Judaism on One Leg: Torah Sh' B'al Peh
Link to the video
The first time God confronts Adam when he is in trouble, he starts with a question: אַיֶּֽכָּה. Where are you?
When Cain is disappointed
לָ֚מָּה חָ֣רָה לָ֔ךְ וְלָ֖מָּה נָפְל֥וּ פָנֶֽיךָ
Why are you upset and why are you downcast?
When Cain kills Abel
אֵ֖י הֶ֣בֶל אָחִ֑יךָ
Where is Abel your brother?
And the most atrocious hutzpah in history
הֲשֹׁמֵ֥ר אָחִ֖י אָנֹֽכִי׃
Am I my brother’s keeper
To which the answer is another question
מֶ֣ה עָשִׂ֑יתָ ??
What did you do??
From hence forward, we will always be asking questions.
The foundation of classic Judaism is the Mishnah- It is our basis, as I mentioned for all Jewish practice for the next 1800 years.
It does not tell us what to do. Instead it too opens:
מֵאֵימָתַי קוֹרִין אֶת שְׁמַע בְּעַרְבִית
When do we begin to recite the Shma in the evening?
You don’t have to tell me what I know, ask me what I don’t know.
And then, I get two distinct answers.
“From what time may one recite the Shema in the evening? From the time that the priests enter [their houses] in order to eat their terumah until the end of the first watch, the words of Rabbi Eliezer. The sages say: until midnight. Rabban Gamaliel says: until the first ray of light.( Mishnah Berakhot 1:1)
We can presume that even in the period of the first temple as the texts that would make up the Bible are being gathered that there are schools that are enlarging upon the written word. We have terms like been Bnay Neviim, the sons of the prophets which may indicate students that gathered around a particular Tzadik or holy man and recorded his teachings and transmitted them to others. Certainly when the children of Israel return to the land of Israel and the and scribe Ezra institutes formal public reading of the Torah, he adds to it the translation into the common language of the folk Aramaic and with translation, there's also explanation. That ancient practice, of reading line by line, Hebrew and Aramaic, continues till modern times among Jews of Yemen. Given to a child of pre-school age!
For example on Shabbat we have very few descriptions of what is permitted and what is forbidden in terms of work. Practice is being developed during this.
One example in case is the question of self defense
Shabbat during the time of the persecution of the religious Jews by Antiochus and his henchman. The very pious would rather die than the defend themselves on Shabbat and the Maccabees introduce the principal that saving of life and self defense was essential to preserve the Shabbat.
Other rules of Shabbat:The Torah says: Do not go out!
Does that really mean stay in doors?
The Torah says: You shall not have fire burning on Shabbat.
Does that mean sit in the dark?
We have the rise of schools of scholars, the Pairs, zugot, as recorded in Pirke Avot. The most famous, just at the time of Julius Ceasar, would be Hillel and Shammai.
Authority is taken away from Prophets ( prophecy is realm of children and the insane) and authority is moved from the text to the interpreter, even over the voice of Heaven.
Washing of hands before meals, picking clusters of wheat grain while walking through a field on Shabbat, healing ill on Shabbat( issues mentioned in name of Jesus for example) Just as Communists fought more against Socialist than with Fascists.
Again, all goes in pairs.
Then , there is a school of Rabbinic statements that is not Mishnah—the Tosefta
Again, we have two different sets of discussions, created by different academies-those in land of Israel creating a shorter compendium, Talmud Yerushalmi, or Palestinian Talmud- written under greater oppression of the Christian emperors. In Babylonia, wealthier, generally tolerant Persian rulers, more time to develop the text, hence, much more extensive, longer, Talmud Bavli- Babylonian Talmud.
Also the work of pairs, Rav and Shmuel, Abbay v Rava, and competing academies- Sura & Pumbeditha. Eventually, the Bavli becomes the authoritative text. New legal figure” Rav”- one who may teach the laws but can not render rulings on sacrificial animals( long since gone) as that is reserved only for the “amoraim: ( teachers of Eretz Yisrael). The text work and final editing by “ Savoraim”-reasoners.
A set of Bavli( top) next to a set of Yerushalmi(below)
What is our prayer, for example. The ground rules are in the Mishna, fleshed out in the gemara( the teachings). So we have our first formal text of the siddur, of Rav Amram Gaon for Sephardim. Later, Mahzor Vitry for Ashkenazim.
Gaon- the glory, title now given to the head of the academies, as contrasted with Resh Galuta- Exilarch, head of the exile.
New questions arise- there are different conditions and issues under Christian , contrasted with Zoroastrian or Moslem rulers. The questions give rise to answers- Sh’elot u Tshuvot.Responsa.
We need to once again comprehend our Torah, especially as we advance, in the early middle ages, deeper in to Christian France and Germany and Moslem Spain.Torah commentaries- Rashi, ibn Ezra, Ramban.
The Jewish world now extends from Gibraltar all the way to China- we have so much texts and literature- we now need new compendia, to organize our practice. Alfasi, Rabbenu Asher, Tur, Shulkhan Arukh( The Table is set) and the Mapah (the table cloth) because we have two parallel sets of practice- Sefardi and Ashenazi.
And so on to our times
3) Finally- Torah is method.!
Again, uniquely Jewish!
Judaism, especially Pharisaic Judaism, is an elitist movement that sought to lift up the masses to the elites instead of looking down on the elites.
From the repetition of the word v’higadta and you shall tell, they derived the need to turn the Passover sacrifice into a teaching moment both for children and adults..
From the phrase in the Shma that says v shinantem, they understood the need to establish as broad and education system as possible. That system had its roots before the fall of the second temple and communities were obliged to create schools . These were schools for the study of values, not for professional degree but it is clear that in the process it created a public that could read analyze and think. Therefore, the child studied rules of title to property, rules of fair exchange of coinage, rules of weights and measures, rules of proper legal rights and obligations.
The core texts are all in the form of questioning: the first statement of the Mishnah- Me’eimatia- From what time do we recite the evening Shma? Then, it asks, if we start with the evening, why didn’t we start with the morning? All is questioning.
Shakla vetarya- give and take-
al achat kamah v kamah- afortiori
hekesh- syllogism or analogy
And very often, the realization of “ Teyku”( teykum- let it stand-or Tishibi yavo v yetatertz sheelot ukushiyot- When Elijah comes, we”ll find out ( modern Hebrew- a tie).
This would not be a religion for people looking for pat answers or simple slogans. The wealthy elites who were not learned were looked down upon as Am Haaretz, ignoramus . the poor who gathered their pennies together to attend the academies , now the honorees. No such concept of a pious fool which medieval Christianity would develop. And that is because pure faith was central to Christianity whereas a reasoned faith and behavior based on learning was central to Judaism.
Making learning sweet
Making learning sweet
At 3 , sent to cheder, given a blackboard”open verses of Leviticus” covered with honey- given to lick- Torah is as sweet as honey.
Chayaleh alef, chayaleh beis,Little animal alef, little animal beis.
Rewarding the young student with playing in the fish pond after a lesson
Teaching the lesson the 400th time
At 10, to the study of Mishnah- the essential Jewish observances then at 13, to carry out. Level of concrete thinking.
At 15, to study of Talmud-when the mind is ripe for conceptual and analytic thinking.
The goal of the successful merchant would be to support the successful scholar
."שֶׁהָיָה זְבוּלוּן עוֹסֵק בִּפְרַקְמַטְיָא, וּמַמְצִיא מָזוֹן לְשֵׁבֶט יִשָּׂשׂכָר, וְהֵם עוֹסְקִים בַּתּוֹרָה.
Based on the Midrash that the tribe of Zebulun engaged in business and supported Issachar, who engaged in study.
No wonder that Khruschev, the head of the Soviets in 1950’s complained:
“They are all individualists and all intellectuals. They want to talk about everything, they want to discuss everything,they want to debate everything-and they come to totally different conclusions.”
(Quoted in Alfrd Kazin, New York Jew)
(Quoted in Alfrd Kazin, New York Jew)