Missionaries, who are usually ignorant as to what the Talmud is and is not, often cite things out of context and claim the Jews have changed Judaism based on their ignorance. By misusing Jewish sources they do not understand missionaries will "paint the picture" that:
One such "proof" given by the missionaries is to reference Bava Metzia 59a and 59b, also known as "the oven of Akhnai" or the rabbis doing something opposite to what G-d wants them to do (and the missionaries will quote "my sons have defeated me"). Michael Brown, an apostate Jew who became a Christian as a teenager, but who presents himself as an expert on all things Jewish, wrote: "In many cases, the Talmudic interpretation of the Scriptures contradicts the plain sense of the Torah. For a famous example, see B. Bava Metzia 59b, which changes the meaning of the end of Exodus 23:2. If you are a student of the Talmud, you know that this is common, even in legal interpretations."
Brown even has a video where he repeats the same claim regarding Bava Metzia 59a and 59b. The video is entitled Bava Metzia: Can a majority of rabbis overrule the voice of G-d?
Brown is totally distorting the facts. What he claims is a total distortion and fabrication of the facts.
Brown (and other missionaries) present this story as if it were the rabbis believe they can overrule G-d -- as if the rabbis are so arrogant that they believe they can ignore and even reverse the bible. Re-read Brown's quote if you find this hard to believe.
Now, given that Brown turned to Christianity after a drug and crime filled youth (from the age 14 per his "personal testimony") perhaps Brown is simply ignornant of the basics of Torah and Talmudic studies and is innocently misleading his readers -- or possibly Brown set out to deceive innocent Christians -- I neither know or care if he is innocent or not, but his quote is as wrong as wrong can be.
Odds are for Brown it is a lack of Jewish education. In his personal testimony Brown says he grew up in a Conservative Jewish home, but "In 1969, at the age of fourteen, when I was asked if I wanted to try smoking pot, I was only too happy to oblige. Soon I tried smoking hash too. But neither one had any effect on me. So I tried harder drugs until I started using ups, downs, and LSD. “But I’ll never do anything worse than that,” I thought. Yet I was deceived. Soon I starting using speed, then I started shooting speed. (Of course, I had been sure I would never put a needle in my arm!). Then, I got the opportunity to try heroin. I loved it! I was fifteen years old. , ,
"For fun, my friends and I even broke into some homes and a doctor’s office. We experimented with the drugs we found and almost killed ourselves."
One year later (age 16) he was a Christian.
So when did Michael Brown, as a Jew, become learned in Judaism?
Brown had a very limited Jewish education, very likely no Talmudic study (rare in Conservative Judaism, especially with children) let alone his drug filled teen years. His education is all at the hands of Christians and secular studies (languages, not Talmud). . . R' Moshe Shulman has debated Brown and has written about his lack of Jewish understanding -- a good article to begin with is his Who is Dr. Brown and Why Spend so Much Time on Him?
This post is not about Brown, but he is a perfect example of how uneducated missionaries misuse Jewish sources, in this case Bava Metzia 59a and 59b. His assertions regarding Bava Metzia are found on numerous missionary cites, quoted as "fact" -- including on the Chosen Peoples Ministry site, so this distortion is no small thing to be ignored.
Bava Metzia 59a and 59b is referenced by Brown (and other missionaries) without being quoted, or it is partially quoted without the surrounding context. Without the quote -- or even worse, only partially quoted, the passage is meaningless as missionaries portray it.
First one must know what the Talmud "is" and what part of the Talmud one can find this story (and it IS a story, not fact or law). The Talmud (there are actually two Talmuds -- Jerusalem and Babylonian) consists of two main concepts: the מִשְׁנָה / Mishna -- which was created to be a "cheat sheat" for a learned person -- the writing was kept to a minimum and meant only to serve as a aid to faltering memories who were taught to memorize the oral mitzvot.
The second part of the Talmud are discussions around the Mishna's teachings. These discussions may discuss the finer points of Jewish law (מִדְךְשׁי הֲלָכָה / Midrash Halacha), but there are also stories and humor as well. This מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah -- which means telling a story. מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah is not prophecy or meant to be taken literally. . . a word or sentence is lifted from the bible to make a moral point. However, prophecy is NEVER based on these flights of fancy.
You guessed it, Bava Metzia 59a and 59b, also known as תנור של עכנאי / "the oven of Akhnai", was a story -- מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah -- not something to be taken literally -- which is how the missionaries present it to their unlearned (in Torah and Talmud) audience. This is wrong, and it is deceitful. Whether or not the missionaries misusing this passage realize they are distorting it is open to question. Most of them probably do not know anything about the Talmud or Judaism let alone מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah.
G-d has told us in the Torah to establish courts and to listen to the decisions made by the judges.
G-d put the authority of deciding legal issues in the hands of mortal man -- judges because the Torah was made for us in this world and we are co-creators -- that is the entire reason G-d created us.
In Bava Metzia 59b G-d is speaking (in מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah, so not meant to be taken literally) and saying proudly ‘My sons have defeated Me, My sons have defeated Me." -- the judges He put in place are not afraid of making decisions.
In the story (and it IS a story) G-d agrees with R' Eliezer on the halacha (law) -- but the majority of the Rabbis have a different ruling.
The Rabbis argue that in a court of law "majority rules" -- and this is G-d's own ruling. Far from showing the Jews are more powerful than G-d, the Rabbis prove to G-d that they are obeying His mitzvot by coming to a majority judicial ruling as He decreed. The missionaries distort the idea that to follow G-d we must use the brains He gave us -- not to disobey Him, but to follow His instructions. Remember that Michael Brown (the apostate Jew missionary) said "which changes the meaning of the end of Exodus 23:2."? The opposite is true. Sh'mot / Exodus 23:2 in the bible tells us that we are to rule according to the majority, and be carefull: "Do not follow the majority to do evil. Do not speak up in a trial to pervert justice. A case must be decided on the basis of the majority." Two judges are not enough to have a majority (one might have a "tie"). This is why all Jewish courts (including the minor Sanhedrins and Great Sanhedrin) were uneven numbers of 23 and 71. . .
Jewish courts do not use juries -- each court has multiple judges. The smallest courts have three judges, and our sages tell us that, a Jewish court can not rule against a defendant by a majority created by one judge. In death penalty cases a court had to have at least 23 Judges, sitting in the לִשְׁכַּת הַגָּזִית lishkat hagazit (“Chamber of Carved Stone”) in the Temple. If all the judges voted "guilty" or even all but one voted "guilty" the accused was set free. There had to be at least two judges voting for innocent for a man to actually be condemned to death. (again, referencing back to Sh'mot / Exodus 23:2). Missionaries make claims that are simply unsupportable based both on Jewish law and Jewish history. Michael Brown's claim that "which changes the meaning of the end of Exodus 23:2" is completely false.
That in itself is explicit proof that in the case of the oven the law was in accordance with the consensus of Sages.
Missionaries often distort (even reversing) Jewish teaching. The Greek Orthodox "father" cited by the Shabbat spammer had many mistakes on his website -- and I discussed two on my last post (a "different" aleph-bet and needing vowels). The missionary also wrote: "the Masorites themselves felt they had received a partly corrupted text" which is as false a statement as is possible to make. Again this may be from his ignorance (he seems pretty ill-educated) or on purpose. . . hard to say. But totally wrong!
The "father" misunderstood the concept of תיקוני סופרים / Tikkun Soferim (corrections of the scribes) and assumed that it meant that Jewish scribes changed parts of the bible. The term Tikkun Soferim is often translated as “Scribal Emendations."
The Mechilta says that there are eleven instances where the T'nach uses a euphemism (kinah hakatuv) -- not actually a scribe (sofer) changing the actual verses. The T'nach, in these few places, uses euphenisms out of respect for G-d -- and some people uneducated on these matters jump to the conclusion that scribes actually changed passages. In other words -- the original text was written with a euphemism -- no one "changed" it later. (BTW, other sources say 18, some say 11 and some say 7 -- so the exact number is debatable, but it is no more than 18).
Now is where it gets confusing.
In Sh'mot / Exodus Rabbah (midrash aggadot -- allegory, not literal meaning) R' Yehoshua ben Levi reference the SAME passage (in this case Zechariah) and instead of calling it a euphenism (kinah hakatuv) he called it a tinnuk seforim (scribal correction).
And then people began to think that scribes changed the passages, whereas others said that, no, the original passages used euphenisms. R' Yosef Albo in Sefer HaIkkarim wrote "The meaning is not that any person changed anything in the Torah, G-d forbid, because no one would forge a book and then say "I forged this" or "I changed this." How could they say that the Scribes changed it? Rather, the meaning is that... [the Torah spoke] like a scribe who changes his words out of respect for G-d."
Missionaries, trying to support their Greek mistranslations (which they erroneously call the Septuagint or LXX) such as virgin in Isaiah 7:14 not only take the worst possible conclusion (the texts are corrupted).
They also do not tell their unsuspecting audience WHEN these scribal emendations were made.
Which was before the bible was closed.
Or by whom.
The prophets -- many the authors of the texts themselves.
Who was responsible for identifying these verses (and potentially slightly modifying them)? The prophets themselves: the Men of the Great Assembly who codified the T'nach (Jewish bible), which included the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (who is Ezra), Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Nehemiah b. Hachaliah, Mordechai and Zerubabel b. Shaaltiel, among others.
If one wants to believe that these prophets did slightly alter parts of the bible (which many sages say is NOT what happened) -- then know the facts.
Not a single meaning was changed in any of the texts referenced.
The only alterations (say the sages who have this opinion) were those where the honor of God was involved (such as the idea of G-d standing before Abraham rather than the reverse). The sages who state that the prophets themselves altered the text further state that often it was the original author who changed it himself. There is a verse from Zechariah 2:12 which says "Whoever touches you touches the pupil of his own eye." The sages who state this was changed say it was the author himself who changed it from “Whoever touches you touches the pupil of My (G-d's) eye" to "his own eye (the human)."
But remember, there are other sages who say no changes were made and that the term only referred to places in the T'nach where euphanisms were used.
The Sofrim were the scribes who lived at the close of the prophetic era -- the very prophets who wrote what is IN the bible -- including Ezra. So, no. . . no "rabbis" changed the bible (although one can state that the great prophets were all rabbis themselves: teachers and judges). . .
The missionary assumes that Jews willy nilly changed the bible -- and this slander actually began over 700 years ago. The original source for this slander was the infamous Raymond Martini -- an anti-semite. Raymundus Martin (Raymond Martini) was an anti-Jewish Dominican priest from the 13th century CE. Pugio Fidei (Dagger of the Faith) was an anti-Jewish diatribe he wrote (amongst others).
The Rashba (13th century) wrote "Tikkun Soferm does not mean that (the sages) changed (the text) by erasing and writing. Whatever Moses wrote in the Torah, and the other prophets in the other books (of the bible), they, a priori, wrote euphemistically. There was no addition or deletion from the books, but those things which should have been written euphemistically were written in such a way."
Jews don’t “change” the bible. In the few cases where the sages discuss tikkun soferim (whether changes were made or not) nothing in the meaning is changed at all -- and the changes (the sages state) were by the original authors -- not the later "rabbis" who carelessy modified the bible. IF a few verses were changed they were changed by the prophets before the bible was closed -- and not by later rabbis. And please keep in mind that many of our sages do not believe that even minor modifications were made by the original authors even -- but that language was "softened" in the original to avoid misinterpretation. . .
Jews do NOT change the bible.
Don’t believe me?
Here is something written 2000 yers ago by a source nearly contemporaneous to Jesus (Josephus, 37CE – 100CE).
Josephus wrote that the Jewish bible was unchanged not only in his time, but for a long time before him: “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his mitzvot and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. . . (and) the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to G-d, and precepts for the conduct of human life. . . we firmly give credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change in them.” Against Apion, Josephus.
2000 years ago.
"no one has been so bold as either to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to change them."
2000 years ago.
Torot (plural of Torah) from around the world are remarkably identical. The "Koren Edition" T'nach has a list of חִלּוּפֵי נֻסְחָאוֹת / hillufei nus'ha'ot ("variant readings") and there are just THREE entries for the five Torah books...
(1) B'reshit / Genesis 9:29... in the place of וַֽיְהִי֙ va-y'hi ("and it was") some copies have וַיִּהְיוּ֙ va-yih'yu ("and they were") [and I have one printed חוּמָשׁ that has the yod of וַיִּֽהְיוּ֙ pointed with a meteg (an optional stress mark)].
(2) D'varim / Deuteronomy 23:2... in the place of דַּכָּ֛ה dakkah ("crushed" or "bruised") some copies have דַּכָּ֛א dakka (an alternative spelling which doesn't even change the pronunciation)
(3) Vayikra / Leviticus 7:28... in some copies, the פַּרָשָׁה פְתוּחָה (open paragraph break) occurs instead at Vayikra 7:22.
None of these minor variations makes the slightest difference in the meaning of the text.
The Torah and the 'nach are amazingly similar througout the world. Emmanuel Tov, emeritus Professor in the Department of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote "It should be remembered that the number of differences between the various editions is very small. Moreover, all of them concern minimal, even minute details of the text, and most affect the meaning of the text in only a very limited way." (page 3, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible).
There are ancient copies, particularly of Prophets and Writings, that may vary from the Jewish mesorah (T’nach). How do we know that what we have today is correct? Shouldn’t we assume that a more ancient version is “right” and that along the way the Jewish scribes changed words (no real meaning has changed – again see Tov). . .
Some ancient copies are of questionable accuracy – I’m not speaking of translations into Greek or Aramaic as a translation is always interpretive on the part of the translator and thus word choices may vary. . . I’m speaking of ancient Hebrew witnesses to compare to what we have today.
Again, there is very little difference – and when there is a difference it tends to be the ancient version that is of questionable accuracy. How could that possibly be??? Well, compare the ancient Dead Sea Scroll version to the Masada papyri. Masada fell approximately 73 CE (common era) – so the documents date to the same timeframe as the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Qumran. Yet the fragments from Masada are identical in their text to the Masoretic Text (MT) that we have today per Lawrence H. Schiffman in “Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Volume 2”, page 492.
From Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) to Aleppo: A Discussion with Emanuel Tov about the Textual Integrity of the Bible”, page 12: “The 6000 medieval manuscripts of the MT (Masoretic text) differed only slightly in all. . .details. It is a miracle, albeit a man-made one, that the MT remained unchanged over the past 2000 years. This lack of textual intervention is visible when one compares the fragments found at Masada, Nahal Hever, and Nahal Marabba’at with manuscripts from the Middle Ages. There are almost no dfferences in consonants between the codex Leningradensis or the Aleppo codex from the early Middle Ages and the texts from Masada (66-73 CE), Nahal Hever (132-135 CE), and Nahal Murabba’at (132-135 CE); the level of variation between them is no higher than that among the medieval texts themselves. (Footnote: For precise statistics see I. Young, “The Stabilization of the Biblical Text in Light of Qumran and Masada: A Challenge for Conventional Qumran Chronology?” DSD 9 (2002) 364-90).
Missionaries will often try to argue that the bible we have today (Masoretic Text) is not the same as the ancient bible -- that Jews corrupted it. This flies in the face of not only Jewish history, blackens Jewish honor -- but it also is refuted by the experts. The facts support the Jewish T'nach's accuracy, and refutes that of the various Greek translations along the way. . . Link.
Sophiee Saguy has been countering false missionary claims about Judaism and the T'nach (Jewish bible) for nearly twenty years. You may find her on FaceBook and at the Messiah Truth forum.