LP4000 The Role of Tradition and its Old Testament Influence

It would be remiss to discuss the Old Testament and its relevance to Original Christianity without talking about the oral traditions called the Talmud in later times. In the Bible, they are just called the tradition of the elders.

In Jewish history, for as long as there has been a written law, there has been an oral law that is “ a set of teachings, interpretations, and insights that complement the written Torah.” that were part of Jewish life.i In fact, Orthodox Jews believe that Moses received this oral law, also called the oral Torah , when he received the written law. From there it was passed on orally, from elders to Prophets, to the men of the Great Assembly and on and on. Many Jews consider this oral Torah just as much the word of God as the written Torah.ii

Of course, there are factions within Judaism that don’t take things as literally as the more conservative sects just as in all other religions. And so you might encounter Jews for which the Talmud is considered a valuable book, but to them, it evolved over time and some of it is no longer relevant.

Basically, according to Jewish authority, the need for the Talmud stems from the brevity of the sections of the Law in the Torah. For example, how do you perform a wedding ceremony? What does “an eye for an eye” mean exactly? How do you handle sacrifices when the temple is destroyed and that is the only supposed place for them?iii

The Talmud is further broken down into two parts, the Mishnah and the Gemara. The Mishnah is the collection of legal rulings by noted Rabbis such as first-century Rabbis Hillel and Shammai, as well as others. The Mishnah is organized into 6 basic Sedarim (orders) relating to areas of seeds, set feasts, women, damages, Hallowed things, and Purities. Within each order are numerous tractates.

The Gemara is a book of discussions commenting on the teachings in the Mishnah. It has stories, legends, parts of sermons, and other teachings relating to the relationship between the Torah and Mishnah.

The Talmud was strictly oral until the first and second centuries when the destruction of the Temple, as well as the increasing complexity of the tradition, impressed the need for codifying the material into a written form. Judah Ha-Nasi is credited with the first edition of the oral law creating a written Mishnah at the beginning of the third century.

There is a claim that the Talmud is unchangeable and if that were true then we would know what it was in Jesus’ and the Apostle’s time but evidence shows that it is a changing document so as conditions in the world changed so did the commentary on what was appropriate in the Talmud.

The fact that the written version wasn’t written down until the third century and has been updated since leaves us uncertain about some of what was the oral tradition in the time of Jesus and the Apostles but there are New testament references that talk directly about some issues.

Let’s look at a Talmud example relating to the mixing of seeds

“You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material. (Lev 19:19)

Here in the law is a law on mixing species, seeds and materials. We will look at seeds for our example.

The same laws are in Deuteronomy chapter twenty-two. Look at verse nine:

“You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole yield be forfeited, the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard. (Deu 22:9)

So we see that mixing seeds in a field is strictly forbidden. Now let’s see what the Talmud says?

There is a discussion on chabad.org about the Talmud on these verses.iv They explain that mixing seeds or species is called kilayim. They note that there are 77 Mishnah related to this topic with “elaborate analysis”. That is a lot of discussions!

Looking at Kiddushin 39a we see Gemara comments asking whether the field is part of the Land of Israel, and then the Gemara answering that the prohibition of diverse seeds doesn’t apply outside Israel.

Another comment in the same Kiddushin 39a relates that Rav Hanan and Rav Anan saw a man planting wheat and barley between grapevines. So one says the Master should ostracize him but the other says that since Rabbi Yoshiya said one is not wrong unless he sows these three seeds with one hand motion he is not to be ostracized.v

So, in this case, these three different plants growing near each other is not an example of mixed seeds in a field. Notice that this is not the strictest interpretation of the law. It is an example that sometimes the strictest interpretation isn’t chosen, at least by some Rabbis.

The point apparently here is that it is not as simple as it looks. In this example there are different plants planted near each other which some might say is mixing seeds. But looking at the Talmud we see guidance that this example does not constitute sowing mixed seeds as the seeds are not sown together in one hand motion. This interpretation suggests mixing seeds by throwing them with one hand produces wheat and barley grown in the same ground whereas not throwing them with one hand means you might have wheat growing in one space and barley in another which would be acceptable.

As far as seed mixing goes there are many other references to consider if those circumstances don’t match yours. And this has not been an exhaustive study by any means, just an illustration of researching the Talmud for answers. The source referenced above lists 77 Mishnahs involved.

Because of this level of inspection and review the Talmud is approximately 10 times the size of the Torah. The Babylonian Talmud is listed as 2711 pages. It is very complicated and its sheer size requires much study to know what it truly says. The sheer size of the information involved can make it confusing. In order to avoid breaking the law, it appears that the Talmud is the final authority to at least some children of God although many appear adamant that the Torah is the Word of God and the Talmud is only advice.

Remember that the Talmud was in oral form during Original Christianity but it was painstakingly handed down from generation to generation just as it was painstakingly adhered to by some Jewish leaders.

iJudaism for Dummies, Rabbi Ted Falcon and David Blatner, Wiley and Sons, Hoboken NJ, 2013, p.39





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