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Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Existence of the Oral Torah II

In the previous post arguments from Tanakh were presented for the existence of an Oral Torah and the reliability of the Oral Torah in our possession. In this post we will discuss three more arguments from the Mishna, Septuigent, Apocrypha, and historical research.

Arguments from the Mishna

R. David Nietto (Matteh Dan) argues that the Mishna was completely and immediately accepted by the Jewish people in different lands, as if its basic content was already familiar to them. Israel and Babylonia were divided by the Euphrates (Israel being a part of the Roman empire and Babylonia not). Rav brought the Mishna to Babylonia but there had been scholars in existence from the time of Hillel (Pesachim 66a, BK 117b). It is difficult to imagine the acceptance of unfamiliar traditions if that is, after all, what the Mishna represented. See Peirush la’Mishnayot Menachot 4:1 and Chiddushei Chatam Sofer Gitten 78a.

He further argues (along with R. D. Z. Hoffman, C. Albeck, and others) that the Mishna’s structure and style assumes that its readers already know basic concepts, leaving its authors to record details rather than principles. There must have existed a “First Mishna” long before R. Yehuda ha’Nasi. See Iggeret R. Sherira Gaon.

Arguments from the Septuigent

The Septuagint (3rd century B.C.E. Greek translation of the Torah) explains many laws of the Torah in accordance with rabbinic law. Sometimes it translates the verse in accordance with an opinion found in the Talmud that we do not follow and sometimes it goes according to an opinion not found in any rabbinic literature (but sometimes it is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls).

The following are examples of when the Septuigent agrees with the accepted halakha: a) Shemot 12:15 and Pesachim 5a, b) Shemot 21:7 and Mekhilta there [also see the other Greek translations and Targum-Yonasan; then see Ibn Ezra and Rashbam],c) Shemot 21:16 (see Devarim 24:7 and Sanhedrin 85b), d) Vayikra 21:5 (Devarim 14:1 and Makkos 20a), e) it translates “mi’macharat ha’Shabbat” as “after the first day of Yom Tov” (see above), f) Devarim 22:18 (see Ketubot 46a), g) Devarim 25:5 (see BB 115a), h) Devarim 26:12 (see RH 12b)

The following are examples of when the Septuigent agrees with one Tanna: a) Shemot 21:10 (see Mekhilta there or Ketubot 47b), b) Shemot 21:28-29, 35-36 (see BK 4:9), c) Shemot 22:12 (see Mekhilta there), d) Vayikra 22:28 (see Chullin 78b and the Ibn Ezra), e) Bamidbar 6:4 (see Nazir 6:2), f) Devarim 21:12 (see Yevamot 48a). This doesn’t mean that the Septuagint’s interpretation is older and more authoritative than the other Tanna’s since the verse is open to different interpretations and the Septuagint chose one over the other. It is eminently reasonable that the disagreements in the Talmud and Midrash halakha were much older than the Tannaim disagreeing. For example, in Sukkah 35a Ben Azzai reads “hadar” as water (as in, the “fruit that requires daily watering”) which is its meaning in the Greek language, hudor (think of English cognates, such as hydrate, hydrogen etc.). This is exactly how Aquilas translates it into Greek even though he wrote his translation according to the teachings of R. Akiva and R. Yishmael. Thus, this reading was widespread among the Tannaaim and not an innovation of Ben Azzai.

The following are examples of when the Septuigent translates against the halaka in part or in whole: a) Shemot 22:7, b) Shemot 21:22, c) Devarim 18:10, d) Bamidbar 5:17. Sometimes even the Targum Yonason goes against the halakha. See, for example, Vayikra 18:21 and Megillah 4:9 or Vayikra 22: 28 and Yerushalmi Berakhot 5:3. However, the Septuagint needs for further discussion because it sometimes changes the Masoretic Text or differs from it. Albeck says that most of the translaters weren’t Jewish and didn’t understand the Jewish religion or the Torah. Furthermore, much Tanaaitic material has been lost so it is possible that there were rabbinic opinions which were incorporated into the translations or the apocrypha. We know for sure that we lost the Mekhilta of R. Shimon and Sifrei Zuta because we have discovered fragments from them.

Arguments from the Apocrypha

The book of Ben Sira (2nd century) mentions shiva (but see B’reisheit 50:10), burying the dead, comforting mourners and visiting the sick, b) not swearing by G-d’s name freely, c) making a blessing (or perhaps just praising G-d) when seeing a rainbow, d) cleaning the weights (BB 5:8-11), e) to go to doctors when needed (Berakhot 60a, BK), f) he gives a description of Shimon b. Yochanan which is similar to Tamid 7:3. Much of the ethical advice found in Ben Sira has its parallels in rabbinic literature.

The Book of Macabees (2nd century B.C.E) mentions several halakhot: a) originally they would not fight on Shabbat until their enemies used this against them and Mattisyahu decreed that for self-protection they must fight. This halakha is also recorded in Josephus XII; b) they were in doubt about the stones of mizbeach which have become impure (see AZ 52b); c) in I Macabees 3 they have a fast which corresponds to Ta’anit 2:1 (also see MK 26a and I Macabees 4:38); d) they were careful not to pronounce the name of G-d or kinuyim (for example I Macabees 3:18 and see Sota 7:1); e) non-Jews would bring karbanot (II Macabees 3:35 and III Macabees 1:9, see Sifra Emor 7:2); f) it is possible to bring karban chatat as an atonement for the dead person’s sins (II Macabees 12:43 and Sifri Shoftim and Horiyot 6:1); g) I Macabees 12:38 mentions the ancient custom to bathe/purify one’s self before Shabbat; h) II Macabees 10:6-7 tells us that the Chashmonaim celebrated Channukah for eight days as a way to make up for their lost Sukkot. It describes how they fulfilled the mitzvah of Lulav which clarifies Nechemia 8:14 (unlike the Shomronim and Karaites).

The Book of Judith (dated to approximately the first century B.C.E.), says that she did not fast on Shabbat, Yom Tom or Rosh Chodesh nor on erev Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh (8:6). See RH 19a which agrees with this except that one is able to fast on erev Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh.

The book of Jubilees needs further investigation. In many areas it diverges from rabbinic halakha; in fact, it is often much more stringent For example, it is forbidden on Shabbat to leave [carry outside of?] the house, draw water, travel, do business, fast, make war, and have marital relations. The Book of Susan is similar to this – it is Biblically prohibited to ride on a horse on Shabbat. All of those who transgressed these laws were liable to the death penalty.

Arguments from Historical Research

Two of the most famous discoveries which indicate the existence of the Oral Torah are Mikva at Masada and Tefillin at Qumran which conform to Mishnaic definitions. Although other Tefillin were also found at Masada and Qumram which do not conform to Mishnaic definitions (see Torat ha’Moadim, pgs. 496-510 and Machanayim 62, pgs. 5-14). Either this represents secretarian views or the Halakha was not pinned down yet.

Another famous, but somewhat controversial, discovery is the alter on Mt. Ebal. Adam Zertal found this structure which probably is an alter dating to 1200 B.C.E. or so. He found that it conforms to the descriptions of alters in the Tanakh and in the Mishna in its basic and particular features (Middot 3:1-3; Zevahim 5:3 ). He maintains that this was the alter commanded in Devarim 27:1-9) and built by Yehoshua (8:30-32).

Two more interesting textual discoveries: Many laws found in the Mishna, which are not found in the written Torah, are very similar to other Ancient Near Eastern texts. For example, Ketubot 1:2 is also found in Sumerian law from the third millennium B.C.E. Also, many terms in the Mishna (Melog and Nikhsei Tzon Barzel) are also found in Akkadian from 1500 years before the Mishna. However, one could suggest that these legal terms were incorporated into rabbinic tradition later in time.

There is much more historical research to be discussed. For those interested, see Antiquities IV, XII, VIII, and XXIII, the Letter of Aristeas, and the literature on Philo and on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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