by Sophiee Saguy
To try to add to their own credibility some Missionaries will try to tell followers that their religion (Christianity, Karaism, Messianic Judaism) is just as legitimate as Judaism. They will say “2000 years ago there were various forms of Judaism and the rabbis “changed” Judaism so it is not really “true Judaism.” The rabbis changed everything”. . .
While it is true that 2000 years ago there were many iterations of Judaism the fact is that there have always been Jews who have left observant Judaism as ordained in the T’nach (Bible). There were Jews in the T’nach who worshiped the false gods of Molloch and Ba’al and the prophets warned them to return to observance!. The fact that some Jew decides to not follow Judaism but makes up their own rules — it doesn’t mean that their new (fill in the blank) is “legitimate Judaism.” It is a hijacking of the name “Jew” while avoiding the requirements to be Jewish!
There have always been Jews who have made up their own rules or ideas and called them some form of Judaism (even the so called 1970s invention of “Messianic Judaism” which is a Christian invention of the Baptist Christian movememnt). There were many other splinter groups 2000 years ago. The Sicarii were a violent group who murdered their opponents (very anti-Roman), the Biryonim were criminals, and so on. Throughout the ages there have been Jews who have become apostates (left for other religions) and Jews who tried to reinvent Judaism in their own image (Karaites for example began about 1200 years ago, but mostly died out long ago. Some modern people call themselves them Karaites, but most are a modern re-invention ala “messianic Judaism” and most are not even Jewish).
My point being that there have always been some Jews who have made up their own religion and some have called it “Judaism,” and the Torah warns us that this will happen. . . “G-d will scatter you among the nations, and only a small number will remain among the nations to which G-d will lead you.” D’varim / Deuteronomy 4:27. This is saying that many Jews will fall about into idolatry or in other ways leave Judaism, but a small number will remain observant and faithful to G-d. Jews refer to this minority as the “righteous remnant.”
I suppose those who want to steal the birthright of Jews while avoiding the “rules” and requirements think that if they can discredit Judaism by claiming that “Rabbinic” Judaism is not the same as Judaism, they somehow add to their own credibility.
These non-Jews or spin-offs of varying levels of observance insist that the “Rabbis invented” or the “Rabbis changed” Judaism and that Christianity (or Karaism or even Islam) is as legitimate an “offspring” of ancient Judaism as is “Rabbinic Judaism.” Total nonsense as observant Judaism has always been observant Judaism, following the 613 mitzvot in the Torah given to the entire nation at Mount Sinai.
Some of these accusors focus on the fact that the word “rabbi” is not found in the T’nach. True enough, but what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? The word “rabbi” is Aramaic, not Hebrew. The T’nach (Jewish bible) is written in Hebrew with the exception of a smattering of Aramaic in the books of Daniel and Ezra. The variation of the word “rabbi” is found in Daniel 5:1 (“rav” – meaning “great one”) – which is written in Aramaic. So there are “rabbis” in the T’nach, just with a different name.
People and things are often called by different names in the T’nach. G-d has various “titles” or descriptions (literally no “name” as such including the 4 letter holiest description). . . Jews start out being called “Hebrews” in the bible, and later “Israelite” or “children of Jacob” and later still Jew (which means people of G-d, but also came to be common usage since the last country we had prior to the modern state of Israel was Judah). . .
But what about the rabbis? Did they “invent” Rabbinical Judaism? Did they change Judaism to fit their own “image” of G-d?
Total nonsense. Nothing could be further from the truth! Read the T’nach! Rabbis are mentioned in the Torah (just not by that term) – they are the judges and the teachers (just as they are today). They were the men Moses told you to listen to! The system of justice (rabbis are judges), then as now, follows the mitzvot (the “do” and “do not” rules) in the Torah — this includes how courts are established and how they “operate.” The Jewish system of judges began under Moses. Read Sh’mot (Exodus) chapter 18:
“But you must [also] seek out from among all the people capable, G-d-fearing men – men of truth, who hate injustice. You must then appoint them over [the people] as leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, and leaders of tens. 18:22 ‘Let them administer justice for the people on a regular basis. Of course, they will have to bring every major case to you, but they can judge the minor cases by themselves. They will then share the burden, making things easier for you. 18:23 If you agree to this, and G-d concurs, you will be able to survive. This entire nation will then also be able to attain its goal of peace.’” Sh’mot / Exodus 18:21-23.
From the time of Moses to today there have been Rabbis (teachers / judges) from all the tribes who teach and mete out justice. Every single generation from Moses to today had judges / teachers who have maintained the Torah and Jewish law. There has never been a break in that chain. That is right, “Rabbinical Judaism” has been handed down לדור ודור / l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation).
If it has not changed, why don’t Jews today bring sacrifices? That seems to be the a typical accusation by folks who are unfamiliar with halacha (Jewish law). Jews today do not bring sacrifices (qorban) because we do follow the T’nach. Read D’varim / Deuteronomy chapter 12. G-d commands that we only bring qorban (sacrifices) in the place He designates, and the last place He designated was the Temple in Jerusalem. “Do away with all the places where the nations whom you are driving out worship their gods, [whether they are] on the high mountains, on the hills, or under any luxuriant tree. You must tear down their altars, break up their sacred pillars, burn their Asherah trees, and chop down the statues of their gods, obliterating their names from that place. You may not worship G-d your L-rd in such a manner. This you may do only on the site that G-d your L-rd will choose from among all your tribes, as a place established in His name. It is there that you shall go to seek His presence.” D’varim / Deuteronomy 12:2-5.
Some of you may ask yourseves, “OK, so for 2000 years Jews could not bring sacrifices in the site designated by G-d. But Jews today have control of Jerusalem, why haven’t they brought sacrifices?” True enough there is a Mosque on the Temple Mount, but the reason we have not rebuilt the Temple (yet) or brought sacrifices has to, again, do with a commandment in the T’nach. Again, the Rabbis do NOT change the T’nach. The idea of “Rabbinical Judaism” being different from historical Judaism is slander and a myth.
So what is the commandment forbidding us from bringing sacrifices today? It has to do with פרה אדומה / the parah adumah. פָּרָה / Parah is a cow and אֲדֻמָּה adummah means brown (reddish-brown). Bamidbar / Numbers 19 tells us that we must ritually purify the Temple Mount prior to bringing sacrifices there. To date no פרה אדומה / the parah adumah has been bred (plenty of people are trying!). Until this requirement is met we are being Torah observant by not bringing sacrifices. . .
Observant Jews try very hard to follow all of the mitzvot applicable to us (some are for kings, some for farmers in Israel, some for priests, some for women, some for men, etc. — so not all 613 mitzvot in the Torah apply to all Jews — another error made by many a missionary who asks “how can you keep all 613 mitzvot perfectly?” BTW — nowhere does Torah say we must be perfect, but I digress. .
The Rabbis of today apply the mitzvot in the Torah to various legal problems (this is what much of the Talmud is doing – describing the rules in a given situation). . . and it is ALL biblical. Far from the rabbis “changing the law” the rabbis are doing exactly what G-d instructed them to do – follow the rules and apply them using the Torah as their guide.
Another accusation is that the Rabbis have “added to” (or “subtracted from”) the Torah’s 613 mitzvot (commandments) – something clearly forbidden by the Torah itself. This is also untrue. Think of “adding to or subtracting from” the mitzvot this way. If there is a mitzvah that says “do not steal” it means “do not steal.” If someone tried to “fudge” and say “you can steal bread but not cake” that would be adding to the mitzvah.
However, where there is no mitzvah for something then one isn’t adding to or subtracting from any of them — Purim being a good example. Nowhere are we told “don’t ever add any new holidays.” If there was such a mitzvah in the Torah we would not add any new holidays. The Torah is silent on the question and thus adding a holiday isn’t an issue vis a vis “adding to or subtracting” from the Torah.
Another example — the Torah says we should marry. It doesn’t say we should be monogamous and only have one wife. In the Torah there are examples of men with multiple wives and concubines. Yet an Ashkenazi (European) Rabbi put a “fence” around marriage saying we should be monogamous. Why is this not adding to the mitzvot? Because the Torah is SILENT on the question of how many wives a man should have. While we are told a king should not have too many wives the Torah doesn’t say “you should have more than one wife” and neither does it say “you should have only one wife.” The Torah simply says “marry.” Ergo this Rabbinical “fence” did not change the mitzvah to marry and procreate.
While we are forbidden from changing the 613 mitzvot in the Torah, there is nothing wrong with adding a new rule (such as the observance of Purim or Chanukah). We simply are forbidden from changing the 613!
The Rabbis of today do not have the same stature or authority as the Tanaim and Amoraim of the Talmud, but, (1) we have their teachings written down and (2) the Rabbis of today are part of a long chain of transmission of the Torah through the generations back to those Rabbis and further back to Moses.
Throughout the ages there have been Jews who have observed the mitzvot we contracted with G-d at Mount Sinai. The bible (D’varim / Deuteronomy 4:27) even refers to this group “only a small number will remain” (faithful to G-d). The bible also speaks of the Jews who do not remain faithful to G-d, such as those who worshiped the false gods of Ba’al and Molloch.
There have always, unfortunately, been Jews who have left Judaism. There have always been Jews who have turned to false gods, and others who have changed Judaism to suit themselves. Over time they intermarry and lose their Jewish identities — proving the validity of the prophecy in D’varim / Deuteronomy 4:27 — “only a small number will remain faithful.”
2000 years ago there were many splinter groups who broke away from Judaism. Among the many groups were the Sadducee, a group who had become heavily influenced by the Greek and Romans around them. BUT the Jews who remained faithful to G-d and to Torah were not “new.” They were given a name to distinguish them from the other groups – and this name has been translated as “Pharisee.” These were the “small number” who remained faithful. Even Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived 2000 years ago, stated that the Pharissees (the ancestors to today’s Jews) were the most observant of the Torah than the various other “splinter” groups.
“The Pharisees live thriftily, giving in to no luxury. For they follow what the Word* (of G-d) in its authority determines and transmits as good. They believe that to keep what (G-d) wished to counsel is worth fighting for. . . those who live in the cities have witnessed to their virtue in devoting themselves to all the best in their words and way of life. ” Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18:12-15.
In his autobiography Josephus also wrote “<span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”times=”” roman”,serif;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:yellow”=””>“the Pharisees are supposed to excel others in the accurate knowledge of the laws of their country.”<span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”times=”” roman”,serif;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman””=””>
Many missionaries will claim that Rabbinic Judaism grew out of the Pharisees (the Christian bible blackens the Pharisees, a term which in modern usage has come to mean a hypocrite although historians like Josephus prove this is not truly what they were like). The Pharisees are portrayed as having no more legitimacy than any of the other groups of Jews 2000 years ago — even though Jesus is quoted in the Christian bible as telling his followers that the Pharisees “sit in Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2).
The Pharisees did not “invent a form of Judaism.” This is a distortion. Normative Judaism is, and always has been, normative Judaism. The Jews who observe the mitzvot remain the observant Jews whatever title is given to them! The name may change from “Jewish” to “Pharissee” to “Orthodox Jew” — but the observant Jew, whatever the name, is the Jew who remains faithful to Torah and to G-d’s instructions in it. As the Jewish Virtual Library states “The specific term “Orthodox Judaism” is of rather recent origin and is used more as a generic term to differentiate the movements following traditional practices from the Liberal Jewish movements. . . Historically, there was no such thing as Orthodoxy. . . Orthodox Judaism views itself as the continuation of the beliefs and practices of normative Judaism, as accepted by the Jewish nation at Mt. Sinai and codified in successive generations in an ongoing process that continues to this day.”
Even today there are splinter groups away from normative, traditional, observant, “orthodox” (a recent name) Judaism. About 200 years or so ago the Germans began to allow Jews to move out of the ghetto and become part of the civilization around them. A number of Jews wanted to assimilate and live among the non-Jews. They formed a new “version” of Judaism which they called “Reform.” The group abolished the observance of many of the mitzvot. To further distance themselves from traditional Judaism they made some radical changes. Many of those extreme changes have been reversed by the Reform movement — such as the observance of Shabbat on Sunday and not Saturday). . . As new groups appeared observant Jews got a new label and the Reform movement coined the term “Orthodox Jew” to differentiate the traditional, observant Jew from new movements.
The term “Orthodox Jew” is relatively new – but it is just a new label for the observant Jew. The small number who remains. . . When you hear the term “Rabbinic Judaism,” or “Orthodox Judaism” do not be fooled – it is Judaism. True, observant, faithful to G-d Judaism.
Let’s focus on how we know that observant Jews have remained faithful to Torah, and to Judaism. It all goes back to the Torah – which speaks of Moses establishing courts with 70 elders from all the tribes of Israel. “G-d said to Moses, ‘Assemble seventy of Israel’s elders – the ones you know to be the people’s elders and leaders. . . He caused the spirit that had been imparted on [Moses] to emanate, and He bestowed it upon the seventy elders” Bamidbar / Numbers 11:16 – 25.
Local courts were also established (courts of no less than 3 judges. Cities had “minor Sanhedrins.” These courts were comprised of 23 judges. (Mishna, Sanhedrin, 1:4a). Ergo the court system was somewhat similar to the American system of courts, appellate courts and a supreme court. The minor Sanhedrins did indeed have the ability to pass the death penalty. The number (23) is derived from Bambidar (Numbers) 35:24-25.
The Great Sanhedrin was a combination of a “Supreme Court” and national legislature. The greatest Sanhedrin was called the “Great Assembly” – and it consisted of 120 men (not 71) – including a number of prophets. The Men of the Great Assembly / הַגְּדוֹלָה כְּנֶסֶת אַנְשֵׁי/ Anshei Knesset HaGedola existed from 410 BCE — the destruction of the First Temple, and continued meeting in the early decades of the Second Temple, up until the invasion of the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great.
When Shimon HaTzaddik, the last member of the Great Assembly died in 273 BCE, the Sanhedrin was run by rabbis known as the Zugot, meaning “pairs.” For almost 300 years, there were always two rabbis at the helm of the Jewish tradition. One was called the Nasi (the president), the other was called the Av Beit Din (the head of the Sanhedrin). These pairs are all listed in the “Ethics of the Fathers.” The last pair was perhaps the most famous — Hillel and Shammai.
So, even though in the Second Temple period there were many Jewish “spin-off” groups such as the Sadducee, the Zealots and others the unbroken chain of Judaism and of the Torah has always been in the hands of the observant Jews. The very opening of Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”) records how the chain of transmission of Judaism and the Torah was maintained — starting with Moses, going on to Joshua and the 70 elders, the prophets, the Men of the Great Assembly, the Sanhedrin led by the Zugot, to the Rabbis who began to write the oral law down in the Talmud. . .
The Torah has many mitzvot about the court system and judges. For example, “To appoint judges and officers in every community of Israel.” (D’varim (Deuteronomy) 16:18).
Some people seem to forget that Jews are a nation – a people. We have laws, and courts and systems. This all stems from the time of Moses – and the court system has continued from Moses to today. The judges today are called “rabbis” – and there is an unbroken chain of these judges, and of Torah transmission, from Moses until this very day.
With the destruction of the southern Kingdom of Judah by the Romans (around 135 CE) the city courts dissolved. Rabbi Akiva, one of the most famous Rabbis to ever live, was murdered by the Romans on the eve of Yom Kippur in the year 137 CE in the city of Caesarea.
To destroy the Jewish nation completely the Roman Emperor Hadrian renamed Judah to Philistia (Palestine). The name was chosen to insult the Jews – Hadrian named the land for the Philistines, an extinct people who were once the bitterest enemies of the Jews.
But what of the Rabbis and the courts upon the destruction of Judah?
During the Hadrian persecutions, the Jewish leaders had to flee and hide. They regrouped in Usha in 122 CE.
By the 135 CE Judah had been destroyed and most of the Jews exiled to foreign lands. By the time Judah was destroyed there were already about 3 – 5 million Jews lived outside the land of Israel. Many Jews had never left Babylon (Jews lived in Iran / Babylon for nearly 2500 years). 250,000 Jews lived in Alexandria, Egypt at this time. These Jewish communities had Synagogues, they had rabbis and those rabbis were judges there, too.
Hadrian dies in 139 CE. A few years later the leader of the Jews, Yehuda HaNasi (Judah the Prince) befriended Hadrian’s successor, Marcus Aurelius (161-180 C.E.). Living now in the city of Yavneh the sages under the direction of Yehuda HaNasi met to discuss the oral Torah and to write it down so that the Jews dispersed in Egypt, Babylon and around the world would not lose its teachings. This writing down of the oral Torah which they used to guide their judicial rulings into what has come to be called the Mishna (the first part of the Talmud).
By the time Marcus Aurelius died the Mishna (the first half of the Talmud) was nearly complete.
Jewish courts remained, even after the demise of the Sanhedrins (city and great). Even today Jewish courts consisting of 3 judges (Rabbis) are found throughout the world, passing judgments based in Jewish law.
Some missionaries seem to think that the priests (kohanim) “ran things.” This is biblically and historically inaccurate (the priests did not run the Sanhedrin). . . All the tribes were represented in the government, and in the judicial system – as is clearly described in the bible itself. Judaism, Jews observant to the mitzvot in the Torah, have been handed down l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation) from the first Jews to the Jews of today. We actually have lists naming the leaders in each generation. . .
So, when someone tries to tell you that the Rabbis changed the “law” (Torah) or invented things, re-read this post. Do a little reading of history for yourself. Lies work only when the truth remains untold.