Letters II Feb. 2006
We Never Lost It
Reader: Hello, I have a question concerning original Hebrew texts. Were many of the Old Testament writings destroyed and were re- written at a later time? If so, then how authentic, in context, were the revised writings? I came across some information (Islamic) on the web called Muhammed.net and wanted to verify the validity of the information presented. Under introductory articles there is a link on the side bar “Muhamed in the Bible.” There the information can be read. I was curious and I am not a Hebrew scholar so I came to you. Thank you for your reply.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: For two reasons, there is no question as to the validity of our current-day Hebrew Bibles (Torahs): 1) there was never a time when there were no Torahs, so there was never a loss of what Moses gave us; 2) each Torah was copied from another by law (Tal. Megilla, chap. II; Maimonides’ Laws of Tefillin 1:12).
Thus, today we possess the identical Torah (Bible) that Moses gave the first generation of Jews at Sinai, since there was; 1) never a breach in transmission, and 2) each reproduced Torah was written by copying another Torah, letter-for-letter.
Reader: I am considering posting a response to an article regarding a Rabbi’s visit to a gravesite of the Ari. It is pretty simple and I do not think offensive…but I just wanted a second opinion as to whether it could contain anything offensive or incorrect. You can view the article here: http://www.aish.com/spirituality/odysseys/Peering_Through_the_Rainbow.asp
EXCERPT: “Not often do we find beings of flesh and bone who understood the languages of animals, conversed with (and even heard) angels, comprehended the most unfathomed secrets of the formation of the Universe and could accurately trace where many souls were reincarnated from. Heavy descriptions, to say the least. Now, frankly, I’m not one of those who easily connects with the dead -- no matter how saintly they may have been. I’m a “people person” as in the alive kind. Give me someone who is vertical. Let me see his essence. Let me hear his wisdom and compassion. Let me touch his soul. That’s when I feel. But standing alone, at this hallowed station, I closed my eyes and imagined that I could actually speak to this guardian spirit of yesteryear. Perhaps he could somehow beseech the Above in ways that we mortals are lacking.”
And my response would be: “I wonder what it would be like if we knew the location of the burial site of Moshe Our Teacher; May He Rest in Peace. As a Noachide, the rainbow reminds me to appreciate how Hashem has blessed me... my family. Hashem, Who is in control regardless of our perception. Who hears me wherever I am. Who is fully capable and more than deserving to receive our focus. Baruch Hashem... may Moshiach arrive soon!”
I am pretty confident that there is nothing offensive or in error with this post…but I thought I’d get your advice. My intent is that a reader should recognize the faulty thinking of praying at gravesites and trying to connect with the dead (may they rest in peace) or to G-d through the dead…which then brings one’s focus more to the dead, than to Hashem, even though they think they are focusing on G-d. I do not want to do it in an offensive manor or in a way that has a negative effect on someone. Maybe I shouldn’t post anything at all?
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: James, all is well, thank you. I agree fully with your “intent” as you wrote it, so why not write that “intent”...in place of what you said you wish to submit? Say your words quite clearly: Moses’ grave was hidden for the very reason that God should retain our focus, not man, not even Moses. We should not err that while graveside, God will hear us any better. The Torah denies this in this week’s Parsha Yisro (Exod. 20:21), “In every place that you mention My name, I will come to you and bless you.” Thus, God hears us equally well from any location. Certainly, connecting with this dead person as this Rabbi desired, seeking that the deceased Ari plead our case before God, is a severe Torah violation found in Deuteronomy 18:10-12:
“There shall not be found among you someone passing his son or daughter through fire, or an enchanter, astrologer, one who reads omens, a sorcerer. An animal charmer, one who inquires of Ove or Yedoni, or one who consults the dead. For it is an abomination to God, anyone who does these things, and on account of these abominations, God your God, will drive you out from before Him.”
You must not compromise on God’s words, fearing they might be too harsh for man. Write your letter with firmness, as you have God’s words on your side. God Himself did not withhold this criticism of consulting with the dead, and God referred to such idolatrous practices as “abominations”, for which God punishes us severely, “driving us out from before Him”.
This Rabbi’s article is a crime for many reasons: 1) Rabbis should be teaching Torah, not idolatry; 2) a popular Torah website endorsed this Rabbi’s imaginations; and 3) Jews learn to follow idolatry since it is peddled in emotionally pleasing stories claiming Divine Providence, when in fact, God despises such writings and values, calling them “abominations”.
As regards the claim this Rabbi made that the Ari “understood animal language”…here too this Rabbi followed his imagination, and not reality. And if one might ask, “Didn’t King Solomon talk to the animals?”, our response is, as is always, “What did the Torah say?”
If we review the Torah in connection with this claim regarding King Solomon, it states, “and he spoke ‘on’ the animals and ‘on’ the birds, and ‘on’ the creeping things and ‘on’ the fish”. (Kings I, 5:13) This does not mean King Solomon conversed “with” animals, but that he spoke “about” or “on” the animals. King Solomon spoke about their greatness and their benefits to man; why the animal species is Kosher via two signs, whereas birds are Kosher with just one. (ibid, Rashi, Radak) This verse intends to display the great wisdom God granted this king.
Ignorance causes one to read this verse as man having dialogue with animals, where God said otherwise. Had animals the faculty of speech, this means that they too possess intellect, as speech is impossible without intellect. And this denies God’s words in Genesis when He granted man alone the intellect, the Tzelem Elokim. (Gen. 1:27) Furthermore, as King Solomon – and not the Ari – was granted special intelligence by God, which surpassed all others, (Kings I, 5:9-11) and yet he did understand animals as possessing language, certainly the Ari and others could not make such a claim. But again, this is all predicated on the error that animals might possess speech, which is impossible.
It is quite a shame that our Torah teachers are oblivious to that, over which they claim mastery, causing ignorant Jews to submit to idolatry, and deny God’s clearly written words.
James, I encourage you to continue defending truth, and that others should follow your lead. “Lo tagure memenu”, “Do not fear him”(Deut. 18:22) is stated regarding a false prophet: if proven false, you shall not fear him. Certainly we must not fear everyday men who prove themselves false with such foolish desires of consulting the dead, and man understanding “languages” of animals: things that cannot speak.
Shalom. I very much love your website. Today I downloaded your current newsletter, which speaks of the 100 daily blessings on the front page. On page 7 there is a response to a woman asking for an explanation of the differences of transmission between the Talmud and the Zohar. The response says that the difference is that the Talmud is not disputed and there is a known link; the names of heads of the Sanhedrin going all the way back to mosses who had the oral transmission...as opposed to the Zohar which is both disputed concerning who wrote or compiled it, or completely rejected, and no known link of named rabbis going back to Moses is known. I liked your answer, although one could claim that there are Jews who reject(ed) the Talmud and Mishneh, and the Oral Law before it was compiled...and that there are people who disagree with who is in the list of rabbis which Rambam listed...which could be said to cast doubt on the reliability of the chain -- though I personally don’t believe this casts doubt...because all opinions who accept the chain of rabbis going back to Moses agree that all of these people received the mesora.
THE MAIN THING I WANTED TO POINT OUT, however, is: Rambam does not consider the Talmud itself to be Oral Law…but rather that it contains the Oral Law and the dispute between the rabbis over how the law is learned or implied in/from the Torah, etc. Oral Law is learned from the Talmud, but not everything in the Talmud is Oral Law. Not everything in the Talmud was passed down orally from Moses to Rebenu haQadosh.
If I remember correctly, there is a place In Moreh haNevukheem Rambam states blatantly that the sages were flat out wrong on certain medical advice which they recorded in the Talmud…and he did not equate their medical advice with halakhah or Oral Law. Also, if one learns Hilkhot Sanhedrin or Hilkhot Mamreem, we learn that the Sanhedrin makes taqanot, gezerot, and authorizes certain minhagim as officially binding on Israel. If all of the Oral Law were passed down from Moses unchanged, then this nullifies the very meaning and existence of taqanot, etc. And none of these decrees from the Sanhedrin would ever be able to be nullified on any condition. But halakhah states that on certain conditions certain types of rulings can be nullified. The restrictions of a ba’al qeree from praying or learning Torah are just one example of a nullified decree. No telling how many have been nullified in the past, which were not recorded for whatever reason. Additionally, in his introduction to the Mishneh and in the Mishneh Torah, Rambam specifically states that included in taqanot, gezerot, and official minhagim are things which the Sanhedrin did NOT learn out of the Torah using the 13 principles of interpretation.
Rambam is not alone in this understanding. Shmuel haNagid says that the agadot in the Talmud contain teachings or understandings of things according to the opinion of individual rabbis which they originated from their own minds - not from an oral tradition going back to Moses.
When Rambam and others say that the men of the Sanhedrin passed down Oral Law, he did not mean to imply that they all knew the entire Talmud by heart/memory... as many orthodox Jews seem to assume. This was, in fact, so hard for me to believe that it was a major reason why I did not accept Oral Law, until I learned ON MY OWN that this is not what the sages of the Talmud claimed to have done, nor what the Rishonim teach. Unfortunately no rabbi or any other living Jew who I met in person every explained this to me. I believe that this is one of the major reasons for many people rejecting the Talmud - they are given a misunderstanding what it is from people who do “accept” it but don’t know what it is themselves.
Also, Rambam writes in the Mishneh Torah that the ORAL LAW WAS WRITTEN DOWN before the compilation of the Sanhedrin. The difference is that it was never officially written for the public to learn from in a organized form. Before the Mishna was written the members of the Sanhedrin would take notes on the teachings and rulings they heard, learned, or gave. When compiling the Mishneh, Rabenu haQadosh compiled this notes from many yeshivot and rabbis and used them in the compiling of the Mishna. It is not as though he sat down and just wrote it all down from memory. When people know this it makes the Talmudic tradition much more believable, and in my opinion, even more so reliable than the Zohar. Rambam states in Moreh haNevukhim that the meanings/teachings of Ma’aseh Merkuva and Ma’aseh Bresheet [authentic “mysticism”] were NEVER written down at all -- and they weren’t allowed to be according to the halakhot concerning them, unlike normal halakhic Oral Law. In Rambam’s introduction to the Mishna he writes that there are only 30 ACTUAL Oral Laws which are real literal halakhah l’Moshe m’Sinai.
I am not disagreeing with the point of the article. I simply think that there are much stronger evidences of distinction between the reliability of Talmudic Oral Law and the reliability of modern day “Kaballa” that could be given. I also do not know whether you already know these things and have some logical reason for why you did not use this evidence. If so, I am curious to know why, b/c for me it would make a big difference.
Your website is much appreciated.
All the best,