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Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Beyond the Sea

One of the first objections that will be raised by students or skeptics when engaging in discussion with the Rabbanites will be regarding the oral law. Many people will question the validity of the oral law, since it is natural to assume that the Torah in itself is adequate. The rabbis are well prepared for this kind of question, but only if it comes from those who are new to religion. It is not acceptable to ask this question once you buy into Rabbinic Orthodoxy.

Indeed, these prepared answers go back a thousand years or more, since the days of Saadia Gaon and Judah Halevi. Their foremost argument is that understanding the Torah on its own terms is beyond our grasp, and hence we need an/the Oral Law to explain it to us. I call this the “beyond the sea” argument, since we allegedly would need someone with knowledge of the oral Law to bring the Torah from beyond the sea, so that we can understand and practice it. So we are told.

There are a couple of problems with that.

1) It is not impossible to understand the Torah, as I have tried to show throughout this blog.

2) The Torah itself refutes the “beyond the sea” argument.

Hence in Deuteronomy 30 , we read:

10 if thou shalt hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law; if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul.

11 For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?'

13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?'

Verse 10 is speaking only about the Written Law, what is written in the Scroll of the Torah. That is the same entity that the Sadducees and Karaites held as the exclusive source of Torah law. Verses 12 & 13 are refuting the notion that the Torah is illegible on its own, and that we need external laws , e.g. the Oral law, which the Pharisees and rabbanites held as the dual Torah, the partner of the Written Torah, rejection of which they considered heretical.

Rabbi Saadia Gaon, who was a tremendous intellect and philosopher, and R' Yehuda Halevi who was a poet and anti-philosopher, both used the precise “beyond the sea” argument which the internal logic of the Torah refutes!

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