Category Archives: Talmud

Rabbinic Judaism and the New Testament parallels

Judaism and Christianity are different religions: They have different concepts of the nature of God, revelation, salvation, and messiah. But Jesus, his family, and first generation of followers were all Jewish. Historians of religion hold that later Christian doctrine, such as the Trinity, were not taught by Jesus, but rather were developed centuries later by the Church Fathers.

People assume that the teachings of Jesus are radically different from Judaism, but that’s not really correct. This belief comes from comparing the words of Jesus to the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament.) But Judaism is not based on a literal reading of the Bible – rather, it understands the Bible through an oral law – Torah she’be’al peh תורה שבעל פה. These teachings are found in Mishnah, מִשְׁנָה, classical Midrash מדרש compilations, Talmud Yerushalmi (תַּלְמוּד יְרוּשָׁלְמִי) and Talmud Bavli ( תַּלְמוּד בבל ) And when we look at this oral law, we find that many of the words Jesus spoke were very similar to Judaism.

Jesus is presented as an opponent of the Pharisees, the largest of the Jewish groups that existed during the time of the Second Temple.Yet Jesus’s words were often in alignment with the Pharisees – as opposed to the other Jewish groups at the time (Sadducees and Essenes.)

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Pharisaic beliefs became the basis for Rabbinic Judaism. We can find remarkable lists of parallels between Jesus and rabbinical Judaism

A Rabbi’s Impressions of the Oberammergau Passion Play, by Joseph Krauskopf

Some Rabbinic Parallels to the New Testament,  Solomon Schechter, The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Apr., 1900), pp. 415-433

Rabbi Arthur Segal compiled this set of parallels between the teachings of rabbinical Judaism and Jesus in the New Testament.

The New Testament is a set of various books finalized around 100 CE.
The books of rabbinical Judaism are known as “the oral law”, and include material from a few centuries before Jesus, through the redaction of the Mishnah (200 CE), the various classical Midrash compilations (100 to 600 CE) and the two Talmuds (circa 550 CE)

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
 Talmud: Yoma 85b: Rabbi Jonathan ben Joseph said: It (the Sabbath) is committed to your hands, not you to its hands.  Mark 2:27: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
 Tosefta Shavuot, ch. 3 :One who betrays his fellow, it is as if he has betrayed God.  Matthew 25:45: Then shall he answer them, saying, Truthfully I say to you, in as much as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.
 Talmud: Bava Mezia 58b: He who publicly shames his neighbor is as though he shed blood.  Matthew 5:21-22: Insulting someone is like murder.
 Kallah, Ch. 1: One who gazes lustfully upon the small finger of a married woman, it is as if he has committed adultery with her.  Matthew 5:28: But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
 Talmud Taanit 7a : Rabbi Abbahu said: The day when rain fails is greater than [the day of] the Revival of the Dead, for the Revival of the Dead is for the righteous only – whereas rain is both for the righteous and for the wicked  Matthew 5:45: That you may be the children of your Father in heaven: for God makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
 Talmud Berachot 17b: In the case of the recital of the Shema Yisrael [prayer], since everybody else recites, and he also recites, it does not look like showing off on his part; but in the case of the month of Av, since everybody else does work, but he does no work, it looks like showing off.  Matthew 6:1: Take heed that you do not say your prayers before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father in heaven.
 Talmud Bava Batra 10a – 10b: What kind of charity  is that which delivers a man from an unnatural death? When a man gives without knowing to whom he gives. and the beggar receives without knowing from whom he receives.  Matthew 6:3:  But when you do works of charity, let not your left hand know what your right hand does.
 If one draws out his prayer and expects therefore its fulfillment, he will in the end suffer vexation of heart, as it says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Talmud, Berachot 55a  But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.- Matthew 6:7
 Rabbi Eliezer the Great declares: Whoever has a piece of bread in his basket and Says. ‘What shall I eat  tomorrow?’ belongs only to them who are little in faith . – Talmud Sotah 48b  Do not worry about where your food will come from tomorrow, or your drink. – Matthew 6:25-31
A parable: [They were] like a man who was kept in prison and people told him: Tomorrow, they will release you from the prison and give you plenty of money. And he answered them: I pray of you, let me go free today and I shall ask nothing more! – Talmud Berachot 9b

Talmud Beracoth 9b – Each day has enough of its own troubles.

 Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for tomorrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. – Matthew 6:34

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
A righteous yes is a Yes; a righteous no is No. – Talmud Bava Batra 49b

Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. – R. Abaye, Talmud Baba Metzia 49a

 Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No. – Matthew 5:34-37
 Rabbi Johanan said: Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children. – Talmud Bava Batra 12b  At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to babes. – Matthew 11:25
 Even as R. Zera, who, whenever he chanced upon scholars engaged thereon [I.e., in calculating the time of the Mashiach’s  coming], would say to them: I beg of you, do not postpone it, for it has been taught: Three come unawares: Mashiach, a found article and a scorpion. – Talmud Sanhedrin 97a  Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. – Matthew 24:44
 They who are insulted but insult not back; who hear themselves reproached but answer not; who serve out of love and rejoice in their affliction–of them it is written in Scripture: They that love God are as the going forth of the sun in its might. – Talmud: Yoma 23a, Gittin  36b  and  Shabbat  88b  Love your enemy. – Matthew 5:43

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love your neighbor , and hate thine  enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; – Matthew 5:43

 If a man said, “I will sin and repent, and sin again and repent”, he will be given no chance to repent. [If he said,] “I will sin and the Day of Atonement will effect atonement”, then the Day of Atonement effects no atonement. For transgressions that are between man and God the Day of Atonement effects atonement, but for transgressions that are between a man and his fellow the Day of Atonement effects atonement only if he has appeased his fellow – Talmud Yoma 8:9  Therefore if thou bring your gift to the altar, and there rememberest that your brother hath aught against thee; Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5:23-24

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
Talmud Rosh Hashanah 17a – Only if you forgive others will God forgive you.

Talmud Shabbat 151b – One who is merciful toward others, God will be merciful toward him

 Matthew 6:14-15 For if ye forgive men their trespasses …

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.—Matthew 5:7

 Jerusalem Talmud  Pe’ah 15b – It happened that Manobaz had squandered his father’s wealth to charity. His brothers admonished him: “Your father gathered treasure and you wasted it all!” He replied: “My father laid up treasure where human hands control it; I laid it up where no hands control it. My father laid up a treasure of money; I laid up a treasure of souls. My father laid up treasure for this world; I laid up treasure for the heavenly world.”  Matthew 6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth …
Talmud Pirkei Avot 2:14 – Do not judge your fellow until you have been in his place.

Talmud Pirkei Avot 4:10 – Do not be a judge of others, for there is no judge but the one (God).

 Matthew 7:1 Do not judge, or you too will be judged …
Talmud Sotah 1:7 – By a person’s standard of measure, is he, too, measured.

Talmud Shabbat 127b – How you judge others, does God judge you.

Talmud Sanhedrin 100a, attributes to Rabbi Meir the saying: “The measure which one measures will be measured out to him.”

 Matthew 7:2 … with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
Talmud Arachin 16b – Rabbi Tarfon said, “I wonder if there be anyone in this era who will allow himself to be reproved. If someone says to another, ‘Cast out the speck that is in your eye!’ he will retort, Cast out first the beam that is in your own eye!'”

Do they say, take the splinter out of your eye, he will retort: “Remove the beam out of your own eye.”—R. Johanan, surnamed Bar Napha, 199-279 A.D., Baba Bathra 15b.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the beam that is in your own eye?—Matthew 7:3

 

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
 The day is short, and the work is much; and the workmen are indolent, but the reward is much; and the Master of the House is insistent.—R. Tarfon, 120 A.D., Aboth 2:15 The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.—Matthew 9.37
He who humbles himself for the Torah in this world is magnified in the next; and he who makes himself a servant to the Torah in this world becomes free in the next.—R. Jeremiah, died 250 A.D., Baba Metzia 85b Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.—Matthew 23:12
Talmud Yoma 85b – Yom Kippur atones for all sins, but first you must reconcile your conflict with others. Matthew 5:23-24… first be reconciled to your brother.
Talmud Rosh Hashanah 17a – Only if you forgive others will God forgive you.

Talmud Shabbat 151b – One who is merciful toward others, God will be merciful toward him

Matthew 6:14-15 For if ye forgive men their trespasses …
 Jerusalem Talmud Pe’ah 15b – It happened that Manobaz had squandered his father’s wealth to charity. His brothers admonished him: “Your father gathered treasure and you wasted it all!” He replied: “My father laid up treasure where human hands control it; I laid it up where no hands control it. My father laid up a treasure of money; I laid up a treasure of souls. My father laid up treasure for this world; I laid up treasure for the heavenly world.” Matthew 6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth …

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
Talmud Pirkei Avot 2:14 – Do not judge your fellow until you have been in his place.

Talmud Pirkei Avot 4:10 – Do not be a judge of others, for there is no judge but the one (God).

Matthew 7:1 Do not judge, or you too will be judged …
Talmud Sotah 1:7 – By a person’s standard of measure, is he, too, measured.

Talmud Shabbat 127b – How you judge others, does God judge you.

Talmud Sanhedrin 100a, attributes to Rabbi Meir the saying: “The measure which one measures will be measured out to him.”

Matthew 7:2 … with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
Talmud Shabbat 31a – What is hateful to you, do it not unto others — this is the entire Torah, and the rest is commentary. Matthew 7:12 Do to others what you would have them do to you …
He who is merciful to others, shall receive mercy from Heaven. – Talmud Shabbat 151b

Sifri, Ekev No. 49 – As God is, so shall you be: As God is merciful, so shall you too, be merciful.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. –Matthew 5:7
 Just as I teach gratuitously, so you should teach gratuitously. – Talmud Beracoth 29a Freely you receive, freely give. –Matthew 10:8

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
 He who humbles himself for the Torah in this world is magnified in the next; and he who makes himself a servant to the Torah in this world becomes free in the next. – Talmud Baba Metzia 85b Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. –Matthew 23:12
 

Rabbi Arthur Segal analyzes these verses and concludes:

As we can see because Jesus was indeed a Pharisee Talmudic rabbi, from the House of Hillel, from the liberal tradition, as were his followers, he was teaching to those in Judea who were either followers of the more strict school of Rabbi Shammai, or still considered themselves Hebrews, and following the cult of the priests. The priests at the time of Jesus were corrupt, not of the line of Aaron, nor Kohan’s, but were Hasmoneans and Roman puppets. The Talmudic rabbis despised them saying ‘if you meet a priest and his is arrogant, you can be sure of his lineage.” The Talmud states that God’s holy Presence did not reside in the second Temple.

Jesus was preaching to Jews and Hebrews Talmudic spiritual Judaism and in cases were Talmudic law was trumped by Talmudic law, he was quick to tell those who would listen. Unfortunately, in the Christian bible, the words Jew and Hebrews get interchanged, and it sounds as if Talmudic Jews were still mired in the Temple priestly cult which Jesus, as the rabbis too, were against.

 

Oral law

The Written law [Tanakh] makes it clear that it was being transmitted side by side with an oral tradition. Many terms and definitions used in the written law are undefined. Many fundamental concepts such as shekhita (slaughtering of animals in a kosher fashion), divorce and the rights of the firstborn are all assumed as common knowledge by text, and are not elaborated upon. The Oral Law, then, is a legal commentary on the Torah, explaining how its commandments are to be carried out. – Wikipedia, Oral Torah

Pages of Talmud

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes:

Common sense suggests that some sort of oral tradition was always needed to accompany the Written Law, because the Torah alone is an insufficient guide to carrying out the laws in practice. For example, the fourth of the Ten Commandments, ordains, “Remember the Sabbath day to make it holy” (Exodus 20:8). From the Sabbath’s inclusion in the Ten Commandments, it is clear that the Torah regards it as an important holiday. Yet when one looks for the specific biblical laws regulating how to observe the day, one finds only injunctions against lighting a fire, going away from one’s dwelling, cutting down a tree, and plowing and harvesting. Would merely refraining from these few activities fulfill the biblical command to make the Sabbath holy? Indeed, the Sabbath rituals that are most commonly associated with holiness – lighting of candles, reciting the kiddush, and the reading of the weekly Torah portion – are found not in the Torah, but in the Oral Law.

The Torah also is silent on many important subjects. The Torah has nothing to say concerning a marriage ceremony. To be sure, the Torah presumes that people will get married “Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) – but nowhere in the Torah is a marriage ceremony recorded. Only in the Oral Law do we find details on how to perform a Jewish wedding. {Telushkin}

Without an oral tradition, many of the Torah’s laws would be incomprehensible. In Deuteronomy, the Bible instructs: “And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes” (see Deuteronomy 6:4).

“Bind them for a sign upon your hand,” the last verse instructs. Bind what? The Torah doesn’t say. “And they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.” What are frontlets? The Hebrew word for frontlets, totafot is used three times in the Torah – always in this context (Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18) and is as obscure as is the English. Only in the Oral Law do we learn that what a Jewish male should bind – tefillin.

Despite its name, the Oral Law today is a written law, codified in law collections known as the Mishna and the two Talmuds. It used to be passed along orally, but after many centuries it was finally written down so that information wouldn’t be lost.

Strangely enough, the Oral Law today is a written law, codified in the Mishna and Talmud. Orthodox Judaism believes that most of the oral traditions recorded in these books dates back to God’s revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai. When God gave Moses the Torah, Orthodoxy teaches, He simultaneously provided him all the details found in the Oral Law. It is believed that Moses subsequently transmitted that Oral Law to his successor, Joshua, who transmitted it to his successor, in a chain that is still being carried on (Ethics of the Fathers 1:1).

Given this chain of authority, one might wonder why the Mishna and Talmud are filled with strong debates between rabbis,who have very different understandings of what the law shoud be. Shouldn’t they have all been recipients of the same, unambiguous tradition Orthodox teachers respond that the debates came about either because students forgot some of the details transmitted by their teachers, or because the Oral Law lacks specific teachings on the issue being discussed.

– Joseph Telushkin. Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History. William Morrow and Co.

Mechitza

A mechitzah (מחיצה‎, partition, pl.: מחיצות‎, mechitzot) is a partition used in Orthodox synagogues to separate men and women during formal prayer services.

For the last 2 centuries it has been erroneously taught that a mandatory mechitzah is an ancient law, followed since the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago, and enshrined in the Talmud itself,

Here is an unfortunate example of such a belief, popular among the ultra-Orthodox:

“It is my job as a Rabbi to teach and educate people. In the times of the second Temple (Beis HaMikdash) in Tractate Sukkos it was written that a special platform was made for the women so that they could view the men dancing and the Lulav and Esrog ceremony. WOMEN AND MEN HAVE ALWAYS BEEN SEPARATED from the time of Avraham until about 1800 in Germany. After the Sabbatai Ẓevi and Jacob Frank  false moshiachs [messiahs], the Reform Movement started.”

No historians would agree with this. The entire paragraph is an urban myth. There is no relationship between Zevi & Frank, and classical German Reform Judaism. Sabbatai Zevi was a kabbalist, and historians say that some of teachings actually influenced Orthodox Hasidic Judaism; in contrast classical German Reform was rationalist and rejected all kabbalah, both Zevi’s and Hasidic.

It is true that over the centuries, women and men didn’t sit together in modern-day style. Few historical sources exist, but those that do imply that perhaps men prayed more often in synagogue, and women less often. There were local customs for women and men to sit separately, but there is no evidence that this was ever a widespread law, indeed, perhaps no evidence that it was even considered a local law.

The idea that a mechitzah is mandatory didn’t develop until after the Enlightenment, and the emergence of classical Reform Judaism. In response to these changes, the Orthodox community created new rules on tefila (prayer) and gender.

Two rationales were developed by the Orthodox, in an effort to claim that this rule had always existed.

I. The Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 51b, 52a) describes a divider in the form of a balcony, in the Temple in Jerusalem. However, it was only set up only during the festive, raucous, Simchat Beit Hasho’evah (Water Drawing Ceremony) on Sukkot. Otherwise it was not used.

II. The Talmud cites a teaching that we may not daven in the presence of an ‘erva, an immodestly dressed woman. Berachot 24a states “tefach b’isha erva”, “an area of uncovered skin of a woman is ‘erva.” What an area (tefach) actually is, is not defined. Thus one may not daven in the presence of women where this much skin is exposed.

Noah Gradofsky writes:

In absence of evidence the claim that mechitzah started in an effort to avoid davening in the presence of ervah is conjecture. Somewhat reasonable, but you would have to argue that women going in to shul with ervah uncovered was commonplace enough to necessitate this enactment. This strikes me as unlikely, since if women were commonly enough going into synagogues with certain body parts uncovered, those body parts would be, by definition, not ervah. perhaps the conservative mores of a synagogue led people to label what offended them as ervah even though the cultural reality around them was different. One of the interesting points of the phrase במקום שדרקן לכסות – “where they normally cover” is whether the word מקום (place) refers to a geographic location, an anatomical location, or both.

During the same time period, Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews developed prohibitions on women from singing with men, the prohibition against Kol Isha. The result of this gender segregation (mechitzahs and Kol Isha) was to effectively render women not part of the Jewish congregation: Many Orthodox siddurim have a prayer asking God to “bless the congregation – and their wives”, clearly implying that women are full members.

The upshot: There is no mention of any mechitzah in the Temple in Jerusalem, not during the First or Second Temple, nor are there are mentions of it in the Talmud. Rabbi David Golinkin writes:

Towards the end of the Second Temple period the Sages directed that a women’s gallery be constructed in the Women’s Court to keep the sexes separated ONLY during the somewhat light-headed celebration of the water festival during Succot.

During the balance of the year men and women mingled freely in the Women’s Court. (It appears that this was so named because it marked the limit of approach by women who were not bringing sacrifices, to the inner courts of the Temple). There is no literary or archaeological basis for assuming the existence of a synagogue separation during the period of the Mishnah and the Talmud.

The first mention is towards the end of the period of the Geonim (around the eleventh century). From then on, such separation is occasionally mentioned in passing. Not until the end of the nineteenth century do we have a halakhic source *requiring* separation in the synagogue.

At this point one is reminded of the classic joke retold by the ThinkJudaism blog:

Conservative Jew: Why doesn’t Rav Yosef Karo’s law book, the Shulḥan Aruch, have a section for the laws of meḥitza?
Orthodox Jew: Why?
Conservative Jew: We learn from this that a synagogue really doesn’t need a meḥitza.
Orthodox Jew: No, we learn from this that a synagogue really doesn’t need women.

Jews in front of Western Wall Kotel

Image: Jews in front of Western Wall, Jerusalem, from a negative taken approximately 1900 to 1920. Library of Congress LC-DIG-matpc-12192

Laws about mechitzahs were never said to be a part of halakhah until the 1800’s.  Examples include

Chatam Sofer, Orech Chaim 5:190
Moses Schreiber (1762–1839), Germany

It is right according to our Torah law to listen to the voice of a woman in shul, in a place that men congregate, and the women’s voice goes from the women’s section to the men’s section?  The reason for this, is that we believe that all prayer and praise and thanksgiving should not be mixed with improper thoughts. And because of this we separate the women from the men in shul, to make sure they do not come to think improper thoughts during the time of prayer. And we learn this from the water libation ceremony that is spoken about in Tractate Sukka where they made sure the women were above and the men below so they would not come to kalut rosh. . And it is said there on 52a, as it says: “And the land shall mourn, every family apart: The family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart.” (Zecharia 12:12). And it is a kal v’chomer- here where they are talking about a eulogy where there is no evil inclination the Torah tells us that the men were separate, and here that we are talking about happiness, where there is an evil inclination, all the more so there should be a separation.
– Translation from Sefaria.Org

Maharam Shik מהר”ם שיק, Orech Chaim 77
Rabbi Moshe Schick משה שיק‎‎, (1807 – 1879), Hungary

Igrat Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:39
Rav Moses Feinstein משה פיינשטײַן‎‎  (1895–1986), New York

Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 7:8
Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg (1915–2006), Jerusalem

Joseph B. Soloveitchik יוסף דב הלוי סולובייצ׳יק  (1903-1993) Community, Covenant and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications. Ktav Publishing House, 2005. p. 129-130. During the 1950’s, Soloveitchik ruled that it was forbidden to pray in a synagogue without a separation between the sexes, and that this law was actually mi-d’orayta, an actual law in the Torah. At the time, during the political-social fighting between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, many Orthodox Jews accepted this claim as correct. Today however no person takes this claim seriously; there is not mitzvah in the Torah on this subject. He further stated that the use of a mechitza as we know it today was mi-derabbenan, a rabbinical prohibition from the Talmud (discussed above, which we now know is mistaken. He misread the Talmudic text about the temporary partition erected during raucously celebrated Simchat Beit Hasho’evah (Water Drawing Ceremony) on Sukkot.

Further reading

Is the Entire Kotel Plaza Really a Synagogue? Rabbi David Golinkin, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies

The Mehitzah in the Synagogue, Rabbi David Golinkin

Meḥitza: Do Orthodox prayers count in a Conservative Synagogue? from ThinkJudaism

The Mehitzah in the synagogue, by Rabbi Monique Susskind Goldberg (PDF file)

The Trichitza Phenomenon, by Jordan Namerow

Trichitza. A strange word, no? Until I was in Israel two weeks ago and prayed in a trichitza setting for the first time, I’d never heard the word before. Shortly thereafter, I came across a trichitza-related article in the November/December 2006 edition of New Voices. I’ve since learned that over the past few years, a growing number of communities have experimented with a trichitza, defining religious space in new, pluralizing ways. Adapted from the word mechitza (which literally means “separation” and refers to the physical divider traditionally used to separate men and women during prayer services), a trichitza divides the prayer space into three sections: one exclusively for women, one exclusively for men, and one not classified by gender. This provides options for nearly everyone: those whose Jewish practice is built upon gender-egalitarianism, those who wish to pray in a gender-specific space… , and those whose own gender-identity lies outside of the male/female binary. The author of Mah Rabu, a blog about Jewish politics, culture, and religious issues writes of the trichitza: “It’s an elegant idea that didn’t exist and then someone came up with it, and everyone said: ‘why didn’t I think of that before?’”

Hilchot Pluralism, Part III: Macroscopic prayer issues – Includes a discussion about trichitzahs

Levels of Jewish law

There are several levels of law in halakha.

A1. The מצוות דאורייתא, mitzvot d’oraita, 613 Mitzvot (commandments) – These are all found directly in the Torah.

A2. Laws given to Moses at Sinai, Halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai, הלכה למשה מסיני.

These are laws not stated in the Torah, nor derived from it by logical principles (hermeneutics.)

These laws have been known to us from antiquity: they were accepted by the sages of the Mishnah as being as ancient and authoritative as the laws in the written Torah. They were transmitted, some perhaps from the time of Moses, through Judaism’s oral tradition, until written down in the Mishnah. In a way, they constitute additional mitzvot, which one can add to the 613.  But not because we are changing the Torah or adding to it. Rather, according to our history, these rules were always part and parcel of Torah, even if they were not written within the admittedly small text of the Torah.

As in all cultures, not all beliefs and practices are written down at once. Maimonides lists 31 of these mitzvot in his Mishnah commentary introduction:  31 Halachos L’Moshe MiSinai according to the Rambam

Usuallt, extensions of Torah laws are not Halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai. If a primary rule is given in the Torah (abstain from labor on Shabbat) the elaboration doesn’t count as a Halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai. In the Mishnah and Talmud, the rabbis elaborate 39 categories of labors prohibited on Shabbat; these are merely elaborations of the Torah mitzvah and not additional mitzvot.  See the piece by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, 31 Halachos L’Moshe MiSinai according to the Rambam.

However, in some cases, details for how to observe a mitzvah are included in this category.  There seems to be no firm rule for which statements count in this category, but over time the list made by Maimonides has been seen as authoritative. Some examples are

1. That the loaves of a thanksgiving offering need a half-log of oil;
2. That the offering upon completion of a nazir period requires a quarter-log of oil;
7. Minimum sizes, such as of food for blessings;
10. The parchment to be used for tefillin;
11. The parchment to be used for mezuzos;
20. The ink to use for writing a sefer Torah;
25. That a field with ten or more saplings may be plowed right up until Shemittah;

It is often taught that we must believe that the Halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai literally came from Moses. But even a cursory reading of the Talmud and Midrash show that the rabbis didn’t believe this. Jewish tradition actually teaches that the term means a rule accepted as if it was given to Moses. Rabbi Shalom Berger (Orthodox) writes

“In the brief chapter on “Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai” in Menachem Elon’s HaMishpat HaIvri, Elon points to the well-known Midrash (TB Menahot 29b) – that describes Moshe Rebbenu sitting in Rabbi Akiva’s Talmud class and not understanding the discussion – and ends with Rabbi Akiva quoting the source for his teaching as “Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai” – as a proof that the term can be used to mean that a given teaching is known and accepted *as if* it had been given to Moshe on Mount Sinai.”

B. The seven rabbinic mitzvot – שבע מצוות דרבנן, Mitzvot d’rabanan.  The Talmud notes occasions when rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud actually created new mitzvot (commandments.)  They are:

1. Saying blessings over pleasurable things (מצוות הנאה, e.g. fruits), over the fulfillment of a mitzvah (e.g. brit milah), and over various natural phenomenon (e.g. seeing the Great Ocean, i.e. Mediterranean Sea, or lightning) or significant (e.g. meeting a king) events. These additional brachot are together counted as one, for the purposes of the mitzvot d’rabanan.

2. Washing one’s hands before eating bread.

3. Eruvim: 3 kinds of “mixings” to allow: (a) carrying on Shabbat in a courtyard, which can be extended (eruv xatzeirot, the usual referent of ‘eruv’), (b) walking more than a mile on Shabbat outside a city (eruv t’xumim), (c) preparation of food on a Yom Tov (holiday) for consumption on the Shabbat that immediately follows it (eruv tavshilim)

4. Recitation of Hallel (Psalms 114-118) on most holidays and on Rosh Chodesh

5. Lighting of Shabbat candles

6. Public reading Megillat Esther on Purim, both evening and day.

7. Lighting candles on the 8 nights of Chanukah.

The 7 are not grouped as such in the Talmud: the list is first compiled by R. David Vital in his book כתר תורה ((1536, listing the mitzvoth, according to the choices of the Rambam. The numeric equivalent of the Hebrew title, ‘Keter’ adds up to 620 [613 + 7] in gematria (numerical mysticism.)

C1. Gezeira d’rabanan. A rabbinic fence law, aimed at deterring one from doing something that is prohibited.

For example, one may not place food directly on a fire before Shabbat in order to keep it heated during Shabbat. This is a fence around the law against cooking on Shabbat. To prevent the gezeira from being violated, a metal cover, called a blech in Yiddish, is placed on the stove top before Shabbat with the flame (turned to a low setting) under one section and the pot with food placed on the blech. This blech serves as a fence, allowing heating of the food without any danger of violating the law. Note that a “gezeira dirabanan” becomes binding only if it is accepted by the community. From the Soc.Culture.Jewish.Faq

C2. A Takanah is rabbinic legislation. The term often refers to directives aimed at imposing a duty to perform a particular, act. Some are rulings not to engage in particular acts e.g. the 2 famous takkanot of Rabbeinu Gershom (c. 1000 CE – not marrying more than one woman, not opening another’s mail).

D. Minhag, Custom.

Minhag is any act that the masses, on their own, accept. A minhag against actual halachah is called a minhag ta’ut (mistaken minhag.) Any based on a misunderstanding is a minhag shtut, a foolish custom. These two should not be followed. Any nearly universal minhag is called a Minhag Yisroel, and has most of the stringencies of law. (Yarmulka, and Ma’ariv services are two examples of a Minhag Yisroel.)
– SCJ FAQ

E. P’sak. A rabbinic ruling. Any individua can ask their rabbi a question, and since a rabbi is trained in Jewish law, the rabbi’s answer is generally considered authoritative. This does bring up the question of “who is a rabbi”, because the rabbinical semichah (ordination) that Jews have today is not the classical semichah that existed in the Mishnaic and Talmudic era. Rather today’s rabbinic ordination is היתר הוראה – a permission to pasken (decide halachic questions).

Not every question asked to a rabbi results in a p’sak halakhah: The rabbi’s answer is sometimes only considered a p’sak when it involved an original analysis.  If the rabbi finds it sufficient to reply by citing already existing laws and customs, then the response is just a regular answer. (e.g. “May we count seven men as a minyan? ” “No, it needs to be 10 men”.)

Constraints:

A rabbi traditionally may not offer a p’sak when within the presence of his/her own teacher! The exception is that one may override one’s own teacher, if one becomes recognized as a Posek (expert in a particular area of Jewish law.) What is a posek? Posek (article on Wikipedia)

http://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/10238/am-i-allowed-to-answer-my-friends-halacha-question

Rabbi Yitzchok A. Breitowitz adds an important constraint in making a p’sak.

“Halachic decision-making is not a matter of a Rabbi secluding himself in a room and getting a direct answer from G-d which he then communicates with ex cathedra authority. Indeed, based on the verse, “It [the Torah] is not in Heaven”, the Talmud declares that prophecy and Divine inspiration cannot be taken into account in the resolution of halachic questions. All halachic resolution depends on a solid empirical grounding in the facts coupled with a reasoned application from the primary texts that Jewish law considers to be definitive, e.g. Talmud, Codes. Ad hoc decision-making that is not rooted in these texts is generally illegitimate.”

http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/decide.html

Is Posek shopping permissible? (Asking multiple rabbis the same question, in order to get the answer that you want.) Here is a response from the website of the Union of Orthodox Congregations (Modern Orthodox, USA)

https://www.ou.org/torah/halacha/halacha-lmaaseh/halachic-decisions-psak/

Talmud explained with commentary

The Talmud, which includes the Mishnah, is the core text of rabbinic Judaism. Learners find it challenging to understand unless learning alongside a teacher, or with a detailed commentary.

The Talmud is an enormous document, covering centuries of rabbinic debates, hand written and edited, long before the invention of the printing press. In order to make it a practical size, it had to be encoded in a hyper condensed style. Arguments and methods of thought are often represented with a term or brief phrase; quotations from the Torah, Tanakh or Mishnah are brief: the text assumes that the reader is familiar with the entire corpus of Bible and rabbinic literature.  The document is effectively hyperlinked – each section assumes that the reader knows which other sections the text refers to.  Even so, the Talmud is the size of an entire encyclopedia.

It is instructive to compare the bare text of the Talmud, to how it is explained by a master teacher, who brings in the relevant material necessary to understand the text.

Here is an excerpt from the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Pesachim, from the famous Soncino Edition. It’s translation comes close to a literal, sometimes word-for-word rendering of the text:

MISHNAH. ON THE EVENING [OR] OF THE FOURTEENTH [OF NISAN] A SEARCH IS
MADE FOR LEAVEN BY THE LIGHT OF A LAMP. EVERY PLACE WHEREIN LEAVENED
BREAD IS NOT TAKEN DOES NOT REQUIRE SEARCHING, THEN IN WHAT CASE DID
THEY RULE, TWO ROWS OF THE WINE CELLAR [MUST BE SEARCHED]?
[CONCERNING] A PLACE WHEREIN LEAVEN MIGHT BE TAKEN, BETH SHAMMAI
MAINTAIN: TWO ROWS OVER THE FRONT OF THE WHOLE CELLAR; BUT BETH
HILLEL MAINTAIN: THE TWO OUTER ROWS, WHICH ARE THE UPPERMOST.

GEMARA. What is OR? — R. Huna said: Light [naghe]; while Rab Judah said: Night [lele]. Now it was assumed [that] he who says light means literally light;8 while he who says night means literally night.
An objection is raised: As soon as the morning was light [or], the men were sent away, which proves that ‘or’ is day? — Is it then written, The ‘or’ was morning: [Surely] ‘the morning was or’ is written, as one says, Morning has broken forth. And [this verse is] in accordance with what Rab Judah said in Rab’s name. For Rab Judah said in Rab’s name: A man should always enter [a town] by day, and set out by day.
An objection is raised: As the light of [or] the morning, when the sun riseth, which proves that ‘or’ means the daytime? — Is it then written, ‘or is morning’: surely it is written, ‘as the light of [or] the morning’, and this is its meaning: ‘and as the light of the morning’ in this world so shall the rising of the sun be unto the righteous in the world to come.

What does this all mean? What precisely are the arguments being made?

The Steinsaltz edition of the Talmud – which has been published in several different editions (Modern Hebrew, French, English – from Random House, and English – from Koren) is something of a modern legend, used in Modern Orthodoxy, Chabad Lubavitch, and Reform and Conservative Judaism.  Here we present the same Mishnah and Gemara – but this time including the Koren edition’s introduction and translation/commentary: the commentary has the more literal parts in bold-face, while interpolated explanation is in non-bolded font.

Introduction:

The Torah prohibits the possession of any leaven or leavened bread throughout the
week of Passover, mandating its removal beforehand. However, the correct way to
practically fulfill these obligations is left undefi ned. At what point before the Festival
is a person obligated to remove leaven from his or her possession? How should this
be done?

Furthermore, what is the legal definition of leaven being in one’s possession? The
Torah formulates the prohibition by stating that leaven or leavened bread should
not be found in one’s house or quarters. This raises the question of leaven that is
physically found in one’s property but is owned by a gentile: Does such leaven have
to be removed? Similarly, what should be done with the leaven in order for it to be
considered removed from one’s possession? Is it necessary to physically remove or
destroy it, or is it suffi cient to renounce ownership or nullify it? Many of these questions
are addressed in the first chapter of tractate Pesaĥim.

Although the Torah requires only that the leaven be removed from one’s possession,
the Sages enacted that a search be conducted and that all leaven be identified, in order
to ensure its removal before the onset of the Festival. What method should be used?
When should the search ideally be conducted, and is it valid if conducted at other
times? Who is obligated to perform the search, especially in cases where more than
one person is responsible for a property? A full discussion of these issues provides
a major focus of this chapter.

Koren Steinsaltz Talmud 1

Koren Steinsaltz Talmud 2.PNG

Koren Steinsaltz Talmud 3

Koren Steinsaltz Talmud 4

Koren Steinsaltz Talmud 5

Also see our section Mishnah study.