"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21

Taken from Rabbi Eli Cohen fb page:‎

16. Page 19

“2) There are no explicit or implicit references to the Oral Torah within the Written Torah”

Brown’s argument contains several flaws. The first and most obvious flaw is that his argument is false. The most explicit reference to the Oral Torah is not addressed by Brown in the 14 pages he devoted to this particular argument, and did not even merit a mention in the entirety of his book. As we mentioned earlier, the Scripture explicitly declares that Israel was granted an amplified understanding of the commandment that prohibits idolatry; an understanding that goes beyond the written text (Deuteronomy 4:35), and that this amplified understanding is relevant to every generation (Deuteronomy 4:9). Brown simply ignores this explicit reference to an unwritten teaching despite the fact that I challenged him to address this reference 10 years before he put this volume into writing (see above, point # 1).

The second flaw inherent in Brown’s argument is that he misunderstands the structure of the Jewish faith. There is a superficial similarity between Judaism and Christianity in that they both look to a body of sanctified information as an integral aspect of the belief system. The Jewish Bible is a part of this body of recognized information in both belief systems, but that is where the similarity stops. The position that the Scriptures occupy in these respective belief systems is very different.

These two belief systems both embody three levels of passing on authorized communication. The first level is the process of confirming the veracity of the information. The second level consists of a body of accepted information while the third level is the practical teachings that emerge from the recognized body of information.

In Judaism the distinction between these three levels is clear. The first level consists of the unparalleled national claim concerning the miracles of the exodus and the Sinai revelation, which authenticate Israel’s status as God’s witness. The witness that God appointed confirms the second level of the faith structure which consists of the sanctified body of information, both the Written and Oral Torahs. While the third level involves of the practical doctrines that the Jewish people live by.

Protestant Christianity places a strong emphasis on insisting that the Scriptures alone constitute the second level of the faith structure; i.e. the recognized and accepted body of sanctified information. No practical doctrine (third level of the faith structure) is accepted by Protestant Christians unless they believe that it is corroborated by the Scriptures, which they believe is the complete and exclusive body of sanctified information.

But the Protestant theologians have not provided a clear “first level” for their belief system. They have not provided a solid, Divinely sanctioned, method for authenticating the body of information that they place so much trust in; i.e. the Scriptures. In order to validate the Scriptures, Protestants resort to arguments that focus on the antiquity of the books, fulfilled prophecy and the acceptance of the books by the early believers. But in no way can they claim that this method of corroborating Scripture is the method that was ordained by God in order to verify His word.

Brown is treating the Oral Law as if it were a component of the third level of the faith structure, in other words Brown is seeking corroboration for the Oral Law in the same way that a Protestant Christian would seek corroboration for a practical doctrine – i.e. from the pages of Scripture. But the Oral Law does not look to the Written Law for corroboration any more than the Written Law looks to the Oral Law for corroboration. Both the Written and the Oral Law are corroborated by the first level of the faith structure; the witnesses that God appointed to testify to the truth of these bodies of information.

Yet another failing of Brown’s argument is that he treats the Talmud and Rabbinic writings as if they were authored by Fundamentalist Christians, and as if the Talmud was another New Testament. What I mean with this, is that Brown assumes that the authors of the Talmud subscribed to the principle “sola-scriptura” – only Scripture, and as if they believed that any doctrine or teaching that is not rooted in the Scriptures is to be discarded. Thus when the authors of the Talmud or the subsequent Rabbinic authors quote a verse in relation to a given teaching, Brown reads this quote as if the Rabbis were now presenting the only valid “proof” that they had for the teaching that they were presenting.

This is inaccurate. The authors of the Talmud recognized that there are valid repositories of God-given information outside the pages of Scripture. In many cases, when the Talmud quotes a verse in support of a particular teaching, the Rabbis were not doubting the validity of the teaching. The Biblical text is often quoted to demonstrate the connection between the Written and Oral Laws, or as a mnemonic device to aid students in the memorization of the given teaching.

Brown also reads the Talmud as if it were a book written with the same motives as those which encouraged and guided the authors of the New Testament. What I mean with this is that Brown reads the Talmud as if it were a polemical work aiming to “prove” its points to those who may not believe as they do. In contrast to the New Testament, which contains an abundance of polemical material aimed at convincing those who believe differently than do the authors, the Talmud is decidedly NOT a polemical work. The Talmud was not written to convince anyone of the truth of one teaching or another. The Talmud was written for an audience that already lives and breathes the truths of Judaism, including the truth of the Oral Law. So when we find a piece of Talmud that points to a verse in Scripture as a support for one detail or another of the Oral Law, the Talmud is not stating that this is the only proof it has for this teaching and it is certainly not stating that this is the only proof it has for the concept of an Oral Law. Brown’s focus on these pieces of the Talmud that quote Scripture to support the Oral Law as if these were the only arguments to corroborate the Oral Law, is simply wrong.

The one piece of Talmud that is written in a semi-polemical setting is not addressed by Brown in the main body of his book. In a section of the Talmud that teaches about humility; a story is related about Hillel and is pointed to as an example for this worthy trait (Shabbos 31a).

“There was once a gentile who approached Shammai, he asked him: How many Torahs do you have. Shammai responded: two; one written and one oral. The Gentile responded: I believe you concerning the written but I don’t believe you concerning the oral, convert me on the condition that you teach me the written Torah. Shammai rebuked him and sent him off with a scolding. The Gentile then approached Hillel, who converted him. The first day he taught him: alef bet gimmel dalet (the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet). The second day he reversed the order of the letters. The Gentile protested: but yesterday you didn’t tell me this! Hillel said: Don’t you have to rely on me? Rely on me for the Oral Torah as well.”

Hillel was pointing out to the Gentile that God did not set the written Torah down in a vacuum. He did not expect people to find the Torah on a desert island or on the dead shelves of a library. A book is dead if there are no living people who live with its language. God presented the Torah to His people in the setting of parents and teachers who live the language and the spirit of Torah. The Torah is introduced to the Jew from within the cultural and religious setting of living Judaism. It is obvious that God expected His people to accept the Written Torah on the basis of the trust and respect that they naturally bear towards those who present them with the Written Torah. If we accept that God trusted these witnesses for the one (the body and the language of the written Torah), then we can be confident that we are not being lead wrong if we trust these God-appointed witnesses for the other (the oral traditions).

This story is the only section of the Talmud which remotely approaches a presentation of proof for the authenticity of the oral traditions (- again, the setting is not polemical, the story is presented as an example for humility). Brown attacks every piece of Talmud that makes reference to the Oral Law as if it were attempting to authenticate the Oral Law to an audience that does not believe in it, yet the one piece of Talmud which is actually relevant to this discussion is ignored by Brown in the main body of his work.

In an endnote (#131, pg. 290), Brown quotes my challenge to him (without referring to my words as a challenge): “Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal, in a private e-mail (Dec. 10, 2008), put forth the traditional argument that “The medium through which we learned that Scripture is authentic is the testimony of our parents. These same people testified to us that there is a body of unwritten Mosaic law which is crucial in understanding how God wants us to live. If they lied about these unwritten traditions why should we believe their testimony about Scripture (The Ibn Ezra articulates this argument in several places).”

The fact of the matter is that this challenge was presented to him in August of 2001. What happened in December of 2008 was that I reminded him of my challenge and of his expressed willingness to take it head on. Why this argument is tucked away in an endnote and is not addressed comprehensively in the main body of the book, is not for me to answer.

Now to Brown’s response.

“The simple answer is that over a process of a few generations in early Pharisaic history, the traditions of the fathers were retrojected all the way back to Moses, and subsequent generations faithfully (and sincerely) passed this myth on. So, it is not a matter of anyone intentionally lying; it’s a matter of a tradition gradually claiming a more ancient pedigree-which is quite common -in the religious world-after which the notion became a fixed dogma. And as we have noted, in contrast with the oral traditions, which were not accepted by any other ancient Jewish group, the Scriptures were universally accepted, not to mention the fact that the Tanakh has many other methods of internal divine confirmation (such as fulfilled prophecy), which the Oral Law does not.”

In essence Brown has provided three answers to the Hillel’s argument. His first answer focused on the word “lying” that I used in my challenge to him. Brown argues that in order to invalidate the oral traditions it is not necessary to believe that anyone intentionally lied.

This is no answer. Whatever process it is that brought people to sincerely believe in the oral traditions could have likewise happened to the Written Torah. Many secular scholars believe that the Written Torah took root in the minds and in the hearts of the Jewish people in the same way that Brown believes that the Oral Torah came to be accepted by Israel. If it could happen to one it could happen to the other.

Brown’s second answer is that the oral traditions were not universally accepted by the various ancient Jewish sects while the Scriptures were.

This too is no answer. First of all, Brown has his facts wrong. The Samaritans did not accept most of Scripture, and the parts that they did accept (the Five Books of Moses, and the book of Joshua), differ significantly from the versions that we have today. The Qumran group accepted other books that were not accepted by the rest of the Jewish groups. There is a strong argument for the position that the Qumran group did not accept the book of Esther as a sacred book.

Furthermore, there are many points of the traditions that were unanimously accepted by every single Jewish group that ever existed. These include but are not limited to the idea that attributing deity to a human being violates Israel’s core calling as a witness nation before God, the idea that sincere repentance is accepted by God for the expiation of sin, and the idea that tribal lineage must pass through the male line. I need not remind the reader that Brown rejects every last one of these unanimously accepted traditions.

Finally, those sects that did not accept various aspects of the traditions did not reject the concept that God meant that the Written Torah must be read from within the context of the community that lives His Law. No ancient Jewish group ever proposed that Scripture be approached with the unnatural Protestant doctrine of “sola scriptura”. Every group acknowledged the need for living teachers and a living community to properly understand and apply God’s Law. The argument was: which community is the one that is truly living the spirit of God’s Law? The fact that God did not bother to preserves the Saducces, and the Essenes, while God did go to miraculous lengths to preserve the Pharisee community decisively settles this intra-Jewish argument.

Brown’s third answer is also inaccurate and irrelevant. Brown argues that the Written Torah has other methods of confirmation, namely: fulfilled prophecy, which the Oral Law does not.

Again, Brown has his facts wrong. The Oral Law does have fulfilled prophecy. Just look at the Midrashic prediction that the Western Wall will never be destroyed (Bamidbar Rabbah 11:2, Pesikta Rabbati 15:9 – contrast this with Luke 19:44.) Furthermore, many books in the Jewish Scripture such as Ruth, Proverbs, and Esther cannot be validated through “fulfilled prophecy” because they are not prophetic works.

Finally and most importantly; what is the means that God designated to teach future generations that these books are His authentic word? Where does the Bible describe the process? In Psalm 78:3-7 the Scripture clearly says that God relied upon the process of parents testifying to their children in order to teach future generations. If these are the witnesses who God trusted we can be confident that their testimony is true.

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