Monday, 10 May 2010

What is the Torah She B'al Peh

You've heard about it, you've argued about it, you learn it but what is it?

Forgetting about D'rabanans for a second lets give a few possibilities and see how each possibility deals with Derashot and Machlokot. Also what are the advantages and disadvantages to holding each view.

1. Its all from Sinai

This is what you were taught in day school. With the Torah Shebikhtav (TSBK) was a TSBP. Rav Hirsch famously says (i think) that the TSBK is like the notes to the real thing which is the TSBP.
Machloket: Either people got confused or two traditions were given at Sinai
Derashot: Are like asmachta's they don't create new halachot they are merely a way of connecting to distinct things (TSBK and TSBP) this is the view of the Dorot Harishonim
Advantages: Any weird halacha I'll still follow its because its straight from God
Disadvantages: No record of a huge Oral Law floating around in Ancient Israel, also the Gemara seems to imply that Derashot generate halachot, and what kinda crappy transmission would generate so many machlokot seriously?!

2. Most of its from Sinai
The main things are from Sinai (39 melachot, when you get malkot, that you wear tefillin etc.)
Machloket: Only on the details no machloket on anything important
Derashot: Depedning on the case either a way to derive "details" or see 1.
Advantages: An understanding of derashot more in line with the Gemara and no need to say machlokot come from really spaced out rabbis. Also the TSBP is acc. to this much smaller and it is more conceivable that it was floating around
Problems: Sometimes Rabbis do argue about fundamental things! (e.g. Bait Shammai and Beit Hillel in the beginning of Yevamot)

3. Some of its from Sinai
The things not learned form derashot are from Sinai (black tefillin etc.) As are the 13 middot of exegesis. (I believe either this or maybe 2. is the Rambam's view)
Machloket: Arguments about created halachot
Derashot: Create halachot
Advantages: This is really just a tiny variation form 2. It based mainly on the distinction the Gemara makes between HLMM and derashot.
Disadvantages: There are machlokot even on things the Gemara calls HLMMS.

4. None of its from Sinai
The TSBP is the interpretation of the TSBK by the Tannaim and the Amoraim. Any text needs to be interpreted and the 13 middot are just a way of interpreting the text.
Machloket: see 3.
Deraashot: see 3
Advantages: You can be as skeptical as you want as to what Ancient Israelites actually did. And also explain why the TSBP sometimes totally distorts what the TSBK says (because the Rabbis wanted to change things)
Problems: Why should I care what a buncha Rabbis thought the TSBK meant? I know better! And those 13 middot are just weird. And its basically Conservatism.

You might've noticed that the further down the list we go the more the advantages reflect believability (or truth) as opposed to utility (or making you feel better)

Well i think that sums it up Bkitzur Nimratz. Maybe I'll get a change to go through this list B'Iyun


A Young Maskil said...

Very nice review. You should read People of the Book by Moshe Halbertal. In part 2, there is a phenomenal review of the machlokes about the nature of machlokes including Rav Sherira Gaon, Rambam and the Ran/Ritva. Excellent book.
btw, you link my page on your blog, Ill link yours. Gotta start somewhere.

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