do we begin and end the fast – if it truly is a fast? We read in Leviticus 16.29-31 the following:
“And this shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no manner of work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the Eternal One. It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial [afflict yourselves; afflict your bodies]; it is a law for all time.”
The Day of Atonement is the holiest day of the year because it is on this day that G-d formally forgives us of all of our sins we’ve committed that year. Our records, after this day, if we observe, keep, and guard this day, are cleared completely and we start anew. It’s truly a beautiful day indeed! However, we also read that the soul who does not afflict themselves on this day is cut off from their people (Leviticus 23.29), which means that their souls will be destroyed and they will not inherit the world to come. This is a serious matter, something that should not be taken lightly!
We see that we should practice “self-denial” (New JPS translation) or, literally, to afflict our souls. The affliction of our souls is clearly meant to tell us that we should fast. Nehemia Gordon explains:
“In Biblical Hebrew the expression “to afflict your souls” means “to fast” (Tzom). The Hebrew phrase ‘INuI NeFeSH translated as “afflicting the soul”, also appears in a number of Biblical passages, from which it is clear that this expression signifies fasting:
“…I afflicted (KJV: “humbled”) my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.” -Psalms 35:13
“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.” -Ezra 8:21
“Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and you see not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and you take no notice?…” -Isaiah 58:3; see also verses 5 & 10″
We are simply commanded to afflict our souls, to fast, on this fast. Isaiah 58.13-14, we read the following:
“If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, From pursuing your affairs on My holy day; If you call the sabbath “delight,” The Eternal One’s holy day “honored”; And if you honor it and go not your ways Nor look to your affairs, nor strike bargains— Then you can seek the favor of the Eternal One. I will set you astride the heights of the earth, And let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob— For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.“
We see that that this is not only referring to the Sabbath day, but specifically Yom Kippur, as the previous verses explain in Isaiah 58.3-12:
“Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?” Because on your fast day You see to your business And oppress all your laborers! Because you fast in strife and contention, And you strike with a wicked fist! Your fasting today is not such As to make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast I desire, A day for men to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush And lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, A day when the Lord is favorable? No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock fetters of wickedness, And untie the cords of the yoke To let the oppressed go free; To break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, And to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe him, And not to ignore your own kin. Then shall your light burst through like the dawn And your healing spring up quickly; Your Vindicator shall march before you, The Presence of the Eternal One shall be your rear guard. Then, when you call, the Eternal One will answer; When you cry, He will say: Here I am. If you banish the yoke from your midst, The menacing hand, and evil speech, And you offer your compassion to the hungry And satisfy the famished creature— Then shall your light shine in darkness, And your gloom shall be like noonday. The Eternal One will guide you always; He will slake your thirst in parched places And give strength to your bones. You shall be like a watered garden, Like a spring whose waters do not fail. Men from your midst shall rebuild ancient ruins, You shall restore foundations laid long ago. And you shall be called “Repairer of fallen walls, Restorer of lanes for habitation.”
Charity is encouraged on Yom Kippur. We see that charity is encouraged and is what G-d wants us to do on this day, and that we have to fast. What exactly constitutes as a fast, though? Nehemia Gordon continues to explain in his article (source eleven):
“In the Tanach to fast means to refrain from eating or drinking throughout the entire period of the fast (Esther 4:16). In Biblical Times a fast also included the following elements:
Crying (i.e. intense prayer), see Ps 69:11; Joel 2:12
Donning sackcloth and putting dust or ashes on the head (a sign or mourning), see Daniel 9:3; Nehemiah 9:1
Prayer and Repentance, see Esther 9:31; Nehemiah 1:14; Isaiah 58″
From the above, we can see that any form of work is forbidden on this day, we should do charitable deeds if possible, we should refrain from food and drink, we should be in immense prayer and repentance, we should don sackcloth (if available), and mourn for our own sins that we have committed throughout the year. This day is not meant to be a “day of fun” as it is a day of mourning. It should be a day where we spend hours in intensive prayer, Tanakh study, and pleading for our sins to be forgiven. If an opportunity of charity arises, we are commanded to fulfill it.
In the end, whether we are speaking about Tefillin, Mezuzah, Shabbat, or Yom Kippur, we see that the written Torah, and the rest of the Tanakh, has no errors, no passages missing, no contradictions, and that it fulfills everything we need of it. G-d made no mistakes when He gave the Torah to Moses our Teacher. Whenever we misunderstand something, we shouldn’t make things up as the Rabbinites do. Rather, we should bow to G-d’s infinite wisdom and know that, certainly, He spoke truly when He said in Isaiah 55.8-9: “For My plans are not your plans, Nor are My ways your ways —declares the Eternal One. But as the heavens are high above the earth, So are My ways high above your ways And My plans above your plans.”
- Oral Torah: A Refutation
- Rational Approach to the Divinity of Oral Tradition
- Tefillin and Its Significance – Tefillin
- Tefillin – Phylacteries
- Techelet (A Blue Thread) Mitzvahs & Traditions
- Mezuzah: The Inside Story
- Mezuzah – The Jewish security system
- Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement