Torah and Judaism

1)  I don’t believe in absolute truth. I believe that everyone should work out for himself what he should do. . Why can’t I be a good person without Judaism?

2) What are Prophecy and Revelation?

3) How Do I Know That G-D Gave The Torah? Maybe Moses Made It Up? How do I know the Torah is true? Is the Bible the word of G-d?

4) How do I know that the Torah was given for all time? Maybe it was meant to or could change or be replaced? Can the Torah be replaced by a New Testament or a Koran?

5) If the Torah is true how come so few people keep it?

6) Should I not investigate all or at least some other religions before deciding that Judaism is true?

7) Why should the decision of my ancestors effect me? I did not stand at Sinai and I did not choose to accept the Torah.

8) How do I know that the Torah didn’t get distorted over the ages?

9) If the Torah is true how come so few people keep it?

10) Who Is A Jew? Conservative and Reform. Why isn’t Judaism pluralistic?

1. I don’t believe in absolute truth. I believe that everyone should work out for himself what he should do.  Why can’t I be a good person without Judaism?


A person who’s always going to start out from the beginning is unlikely to actually make it in the end to find out what absolute truth is, even absolute geniuses who make a serious concerted effort of the spirit and intellect. It’s an enormously deep, sophisticated endeavor to undertake. The only one whom we know that was actually successful in this attempt was אברהם אבינו (Abraham our father). But if you want to be more generous, and put the likes of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle on the list you would still be able to count them on your hand. How many people are even capable of thinking at a deep enough level to stand a chance of achieving this? So let’s presume that the person talking is such a person, a world-historic thinker. Let us presume that in the end he or she actually makes it. That he or she turns out to be a second Abraham and figures the whole thing out for himself/herself. Still, we are left with the problem that civilization and the world can never make progress if everyone is always starting from the beginning again. As long as people are not willing to build on the tradition of the generations, to tap into the cumulative wisdom of the history of the world, we will always be starting all over again.

    In fact, that is part of the problem that we see in the world today. There have been more people killed after the second World War, when there was a New Order, when there was the United Nations, than in the World War itself and perhaps more than in any other period of history. Despite our horror of Nazism, we failed to resolve man’s inherent capability for evil. The approach that everyone should do his best to discover the truth is predicated on the myth that mankind overall wants to be good. 50 million post-war deaths testify to the falsehood of that idea.

    There is a variation of this desire to do it yourself,  and that’s the belief of people in relative truth. Now in truth, I never actually met somebody who actually believed in relative truth. Because the implications of relative truth are that there are no standards or values other than the ones I choose to adhere to myself. And in the end nobody truly does believe that. In the end everybody does believe that murder and theft and a whole host of other things are all wrong, quite wrong.

    It has become popular in recent times to point out that different cultures have different relative values.  What may be right or wrong for one culture, may not be right or wrong for another.  You get a culture with cannibals, and a culture sexually more open in its morals. There may be cultures that are more conservative or more liberal.  Democracy may be right for America but may be considered inappropriate for Africa. But very few people really believe this. In fact I have never met anyone who felt that there was nothing wrong with stealing and the only reason we don’t steal is because of practical Utilitarian reasons, i.e. we don’t want other people steal from us, therefore we’re all going to agree not steal just by convention. People do believe at bottom that it’s WRONG to steal.

    There was once an article in the Wall Street Journal about a student of philosophy who had written an essay for a professor pro the idea of relative values. The professor failed him. The student came and challenged the professor and he said “Why did you give me a
fail?” and the professor said, “Because I don’t believe what you are saying is right”. And the student said “What do you mean?” and the professor gave an argument against relative values, and the student said, “I don’t accept that”. And the professor gave another argument, and the student said, “Well I don’t accept that.” And the professor tried again, and the student rejected it, and the professor said, “Well I’m going to fail you anyway”. And the student said, “You can’t do that, it’s not fair”. At which the professor simply smiled, meaning that the student had admitted to the fact that there were standards, there were values. You can judge something by an objective standard. And the professor has no right to invent his own relative values and decide that he’s going to fail a student, because he wants to anyway. We all agree that there is such a thing as objective reality.

2. What are Prophecy and Revelation?


There are two ways in which we can reach truth. One is through Wisdom, when we rise from our perspective and reach up, way beyond ourselves, to understand truth.  נבואה (Prophecy), works the other way around. It comes from on top and comes down to us.  נבואה (prophecy) has the advantage that it’s much clearer. —— חכמה  (wisdom) is a human process subject to mistakes. But, חכמה (wisdom) has the advantage that it can go much further because you’re starting from the bottom and you’re going up on an open ended basis. In fact, wisdom allows you to go way beyond your own spiritual level.  On the other hand, a person has to be ready for   נבואה(prophecy) in order to have it, and this has to be reflected in one’s overall spiritual level.

  There are two reasons why a person may receive prophecy:
  1)  השם (G-d) wanted to communicate for the sake of כלל ישראל (the Jewish people) a message or
  2)  as an expression of השם’s (G-d’s) closeness to that person [1].

    The Torah was not revealed to us through a process of חכמה (wisdom). For G-d could never leave that which is meant to tell us what He wants from us in this world, to a process which is subject to error. Just look at the Western World, with its plethora of philosophies, the one contradicting the other.  It is clear that human understanding on its own is not the way, certainly not the best most reliable way to understand what G-d’s plan for the world is. There had to be a point where there was a נבואה  process. There had to be a bringing down of the Torah down into this world in a precise and reliable fashion. After this truth, i.e. the Torah, is given through נבואה, then there is a place for us to understand it through חכמה.

    This is why, for all the greatness of Prophecy, there was a certain point at which it stopped. For nowכלל ישראל  (the Jewish people) wanted to be עובד השם  (serve G-d) through the Oral Law process, חכמה (wisdom), which allows us the advantages over נבואה described above. It eventually led to the גמרא  (Gemora) and everything we have now. This focus on wisdom caused a dulling of the capacity for נבואה (prophecy) and a flourishing of the תושבע”פ (Oral Torah) as we have it today.

3. How Do I Know That G-D Gave The Torah? Maybe Moses Made It Up? How do I know the Torah is true? Is the Bible the Word of G-d ?


If G-d has a plan for the world then he has to have a mechanism for revealing this and this mechanism has to lend itself to clear and convincing proof that this is His word. Having said that we need to understand that there is no absolute proof for any knowledge. Science doesn’t even pretend to work this way. (Although the layman often thinks that it does). For any particular set of phenomena there are usually several (sometimes hundreds of) competing scientific theories. A scientific theory is accepted as being true because it is the best, simplest, most aesthetic and inclusive explanation for a particular body of knowledge. In addition it should make testable predictions.

By scientific standards, Judaism can certainly be proven to be true. To mention just a few things:
(a) It works! It has worked across time, in different cultures (North African, European, etc.), under radically different circumstances (American affluence, the Holocaust). No other system even comes close.
(b) The Torah makes very specific predictions which have come true [2].
(c) The complete consensus amongst the nation in the first 1000 years after Sinai mitigates against the Sinai experience being made up. It is impossible to create a fiction that will not have some skeptics (amongst a nation with a track record for skepticism) and that will not have differing versions of what happened.
(d) All the miracles in Egypt and during the desert were given under conditions where they could be examined closely, by everyone (including non-Jews) and without the element of surprise. The מן fell for 40 years, most of the plagues were with clear warning as to exactly what was going to happen.
(e) The overall consensus is that archaeology confirms the authenticity of the Bible account, wherever it could be checked.
(f)  The Western and Moslem worlds accept the Sinai account as being authentic as well.

    But all of these things are secondary to the primary claim. This is the fact that there was a national revelation to the whole nation. Moses did not emerge from a cave, Mohammed-like and proclaim he heard a prophecy. The ever weary Jews, the most skeptical nation on earth, would have had his head. Rather the entire nation stood at Sinai, spoke to G-d face to face, and were able to authenticate all the rest of Moses’ prophecy.

    The Kuzari tells us that one cannot fabricate a claim of national revelation. All religions would have loved to have made such a claim, but not one has made it. For a claim of national revelation can never be made unless it is true.  All claims to new religions are made by individual people who made private claims to personal revelation.

    What would happen if they did make a claim of national revelation. Let us take an example provided by Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb. Have you ever noticed that UFO claims are always about a spacecraft landing in a deserted field. Imagine that your friend tells you one day that he has just seen a space-craft landing in Time Square, during morning rush hour. You phone a friend whose offices overlook Time Square and ask him whether he sees anything. Negative. You turn on the radio – no mention of such an event. You turn to all those around you and ask whether they heard of such a thing. No-one. At which point you grab the person and walk them off to the nearest mental institution.

    Now let us say that a person tells you that they did not see the event, but that all of our ancestors saw this event 250 years ago. Our first reaction is to go to our parents and say, “Mom, did your parents ever tell you about a spacecraft landing in Times Square?”  I ask my friends and anyone I know to ask the same. No-one was ever told such a thing by their parents or by anyone of the previous generation. Only, apparently our claimant. Well this still isn’t going to get him out of the loony bin.

    Judaism not only makes such a claim, but our Torah-keeping parents have all heard of this claim from their parents, and so on back for as 1000’s of years. As the Kuzari states, that claim, is watertight. You simply cannot make it up.

  more on: Is The Torah True?

4. How do I know that the Torah was given for all time? Maybe it was meant to or could change or be replaced? Can the Torah be replaced by a New Testament or a Koran?


The proofs for truth of the Torah are so powerful that even Christianity and Islam admit that the Torah was given to the Jews at Sinai. What these religions claim is, though, that things changed later on, that at some stage G-d decided to choose a new people and to give a new Torah. This being the case, there is nothing to stop this from happening again tomorrow. There is no reason not to believe in Mordecahi Kaplan’s Reconstructionism, which states that Judaism has to be reinvented anew by each generation. The natural extension of this is that it does away with any absolute, eternal system of laws and spirituality. It is therefore no more compelling to be a Christian than it is to just to work out for one’s self what it means to be a good person.

    Yet, to suggest that the Koran or the New Testament came to replace the Torah is to suggest that at some point the Torah became dated and needed to be replaced. This is an insult to G-d – it implies that He was not clever enough to introduce principles that would apply for all time.

    When G-d gave the Torah, He knew that things were going to constantly change: science would progress, there would be times of war and times of peace; Jews would find themselves in Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia; some would be poor and some would be rich. So G-d gave us a Torah which was rich in the deep structure of ethics and spirituality – a code of principles which would translate into the endless variations which would unfold for mankind. These would be applied by the Torah experts of every generation and each generation has therefore produced a rich literature of contemporary responses. One only has to glance at one of the conteporary halachic responses to witness the full range of current issues – from Bioethics to the modern company to high-tech food-production.

    The Torah can address any new issue without ever changing, because the deeper laws of ethics were always there to begin with. To accept a contemporary ethics is to accept a set of values which tomorrow will be outmoded and dated. G-d would have no purpose in a revelation that was relevant to one generation and not the next. Clearly, He intended His revelation to be as meaningful and contemporary for us as it was for the generation that went out of Egypt. Indeed, if anything it is easier to see the wisdom of the Torah today. It seems amazing that its reservoirs of wisdom can easily accommodate all the modern progress in biogenetics, economics, medicine, and the microchip. It has anticipated many of the issues that arose and provided a deeper appreciation of why Jewish community and family has been so vibrant and stable to this very day.

    It is for good reason, then, that the unchangeability of the Torah is one of the 13 Principles of Faith. But let us say, for argument’s sake, that theoretically it were possible for the Torah to change [3]. Since the Torah is eternal we would have to say, as Rabbi Yosef Albo does in his Sefer HaIkarim, that the Torah does not change intrinsically (מצד הנותן), rather its translation into this world changes (מצד המקבל). After all, the First Man was not allowed to eat meat, but Noah was. Good and well, but how then do we prevent spurious claims. Sinai set a standard of proof which would have to be superseded. The level of prophecy would have to be higher, and there would have to be more than one nation of 3/1/2 million or more people involved. If the miracle of the manna lasted for 40 years, we would have to have miracles that lasted even longer. Most important of all, just like we all heard G-d speak to Moses, face to face, we would have to all hear G-d speak to this new claimant [4] .  Well it is clear that nothing of the sort has ever happened. Nothing nearly of the sort. The Torah remains, true for the ages, without anything but the most insipid challenges to its eternal relevance.

5. If the Torah is true how come so few people keep it?


As much as we do enjoy keeping the Torah, the Torah is something which requires effort and discipline. If the Torah was only offering ice cream and candy, certainly there would be a lot more takers. But, although Judaism seems intimidating when looked at from the outside, it does not ask us to give up This World in order to get to the Next World.  Somebody who embarks on a Torah-spiritual journey, will find that, once they are spiritually full, they will not feel that they are lacking materially either.  Whatever they have will be enough [5]. And the opposite is also true. Someone who tries to fill up on materialism is always going to find himself lacking. You cannot fill up a human being who is ultimately spiritual with $100; it’s never going do it. So when he has the $100 and it isn’t enough he asks himself, why not? And sometimes he answers, “Well, maybe it wasn’t enough. Maybe if I had $200, then that would do it.” And so he goes pitifully, looking for ever more of something that is the wrong solution to begin with.

    So Judaism is certainly quite attractive when understood in this light. But until you get there, certainly there is an appearance of sacrifice, because you have to commit yourself to a very specific set of rules and laws.

    But there is a bigger reason why most people do not keep Torah today. As Rabbi Refson puts it, most people never heard a sensible word of Torah being said in their lives. And the truth is that people who do expose themselves to hearing a decent amount of Torah, 80% accept it, and the other 20% never say it’s junk. They say it’s beautiful, it’s for my children, not for me. I’m too old or set in my ways. I’m too frightened that I am going to lose my job, or worse, lose my personality or creativity, etc. So the issue is not why there aren’t so many who accept the Torah. The issue is why have we messed up on not communicating the profundity and sensitivity of Torah to enough people.

6. Should I not investigate all or at least some other religions before deciding that Judaism is true?


Judaism is not a cult, and does not require that you join Judaism by giving up your mind or even closing it to other options. On the contrary, we encourage questions, a critical mind and a close and vigorous investigation. Moreover, we are not frightened of being compared with anything else: Judaism can stand on its own two feet. However, if you are going to investigate other options, make sure that you investigate your own back yard first. There is a reason why we are still around and thriving after 3000 years of our enemies trying to get rid of us.

7. Why should the decision of my ancestors effect me? I did not stand at Sinai and I did not choose to accept the Torah.


Whether we like it or not, we are born Jewish and into the Jewish nation, just like someone whose parents decide to move to America will automatically be born an American, against his choice. We do not, in fact choose most of our circumstances. We do not choose who our parents and siblings are, how tall we are going to be, and how much natural intelligence we will have. We do not choose our first language, or our original culture. But we do choose how we respond to all these givens. The question is only how one is going to respond to the fact of one’s Jewishness, not whether one is going to be Jewish or not. Certainly everyone has the right to decide what he/she is going to do about this.

8. How do I know that the Torah didn’t get distorted over the ages?


    We have a written Torah, and an Oral Torah. As far as the written Torah is concerned, we know that when a scribe is writing a new Torah, he has to read every word from an existing Torah scroll, or a printed copy, one word at a time. The entire Torah Scroll then has to be checked three times by independent, qualified checkers.  Should any error creep in, as much as a letter, if that should be a letter that’s joining another letter, even though we can see that this is a ו  “vav” joining a ק “koof”, if there is any possibility of any confusion later on, we quickly stop reading that Torah, in mid sentence. We bring out another Torah. And these letters have to be so clear that a five year old has to be able to read them. ——-  As a result of this we were able to take the Torah Scrolls from Yemen, a group of people who had been isolated for thousands of years with no contact with broader community, and we saw that they correlated exactly with our Torah Scrolls. We were able to confirm that what we have today is accurate. There is only one letter where there has ever been a dispute, and that is on the word Pitzua Dakah. The question is whether it is spelt with a ה “hay” or with an א “aleph”, but there is absolutely no difference in the meaning of the word.

    Anybody who deals with accuracy of texts knows what an achievement this is, how many versions of an original manuscript quickly develop.  Errors easily slip into any work where these precautions aren’t taken. And these errors eventually lead to much bigger differences. Even Jewish texts which have been studied continuously, develop many variations.  In the Torah there is no case of a different word.

    So much for the Written Torah. The Oral Torah is a much trickier business because we don’t have a text in front of us where we can check from a previous text.

    It is true that certain disputes developed concerning Oral laws. These are all carefully recorded in the Talmud. However, there is not a single dispute about a fundamental principle or law in the Torah [6].

    It was true then and it is true today. Take the case of the Esrog. We know only through Oral Torah what an Esrog is. The Written Torah just says פרי עץ הדר (fruit from a citron tree),  not whether it was an orange, or a myrtle. We know that it is referring to an Esrog and we never had a מחלקת (dispute) on that. In תפילין (Tefillin), there are at least ten laws which are completely oral, there isn’t even a hint of them in the פסוק (sentence of the Torah referring to Tefillin). Yet there was never a dispute on where the boxes had to be worn. There has never been a disagreement about a fundamental Mitzvah from the Torah. That is what we call הלכה למשה מסיני (laws of Moses from Sinai).

    Now, the fact that there is a מחלקת  (dispute) is the subject of a certain lack of clarity [7], and lowering of standards of the Torah. It is a problem, and we are not proud of it. For the Jewish nation took enormous care to ensure that things remained accurate [8]. But, nor do we push it under the rug and pretend that it does not exist. Every case of disagreement amongst the Sages is carefully recorded and then resolved. What is crucial to understand, however, is that such disputes were at first very rare [9], and they were always about minor points of the law.

    An example is whether you should do סמיכה on a קרבן שלמים on יום טוב. So firstly lets understand what everyone is in agreement about. Everyone agrees that there is such a thing as the Temple, where it should be, how it should be built, and what its purpose is. Everyone agrees that it is here where the Korbanos (offerings) are brought. They agree on the different types of Korbanos (offerings), what the purpose and the detailed laws of each one is. In fact, they agree on thousands of details. They also agree that there should be such a thing as Semicha (leaning) when bringing the Korban (offering).  Now on one little point, whether to do this סמיכה (leaning) on Yom Tov (a holiday) or not, they have a dispute.  That’s it. The points of agreement are way over 99%. And that slight point of the dispute is a detail, never a principle or a fundamental [10].

    Now what is truly amazing is that the Torah anticipated dispute and provided the mechanisms for resolving it. The most important of these are the principle to go after the majority. The majority decision of the Sanhedrin would not only determine the law, but, in some mystical way, G-d would ensure that the universe remain in harmony with that decision of the majority. But this is one of the deeper mysteries of the Torah, and goes way beyond what we need for our answer here.

9. But how could the Torah know about the challenges we have today? How can Judaism of the past answer questions of the future?


    The Torah stands or falls on the fact that it is G-d-given. Human beings cannot predict all the future scenarios which would take place in the world. Only G-d can bring down something which has in it that sort of wisdom. The reason it has that חכמה (wisdom) in it is because it preceded the world. If the world was created from the Torah, then every principle that is in the world is in the Torah. So when we have modern physics - the strong, the weak, the electromagnetic, and gravitational forces, the Torah itself has those four forces. It brought down those principles in a very contracted form.

    Now the genius of the Torah was that it was able to take those principles and translate them into very specific mandates of action. Beware the person who loves man but pushes in line to get onto the bus. Someone who just feels noble about the world is yet capable of doing a whole lot of evil.

    What the Sages had was a clear grasp of the principles which could then be translated into the specifics of any situation.  And the great rabbis of each generation have been doing that ever since. Take the issue of electricity on Shabbat. Electricity was only discovered recently, but contemporary rabbis had no problem understanding what the Torah position on this would be. The Torah principles to inform us about electricity were already all there. Had we asked a rabbi from the time of the Talmud about something which resists a current, they would have been able to answer it on the spot, because they had such a mastery of the principles.

    One only has to look at the responses (to legal questions) of Rav Moshe Feinstein or one of the other recent Halachic (legal) literature to see a complete cross-section of modern problems, from the intricacies of corporate law, to the latest medical issues.  When you see the breathtaking range of examples, you actually see just how sophisticated and contemporary Judaism is. In these areas, Judaism is way ahead of the Western world. In the Western World, medical and other ethics is always catching up. Science makes a discovery and defines the situation and only then do the ethicists begin to address the issue. But by that time the boundaries have already been stretched by the fait-accompli of the discovery. The Torah, on the other hand, already contains this wisdom needed for this issue, and is ready to address it at any time.

(See also How does Law relate to Morality?  Much of Judaism seems outdated - e.g.  Shabbat and Kosher Laws.)

10.  Conservative and Reform: Who is a Jew? Why isn’t Orthodoxy pluralistic? Why does it not recognize three or more streams in Judaism?



    i - The Conservative and Reform movement have spread the lie that Orthodoxy does not consider Conservative and Reform Jews as Jews. This has been so broadly spread that most Conservative and Reform Jews I have recently met, believe this to be the case. It is vital to know that the “who is a Jew” issue, is an issue concerning non-Jews who wish to convert, and has nothing to do with those who are born Jews.

    ii - Having said that, there is a serious complication on the part of the Reform’s position of Patrilineal Descent. This means that the Reform Movement recognizes someone as being Jewish provided that any one of the parents are Jewish, even if that one parent is the Father.

Who is a Jew?

    “Who is a Jew” does not affect anyone who is already Jewish. According to the Torah, even a Jew who is a devout Catholic is still a Jew. In fact, as Rabbi Motty Berger points out,  there is only one movement that disagrees with this and that is the Reform movement. For their position is that someone who believes in Jesus is no longer a Jew. “Who is a Jew” then, affects a potential convert to Judaism. Now this is not an Orthodox-Conservative-Reform issue. For thousands of years, long before there were these three “movements” there has been consensus as to how a conversion should take place, what tests of sincerity were being demanded and what level of commitment and observance. This really is not an area where we can afford to have different standards. We cannot have a situation where someone is regarded as Jewish by some and not by others. Therefore, however much we might respect the beliefs and opinions of the various movements, we have to be able to find consensus on this issue. Now the only conversion that is accepted by all movements is the Orthodox one. Therefore, we are urging our brethren: continue to have healthy and honest debates and discussions. Continue to present your view considerately but forcefully. But don’t do anything in this area which breaks the consensus. The consequences are just too great.


Why is Orthodoxy not Pluralistic. Why should it not recognize three or more streams in Judaism?

Judaism is enormously pluralistic. According to the sages, there are seventy interpretations to each verse of the Torah. There are tens of different chassidic groupings, and there are non-chassidic misnagdim. There are Ashkenazim and Sephardim, each with their own customs and there are many different kinds of Sephardim each expressing their Judaism in slightly different ways. So certainly Judaism allows for a rich tapestry of different customs and even different interpretations of many laws [11].

    However, not all distinctions are valid. Torah Judaism does not like or use the labels Reform Jew, Conservative Jew and Orthodox Jew. These labels are of relatively recent origin and are not intrinsic to Judaism. Historically, Judaism did not recognize different types of Jews of this sort. (It is true that there were (and are) Karaites, Essenes, etc. but these were groups who had chosen to separate themselves from Judaism and the Jewish people.)

    Now, while it is true that Conservative and Reform have some ideological issues with Judaism, these are of no interest to the average Conservative and Reform Jew or Orthodox Jew for that matter. The only relevant distinction is between those who are passionate about their Judaism, who love the study of Torah and the practice of Mitzvot (or who want to do so), and those who are less passionate, informed and involved. We are definitely on the side of passion and knowledge, for the Jewish nation will not survive otherwise. It takes passion and commitment to become a knowledgeable Jew, and it takes passion and commitment to keep up the mitzvot. The Torah requires all Jews, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, to share this passion. We ask all Jews, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, to continue to grow in their Judaism, to get close to that ancient wisdom of unfathomable depth, to make it relevant to their lives, and to go from strength to strength.


[1] For example, the רמב”ן  says in the beginning ofפרשת וירא  that the נבואה  to אברהם  when he was sitting בפתח האהל  was simply השם  responding to the closeness created by his ברית מלה.

[2] The best example of this is the תוכחות, where very specific conditions were laid down for the Jews being able to remain in Israel and very specific consequences were predicted for failure to do this. Another case is that of   שמיטה, and the year before and after.

[3] In his Sefer HaIkrim, Rav Yosef Albo argues on the Rambam with respect to the unchangeability of the Torah,  מצד המקבל, and the argument that follows is a simplified form of the one he presents. However, we stated the issue in this form because all the Rishonim favor the position of the Rambam and there is across the board consensus amongst the Achronim like the Rambam.

[4] סמ”ג הקדמה

[5] שונא מתנות יחיה means that I don’t need gifts, not that I learned to hate them. The רמב”ן explains that when אברהם died זקן ושבע, not that he had everything, but whatever he had, he was full. He didn’t feel he lacked for anything.

[6] The רמב”ם  in his introduction to פירוש המשניות  tells us that we never had a מחלקת on יסודות of the Oral Torah, or the fundamental מצוות דאורייתא.

[7] When did מחלקת  creep in? The רמב”ם says that מחלקת came in when it came to things which were subject to the interpretation through the י”ג מדות. (Like a קל וחומר, a גזרה שוה, a היקש. י”ג מדות in the formulation ר’ ישמעאל gives. Others give others.) The Torah which is interpreted through these מדות, have been subject to מחלקת. Because the moment you are using י”ג מדות, it is subject to human interpretation to some degree. Very often the גמרא  will say, “I have received this from my Rebbe”. And then the מחלקת  stops. If there is a קבלה, then we will accept it.

[8] In every generation, there were many תלמידי חכמים who were broadly responsible for מסורה: כוזרי ג סה: ובכל הדורות האלה לא פסקו – מלבד המפרסמים הללו, ומלבד קהל החכמים כלו, ומלבד הכהנים והלוים שהיתה תורתם אומנתם – השבעים סנהדרין, שמסרו את חכמתם מדור לדור, כי על פיהם היו ממנים כל ממנה ומעבירים כל מעבר – כמו שנאמר: אמר ר שמעון בן יוחאי: כך מקבל אני מפי שבעים זקנים ביום שהושיבו את ר’ אלעזר בן עזריה בישיבה. מאחורי שבעים אלה ישבו מאות, ומאחורי המאות אלפים – כי לא יתכן לברר שבעים שלמים כי אם מתוך מאות שמדרגתם קרובה לשלמות, וכן הלאה, כן מדרגה אחר מדרגה. (דף קמה בהוצאת קפאח) שם סז: וכל כך נזהרו חכמים שלא לקבל דברים שנאמרו רק מפי יחיד, עד שאחד מהם צוה, בשעת מיתתו, לבנו (עדיות ה ז): בני חזר בארבעה דברים שהיית אומר. (i.e. the Father said to his son: Son, even though this is my position, you should not hold that way.) אמר לו (הבן להאב): ואתה למה לא חזרת בך? אמר לו:  אני שמעתי מפי רבים והם שמעו מפי רבים – אני עמדתי בשמועתי והם עמדו בשמועתם. אבל אתה שמעת מפי יחיד (היינו רק ממני) – מוטב להניח דברי יחיד ולאחז את דברי רבים Nevertheless, the עיקר מסורה was given through specific individuals: אבות א:א משה קבל תורה מסיני ומסרה ליהושע מהר”ל (דרך החיים דף יט): ולא היה ראוי להכניס בקבלה אלעזר הכהן (אע”פ שגם הוא היה מקבל ממשה) … כיון שלא היה מיוחד לזה  כמו יהושע נחשב קבלתו שהוא במקרה … (וגם) מסר משה התורה לכל ישראל, אבל היה להם הקבלה במקרה ולא נחשב זה קבלה כלל כי אפשר שיקבלו ואפשר שלא יקבלו וזה לא נחשב קבלה … ובדבר שהוא כזה שהוא מסירת התורה שבו תלוי קיום העולם אין ראוי להיות דבר זה במקרה ספורנו (שמות כד יב ד”ה להורותם): הנה הרמזים אשר [בתורה] … לא יובנו אצל רב ישראל זולתו על ידי מורה צדק We are required to believe that previous generations, including Moses himself, were faithful to their mandate: אני מאמין באמונה שלמה שכל התורה המצויה עתה בידינו היא הנתונה למשה רבינו עליו השלום (נוסך הסדורים) אור החיים דברים א א: אלה הדברים פירוש אלה הדברים לבד הם דברים אשר דבר משה דברי עצמו אבל כל הקודם בד’ חומשים לא אמר אפילו אות אחת מעצמו אלא הדברים שיצאו מפי המצוה כצורתן בלא שום שנוי אפילו אות אחת יתרה או חסרה רמב”ם הקדמה למשניות: משה repeated the prophecy to אהרון then אלעזר & איתמר then the seventy elders then the whole nation.  אהרון taught the last three groups in turn, אלעזר the last two: וחוזרים הזקנים גם הם אחר כן להורות המצוה להמון פעם אחת; נמצא וכל הקהל שומעים המצוה ההיא ארבעה פעמים ... ואחר כן היו כל העם הולכים ללמד איש לאחיו ... וכותבים המצווה ההיא במגלות וישטטו השרים על כל ישראל ללמוד ולהגות עד שידעו בגרסא המצוה ההיא וירגילו לקרותה ואח”כ ילמדו פירושי המצוה ההיא הנתונה מאת השם... והיו כותבים המצוה ולומדים על פי קבלה ... ויהי בארבעים שנה... הקהיל את העם ואמר להם הגיע זמן מותי ואם יש בכם מי ששמע הלכה ושבחה יבא וישאלני  ... וכשהיה לפני מותו ... כתב יג ספרי תורה ... ונתן ספר לכל שבט ושבט ... והספר היג נתנו ללוים… ולא נפלו בו מחלוקת (עיין כל הקטע הראשון ד”ה ודע) Great care was taken to be as exact as possible with respect to every detail of the מסורה: ענין הדייקנות הזאת הוא שלא יחול שום שינוי וחילוף במסירות התורה שבעל פה מדור לדור.  וכן אמרו “חייב אדם לומר בלשון רבו” (עדיות פ”א מ”ג, ועיין ביאור הגר”א שם למה דייק הלל לומר “מלא הין מים שאובים כו’”)…

[9] The first   מחלקת went on for four generations, and then הלל and שמאי had four מחלקות. After הלל and שמאי there were lots, because of the dropping of the Torah’s standards.

[10] What about when you have a פסוק in the Torah and you have different interpretations. If it’s not להלכה, the מכתב מאליהו explains that they are never actually arguing to say one to the other that this is wrong. They are providing different perspectives of the פסוק and in אגדתא there is no מחלקת. It is just a question of ע’ פנים לתורה, and you understand from looking on top, the broader circle. If you take a hand, and you see one side and I see the other, there is a way that if you go deep enough, you can combine both sides.

[11] Based on the principles we gave in the background, we have avoided a head on approach to the answer. However, should such an approach be necessary, we bring the following argument, based on that given by Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb:

Despite the pluralistic approach within Judaism, not everything can be called Judaism. Christianity may claim to be the successor to Judaism but it is not Judaism. Nor is Karaism, or the religion of the Essenes, the Bethoesim or the Kutim, despite the fact that all these people were Jewish and originally formulated their religion based on Judaism. If the Torah is to have any meaning as a code for all generations, there has to be a set of principles, of interpretations, a set of fundamentals and rules within which any authentic expression of Judaism must remain.

    A group of Frenchmen cannot move to the island of St. Helena and proclaim their country America, claiming that they are the true Americans because they more accurately reflect American culture and more than the Americans themselves, even if this is true. Even a group of Americans cannot do this. The most they can do is declare themselves a new sovereign entity and claim that they are the true successors to the original Americans. The Jewish religion has had a recognized definition of who is a Jew and a recognized community for over three thousand years. Anyone is welcome to make up any post-Judaic religion or nation with whatever rules they please, just as anyone can make up new rules for chess. But they cannot call the religion Judaism any more than the new game will be called chess. If someone converts according to Reform criteria, it is not a Reform conversion to Judaism, it’s a conversion to Reform. There are no Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist Jews, there are only Jews (though some of them may be practicing different religions). So too there can be no Judaism called Reform Judaism though there can be a new religion called Reform.

Posted in: Jewish Beliefs & Philosophy