Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Oral and Written Law are Inextricably Linked

I think most people know the famous physics equation, E = mc2. Whether or not you know (or even care) what it means, it would not occur to any sane person to suggest meanings for the symbols.  You are never going to hear the following:
I am a fundamentalist scientist.  I believe only the literal writings of Newton and Einstein, the Written Physics.  I know those old orthodox physicists have their own Oral Physics that interprets the symbols a certain way,  and according to their interpretation that is an equation that relates energy, mass, and the speed of light.  But we are not tied to old, dogmatic beliefs; especially claimed "oral traditions".  We are modern and have our own interpretation: 'E' means enlightenment, the double lines means, of course, stay between the lines, and mc2 means riding motorcycles in tandem.
That's obviously hogwash.  The same physicists who told you "E = mc2", also told you what it meant (or tried to; sigh...)  Even more profoundly stupid is to try to discuss the "Written Law" (torah sh'bichtav) divorced from the "Oral Law" (torah sh'b'al peh).  The Oral Law is not an interpretation of the Written Law!  They are one and the same with the, each appropriate to a different mode of communication.  One without the other is meaningless; or worse, a terrible distortion.

A few examples should suffice.  How about this?  The pronunciation of the letters and the vocalization of the words.  Small changes in either make big differences in Lashon HaKodesh.  My favorite example is "cheilev" (fats around the inner organs) versus "chalav" (milk).  Both spelled the same: ches, lamed, beis.  Without having a rebbi with an authentic chain of transmission, you would not know whether you are forbidden to eat a kid with its mother's milk or with the internal fats.  You wouldn't know if the internal fats or milk of domesticated animals is strictly forbidden.  The beauty of this example is that even context can't help.  No one has ever heard of a Jewish society that refrained from fried meats (not on religious grounds, anyway).  With nothing but an oral transmission, we all know what mixtures are forbidden and which fats are forbidden.

Even when you have context you are lost.  Vayikra 19:14 says, "Do not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind."  There actually is an issur d'oraisa of cursing a deaf peraon (even though he can't hear you).  On the other hand, there is no specific issur at all of putting a stone in the path of a blind person.  (You probably aren't going to get shishi on Shabbos, of course.)  That phrase means not to give someone advice that is unsuitable just because it will benefit you (even though it won't hurt him).

That is one reason that shtayim mikra v'echad targum -- reading the text of the parsha twice each week and its explanation once -- is so crucial to knowing about Judaism.  The Shulchan Aruch says that now a days since we don't understand targum so well (that was 400 years ago...), you can substitute Rashi (with some caveats; see the Mishna Brura there, siman 285).  Once you have clarity on how to properly read Chumash, then you can see the other m'forshim -- Ramban, S'porno, Ohr Chaim, Kli Yakar, and so forth as developing a deeper sense and appreciation for our Torah haK'dosha and you are drawn to love for HaKadosh Baruch Hu; the Author of reality.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…