Monday, May 25, 2009
[The Western Wall]
One thing which I am sometimes asked is "Doesn't the Torah change over time?" The answer is a little confusing: The Torah does not change, however Judaism does change.
The way it works is like this. The Torah is a collection of five books, the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch. These five books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy were dictated to Moses by God at Mount Sinai and will never change. In addition to that, Moses was given by God an oral explanation of the Torah. This explanation is included in the Talmud. Usually, it contains details about how the Torah's commandments must be performed - for example how phylacteries are to be made. In some cases, the oral law contradicts and supersedes the written Torah. For example, the written Torah says "an eye for an eye" while the oral law explains that money needs to be paid by the damager. Similarly, the Torah imposes a death penalty for many crimes, while the oral law makes applying the death penalty so difficult that offenders were rarely executed.
In any case, the written Torah and its Talmudic explanation are eternal and unchangeable.
Judaism - the actual practice of Judaism - does change.
First of all, certain commandments may at times be impossible to fulfill. For example, everything connected with the Temple cannot be fulfilled at present because the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.
In addition to that, certain Jewish practices have been instituted by the rabbis during the centuries since the Torah was given at Mount Sinai. These practices are meant to reinforce and strengthen the observance of the Torah. For example, prayer is a Torah commandment. Praying three times a day is a rabbinical commandment. Not marrying a gentile is a Torah commandment. Not drinking wine handled by a gentile is a rabbinical commandment. In ancient times, the rabbis determined that certain new laws had to be enacted to safeguard the observance of the Torah. These are not part of Torah and they may someday be abolished, following the coming of the Messiah and reinstitution of the Sanhredrin. These rabbinical enactments are also recorded in the Talmud.
Many things associated with Judaism, like black hats, bagels and lox and so on are simply part of the fashion and culture of certain Jewish communities and do not involve any religious obligation at all.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 6:52 PM