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There’s no such thing as “Rabbinic Judaism”.

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The term Rabbinic Judaism is often used by critics of modern day Judaism to somehow show that the Jewish faith which is practiced around the world today is different or unauthentic from the Jewish faith which was practiced during the time of Moses until the destruction of the second Holy Temple [Beit Hamikdash]. Their argument is that after the destruction of the Temple and sacrifice was no longer possible, the Sanhedrin [70 elders] re-interpreted the Jewish scriptures to fit the “new way” of practicing Judaism without the ability to perform the supposedly critical animal sacrifices which were performed during temple times. These same people argue that the Talmud and the Mishna [the oral traditions] have superseded the written word of God in Judaism and that the original doctrines of the Jewish faith have been replaced with man-made rituals and laws that are not scripturally based. If one reads the very words of the Torah [5 Books of Moses] itself, one will see that nothing could be further from the truth. First, the concept of the Sanhedrin and their authority is found openly and clearly written in the first 5 books of Moses. In fact, the Sanhedrin was formed by Moses himself at the behest of his father-in law Jethro who recognized Moses’ inability to be the arbiter of every Halachic [scriptural] dispute and interpreter for all Jewish legalistic cases. Moses recognized that in order for the Jewish faith to survive throughout the ages, he would be required to teach the entire body of written law and more importantly the proper way to interpret the law to others once he was no longer able to do so. At the urging of Jethro, Moses trained 70 elders of Israel with the knowledge of how to apply Jewish teaching to every possible situation of that time as well how to interpret and apply scripture to future times when Moses would no longer be with the Jewish nation. Before we address the “how” [can we apply Jewish teaching to things that were not invented yet], let us first look at the creation and authority of the Sanhedrin in the Jewish scriptures. Exodus 18 - The next day Moses again took his seat to serve as Judge [Head Rabbi] for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law [Jethro] saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing? Why do you alone sit as Judge [Head Rabbi], while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too much for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees [written word] and instructions [oral word], and show them [display how] the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as leaders over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as Head Rabbis and judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves. Numbers 11:16 - The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders [Sanhedrin] who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting that they may assemble there with you [Sanhedrin means assembly in Greek]. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone. We see from the very passages of scriptures themselves a couple of very important things. First, the appointment of elders as Rabbi’s and judges to interpret and apply the scriptures of Israel has been around since the very formation of the Jewish nation itself. The Sanhedrin was not a new concept invented during Temple times as critics of Judaism incorrectly believe. These sages were appointed by Moses and by God to speak to the Jewish people both for and on behalf of Moses and God [over 1000 years before the building of the second temple] shortly after the Exodus from Egypt. These sages were the arbiters of Halachic law disputes and were granted the authority to do so. No system of faith can survive when only one person maintains the complete body of knowledge and then refuses to share all of the information with his/her followers. In order for a faith to survive, all of its doctrines must be revealed from the very beginning or else you have mass fragmentation where various groups splinter off redefining and adding to the core teachings such as the case with protestant Christianity which currently has 30,000 different denominations all claiming to be the one “true” denomination. The second important thing we see from these passages is that there was an oral explanation of how to follow and interpret the law. Look at the passage again - Teach them his decrees [written word] and instructions [oral word], and show them [display how] the way they are to live and how they are to behave. If the written word was all there was, why would it have been necessary for Moses to teach them anything? Have Moses drop the written book on their laps and tell them to have a nice day! What else did he need to “instruct” them on and “show them” that was not already contained in Moses’ original 5 books? It is blatantly obvious from here that an oral set of instructions accompanied the written words of Moses as testified by the very scriptures themselves. Can a person learn to fly an airplane from reading a pilot’s manual? Can a person learn to drive a car from the manufacturers operating instructions? Of course not. The written manuals are supplemented by the instructor who teaches the student how to apply the knowledge in the manual for different situations. Apply the brake here, parallel park here, put on your hazard lights there… the manual just tells you about the brakes and lights but the instructor shows you how and when to use them. The oral Torah [Mishnah and Talmud] doesn’t ever replace the written word, it augments the written word and makes the context more meaningful and applicable in daily life. In order for Moses’ teachings to have meaning, the Sanhedrin were required to explain what the words meant to the Jewish people in a living chain of transmission that would enrich the words of Moses, never contradict it. Here is one example: The Fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments state: Exodus 20:8 – Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day [Saturday] is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. Now the obvious question should be… “What constitutes work”? Am I allowed to paint? Am I allowed to build? If I love my job and it’s not really “work” for me, can I still do it on the Sabbath? Consider the foolishness of those who argue “Sola Scriptura” or scripture alone. The scriptures themselves say absolutely nothing on this topic of working on the Sabbath. In the Bible, Sabbath violators were given the death penalty, yet the scriptures don’t even tell us what constitutes a violation of work the Sabbath. Is that logical? Does that make sense to anyone? The obvious and only answer is that Moses explained what the definition of “work” was to the Jewish people at the time he gave the law. In order for the people not do desecrate the Sabbath and incur the punishment of death, they needed to be told and shown both orally and physically what a violation actually was. The oral law of Moses did not contradict the written word, it explained what the written word meant. Now, it would have been impossible for Moses to think of every future situation [there were no airplanes, cars or computers] at the time the law was given so more importantly than the basic laws, the concepts of the law were given to the Sanhedrin so that they could apply the meaning of “work” to all future situations and generations. A Torah, or body of law that doesn’t apply to the future is clearly not divine since a God that can’t or doesn’t know the future isn’t really a God at all. So the question remains, what constitutes work on the Sabbath if the scripture doesn’t explicitly tell me? Well, the answer according to Moses and explained to the Sanhedrin is the act of “creation”. To the Jewish people, working on the Sabbath means “creating something that did not exist before” just as God ceased from acts of creation on the Sabbath so do we. In essence, I can move a couch from the basement of my apartment building up 30 flights of stairs in the hot summer sun while I’m sweating bullets, but that’s not technically considered “work”. However, I am not allowed to turn on a light switch because that is considered work. Now you must be thinking that’s absolutely crazy, but here’s the answer… The movement of a couch is not creating something new, it is merely moving something that already exists from one location to another. While difficult and strenuous, I’m not “working” as defined by Moses in the Oral law because I am not actually creating anything. The light however did not exist before I turned on the switch. The act of turning on the switch enables me to be “Godlike” in that I am creating something new which didn’t exist before. Just as God completed all of his creation on the seventh day and reflected on its perfection and completion, we too are commanded to cease from “work” by accepting all of creation as is, and not adding or detracting from it. We don’t create or destroy anything on the Sabbath. Moving a couch up a flight of stairs is not considered a work violation according to the oral teachings of Moses [Most Rabbis would agree that this work, while not an actual violation of the letter of the law, would in any case violate the spirit of the law and would refrain from strenuous labor on the Sabbath anyway since it is not in keeping with Sabbath holiness however this would not have been a “capital offense”]. If each person who reads the scriptures is allowed to define their own concept and idea of work [which is the case with those who believe in scripture alone], then how could Moses have subjected the entire nation of Israel to the death penalty for breaking Sabbath law since what you may consider work I consider fun. You may hate painting a house but it’s relaxing to me. You may hate driving a car but I find it peaceful. With no standard, how can we define what “work” actually means. That is why one of the only Sabbath violations mentioned in scripture is the kindling of fire [Exodus 35:3]. Not because the act of kindling was a difficult process but because the kindling of a fire is creating something which did not exist before. This is why Orthodox Jews do not drive cars on the Sabbath since turning on the ignition creates a spark which causes combustion in the engine. In essence, a controlled explosion [fire] which is used to transfer energy to the drivetrain which moves the car. Since the engine is at rest before the Sabbath, the act of turning on the ignition creates a new energy force which is a violation of the Sabbath laws written 3,500 years ago yet still applicable in 2015. There were no cars back then but the concept of how to apply the laws of the Sabbath are universal in nature and the instruction was given to the Sanhedrin by Moses himself. In addition, there are other concepts called “Kal V’Chomer” [a fortiori argument, all the more so] which is an extrapolation from a minor premise to a major one [and vice versa].This was one of the ways that Moses instructed the Sanhedrin on how to interpret the Jewish scriptural laws and there are many examples. These concepts are “logical” in nature and can easily be shown to be true using the process of logical deduction. Here is one example of how the Sanhedrin interpreted the Torah laws based on their authority using a Kal V’Chomer argument. Using the example of kindling a fire as we stated above: Exodus 35:3 – “Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day”. This prohibition even applies to the cooking of food. Obviously since eating food is critical in nature and we are not allowed to violate the Sabbath for something critical, “Kal V’Chomer” using logical reasoning, we can’t violate the Sabbath for something meaningless. Basically, if I can’t light a fire to eat food which is important then I obviously can’t light a fire in order to play a stupid game or to use the fire for something that is less critical than eating. The Talmud and Mishna are chock full of these practical applications which do not violate the written words of Moses but only help to explain it. As we can see, Judaism has not been re-written from the “Rabbis” but Torah laws have been applied to all situations using the same concepts which Moses taught to the Sanhedrin who then taught them to the Children of Israel. Before the destruction of the Second Temple, the Sanhedrin were able to sit as leaders and rule the people as Moses expected them to. However, with the seat of authority destroyed by the Romans and the nation of Israel in Exile, how would the Sanhedrin be able to preserve the long chain of transmission that had been present since the time of Moses? The answer was to create a compendium of knowledge called the Mishnah which would summarize the legal rulings from the time of Moses until the Temple times in a “debate” format so that future generations could see the logic and discussion which was used to come to the conclusions they had made. If the Rabbis had merely put a summary of their rulings without the ongoing discussions in the Mishnah, future generations may one day come to dispute the authority or validity of their teachings by not understanding how they came to those decisions. The concept of placing the entire debate and discussion in written form, allows the educated reader to understand how the Sanhedrin came to the conclusions they did with respect to following Torah law. In fact, this back and forth “arguing” is the basis of Torah study and is used to enable students to understand God’s word using the very same logic which He imbued in his creations. This is one reason why lawyers are so prevalent in the Jewish community because understanding the concepts of God’s word are built into the very fabric of the Jewish religion and not just following on “blind faith”. Judaism believes that “faith” must follow “knowledge” not the other way around. Once a person has integrated and incorporated the fundamental knowledge and understanding of God’s word, the “faith” part naturally follows and is only strengthened by the foundational information he has learned. If however, someone has a tremendous amount of “faith” but lacks the basic knowledge and understanding of scriptures to support that faith, their belief in God and his word are easily shaken and moved by events which appear to contradict his limited knowledge of scriptures. The last point that I want to make is that Judaism has always had periods where animal sacrifices were not performed and yet atonement was still granted, this concept was not an invention of the second temple Rabbis but of King’s David and Solomon themselves. How so? Let us look at the Holy Temples and understand that there were two, not one which existed. The first Temple [Solomon’s Temple] stood from the year 832 BCE until it was destroyed in 422 BCE. That’s 410 years long and over 400 years before the birth of Jesus. So what did the Jews do in 422 BCE when the first Temple was destroyed and there were no animal sacrifices? They prayed, the same way we do today. Animal sacrifices were suspended for a long period of time [and ultimately reinstated] yet the scriptures themselves state that the Jewish nation was forgiven in the eyes of God because they had repented without sacrifice. Solomon writes as recorded in the Book of Kings: 1 Kings 8:30 – 8:52 And You shall listen to the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel that they will pray toward this place; and You shall hear in heaven, Your abode, and You shall hear and forgive…When Your people Israel are struck down before the enemy, because they sin against You, and shall turn again to You, and praise Your name, and pray and make supplication to You in this house. And You shall hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You gave to their fathers. When heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against You; and they shall pray toward this place and praise Your name, and repent of their sin, so that You may answer them. And You shall hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your servants, and of Your people Israel, when You teach them the good way wherein they should walk; and give rain upon Your land, which You have given to Your people for an inheritance. Any prayer, any supplication, which will be (made) by any man, (or) by all Your people Israel, who shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house. And You shall hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart You know, for You, alone, know the hearts of all the children of men. If they sin against You, for (there is) no man who does not sin, and You will be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, and their captors will carry them away captive to the land of the enemy, far or near. And they shall bethink themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of their captors, saying, 'We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness.' And they shall return to You with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, who led them away captive, and pray to You toward their land, which You gave to their fathers, the city that You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your Name. And you shall hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven, Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause. And forgive Your people what they have sinned against You, and all their transgressions that they have transgressed against You, and give mercy before their captors, that they may have mercy on them. For they are Your people, and Your inheritance, whom You have taken out of Egypt, from within the smelting furnace of iron. That Your eyes may be open to the supplication of Your servant, and to the supplication of your people Israel, to hearken to them whenever they call to You. The concept of prayer and repentance without sacrifice was around since the beginning of the faith. King Solomon himself knew that his temple would not stand forever [he was a prophet] yet he recognized that sincere prayer and a penitent heart were eternal means of forgiveness. The Sanhedrin did not reinterpret or reinvent Judaism to remove animal sacrifices, these sacrifices were always only one part of the process of forgiveness. Both the Book of Jonah and the Book of Esther tell the story when Jewish and non-Jewish communities alike fasted and prayed to Heaven and received atonement without animal or blood sacrifice and were completely forgiven by God. These are not my words, the Jewish scriptures themselves testify to this. It is only because of the Christian obstinacy to reconcile Jesus’ suffering with a supposed compulsory Jewish blood sacrifice for atonement which never existed which causes the disharmony between the Torah and the Christian understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Judaism which exists today which Christianity claims has replaced animal sacrifices with prayer did not come from the Sanhedrin or later second temple Sages, but from the earliest prophets who had direct communication with the God of Israel. Isaiah 1:16 - Wash, cleanse yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes, cease to do evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, strengthen the robbed, perform justice for the orphan, and plead the case of the widow. Come now, let us debate, says the Lord. If your sins prove to be like crimson, they will become white as snow; if they prove to be as red as crimson dye, they shall become as white wool. [Isaiah did not say to slaughter an animal, he only said to pray] Hosea 14:2 “Take words [prayer] with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the bulls [sacrifices] of our lips”. Psalms 51:16 & 17 “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”. Hosea 6:6 “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings”. Once again, no sacrifice needed or wanted. God just wants our acknowledgement. Jonah 2:1 & 9 “In my distress I called [in prayer] to the Lord, and he answered me. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord”. Psalms 50:14 “Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me [prayer] in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me”. Psalms 40:6 “You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings. Now that you have made me listen, I understand you do not require burnt offerings or sin offerings.” 1 Samuel 15:22 “But Samuel replied: "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams”. The removal of sacrifice from Judaism is not a new concept which was added after the destruction of the second temple by “Rabbinic Judaism”, but has always been a part of the fabric of the Jewish faith from the very beginning as evidenced by the words of the early prophets who lived centuries before the second temple. Just as animal sacrifices were suspended in the first Temple, they were suspended in the second Temple as well and remain so until the rebuilding of the third and final temple. May it be rebuilt speedily in our days. Amen.