3. The Oral Tradition
In the first chapter, Christian authorities were quoted as stating that the New Testament was based on hearsay and conflicting traditions, and was composed, canonized, and made public long after the events depicted therein allegedly occurred.
In direct contrast, the Torah was written and transmitted to the entire Jewish nation by Moses himself:
And Moses wrote this Law, and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the Ark of the Covenant of the L-rd, and to all the elders of Israel.
The Jewish nation that stood at Mount Sinai dedicated itself to the study of the Torah, as have its descendants throughout the generations, in fulfillment of the following directive:
And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.
Moses furthermore instructed that the Torah be read before the entire nation every seven years:
And Moses commanded them, saying: "At the end of every seven years, during the time of the year of release, during the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel is come to appear before the L-rd, your G-d, in the place He shall choose, you shall read this Law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, the men and the women and the little ones, and your stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the L-rd, your G-d, and observe to do all the words of this Law...."
One thousand years later, this practice was still in effect:
Nehemiah 8:1, 3, 8
All the people gathered themselves together as one man into the broad place that was before the water gate; and they told Ezra the Scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the L-rd had commanded to Israel....And he read therein, before the broad place that was before the water gate, from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law....And they read in the Book, in the Law of G-d, distinctly; and they gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
The learned men who were assisting Ezra the Scribe helped the common people understand what was being read by expounding the Oral Tradition. In the Talmud (Erubin 54b), we learn exactly how these oral explanations were transmitted:
Moses learned it from the mouth of G-d, then Aaron [the High Priest] entered and Moses taught him the chapter. When Aaron had finished, he left the seat of study, taking a seat to the left of Moses, and Aaron's sons entered. Moses then taught them the chapter. When they finished...Elazar took a seat to the left of Moses, and Ithamar seated himself on Aaron's right. Rabbi Judah says: "Aaron was always to the right of Moses." The elders then entered and Moses taught them the same chapter. When the elders were finished...the people entered and Moses taught them the chapter. Thus, Aaron studied the chapter four times, his sons three times, the elders twice, and the people once. Moses then departed and Aaron studied the same chapter with them all. When Aaron finished, he departed and his sons studied the chapter with [the people]. After the sons finished, they departed and the elders studied the chapter with the people. Thus, everyone reviewed the chapter four times.
Josephus also clearly states that the Oral Tradition had been well known since ancient times, and accepted by everyone but the Sadducees, a small group motivated by materialism:
The Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the Law of Moses; and for that reason the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers; and concerning these things great disputes and differences have arisen among them, while the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obedient to them, but the Pharisees have the multitude on their sideAntiquities book 8, chapter 10, section 6.
For an insight into the nature of these two factions, we again quote Josephus:
...the Pharisees are those who are esteemed most skillful in the exact application of their laws, and introduce the first sect. These ascribe all to fate (or providence), and to G-d, and yet allow that to [do] what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate does cooperate in every action. They say that all souls are incorruptible; but the souls of good men are only removed into other bodies, [while] the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment. But the Sadducees are those that compose the second order, and take away fate entirely, and suppose that G-d is not concerned [with] our doing or not doing what is evil; and they say that to [do] what is good, or what is evil, is...men's own choice, and that the one or the other belongs so to everyone, that they may act as they please. They also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades [the World to Come]. Moreover, the Pharisees are friendly to one another, and are for the exercise of concord and regard for the public. But the behavior of the Sadducees towards another is in some degrees wild; and their conversation with those that are of their own party is as barbarous as if they were strangers to themWars book 2, chapter 8, section 14.
An oral explanation had to accompany the Written Torah. Otherwise, much of it would be incomprehensible. For example:
See that the L-rd has given you the Sabbath;...let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.
What is the meaning of the term "place"? The Oral Tradition stipulates that a Jew is forbidden to walk more than 0.7 miles beyond his city's perimeter.
Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the L-rd; whoever does work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.
What constitutes work? The Oral Tradition explains that those activities involved in building the portable Tabernacle in the wilderness are prohibited on the Sabbath.
And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
Without the Oral Tradition, one would never know that this verse is speaking of the tefillin worn by Jewish men during morning prayer. These black, leather boxes contain verses from the Hebrew Bible and are strapped to one's arm and forehead.
And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house, and upon your gates.
This refers to mezuzoth, parchments inscribed with Biblical verses, which are placed in small containers and affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes.
In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation: you shall do no servile work-it shall be a day of blowing for you.
This description of Rosh Hashanah does not specify what exactly is to be blown on the Jewish New Year, but the Oral Tradition does: a shofar (ram's horn).
On the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation and afflict yourselves; you shall do no work....
Only the Oral Tradition teaches us that "afflicting yourselves" on Yom Kippur means abstaining from all food and drink.
If the place where the L-rd, your G-d, shall choose to put His Name be too far from you, then you shall slaughter of your herd and of your flock, which the L-rd has given you, as I have commanded you....
The method of ritual slaughter is not found anywhere in the Written Torah, but it is part of the Oral Tradition.
If no oral explanation had been taught to the nation from the outset, the uniform observance of the Torah's commandments would have been impossible!
To enhance Moses' comprehension and memory of the Oral Tradition, its intricate details were shown to him in visions:
And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, the pattern of the Tabernacle, and the pattern of all its vessels, so shall you make it.
And this was the work of the candlestick: it was of beaten gold; from its base to its flowers it was beaten work, according to the pattern that the L-rd had shown Moses, so he made the candelabra.
The other books of the Hebrew Bible were also recorded and transmitted to the populace by their authors or other contemporary authorities:
Moses wrote his book, the portion of Balaam [Numbers 22--24], and Job. Joshua wrote his book and the last eight verses of the Torah. Samuel wrote his book, Judges, and Ruth. David wrote Psalms, with the assistance of ten elders, viz: Adam the First, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, Heiman, Jeduthun, Asaph, and the three sons of Korah. Jeremiah wrote his book, Kings, and Lamentations. King Hezekiah and his followers wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. The men of the Great Assembly wrote Ezekiel, the Twelve Prophets, Daniel, and Esther. Ezra wrote his book and Chronicles-the order of all the generations down to himselfTalmud Baba Bathra 14b.
...because everyone is not permitted of his own accord to be a writer, nor is there any disagreement in what is written; they being only prophets that have written the original and earliest accounts of things as they learned them of G-d Himself by inspiration; and others have written what has happened in their own times, and that in a very distinct manner also. For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing [with] and contradicting one another (as the Greeks have), but only twenty--two books (of the Bible), which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be Divine; and of them, five belong to Moses, which contain his laws, and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to G-d, and precepts for the conduct of human lifeAgainst Apion book 1, section 7-8.
From the Hebrew Bible itself, one can learn how its books were written and transmitted to the people:
Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah; and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the L-rd, which he had spoken to him, upon a scroll. And Jeremiah commanded Baruch, saying: "I am detained, I cannot enter the House of the L-rd; therefore go and read in the scroll, which you have written from my mouth, the words of the L-rd in the ears of the people in the L-rd's House on a fast day; also read them in the ears of all those of Judah who come out of their cities. Perhaps they will present their supplication before the L-rd and everyone will repent of his evil way; for great is the anger and fury that the L-rd has pronounced against this people." And Baruch the son of Neriah did according to all that Jeremiah the prophet commanded him, reading in the book the words of the L-rd in the L-rd's House.
Clearly, the Oral Tradition must be afforded the utmost seriousness, for its explanations of Biblical verses were given to Moses by G-d and have been studied and cherished for generations. In contrast, during the glorious prophetic era (which lasted one thousand years), while the Jewish people pondered the profound Divine messages conveyed by its prophets, Christians were non--existent and most Gentiles were illiterate pagans! The Hebrew Bible, with its revolutionary moral standards, only became known to the world at large in 246 B.C.E. (see p. 23).
Nevertheless, the founding fathers of Christianity had to insist that their interpretations of the Hebrew Bible were as valid as the Jews'. But the basis of these claims is itself founded on misinterpretations:
And when they brought out the money that was brought into the House of the L-rd, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the L-rd by the hand of Moses.
This sensational discovery unearthed the Torah scroll Moses himself had written ("the Book of the Law"):
And it came to pass, when Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book...that Moses commanded the Levites...saying, "Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the Ark of the Covenant of the L-rd, your G-d, that it may be there for you as a witness."
This scroll had been hidden from King Ahaz, who had destroyed the holy artifacts one hundred years earlier:
II Chronicles 28:24
And Ahaz gathered together the vessels of the House of G-d, and cut in pieces the vessels of the House of G-d....
However, when this scroll was unrolled before King Josiah, he rent his clothes (II Chronicles 34:19) for it fell open to the section containing all the curses destined to befall those Jews who disregard the Torah (Deuteronomy 27--28).
Huldah the prophetess confirmed Josiah's conviction that this was no mere coincidence but an omen from G-d:
II Chronicles 34:24--25
Thus says the L-rd: "Behold, I will bring evil upon this place and upon its inhabitants, even all the curses that are written in the book they have read before the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken Me and offered to other gods...."
Hoping to move the populace to repent, Josiah read to them this section of the Torah that lists the curses:
II Chronicles 34:30
...and he read in their ears all the words of the Book of the Covenant that was found in the House of the L-rd.
Although the entire Torah is a covenant between G-d and the Jews, this section is called "the Covenant" because they accepted each curse upon themselves as a punishment for violating the Torah. The statement that concludes this section affirms their uniqueness 109:
These are the words of the covenant that the L-rd commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant He made with them in Horeb [Sinai].
It should be noted that of all the Torah's commands, the only one some of Josiah's subjects were accused of violating was idolatry:
II Chronicles 34:21
...for great is the wrath of the L-rd that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the L-rd, to do according to all that is written in this book.
Missionaries claim that the Written Torah (and consequently, the Oral Tradition) was lost and forgotten until it was found by Hilkiah. The Jews allegedly, then interpreted it anew, each to his own understanding. Missionaries, therefore, assert that Christian interpretations are as valid as those of the Jews.
Obviously, however, during the seven hundred years between Moses and Josiah, the Jews had innumerable copies of the Torah. As shown, it was their most treasured possession. The Torah is also referred to throughout the Hebrew Bible. For instance, in the same book chronicling the discovery of this scroll, Deuteronomy 24:16 is quoted verbatim with regard to Amaziah:
II Chronicles 25:3--4
Now it came to pass when the kingdom was established unto [Amaziah] that he killed his servants who had slain the king, his father. But he did not put their children to death; rather, he did according to that which is written in the Law in the Book of Moses, as the L-rd commanded, saying: "Fathers shall not die for children, nor shall children die for fathers; but a man shall die for his sin."