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Oral Law


Question:

I read in an online newsletter about the “Oral Law” as being part of the Torah. Where did it come from and why is it needed in addition to the Written Law (Written Torah) that we have? Thanks.



AskTheRabbi.org answered:

The Oral Law, which explains and clarifies the Written Torah, was also given by God to Moses. The Five Books of Moses are incomprehensible without additional explanation. Even a commandment as apparently simple as “You shall not murder” requires clarification: What is the definition of death? When does life begin? Is self-defense a justification for killing someone? Is it right to defend your property with deadly force?

Some commandments are simply impossible to fulfill without additional information beyond what is found in the text. The Torah tells us, for example, to “Bind them (tefillin) as a sign upon your arm and let them be ornaments between your eyes. What are we expected to do? Tattoo the Torah on our biceps? What is an “ornament”?

It is a fundamental principle of our belief that God did not leave us in the dark about how to fulfill the Torah. Rather, He gave us all the information that we need, and will ever need, to observe His commandments. He also gave us the necessary rules and methodology to apply the Torah to changing times, places and circumstances. All of this information is known as the Oral Torah, because it was transmitted verbally from God to Moses and by millions of fathers to their sons, mothers to their daughter and teachers to their students, until most of it was committed to writing in about 189 C.E., when Judah the Prince compiled the Mishnah.


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