08 January 2006

An Aspect of תורה לא בשמים היא I had not previously considered

The [rabbinic] concept of תורה לא בשמים היא (the Torah is not in Heaven - it's now wrested from God into the hands of the rabbis) I had previously considered to be stating that we don't have to consider what God would say to a given הלכה (Jewish law) - which helps understand why God doesn't come up much in the שלחן ערוך (a code of Jewish law) - but rather figure out for ourselves within the system that exists.
However, I realized over שבת (shabbas) that this concept extends to places where the rabbis read a Biblical text not according to its פשט (contextual understanding), as well. Whereas as one might think that one could say, "Well, the rabbis read the verse outside of its context, thus their hermeneutical program was flawed, and thus whichever הלכה they derived therefrom is duly flawed, as that was not the intent of the author/Author." However, regardless of that, the Author/author is no longer important to what the Rabbis have done with that text to figure out how to lead a good, Jewish life.
It's a double-sided sword.

21 comments:

Aylana said...

Where does the issue of Baal tosif and Baal tigra fit into that second interpretation?

Anonymous said...

Applying "lo bashamaim hih" to p'shat or d'rash interpretations pulls those words out of context. The verse concludes "that it may be made heard unto us and we may do it." Pretty clearly a reference to halachah. Of course, the paradox is, if "lo bashamayim hih" means what you suggest, then you have the right to pull it out of context in the first place...

Drew_Kaplan said...

Aylana,
I'm not sure, I think it fits in well - the Rabbis/rabbis get to use verses to how they want, but, at this point in time, it's not going to mean much - things are pretty set as far as deriving mizvos from the Torah.

Anonymous,
What was specifically on my mind was the early verses in Genesis 38. I've been working on a paper (I've edited it once again, and hope to submit it soon, God-willing.) on early Jewish exegetical approaches to Gen. 38:7-10. Only the Rabbis (okay, maybe also the book of Jubilees) see Onan's crime as that of "spilling his seed". The context of his sin is such that the "spilling of his seed" was the means by which he sinned, but not the sin itself - that of not fulfilling yibum, which doesn't sound so bad, but within the framework of the whole chapter - which is of the building up of the House of Judah - it is holding it back. My point here is that the Rabbis understood his sin as that of "wasting his seed", thus transforming the Biblical text to be proscribing such acts when the Biblical text warranted no such thing. However, once we employ our principle here, the Rabbis can take such a thing out of context and make it a mizvah (a negative one in our case). Thus, even if we were to say that the Rabbis read it "incorrectly" (by taking it out of the peshat), then we could say their hermeneutical approach to these verses were flawed, we could revoke such a prohibition. However, that's not a part of the Rabbinic system, as I discussed in my posting.
I'm not sure that we have the right to pull verses out of context in a halakhic sense, but חז"ל (the Rabbis), however, did.

Aylana said...

I'd like to take issue with what you said (in an entirely good-humored, good-willed and otherwise good manner)... but unfortunately I don't have time at the present.
To be continued.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to your understanding of the Oral Torah, Drew. You come dangerously close in attributing this and that to "the Rabbis" and referring to certain interpretations being "out of context" to heresy. The Oral Torah is the context of the Written Torah, Drew. The text says an "eye for an eye" but the it wasn't "the Rabbis" that "interpreted" it to mean torts, rather the Torah, it's Oral and Written components taken as a symbiotic whole, defined "an eye for an eye" in this context as meaning torts.

Drew_Kaplan said...

As to my understanding of the oral Torah, I have yet to develop a sophisticated approach to it, so unfortunately I have nothing interesting, yet, to offer you.
The oral Torah, however, is most certainly not "the context" of the written Torah. In my comment, when I was speaking of context, I was speaking of the text in and of itself, as it was composed by its author, and not by any external texts or approaches.
As to the heresy bit, I'm not sure at what you're getting.
The symbiotic stuff is cute, but that was one instance of a textual problem that the Sages (may their memories be for blessings) dealt with by reunderstanding it. The Torah didn't understand itself to mean something else that it would have otherwise have said.

Anonymous said...

"The Torah didn't understand itself to mean something else that it would have otherwise have said."

When you say "Torah" here, it seems you mean "Written Torah" as the normative understanding is that the "Oral Torah" and "Written Torah" are synthetic whole, the latter essentially devoid of real meaning without the clarifying lense of the former.

When I mention heresy, it's the rejection of this concept to which I am referring.

When you say:

"The oral Torah, however, is most certainly not "the context" of the written Torah."

The normative understanding would disagree with you entirely and leave you somewhat "chutz l'machaneh".

Drew_Kaplan said...

What is your textual source for your contention that the oral and written Torahs are intertwined up one with the other?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand your question. Are you asking for textual proofs for the Divinity of the Oral Torah, or merely a textual source for the idea that the meaning of the Written Torah was a part of the Oral Torah from Sinai? Or something else?

Drew_Kaplan said...

You got it: "merely a textual source for the idea that the meaning of the Written Torah was a part of the Oral Torah from Sinai".

Anonymous said...

Let's begin with the fact that all meaning found in the Writen Torah derives only from the Oral Torah, since the Written Torah was initially given without vowelization and breaks between words, these being conveyed by the Oral Torah (consider also Shabbos 31a and the incident with Hillel & the Aleph-Beis).

I would likely begin my investigation, however, with the Yerushalmi Megilla 28a in the name of Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi regarding what was taught as Sinai or the Bavli Berachos 5 on the same subject.

Anonymous said...

Dear Drew,

I have recently come upon your blog and enjoy reading it very much. This post, however, seems a bit puzzling. Just to clarify, do you believe in the Divine origin of the Torah? To state it more clearly: do you belive that Moshe rabbenu wrote the Torah word for word 'al pi Hashem (and I don't mean to get technical about the last 8 pesuqim)?

Drew_Kaplan said...

To the Last Anonymous, who is a new reader,
Yes, I do.

To the Anonymous before that one,
As to your first paragraph, that's cute and all, but I give that little weight (the incident with Hillel and the convert is an important one for the oral Torah, but it says nothing about whence the oral Torah - just that it is oral).
As to your second paragraph, I read over those gemarras, and am not yet sure what to make of them. At this point, I will refer to my earlier comment about not yet having come to a sophisticated conclusion about the oral Torah - I'm still trying to learn more about it - thanks for your input.

John Smith said...

Hello

Yochanan said...

Ok, Drew, what if we turn the question around.
Most Jews have always thought that when the Torah says "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk", it means to say "do not cook milk and meat together". They did not think that the original author's intent was "do not cook..." and the interpreters superimposed a non-literal interpretation.
So, what is the compelling reason to say that this approach, which was the approach of Jews throughout the ages, is not correct?

Drew_Kaplan said...

John Smith,
Hello, and welcome.

Yochanan,
As you seem to be not agreeing with me, I am probably not properly understanding your statement as I agree with it, and it seems perfectly reasonable.

Yochanan said...

Let me clarify:
It seems to me that you have made the assumption that "the Oral Torah is not the context of the written Torah."
Here is you:
In my comment, when I was speaking of context, I was speaking of the text in and of itself, as it was composed by its author, and not by any external texts or approaches.
As to the heresy bit, I'm not sure at what you're getting.
The symbiotic stuff is cute, but that was one instance of a textual problem that the Sages (may their memories be for blessings) dealt with by reunderstanding it. The Torah didn't understand itself to mean something else that it would have otherwise have said

When someone challenged you on this, you said:
What is your textual source for your contention that the oral and written Torahs are intertwined up one with the other?
So, I am asking you: What is your source, textual or other, that they are not meant to be understood as intertwined one with the other?

Drew_Kaplan said...

While I'm still waiting on the answer to my question, I'll answer nevertheless. The Humash, or any of the rest of Hebrew Scriptures, says neither that they are to be understood as their text says nor that they are to be understood by a later text and that it is an insufficient text on its own terms. However, the latter of which sounds kind of funny. Such that if a text senses it is insufficient, one would have to inquire why wouldn't it have just been redone to satisfy its lacking? "I'm sorry that this doesn't really mean what it says, you'll just have to reference works over a thousand years later to understand what this text really means." I don't know, it just sounds peculiar to me.

Aviv said...

Drew, havae you figured this issue out yet? if not got to www.dovidgottlieb.com he can explain the oral tradition systematically and logically. as he is a DR of logic and philosophy and a well know and respected Rabbi.

Drew_Kaplan said...

Aviv,
When I was at Ohr Somayach, I heard Rabbi Dr. Gottlieb on a variety of occasions, but I'm not so sure how much his outlook has much to speak to me.

Aviv said...

Drew,

It's not about if his outlook speaks to you. It's about looking at a subject objectively, rationally and logically; This is what he does - taking emotions and preconceptions out of the equation and analyzing the topic thoroughly in order to get to the truth. I noticed you are very analytical, and as far as i can tell, genuinely looking for the truth as well.

Rabbi Gottlieb approaches a topic systematically and logically until the truth is revealed. If one disagrees with him than it would be necessary to show where an error has been made.

Some pieces of logic are so straight forward that it becomes blindingly obvious that there is not escaping it.

His website has A LOT of lectures! Find a few on topics you like and you won't be disappointed.

But i warn you that you will need to be patient and focused because some of them are very in depth and technical. You might find yourself rewinding often to understand a specific point.

Good luck.

Aviv