The Oral Law.
I’m scared to write about this. Scared because of my own ignorance and doubts. Scared to say something wrong. Scared I don’t know enough or what I think I know is limited by my lack of learning. Scared that my skepticism will dint my reputation as a Jew or Judaism itself. My knowledge of this topic is limited.
My friend writes, “I would love to understand, more deeply, going from Christianity to Judaism, choosing to follow the additional writings and Oral Torah. With your background, I would love to hear/understand the thought process and transition experience from “only Bible” to also keeping the halacha (laws) of Judaism.”
First a blunt truth. Christianity is farrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr (multiply those r’s by a thousand) from “only Bible.” Where does it say to celebrate JC’s birth on December 25? Where does it say to celebrate His resurrection on Easter Sunday, which happens to conveniently never ever fall on Passover? Researching those questions and many others took me away from the “only Bible” of Christianity, and back to the actual Bible. If that offends anyone, look up Constantine before you PM me.
At least Jews admit it. We admit that something exists outside the Writings: the Jewish leaders, the human beings given the task of guarding the Torah and teaching it and handing it down from generation to generation. The Rabbis. Scary drums.
I’m going to research the Oral Law a minute and be right back. The Oral Law is the part of Judaism that was originally not written down. It was given to Moses on Mount Sinai and then passed orally to each leader thereafter. (I talk about the mind-blowing record-keeping of this in To My Agnostic Cousin.)
The Oral Law includes the explanations and instructions around all the written laws, like for example how to kill an animal in a kosher way. The Torah says to only eat kosher animals killed in a kosher way, but it doesn’t say HOW to kill them that way. Was that a mistake? Left out accidentally? No, G-d gave it to Moses in the Oral Torah. Maybe G-d thought writing all the instructions around everything would be way too much for the people. Maybe He wanted to give the details to leadership to help the people. I can’t begin to explain the motive for the Oral Torah.
Christians complain, “But that’s not in the BIBLE! That’s adding to the Bible!” And I say, how is it fair for your guys to add 27 books (New Testament) to OUR BOOKS but we can’t talk about and explain OUR books that came down from Sinai? Yes, I guess I’m still a little angry at what I perceive lack of logic in the Christian mindset. No offense. Winking heart emoji.
Jews distinguish our books into three categories – Torah (first 5 from Moses), Nevi’im (prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah), and Ketuvim (writings like Esther and Psalms). The Torah gets most authority. It came from G-d Himself to Moses directly. Face to face. The Prophets get second authority/credibility- our leaders when choosing what books would make the cut for the Tanak agreed these writings were by real prophets with a real spiritual connection to Hashem but were not getting the message face to face. And the Writings. They’re written by holy people, our leaders, but not prophets; they are records and true stories and poetry and prayers.
Christians believe “all Scripture is inspired by G-d.” That verse makes it sound like the entire Christian Bible came down from heaven leather-bound on a silver platter. But that’s not how it happened. Catholics have more books. Protestants have a few less. The leaders, the human leaders, had big human meetings and decided what would go in, and some really interesting stuff got left out, by the way. It’s called “canonization“.
So back to the actual question, my friend asked about the transition experience. I wrote above about some of my mental transition. Personally, coming to Judaism and accepting a bunch of very very tiny detailed rules was hard. I’m not disciplined by nature. I’m kind of like roll the windows down and speed on the highway and just check your back for cops. I don’t make my bed everyday. I’m doing well if I brush my teeth. So, adding all these details to my life was not easy. Also needing someone else to tell me what to do was and is not easy. (Many situations require asking a rabbi in order to clarify, because not every situation on earth can be written in a Book.)
And I question their judgment. Really rabbis? Really holding hands before marriage will scar my soul? (Um, yep! Learned that one the hard way.) Really brussel sprouts aren’t kosher because they can’t be checked properly for bugs? (This one I still question, because Hello G-d made brussel sprouts!) Really whatever else.
We live in an independent minded culture. Do it yourself. Stand alone. I think we naturally rebel against needing an authority. I’m my own man. I am woman, hear me roar. I’ve got all sorts of authority issues, ranging from needing approval to needing rebellion, but at the end of the day, the Oral Torah makes sense to me.
It was never intended to be written down, but the rabbis got scared of losing it during a time of intense persecution, so they wrote it down. Voila, the Talmud.
Passover is coming!