Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Yeshua and oral tradition
The esteemed, late Jewish professor, David Flusser, in his book, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity (MOD Books, 1989) suggests that Yeshua (Jesus) did not do “away with the rulings of the Sages and [thereby] put an emphasis only on the Written Law” (p. 23).
If Flusser had written, instead, that Yeshua (Jesus) did not do “away with many of the rulings of the Sages,” his statement would be true. Yeshua (Jesus), indeed, did reject outright some major segments of the tradition. What were these laws and why did He reject them?
Like the Pharisees and scribes who lived according to traditional law, Yeshua (Jesus), likewise, did not reject the Prophets and Writings, as did the Sadducees. Again, like the Pharisees, He did not reject the reality of angels and the resurrection of the dead, as did the Sadducees. His affinity with the Pharisees and scribes is without doubt.
Nor did He reject the totality of oral tradition, recognizing instead its wisdom and judgment in several cases. At times He cited the wisdom of the oral tradition, not “throwing the baby out with the bath wash.”
Not surprisingly, Yeshua (Jesus) affirmed traditional law when it was in accord with the Word of God. Because the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the full Talmud, and Midrash Rabbah later captured much of the oral law and its exposition, we may compare some of these sayings of the sages with the sayings of Yeshua (Jesus):
Yeshua: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”
Talmud: “It is lawful to save oneself at the cost of
his life—how much more may one suspend the laws of the Sabbath to
save human life!” (Yoma 85a).
Yeshua: “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not
commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the
court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother
shall be guilty before the court” (Matthew 5:21).
Talmud: “He who publicly shames his neighbor is as though he shed
blood” (Baba Metzia 58b).
Yeshua: “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman
with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his
heart” (Matthew 5:28).
Talmud: One who gazes lustfully upon the small finger of a
married woman, it is as if he has committed adultery with her
(Minor Tractate Kallah 1).
Yeshua: “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and
throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts
of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If
your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from
you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body,
than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).
Talmud: “‘It is preferable’, he replied, ‘that his belly shall be
split rather than that he should go down into the pit of
destruction’” (Nidah 13b).
Yeshua: “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ [or] ‘No,
no.’ Anything beyond these is of evil” (Matthew 5:37).
Midrash Rabbah: “The yes of the righteous is yes, and their
no, no” (Ruth VII:6).
Yeshua: “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those
who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Talmud: “Has it not been taught: Concerning those who are
insulted but do not insult others [in revenge], who hear them-
selves reproached without replying, who [perform good] work
out of love of the Lord and rejoice in their sufferings, Scripture
says: ‘But they that love Him be as the sun when he goes forth
in his might?’” (Yoma 23a; cf. Gittin 36b,
Yeshua: “For He causes His sun to rise on [the] evil and [the]
good, and sends rain on [the] righteous and [the]
unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
Talmud: “…rain is both for the righteous and for the wicked”
Yeshua: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men
to be noticed by them. Otherwise you have no reward with your
Father who is in heaven” (6:1).
Talmud: “May we conclude from this that Rabban Simeon b.
Gamaliel deprecates showing off and the Rabbis do not deprecate
it? … In the case of the month of Ab, since everybody else does
work and he does no work, it looks like showing off”
Yeshua: “And when you give to the poor, do not let your left
hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving
will be in secret” (Matthew 6:3-4).
Talmud: “When a man gives without knowing to whom he
gives. and the beggar receives without knowing from whom he
receives. ‘He gives without knowing to whom he gives’: this
excludes the practice of Mar ‘Ukba. ‘The beggar receives without
knowing from whom he receives’: this excludes the practice of
R. Abba. How is a man then to do? — He should put his money
into the charity box” (Baba Bathra 10b).
Yeshua: “And when you are praying, do not use
meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that
they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them.
For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him”
Talmud: “If one draws out his prayer and expects
therefore its fulfillment, he will in the end suffer vexation of
Yeshua: “Do not be worried about your life, [as to] what you
will eat or what you will drink… You of little faith! Do not worry
then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’
(Matthew 6:25, 30-31).
Talmud: “Whoever has a piece of bread in his basket and says.
‘What shall I eat tomorrow?’ belongs only to them who are little
in faith” (Sotah 48b).
Yeshua: “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
Talmud: “… sufficient is the evil in the time thereof!”
Yeshua: “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You
have hidden these things from [the] wise and intelligent and
have revealed them to infants” (Matthew 11:25).
Talmud: “Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken
from prophets and given to fools and children” (Baba Bathra 12b).
Yeshua: “But do not be called Rabbi” (Matthew 23:8).
Mishnah: “Shemaiah used to say: Love work, hate acting
the superior, and do not bring thyself to the knowledge of the ruling
authority” (‘Avoth 1:10).
Yeshua: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given
in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
Talmud: No marital union shall occur in the world to come
(cf. Ma'asroth 4:5-6).
Yeshua: “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son
of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think” (Matthew
24:44). Talmud: “Three come unawares: Messiah, a found article and
a scorpion” (Sanhedrin 97a).
Yeshua: “But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers
and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to
death …” (Luke 21:16).
Talmud: “It has been taught: R. Nehorai said: in the generation
when Messiah comes, young men will insult the old, and old
men will stand before the young [to give them honor]; daughters
will rise up against their mothers, and daughters-in-law against
their mothers-in-law” (Sanhederin 97a).
What He rejected was the assigning of divine or supreme authority to oral tradition in matters of exegesis, interpretation of the Bible and “binding” laws that fenced out the people from the kingdom of God revealed in the Torah, Prophets and Writings (Tanakh). He further rejected the idea that lawmakers may make laws for others but preserve their own immunity from obeying them.
In Yeshua’s own words, He admonished obedience to those seated in Moses’ chair, even when they lived by a double standard without integrity towards the laws they made for others. Better for them, Yeshua taught, was to lighten the “heavy burden” of traditional law than to lay more burdens on the people’s shoulders:
“The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses. Therefore, all that they tell you, do and observe. But do not do according to their deeds [i.e., their double standard]. For they say [things] and do not do [them]. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with [even] a finger …
“The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the
chair of Moses. Therefore, all that they tell you, do and
observe. But do not do according to their deeds [i.e., their
double standard]. For they say [things] and do not do
[them]. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s
shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with
[even] a finger …
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you
shut off the kingdom of heaven from people. For you do not enter
in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
(Matthew 23:2-4, 13)
The old is better than the new. One of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) famous twin parables, often misinterpreted and misapplied, addressed this issue. The first parable concerns sewing new cloths on old cloths. The second parable addresses the putting of new wine into old wineskins.
Most today, it seems, teach that “the new wine” that figures in the parable is better than “the old wine.” Yeshua did not. Luke’s Gospel (5:30-39) preserved the larger context where the last line spoken clinches the case for the preference of “the old wine” in “the old wineskin”:
The Pharisees and their scribes [began] grumbling at his disciples
[for violating traditional law], saying, “Why do you eat and
drink with the tax collectors and sinners?”
And Yeshua [Jesus] answered and said to them, “[It is] not those
who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not
come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
And they said to Him, “The disciples of John often fast and offer
prayers, the [disciples] of the Pharisees also do the same [in keeping
with traditional law], but yours eat and drink [disobeying post-Mosaic
And Yeshua [Jesus] said to them, “You cannot make the
attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is
with them, can you? But days will come, and when the bride-
groom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those
And also He was telling them a parable [in this regard]: “No one
tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old
garment. Otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from
the new will not match the old.
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the new
wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins
will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.
And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new [wine]; for
he says, ‘The old is [what is] good.’”