Friday, June 1, 2012

The Talmud

I have been asked to discuss the Talmud and its role in determining halachah (Jewish law).  I found that Wikipedia has a very extensive and accurate write-up which gives more detail than I would cover here.  Go to:

There are several concepts that I can add which will help clarify the role of Talmud in Judaism.  One misnomer is that it is strictly the opinion of the sages (of the great Rabbis).  It is the Oral Torah that was passed down from Hashem to Moses and was taught during the 40 years in the Sinai desert and beyond.  The discussion of the sages and the debating of the halachah is not their opinion, but is the accurate handing down of answers to just about any question that could come up about this universe and everything in it.

Important to know is that the Talmud is not the halachah (law) that we live by.  It is the basis for discussion on how halachah came to be.  The refinement of halachah as we know it today has occurred for thousands of years.  The Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah along with much commentary of the great sages throughout history are the culmination and fine points of law that have been set down.  The disagreement on any topic in the Talmud is intentional as a way of evaluating its interpretation and getting to the truth.  As in a court of law, the truth is not known until all arguments are presented.  It is not opinion of the Rabbis, but supporting arguments based on verses in scriptures.  All is for the purpose of getting to the truth about everything.  When there is much debating in the Talmud about a halachah, which is usually the case, it is generally the last presented argument that is considered the answer.  However, there are certain Rabbis that we follow and others that we generally don't.  There are also arguments that hold true before the Messiah comes and others that will come about after the Messiah.  There are many arguments that are left open for Elijah the Prophet to settle.  It is so complicated but that is what makes it fascinating and has kept it alive for so long.  If it were simple, we would have stopped studying it a long time ago.  All we need to know as a final answer is the final codification of the halachah that we live today.

How can I be sure that the Talmud is giving me accurate information?  There are several ways to gage the accuracy.  One is that the Talmud has more outright prophecy that is more understandable than the prophecy of the Bible.  By that I mean that the Talmud requires less interpretation where the Bible is deeper in its presentation and evaluation.  Another point is accuracy about subjects that I have already discussed.  Science, mathematics, astronomy, medical, philosophy, etc are all with such detail that it could not have been the opinion of the Rabbis, but only information that Hashem could have given to Moses.

One last point of interest demonstrates how the Talmud was so misunderstood throughout history.  There are many groups of people who opposed Jewish halachah if it came from the discussions of the Talmud.  The say that they believe and follow the Torah as the word of Hashem but believe the Talmud to be antiquated and only the opinion of the Rabbis – therefore making it irrelevant to our daily lives.  The Sadducees, the Essenes, the Karaites, the Xtians, Muslims and even the Reform and Conservative of today have all practiced rejection of the Oral Law saying that they only adhere to the written Torah.  I have had the privilege of working with people of this belief.  I like to give them a test – just some simple questions, such as: Do you light Shabbos candles?  Do you light Chanukah candles?  Do you celebrate Purim (giving shalach manos, getting drunk, etc), do you wear shatnez (combining wool and linen), do you mix milk and meat, do you observe ritual purity (there are actually many questions – that is enough for now).  Everything that these people have said yes to was a custom from the Talmud.  Everything they said no to or maybe partially was a definite mitzvah from the Torah.  I know, it is not nice to trick people but the point is clear.  Most Jews know very little about Judaism because they haven't studied what Judaism really entails and, more importantly, what obligations have come directly from Hashem.  All really comes from Hashem; but, if Jews believe that they don't have to do something because some Rabbi said it thousands of years ago, they are deceived and not meeting their obligations as Jews.

Hashem has instructed us in scriptures to follow the words of the great Rabbis.  Hashem has continued to give us instruction to this very day through the greats of today.  Knowing who are the Poskim, which I talked about the other day, and who are not to be listened to, is part of the education one gets in studying Torah.  I found that you often can find a Rabbi who will go along with whatever you want to do.  It is extremely dangerous if you live by a Rabbi's opinion that is not adhering to the Torah.  The only opinion that is valid is Hashem's opinion and that can only come from the right books and the right people.  It is a very difficult subject but the bottom line is always measure-for-measure between you and Hashem.  Education is the answer.

The study of Torah covers everything that exists in the universe and in life.  Although we have very clear cut halachic guidance, the learning of how we got to each obligation is not so simple but is fascinating.  Hashem wants us to be partners in creation and to be involved.  It makes our daily lives much more interesting than just reading and following directions.  We are not a "blind faith" belief system but diggers of the truth.  We are greatly encouraged to ask questions.  It gives us great confidence in what we do. The truth is what our future is. Getting deeper and deeper into the study of all its details is our preparation for the future (which I believe is a lot closer than we think).  Enjoy – that is the way it is meant to be done.


  1. Shalom,

    I am Noahide. I read several Talmud. I am shocking to read that all gentile are not allowed to study Torah and Talmud. They deserve harsh punishment if they study the books. Why?

    1. For two thousand years the church has persecuted, exiled and killed Jews because of what it says in the Bible and the Talmud about their deity. The inquisition, the crusades, programs, libels, holocaust, even terrorist activity are all due to the fact that the non-Jews aren't interested in the truth. It became so dangerous that any non-Jew who was learning Jewish scriptures was stopped (usually by the church) and it always resulted in death of Jews. The biggest reason that non-Jews were interested was to build evidence against the Jew -- giving the non-Jew justification for atrocities. The fact that the information came from Hashem was always in dispute and ignored. Knowing how dangerous it was for a church member to learn the truth, the church put great restrictions on the non-Jew. The church until about 200 years ago forbade its members from studying scriptures.
      Present day is very different; even though, I still am not supposed to teach scriptures to a non-Jew. If I am teaching a Jew and a non-Jew listens to instructions, that is alright and that is the way that I have instructed non-Jews (potential converts) in the past. I know of no restriction for a Noahide in this day and age since the church is fairly powerless. This is a long and complicated subject and I am far from covering it all. I am curious, however, where exactly you saw the statement "harsh punishment" and under what context was the statement?

  2. Someone brought up the mixing of milk and meat and said it was the rabbi's who came up with this - it is not in Torah. Three times in Torah it states " Do not seethe a kid in it's mother's milk." But it does not say " Do not eat milk and meat together"(that is what this person was saying) Will you cover this some time so we can have an answer to give them as I was unable to find where it stated " Do not eat milk and meat together." However, If one is cooking milk and meat together it seems like a given that they are planning to eat it together. And if we are forbidden to cook it together than common sense says don't eat it at the same time.

    1. The Torah does not give the details of how to interpret the mitzvot. That is why the thousands of pages of the Talmud and millions of pages of commentary from the sages were necessary. The Torah most definitely restricts the mixing of milk and meat as explained in an extensive amount of detail in the Talmud (Chulin). We are not capable, especially in English, of understanding the Torah's instructions, but it was not a Rabbi who made it up. All is from Hashem as told to Moses.
      Good Shabbos

    2. IF you read the literal Torah text carefully in Hebrew- the Torah when referring to "do not cook a kid.." It should rather just say “G’di”, if it means 1 kid goat. So the Torah is trying to tell us something by persisting in using “G’di Ha-Izzim”. What is it trying to tell us?

      It is telling us that it is linking “G’di” (a kid) in the singular, to “Ha-Izzim” (which is plural of “goat”, “the goats”). Therefore the unusual (and prevalent) linkage of the Hebrew word “G’di” in the Tanach to a plural term, refers to a generality/PLURALITY and not a singularity. So where the Torah says- “don’t cook kid in milk of its mother”-

      It is referring to a generality/plurality ie ALL young, in the milk of their mothers. This is not even unusual for the Torah- to do this kind of thing- The Written Torah has several Laws in which a specific instance is used to illustrate a general principle.

      For example, the Written Torah speaks of an ox that gores a person: “And if an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die, the ox shall be surely stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; and the owner of the ox shall be clear” (Ex 21:28)

      Hence we may deduce from the LITERAL text that one is not to cook ANY milk, in meat. I have written a whole article on this and the Oral Torah, this anyone may work out by going through the 5 books of Moses carefully, and in Hebrew.

    3. Very good. The principle of Klal and Prat definitely applies here. I believe we see that in mesechta Chulin. It is a little too involved for my audience here, however. It will be our little secret.

  3. Moriah , it so happens to be that the prohibition of eating milk together with meat is מדרבנן , cooking is an issur mdorisa from the Torah .

  4. I just want to clarify that the torah greats in halacha like Rabbi Moses Feinstein of blessed memory , were able to poskin often times by bringing proof from the Talmud , a proof from the Gemorah has the most weight in halacha .