Refuting the “Oral Law” – Rambam (Part 4)

27. Instructor using lamplight in Shabbat;
28. A woman must bring a sin offering if she transports something in her apron on Shabbat;

For six days, you are to serve, and are to make all your work [מְלָאכָה], but the seventh days is Sabbath for the Eternal One your God: you are not to make any kind of work, (not) you, nor your son, nor your daughter, (not) your servant, nor your maid, nor your beast, nor your sojourner that is within your gates. (Shemot 20:9-10)1

“Work” on Shabbat refers only to creating something new. “A melacha [act of work] is an activity which must be done in order to accomplish a certain desired goal. A melacha is something that a person does as a means to an end rather than as an end in and of itself.”2 The word used in this passage for work (מְלָאכָה) is not meant to refer to common everyday physical labor. This type of work is that which is associated with creation as seen in Bereishit 2:2:

And on the seventh day God finished His work [מְלַאכְתּוֹ] which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.2

If a lamp is already lit then there is no new creation and it may be used on Shabbat. If a woman accidently transports something in her apron she also is not “working” (that is, creating) something and is therefore not sinning. No “Oral Law” is needed when it is quite obvious that Shabbat has not been desecrated in either of these two instances.

29. Right of a wine seller to mix strong wine into week wine;

You are not to have in your purse stone-weight and stone-weight, (both) large and small. You are not to have in your house efa and efa (both) large and small. A stone-weight perfect and equal shall you have, an efa perfect and equal shall you have, in order that your days may be prolonged on the soil that the Eternal One your God is giving you. For an abomination to the Eternal One your God is everyone doing these, everyone committing corruption! (Devarim 25:13-16)1

Even though these passage speak specifically about weights and measures it can be deduced that any type of illicit business practice is forbidden. If illicit business practices are forbidden why would God give Moshe an “Oral Law” that states that in the case of a wine seller he can in fact carry on with illicit business practices?

Tithes from Ammon and Moav
30. Jews living in Ammon and Moab must give Ma’aser Awni every seventh year.

At the end of three years you are to bring out all the tithing of your produce, in that year, and you are to deposit (it) within your gates. And when he comes, the Levite – for he does not have a portion or an inheritance beside you – and the sojourner, the orphan and the widow that are within your gates, they will eat and be satisfied, in order that the Eternal One your God may bless you in all the doings of your hand that you do. (Devarim 14:28-29)1

Ma’aser Awni is already discussed in the Torah so why would there be any “Oral Law” needed? In addition, the Yisraelites were not yet living in the lands of Ammon and Moab so why would God give a law to Moshe that was of no use to the Yisraelites and wouldn’t be for a number of years? The rabbis argue that this tithe must be brought to Yerushalayim and eaten there –

however it is quite clear from the Torah that this tithe is to be brought for the poor and Levite within their gates – that is, within their own communities – and not Yerushalayim.


1Everett Fox. The Five Books of Moses. New York: Schocken Books, 1997.
2Melech ben Ya’aqov. “What is the Sabbath?” Karaite Insights, n.d., accessed 15 April 2012. []

Refuting the “Oral Law” – Rambam (Part 3)

22. Girls below the age of three years and one day retains her virginity despite cohabitation;

Where in the Tanakh is there even any indication that “cohabitation” between an adult man and a child is even permitted? This is not permissible and therefore there is no “Oral Law” needed.

23. Number of paya donations from a field containing more than one kind of grain;
24. Amount of divergent grain which if unintentionally planted may not be plowed;
25. Permitted plowing before the immediate start of the shmita year;

Now when you harvest the harvest of your land, you are not to finish off the edge of your field when you harvest (it), the full-gleaning of your harvest you are not to glean; for the afflicted and for the sojourner you are to leave them, I am the Eternal One your God! (Vayikra 23:22)1

It is quite clear that we are to leave the edges of the fields un-harvested and any gleanings left behind for the poor and sojourner to come and harvest. If there is more than one grain in the field then by leaving gleanings behind and the edges of the field un-harvested there will be multiple kinds of grains available for the poor and sojourner. So, we do not need to have an “Oral Law” to explain how much to leave behind.

My laws you are to keep: Your animal, you are not to (allow to) mate (in) two-kinds; your field, you are not to sow with two-kinds; a garment of two-kinds, of shaatnez, is not to go on you. (Vayikra 19:19)1

We are forbidden from sowing our fields with two kinds of seeds therefore, we are not to make any gain from these two kinds of seeds. According to the peshat of the verse we may not plow any of the divergent grain – even if it was unintentionally planted – because we cannot make any gain from these seeds.

For six years you are to sow your land and to gather in its produce, but in the seventh, you are to let it go and to let it be, that the needy of your people may eat, and what they (allow to) remain, the wildlife of the field may eat. Do thus with your vineyard, with your olive-grove. (Shemot 23:10-11)1

We are told in the Torah that we can sow and gather (plow/harvest) for six years. We are not permitted to sow or gather in the seventh year. From the peshat of these verses we notice that the only time limit for plowing is that it must be done within the six years and not the seventh year.

26. Percentage of terumah that is partially tamei;

Now if (it is) of a tamei animal, he is to redeem it at your assessment, adding its fifth-part to it, and if it is not redeemed, it is to be sold at your assessment. (Vayikra 27:27)1

The amount of a terumah that was to be redeemed is assessed by the priest. There is no reason for an “Oral Law” to explain that the priest has the charge over the percentage or terumah that is partially tamei. This passage is speaking about a tamei animal – that is an animal that is not fit for the terumah. There is no need for an “Oral Law” for something that is already not permitted according to the Tanakh.


1Everett Fox. The Five Books of Moses. New York: Schocken Books, 1997.

iBelieve: Thoughts on Jewish Topics

*Long post….
I am writing this post after doing a lot of soul-searching and searching the Torah and Tanakh. I doubt this will be the only such post I will write. This is not meant to be a definitive statement on my beliefs/thoughts about these topics. This is simply meant to be a very shallow look into my ongoing religious-belief process.


I believe that the Torah was given to Moses. I believe part of the Torah was given on Mount Sinai and the remainder was given from God to Moses during the time in the desert. I believe that the Torah was “filtered” through Moses and is not the literal word of God. However, I also believe that God would not permit Moses to completely change God’s words. Moses may not have written exactly what God said to him but he did get the essence of the wording correct.

If God spoke of a certain mitzvot (commandment) then Moses wrote it down in an understandable way. If Moses had made any mistake (such as declaring something unclean that is clean) God would not have permitted Moses to write the mistaken mitzvot – thus, the Torah is true to God’s words and not a man-made invention.

With all this being said, I am uncertain as to whether the Torah we have today is the exact same one given to Moses. While it is true that the oldest manuscripts – the Dead Sea Scrolls – agree with the Masoretic text for the most part, they do not agree one-hundred percent. In addition, we do not have a complete text of Torah from the Dead Sea Scrolls to compare to the Masoretic text. I believe that the Masoretes did the absolute best with what they had and I believe the overwhelming majority of the Masoretic text is true and complete but it is not the exact same Torah given to Moses.

I in no way believe that the Torah was purposefully corrupted – all ancient texts have been changed, not just the Torah. I believe that we must use the Masoretic text as the “official” text of Judaism but we must also realize that there are some holes and some differences with the original Torah given to Moses.


I believe that the mitzvot of the Torah are indeed binding but I also believe that the interpretation of these mitzvot do (and must) change. God gave us all brains and common sense so as our understanding of the Torah and the world in which it was written grows, we must readjust our interpretations. We also must understand that nobody reads and understands Biblical Hebrew fluently.

Halakhah (rabbinic law) is not binding upon any Jew. Halakhah is the human interpretation of Torah mitzvot. I do not believe that an “Oral Law” was given to Moses at Mount Sinai. Yes, there were oral instructions that were later written down but these are not an “Oral Law.” Also, there were oral instructions – such as how to make the Tabernacle – that were not written down. These oral instructions were for a specific task at a specific time and are therefore also not part of an “Oral Law.” The Mishnah – which is really what the term “Oral Law” refers to – is the human interpretation of the Torah mitzvot.

The Mishnah may or may not be the rulings of the Sanhedrin (the court that developed out of the elders from Moses’ time) and therefore may or may not be binding. Since we cannot be sure what is and what is not from the Sanhedrin the Mishnah is not binding upon any Jew. The Gemara (commentaries on the Mishnah) is absolutely not binding upon any Jew. These commentaries are simply human interpretations from men who were not part of the Sanhedrin and, for the most part, did not even live in the Land of Israel.

I believe that halakhah can be followed as one chooses but it is not binding upon any Jew. I believe that the commentaries from the rabbinic sources are important for background and historical information. They can be valuable when determining how to follow a Torah mitzvah but they are only commentaries and nothing more.


A man takes a wife and possesses her. She fails to please him because he finds something obnoxious about her, and he writes her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house… (Deuteronomy 24:1)1

If a man for whatever reason he chooses decides to divorce his wife he must give her a divorce document (get). The Talmud and other rabbinic writings have written extensive halakhah regarding how the get must be written and how it must be given to the wife. If the man refuses to give his wife a get the wife becomes an agunah – a chained woman.

According to Karaites either the man or woman can go to the beit din (Jewish court) and request a divorce. Also, if a man refuses to give a woman a get the beit din can give the woman the get and release her from the marriage.

The Reform Movement does not believe that a get is required – a legally-binding civil divorce document is acceptable. However, in the Rabbi’s Manual there is an option for a “Document of Separation.”2 Reconstrucionist Judaism follows the belief that some sort of Jewish Divorce Document should be used in addition to the civil divorce decree.3 Conservative Judaism, like Orthodox Judaism, requires a traditional get in order for a divorce to be recognized. However, in the Conservative-styled ketubah (marriage document) there is generally a clause – known as the “Liberman Clause” – where the beit din can intervene and give a get to a woman whose husband is refusing to give her a get.4

I believe that according to the Torah, a civil divorce document is completely acceptable and should be considered a fulfillment of the Torah mitzvah. However, I also believe that as a Jew I must also be sensitive to the Jewish community. Even though a civil divorce is completely acceptable according to Torah I also believe that, for the sake of peace within the Jewish world, a get should also be obtained.


While conversion is not spoken of – at least not directly – in the Torah or Tanakh it was always an option for the non-Jew. I have already written about the conversion process in an article on my site so I will not go into this extensively.

I believe just as some within the Karaite world believe, based on Exodus 12:48-49, that all one needs to do to convert to Judaism is:5,6

1. Believe in the Eternal One as the only God and renounce all others.

2. Believe in the Tanakh as the words of the Eternal One and the only religious authority – renounce all other writings, doctrines, and creeds as words of men.

3. Study and keep the Tanakh while striving to interpret the Tanakh according to its peshat (plain) meaning.

4. All males must be circumcised.

5. All converts must purify themselves and their homes.

6. A period of learning must take place.

7. Conversion candidates must refrain from celebrating Passover until their conversion is complete.

8. Upon finalizing the conversion the candidate must make a public declaration of his/her intent to convert and leave all other faith systems.

However, since I am also part of the wider Jewish community I think that there, out of necessity, must be a longer and more formal process of conversion. I do not believe that one must take a year in order to convert but I also think this should be up to the rabbi and the individual.

According to Rabbinic Judaism conversion includes three things:

1. Circumcision for the male.

2. Ablution (immersion) for both male and female.

3. Proper witnesses as to the conversion.7

Rambam (Maimonides) also speak of these requirements and adds more specifics to them in his Mishneh Torah (M.T. Issurei Biah 14:1-6):

1. Make sure the person has no ulterior motives.

2. Remind the person that the Jews are persecuted.

3. Tell the person the fundamentals of the faith.

4. Teach the person some of the easy mitzvot and some of the more difficult mitzvot.

5. Teach the person the curses and blessings of following the mitzvot.

6. The male must be circumcised.

7. The male and female must immerse before a Beit Din.8

I see absolutely no problem with either the view of the Talmud or Rambam. This doesn’t mean that the process needs to take an excessive amount of time or money. I also believe that we as Jews must be very open to potential converts and not push non-Jews into the man-made “Noahide Laws.”

We as Jews are commanded to be a “light unto the Nations” and as such we must be actively teaching Torah. We as Jews must be open and welcoming toward those interested in Judaism. We as Jews must actively seek out those who are interested in conversion. I believe that we as Jews should not be shy about spreading Torah to the Nations. I am absolutely for spreading the knowledge of Torah and the beauty and truth of Judaism. I am pro-proselytizing just as our forefathers were in times past. We need to welcome non-Jews into the fold and making sure that those interested in conversion are given the option without undue burdens of time and/or money.


1David Stein (ed.). JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999.
2Central Conference of American Rabbis. A Reform Get. CCAR, 1988. []
3Richard Hirsh. Progressive Approaches to Jewish Divorce: A Reconstructionist Perspective. Ritualwell, n.d. []
4Sanford Seltzer. The Jewish Way of Divorce. Reform Judaism. n.d. []
5Nehemia Gordon. Conversion FAQ. Karaite Korner, n.d.  []
6al-Qirqisani Center. An Introduction to Karaite Judaism: History, Theology, Practice, and Custom. Troy, NY: al-Qirqisani Center for the Promotion of Karaite Studies, 2003.
7Halakhah.Com. Yevamoth. Halakhah.Com, n.d. []
8Eliyahu Touger. Mishneh Torah: Issurei Biah. Chabad, n.d. []

Book Review: Genesis and the Big Bang

Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery of Harmony Between Modern Science and the Bible
Author: Gerald L. Schroeder
Publisher: Bantam Books
Year: 1990
Pages: 174 plus Epilogue, Appendix, and Glossary

Genesis and the Big Bang is the attempt by Dr. Schroeder to present a harmonious interconnectedness between modern scientific knowledge and creation as presented in the Book of Genesis. Dr. Schroeder uses paleontology, archaeology, geology, physics, mathematics, chemistry, and biology as well as the Torah, Talmud, and Biblical commentaries – mostly from Nachmanides and Maimonides – to show that there is harmony between science and the Bible. Dr. Schroeder makes the case that what we read today in the creation story from Genesis is in fact based upon scientific truths that were discovered thousands of years after the Book of Genesis was written. Dr. Schroeder shows that there is a harmony between science and Torah and neither one must be replaced by the other.

Dr. Schroeder summarizes his beliefs and goals of the book as follows:

The biblical narrative and the scientific account of our genesis are two mutually compatible descriptions of the same, single, and identical reality. My goal in this book is to explain that compatibility to expert and layperson alike. (pp. 12-13)

In Genesis and the Big Bang Dr. Schroeder argues that there is no argument and no incompatibility between the time span of the biblical calendar and archaeology. There are in fact no conflicts between the biblical chronology and the scientific chronology for the entirety of the 57-centuries of the post-Adam period. Dr. Schroeder points out that the match of the biblical and archaeological dates for the beginning of the Bronze Age is very important because it happened between the time of Adam and the Flood of Noah. This helps to counteract the argument the flood of Noah altered the fossil record. The crux of Dr. Schroeder’s argument lies in the thought experiments of Albert Einstein. The idea presented by Einstein that when an event is viewed from two different perspectives there is the inevitability that one perspective may view a billion years of time while the other perspective may view only a day.

Nachmanides and Maimonides both taught that prior to the creation of the universe space did not exist and time also did not exist. This is in complete agreement with what cosmologists and physicists have learned about “time” prior to the Big Bang. In addition, Kabbalists have taught about the retraction of God and the expansion of the universe. Einstein – through his theory of relativity – also proved that the universe is continually expanding. In addition, the discovery of the Doppler shift and background radiation also support the notion of the Big Bang leading to the creation and expansion of the universe. The Kabbalists taught that there are ten “sephirot” – only four of which can be experienced by humanity. Physicists now teach about string theory in which there exist ten dimensions – only four of which we can experience in our everyday life.

We are taught in Genesis 1:2-4 that “light” was created before the existence of the heavenly bodies. According to modern science there was in fact a “light” that was in existence before the formation of the heavenly bodies. This light was in the form of gamma rays which are not visible to the human eye. The idea of the first light being invisible to the human eye is supported by both the Talmud and science. The separation of the light from the dark (Genesis 1:4) is in complete compatibility with science. According to scientific studies, light was held within the initial mass after the Big Bang until it was freed by the “binding of electrons into atomic orbits” (p 89).

Throughout the story of creation we see the words “and there was evening and there was morning.” While at first this doesn’t appear to be related to any scientific notion, Dr. Schroeder states that the Hebrew terms are important. Evening (erev) implies that objects become blurred and obscure while morning (boker) implies that objects become distinct and clear. This is in complete compatibility with the idea of order coming from chaos within the scientific understanding of the beginning of our genesis. Along with the idea of order coming from chaos, Dr. Schroeder explains that due to the geological and biological fossils of early organisms there is no chance that life on earth could have been an act of randomness. The idea that life began on earth very quickly after the earth was habitable – as well as the perfect positioning of the Earth itself – supports the idea of a creator rather than a random series of events.

According to the Book of Genesis on the third day we see plant life being created. Dr. Schroeder argues that scientifically this would have been a necessary step for the habitability of the planet. These green organisms would have helped to clean the air of the toxins from the formation of the Earth and would have also helped to produce the needed oxygen in the atmosphere. In addition, the ozone layer was also created by this oxygenated atmosphere which helps to shield the earth from the more harmful radiation of the Sun.

Geologists and paleontologists have found that the fossil record shows the folly of the “missing link” theory. The fossil record however also “does not show a journey ruled by chance, or prove an unhindered march in the survival of the fit” (p. 146). There are indications within the fossil records that show that there were human-like creatures that existed for the past million years (and maybe even longer). This is not incompatible with the idea of the biblical creation of mankind. Maimonides taught that in the time of Adam there existed animals that had the appearance of humans and intelligence like the other animals but they were not made in the “image” of God – that is what makes man unique.

Dr. Schroeder sums up Genesis and the Big Bang by expressing the idea that while there is a lot to learn from specialists within the scientific community we must be aware that the specialists do not hold all the answers. This fact forces people to look elsewhere for information as to the causes that underlie our current existence. However, it must be emphasized that two systems of thought – biblical and cosmological – that developed independent of the other “provide similar answers to several complex questions” (p. 151). Dr. Schroeder emphasizes that it is up to each individual to decide if he or she wishes to follow the biblical tradition or the secular/scientific tradition.

Genesis and the Big Bang is an excellent read for anyone interested in learning how the Torah’s story of creation and recent scientific discoveries are compatible with one another. The idea of the fusion of the Bible and science is compelling and is well-written and well formulated by Dr. Schroeder.

Refuting the “Oral Law” – Rambam (Part 2)

Tefillin and Mezuzot
10. Skin used for the parchment of tefillin;
11. Skin used for the parchment of the mezeuzah;
12. Skin used for the parchment of the Sefer Torha;
13. Formation of the shin on the head tefillin;
14. Formation of the knot on the head and arm tefillin;
15. Black strips for the tefillin;
16. Cubes for the shape of tefillin;
17. Slits in the bottom of the tefillin for the straps;
18. Tefillin parchments to be tied with hair of tahor animals;
19. Compartments of the tefillin to be sewed together with threads made from parts of tahor animals;

It shall be for you for a sign on your hand and for a reminder between your eyes, in order that the Eternal One ’s Instruction may be in your mouth, that by a strong hand did the Eternal One bring you out of Miztrayim. (Shemot 13:9)1

It shall be for a sign on your hand and for headbands between your eyes, for by strength of hand the Eternal One brought us out of Mitzrayim. (Shemot 13:16)1

The Rabbinic Jews take these verses literally and wear tefillin and place mezuzot upon their doorposts. However, what are these passages really referring to?

Notice that the verses of the Tanakh – and even these specific verses – are not mentioned within these verses. It doesn’t say that this text is to be a sign or a reminder. The subject of these texts must be the remembrance of the fact that by a strong hand did the Eternal One bring you out of Miztrayim (Shemot 13:9)1 and by extension the Chag HaMatzot – the Feast of Unleavened Bread – and the redemption of the firstborn. This is clearly seen in the very next verses.

You are to keep this law at its appointed-time from year-day to year-day! It shall be when the Eternal One brings you to the land of the Canaanite, as he swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you, you are to transfer every breacher of a womb to the Eternal One , every breacher, offspring of a beast that belongs to you, the males (are) for the Eternal One . Every breacher of a donkey you are to redeem with a lamb; if you do not redeem (it), you are to break its neck. And every firstborn of men, among your sons, you are to redeem. (Shemot 13:10-13)1

In addition, we see that these words are to be in your mouth which in no way indicates the use of tefillin or mezuzot. In fact, we are told that these words are to be in our mouths so that:

It shall be when your child asks you on the morrow, saying: What does this mean? You are to say to him: By strength of hand the Eternal One brought us out of Mitzrayim, out of a house of serfs. (Shemot 13:14)1

You are to place these, my words upon your heart and upon your being; you are to tie them as a sign on your hand, let them be as bands between your eyes… (Devarim 11:18)1

You are to tie them as a sign upon your hand, and they are to be for bands between your eyes. You are to write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Devarim 6:8-9)1

These verses from Devarim – read in context – are clearly speaking about the entirety of the Torah as we see from Devarim 6:6: “These words, which I myself command you today, are to be upon your heart.”2 Which begs the question, how do you write the entire Torah and wear them as tefillin or put them in mezuzot on your doorposts?

There are two reasons given as to why we are to have these words as a sign. First, we are to have them as a sign in order to teach the Torah to our children.

You are to repeat them with your children and are to speak of them in your sitting in your house and in your walking in the way, in your lying-down and in your rising-up. (Devarim 6:7)3

Second, we are to have the words of the Torah as a sign so that they will be remembered when the Yisraelites cross the Yarden into Cana’an. By remembering the Torah the Yisraelites will remember God and the fact that He brought them out of Mitzrayim.

Now it shall be when the Eternal One your God brings you to the land that he swore to your fathers, to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Ya’akov, to give you, towns great and good that you did not build, houses full of every good-thing that you did not fill, cisterns hewn out that you did not hew, vineyards and olive-goves that you did not plant, and you eat and you are satisfied, take care, lest you forget the Eternal One who brought you out of Mitzrayim, out of a house of serfs. the Eternal One your God you are to hold in awe, Him you are to serve, by His name you are to swear! (Devarim 6:10-13)1

There is no indication that tefillin or mezuzot were ever used by the Yisraelites prior to the Second Temple period (post-Babylonian exile). If tefillin and mezuzot were not used for hundreds of years after Sinai why would there ever be given an “Oral Law” regarding these innovations?

20. Kind of ink for the writing of the Sefer Torah;
21. Inkless, ruled guidelines used for the writing of the Sefer Torah;

The original Masoretes who were the soferim were mostly Karaites – those who reject an “Oral Law” – and therefore the rules that have been handed down to us have come from Karaites. Moshe wrote the very first Torah and it seems that from that time the copies were according to the tradition of Moshe and not according to any “Oral Law”.


1Everett Fox. The Five Books of Moses. New York: Schocken Books, 1997.
2Naftali Silberberg. “What is the ‘Oral Torah?’” Chabad, n.d., accessed 15 April 2012. []

A Jew just trying to live the life of Torah