The Truth about the Talmud (Part 1)

Talmud

The Truth about the Talmud
(Part 1)
by
James Scott Trimm

Ironically anti-Semitism seems to be running rampant through the Hebraic Roots movement in recent years.  One major example has been the circulating of false and slanderous attacks on the contents of the Talmud.

Do not get me wrong, it is perfectly acceptable to disagree with things which the Talmud says.  I know there are a number of things which are in the Talmud which I disagree with.  What I am talking about is material that misrepresents or misquotes what the Talmud says, often so as to wrongly indicate that the Talmud says things that any civilized person would find repugnant (for example the false claims that the Talmud teaches that it is permitted to sodomize young boys).  These types of claims move beyond mere disagreement and into the area of blatant anti-semitism.

Lists of quotes and misquotes have been circulated, many of these lists of supposed quotes from the Talmud have actually been drawn from Nazi propaganda pamphlets originally circulated during World War II.

Many of these lists of quotes (often taken out of context), and misquotes, are circulated by persons who have never even seen a Talmud, much less have any real knowledge of what they are talking about.

One website which has this list of these supposed quotes from the Talmud is the 2besaved.com site run by the rather unsavory publishers of the so-called “Halleluyah Scriptures”
(http://nazarenespace.com/profiles/blogs/the-hallelyuah-scriptures-p…)

What is the Talmud?

Before we begin, it is important to understand what the Talmud actually is.

To begin with the Talmud does not claim inspiration, to the contrary the Talmud distinguishes itself from the prophets of the Tanak (“Old Testament”) in this very regard.  The Talmud actually says:

Our Rabbis taught: Since the death of the last prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachai, the Holy Spirit [of prophetic inspiration] departed from Israel; yet they were still able to avail themselves of the Bat-kol.
(b.San. 11a also b.Sotah 48b & b.Yoma 9b)

Likewise we read in the Zohar:

R. Jose discoursed on the verse: “And on the vine were three branches, and it was as though it budded and its blossoms shot forth.” (Gen. 40:10) ‘How little’, he said, ‘do men care for the glory of their Master or pay heed to the words of the Torah! At first prophecy was vouchsafed to men, and through it they knew the glory of Elohim. When prophecy ceased, they had a bat-kol,but now they have nothing but dreams.
(Zohar 1:238a)

So what is the Talmud?  Simply put the majority of the Talmud is the court record of the ancient Pharisaic Sanhedrins, both at Jerusalem and later at Yavneh.

As such the Talmud, like the US Supreme Court Record, includes both majority and minority opinions.

The general format is that a problem is stated, the various positions are presented, and then a resolution is given, generally as the last position stated.  As a result the Talmud presents a great many statements by a great many sources, which the Talmud itself is not actually in agreement with.

Oftentimes the unschooled will quote statements from the Talmud which are simply part of the record of REJECTED positions, and then say “The Talmud says XYZ.”

Lets look at a very simple example (most Talmudic passages are much more complex than this one:

Honeycombs: From what point do they become susceptible to uncleanness on account
of their being regarded as liquids?
Beit Shammai says: from the moment he begins to smoke the bees out;
Beit Hillel says: from the time after [the honeycomb] has been broken.
(m.Uktzkin 3:11)

Here we have a problem presented.  As well all know, honey comes from bees.  And we also know that bees unclean animals.  Yet honey is not intrinsically unclean, because we see it frequently referenced as food in the Tanak.  The honey did not become unclean through its contact with bees, yet a pot of honey in the kitchen can clearly become unclean if it comes in contact with that which is unclean.  So at what point does the honey become susceptible to uncleanness?

The Talmud presents us with two mutually exclusive conflicting answers:

Beit Shammai says: from the moment he begins to smoke the bees out;
Beit Hillel says: from the time after [the honeycomb] has been broken.
(m.Uktzkin 3:11)

Now one who did not know how to read Talmud might run around saying:  “The Talmud says honey is susceptible to uncleanness from the moment one begins to smoke the bees out.  They could run around quoting this, and the unlearned might even look up the passage and say “Why yes, the Talmud does say that.”  But in fact the Talmud actually teaches to the contrary, that honey is susceptible to uncleanness from the time the honeycomb is broken (that is, when it becomes available to human use).

Now this passage was very simple, but in a typical text, parenthetical issues may be dealt with at length before the next opposing point of view is presented, sometimes pages further into the book.

In the process the Talmud may completely explore a view the Talmud itself regards as apostate, before ultimately giving a resolution that is totally different.

In reading Talmud it is important to understand who the presenters are, some of them are known apostates or apostate groups presenting positions that the Talmud will go on to reject as the text moves forward.

In the example above it was a rather simple matter about honey, but often times the matters some present wrongly as if they are the Talmudic position, are far more consequential.

In future weeks I will be posting a series of teachings (these will be in the background, in addition to my regular teachings) each of which will explore a Talmud passage (or a related group of passages) which has been either misquoted, mistranslated or taken out of context, often in an effort to paint Jews as evil.

Does the Talmud Really Say That?

OK so lets look at one of the passages that have been misquoted allegedly from the Talmud.

Michna Sanhedryn 11:3. “It is more wicked to question the words of the rabbis than that of the Torah.”

This is exactly as the passage is quoted at 2besaved.com

You will notice the passage is cited as coming from “Michna Sanhedryn” (German?) not “Mishna Sanhedrin”… is the ultimate source for this quote German?  Is it Nazi propaganda left over from WW II?

Well the fact is this is NOT what this passage of Talmud actually says.  The passage in question actually says:

“A more strict rule applies to the teaching of the scribes, than to the teachings of the Torah.” (m.San. 11:3).

What does the passage actually mean?

The Talmud here is actually referencing what the written Torah says:

9 And you shall come unto the cohanim, the L’vi’im, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and you shall inquire. And they shall declare unto you the sentence of judgment.
10 And you shall do, according to the tenor of the sentence, which they shall declare unto you from that place which YHWH shall choose, and you shall observe to do according to all that they shall teach you.
11 According to the Torah which they shall teach you, and according to the judgment which they shall tell you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the sentence which they shall declare unto you, to the right hand nor to the left.
12 And the man that does presumptuously, in not hearkening unto the cohen, that stands to minister there before YHWH your Elohim, or unto the judge, even that man shall die, and you shall exterminate the evil from Yisra’el.
(Deut. 17:9-12 HRV)

In this passage the Judgments of the Elders are actually called “the Torah which they teach you” and the man who disobeys these rulings we are told “shall die”.

This creates an interesting irony.  For there are a variety of penalties given in the Torah for disobeying the various commandments of the written Torah, but the penalty for disobeying the rulings of the judges, is always death.  Thus the Talmud makes the true observation that “A more strict rule applies to the teaching of the scribes, than to the teachings of the Torah.” (m.San. 11:3).  The Talmud then points out the irony of this:

He who rules, “There is no requirement to wear phylacteries,” in order to transgress the teachings of the Torah is exempt.
But if he said “There are five partitions [in the phylactery instead of four] in order to add to what the scribes have taught, he is liable.
(m.San. 11:3)

The irony here is that the penalty for rejecting the commandment to lay the phylactery altogether is not death, but the penalty for rejecting the ruling of the judges that the phylacteries are to have four partitions is death.

This is brought up in context, not in an effort to exalt the Talmud above the Tanak… to the contrary the Talmud earlier in the same tractate says:

Our Rabbis taught: Since the death of the last prophets,
Haggai, Zechariah and Malachai, the Holy Spirit [of prophetic inspiration]
departed from Israel.
(b.San. 11a)

So the Talmud cannot possibly be claiming higher authority than the Tanak.  In reality the context of this passage is actually part of a discussion on what the penalties are for various commandments and judgments of the elders.  The Talmud does NOT say that it is more wicked to disobey the Rabbis than to disobey the Torah, and in fact Orthodox Jews do not believe that it is more wicked to disobey the Rabbis that it is to disobey the written Torah.

While it is perfectly acceptable to disagree with what the Talmud says, it is wrong to misquote and misrepresent what the Talmud says in an effort to paint Rabbinic Judaism is a false light and/or in an effort to defame the Jewish people.

 

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