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Notes from the Marom Bet Midrash

Rabbinic Tradition and the Evolution of Jewish Law

Living Tradition—the development of Jewish Law—Eliot Dorff, Rector and professor University of Judaism.

[There may once have been sheets which went with this, but sadly I cannot find them now.]

A. The End of Prophecy

Deut. 18:15-22

The LORD your God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from among your own people, like myself [Moses]; him you shall heed. This is just what you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb, on the day of the Assembly, saying, "Let me not hear the voice of the LORD my God any longer or see this wondrous fire any more, lest I die." Whereupon the LORD said to me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

BT, Sanhedrin 11a

When the latter prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi died, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.

Pretty arbitrary—self promoting on the part of the rabbis!

Lev. Rabbah 1:14

What was the distinction between Moses and the other prophets? The latter looked through nine lenses, whereas Moses looked only through one. They looked through a cloudy lens, but Moses through one that was clear.

BT Megillah 14a

Forty-eight prophets and seven prophetesses spoke prophecies for Israel, and they neither deducted from, nor added to, what was written in the Torah, with the exception of the law to read the Book of Esther on the Feast of Purim.

BT Bava Batra 12a

Rabbi Avdimi from Haifa said: Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, the prophetic gift was taken away from the prophets and given to the Sages. Is then a sage not also a prophet? What he meant was this: Although it has been taken from the prophets, it has not been taken from the Sages. Amemar said: A sage is even superior to a prophet, as it says, "And a prophet has a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). Who is (usually) compared with whom? Is not the smaller compared with the greater?
To what are a prophet and a sage to be compared? To a king who said his two ambassadors to a state. For one of them he wrote, "If he does not show you my seal and my letter of appointment, do not believe him"; for the other he wrote, "Even if he does not show you my seal and my letter of appointment, believe him without a seal or a letter of appointment." Similarly, in regard to a prophet, it is written, "If he gives you a sign or a portent [believe him]" (Deut. 13:2), but here [in Deut. 17:11, concerning judges] it is written, "You shall act in accordance with the instruction that they give you [even without a sign]."

B. Assertion of Biblical Interpretation as Fundamental and Divinely mandated

PT. Horayot 1:1

"You must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left" (Deut. 17:11). You might think that this means that if they tell you that right is left and left is right, you are to obey them; therefore the Torah tells you "to the right or to the left," [to indicate that] when they tell you that right is right and left is left [you are to obey them, but not otherwise].

Num. Rabbah 14:4

"The words of the wise are as goads... They are given from one shepherd" (Eccl. 12:11). That is, the words of the Torah and the words of the Sages have been given from the same shepherd [Moses]. "And furthermore, my son, be careful: Of making man books there is not end" (Eccl. 12:12) means: More than to the words of the Torah, pay attention to the words of the Scribes. In the same strain is said, "For your beloved ones are better than wine" (Song of Songs 1:2), which means: The words of the beloved ones [the Sages] are better than the wine of the Torah. Why? Because one cannot give a decision from the words of the Torah, since the Torah is shut up [cryptic and therefore ambiguous] and consists entirely of headings... From the words of the Sages, however, one can derive the proper law because they explain to the Torah. And the reason that the words of of the Sages are compared and goads (darvonot) is because they cause understanding to dwell (medayerin binah) in people [a play on words].

More than to the words of the Torah, pay attention to the Scribes? When the Torah says, frex, "Do not seethe a kid in its mother's milk", you can't use this is as law code without interpretation.

Seder Eliyahu Zuta, ch. 2:

A king had two slaves who he loved intensely. He gave each one a measure of wheat and a bundle of flax. The intelligent one wove the flax into a cloth and made flour from the wheat, sifted it, ground it, kneaded it, baked it and set it [the bread] on the table on the cloth he had made before the king returned. The stupid one did not do a thing [with the gifts the king had given him]. After some time the king returned to his house and said to them: "My sons, bring me what I gave you." One brought out the table set with the bread on the tablecloth, the other brought out the wheat in a basket and the bundle of flax with it. What an embarrassment that was! Which do you think was the more beloved? [Similarly] when the Holy Blessed One gave the Torah to Israel, He gave it as wheat from which to make flour and flax from which to make clothing, through the rules of interpretation.

Though you can also argue that the former son's bread and cloth no longer looks like the wheat!

Also, is this the appropriate way to treat a gift which is of value in itself?

PT Sanhedrin 22a

If the Torah had been given in a fixed form, the situation would have been intolerable. What is the meaning of the oft-recurring phrase, "the Lord spoke to Moses"? Moses said before Him, "Sovereign of the Universe! Let me known what the final decision is on each matter of law." He replied, "The majority [of the judges] must be followed: when the majority declares a thing permitted, it is permissible; when the majority declares it forbidden, it is not allowed; so that the Torah may be capable of interpretation with forty-nine points for and forty-nine points against."

C. (Retrojected) Biblical Sanction and Approval

M. Avot 1:1

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua. Joshua passed it on to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly. [...] Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great Assembly. [...] Antigonos of Soḥo received the tradition from Shimon the Righteous. [etc]

Halacha according to the most recent interpretation.

* Brief aside (transplanted from earlier notes): The story is told (and probably garbled slightly in my reconstructed retelling) of Solomon Schechter that once, being asked what Judaism was all about, he fetched a volume of Talmud. Opening it at a random page, he said:
"Here down the centre is the Mishna; this is the Oral Law as written by the sages of Palestine in the first to third centuries; then here below it is the Gemara, a commentary on the Mishna written in Babylonia in the third to seventh centuries. And here on one side is the commentary of Rashi, who lived in eleventh century France; and here, on the other side, is the Tosafot, commentaries from twelfth century France and Germany; and here"—flipping forward through the volume—"is the commentary of Rabbeinu Asher, of fourteenth century Spain; and here"—flipping again forward—"is the commentary of the Maharsha of seventeenth century Poland; and here"—flipping forward to the last page—"is a blank page, where the commentaries of the future will be written."

Ex. Rabbah 47:1

At the same time when the Holy Blessed One revealed Himself on Sinai to the give the Torah to Israel, He delivered it to Moses in order: Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud and Aggadah.

Continuing revelation? (The list stops at the state it was when it was written...)

[two missing quotations?]

Tanhuma Buber, Deut. 1a. (Martin Buber's father's edition of the Tanhuma)

When G-d revealed His presence to the Israelites, He did not display all His goodness at once, because they could not have borne so much good; for had He revealed His goodness to them at one time they would have died... When Joseph made himself known to his brothers, they were unable to answer him because they were astounded by him (Genesis 45:3). If G-d were to reveal Himself all at once, how much more powerful would be the effect. So He shows Himself little by little.

Maimonides also on sacrifices being instituted because people needed it at the time. [I.e. G-d did not really want people to sacrifice animals to Him, but the people at the time of the Giving of the Law weren't yet ready for the idea of a religion without sacrifice.]

So also, frex, egalitarianism.

Taanis 30b

A [ברייתא] taught: R. Shimon b. Gamliel says: Anyone who eats or drinks on the Ninth of Av is as if he ate and drank on the Day of Atonement.* R. Akiva says, anyone who does work on the Ninth of Av will never see in his work any sign of blessing.

* Setting a דרבנן [rabbinical] prohibition up on the same level as a דאורייתא [Torah-mandated] one!

The Role of Torah (and law): two models

[Missing quotation?]

Song of Songs Rabbah 1, #15 I on Song of Songs 1:15

"You are beautiful, my love" (Song of Songs 1:15). "You are beautiful" through the commandments, both positive and negative; beautiful through loving deeds; beautiful in your house with the heave-offerings and the tithes; beautiful in the field by keeping the commands about gleaning, the forgotten sheaf, and the second tithe; beautiful in the laws about mixed seeds, fringes, first fruits, and the fourth-year planting; beautiful in the law of circumcision; beautiful in prayer, in the rewarding

Some find it, this beauty, through prayer, some through ritual, some through acts of lovingkindness.

[Two missing quotations?]

Jewish learning notes index

Date: 2006-09-14 12:50 pm (UTC)
ext_8103: (Default)
From: [identity profile] ewx.livejournal.com
The business with the wheat and flax reminded me a bit of the parable of the talents.

Date: 2006-09-14 12:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
You're going to have to explain that one for me...

Date: 2006-09-14 01:06 pm (UTC)
ext_8103: (Default)
From: [identity profile] ewx.livejournal.com
Wikipedia thusly. Briefly, a man gives three servants varying amounts of money, and is angry at the one who doesn't make anything of it. It's not making the same point, but using a similar sort of story.

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