Christianity teaches that Jesus' death and resurrection atoned for the sins of all mankind. G-d disagrees.
Micah, chapter 6:
With what shall I come before the Lord, bow before the Most High G-d? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Will the L-rd be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the L-rd demands of you; but to do justice, to love loving-kindness, and to walk discreetly with your G-d. The voice of the L-rd calls out to the city, and the wisdom of the Torah, the one who sees Your name; hearken to the staff and Who appointed it.
Let's repeat -- G-d does NOT want human sacrifice. He does not want the firstborn to be sacrificed for the sins of anyone.
G-d wants, no G-d DEMANDS, people who are good, just, kind and those who walk with Him knowing that He would never demand the murder of a human being to atone for the sins of anyone. The whole idea of Christianity's dying god "for their sins" is an insult to Him.
Also read T'hillim / Psalm 106:
They worshiped their idols, which became a snare for them. They slaughtered their sons and daughters to the demons. They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters whom they slaughtered to the idols of Canaan, and the land became polluted with the blood. And they became unclean through their deeds, and they went astray with their acts. And the L-rd's wrath was kindled against His people and He detested His inheritance.
The Christian bible portrays Pontius Pilate as this meek guy. History shows the reverse is true. Rome even recalled him for cruelty! One example was when he had soldiers blend in with a crowd of Jews protesting one of his actions. The soldiers were dressed like civilians, but they had clubs under their clothes. They beat numerous people to death, causing a riot where others died in the rush to escape.
Philo lived in the time of Pilate (c. 25 BCE – c. 50 CE). He wrote in Legatione ad Caium wrote of Pilate "He feared they . . . might impeach him (Pilate). . .in respect to the his corruption, his acts of insolence, and his rapine and his habit of insulting people, and his continual murder of persons untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous and most grievous inhumanity."
So, no, Pontius Pilate was neither a "nice" guy, a meek man or likely to be swayed by the Jews as portrayed in the Christian bible.
This post will discuss how the trial of Jesus, as described in the Christian bible, could never have happened. Roman law and Jewish law -- and historical information that has come to us from sources outside the Christian bible including Philo and Josephus (37 CE to 100 CE) re-enforces the fact that the story of Jesus' "trial" by Jews is total fiction. There is an excellent article on this topic, with references, at "The Rejection of Pascal's Wager."
Let us begin.
There were multiple Sanhedrins in the 1st century of the common era. 'Sanhedrin' (the word) is derived from the Greek 'Synhedrion' -- so the body didn't come to be called by that name until later, but the courts were the same.
Courts (בית דין / Beit Din / houses of judgment) are comprised of three judges. This court system is still in place today. No Jewish court exists with only one judge (as in American courts). There is no jury system of lay persons, cases are adjudicated and tried by judges (rabbis).
The next level of court was the "minor Sanhedrin." 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 as discussed in the Rambam's Mishna Torah: "What is the source which teaches that capital cases may be judged only by a court of 23? Although this is a matter conveyed by the Oral Tradition, there is an allusion to it in the Torah. Numbers 35:24-25 states: "And the congregation shall judge... and the congregation shall save...." Implied is that there must be the possibility of a congregation judging - and condemning him to death - and a congregation saving - and seeking his acquittal. Now a congregation is no less than ten. Thus there are at least 20 judges. We add three judges so that there not be an equally balanced court and to allow the possibility of "following after the inclination of the majority."
A death penalty could be appealed to the "supreme court" of the land -- the "Great Sanhedrin."
The Great Sanhedrin was the supreme court of the land, the court which met in the Temple in the Chamber of Hewn / Carved Stone. It was comprised of priests, scribes and judges -- normally 71 judges. This number is taken from Bambidar (Numbers) 11:16. The true Hebrew name would be Beit Din HaGadol (The Great Court) but it came to be called Sanhedrin in the 2nd Temple period. Different name -- same concept. Link.
Here is a great link on the legal system in Judah.
All the "particulars" of the mock trial, those who supposedly tried Jesus, etc. don't fit with Jewish law or historically known facts. The whole thing is fiction.
The real Sanhedrin (the Jewish court, not the Roman puppet court) had lost its power to pass the death penalty twice over. The Romans withdrew this right. According to Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 17:13) around the year 6 CE, Herod Archelaus, was dethroned and banished to Vienna. He was replaced, not by a Jewish king, but by a Roman Procurator named Caponius. The legal power of the Sanhedrin was then immediately restricted. When Archelaus was banished the Sanhedrin lost the ability to try death penalty cases -- that power was given to the puppet Roman procurator. See Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20:19.
From the Jewish perspective, the Chamber of Hewn Stones had been destroyed inside the Temple prior to Jesus' supposed death. Also supposedly from the Talmud (the Talmudic quote at the end of the paragraph is found in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, Chapter 4, fol,37): “When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived of their right over life and death, a general consternation took possession of them; they covered their heads with ashes, and their bodies with sackcloth, exclaiming: ‘Woe unto us, for the scepter has departed from Judah, and the Messiah has not come’ ” (M. M. Lemann, "Jesus Before the Sanhedrin," translated by Julius Magath).
The Roman Sanhedrin was a puppet court put into place by the Romans. ROMAN Sanhedrins -- not to be confused with the real Sanhedrin. Solomon Zeitlin in his book The Rise and Fall of the Judean State "Any disturbance was a peril to the Judean (Roman) authorities, who could maintain their status only if complete tranquility prevailed."
The high priest in particular - then Caiaphas - was really a servant, or lackey of Rome, appointed by the legate or procurator to ensure local control of malcontents. His sensitivity to the Galilean preacher is not difficult to imagine. Nor is Pilate's...
Pilate was vicious to the people and hostile to their religion. He was cunning and treacherous. Due to his provocations, Judea was on the brink of rebellion. The leaders of the people and High Priest Caiaphas, knowing his cunning and treachery, were fearful that if anything should happen Pilate would hold them responsible and wreak vengeance on the entire people.
William Nichols wrote: Christian Antisemitism, A History of Hate. (He is a former Anglican minister, and founder of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia). "Following the Jewish scholar Paul Winter in his influential book, The trial of Jesus, Vermes concluded that if indeed such a trial as the Gospels describe took place, the Sanhedrin achieved the considerable feat of breaking just about every rule in the book on a single occasion." (Vermes, Jesus the Jew p36).
One of the most relevant of these rules prohibits holding a capital trial by night or on a festival. We are asked by the synoptic writers to believe that Jesus was arraigned before the full Sanhedrin on the evening of the Passover celebration. Given the especial sacredness for Jews of the first night of Passover, such a claim alone will strain the credulity of anyone who has ever thought about its implications...
The historicity of the affair is more than suspect. Paul knows nothing of it and the accounts in the first two Gospels are both conflicting and highly tendentious.
From anything we know from other sources about the character and conduct of Pilate, the accounts in all four Gospels of his inadequate attempts to defend Jesus against a Jewish mob howling for blood are so improbable as to border on the ludicrous. Pilate was eventually relieved of his post for brutality in his administration excessive even in Roman eyes. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 17:85-89) It is not easily conceivable that this administrator, who did not shrink from massacres, would have gone through scruples of conscience on whether it was legitimate, in view of the nobility of Jesus' character, to yield to Jewish demands for the crucifixion of one individual.
Matthew adds an even more devastating but no less improbable touch when he has the crowd shout, "His blood be on us and our children", words that have been used down through the centuries to justify many a pogrom and persecution...
The upshot of the Gospel accounts is to divert attention from a solid historical fact, nevertheless unmistakably present even in their own accounts, that Jesus was condemned in a Roman court on a Roman charge, and put to death by a method of execution only used by the Romans. So successful is this diversion of attention that to this day countless Christians believe that the Jews killed Christ.
No one today blames the Italian people, the putative descendants of the Romans for what their ancestors did in crucifying Jesus. The supposed guilt of the Jews has echoed down history, justifying innumerable massacres..
Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, begins at Sundown on Tuesday night. This holy day is misunderstood by many a missionary who seem to think that only on this day can Jews be forgiven for our sins. Missionaries often think that without blood there is no remission of sin. More than once I have been asked "How do Jews atone for sin without sacrifices?"
Sacrifices have never been necessary to atone for sin -- it was only one way to atone for some very specific sins (mostly minor). One can atone and repent at any time. The purpose of Yom Kippur is G-d's gift to us -- a day which atones whether we seek forgiveness or not. It is the day G-d comes to US rather than waiting for us to come to Him.
"For on this day G-d shall effect atonement for you to cleanse you. Before the L-rd, you shall be cleansed from all your sins.” Vayikra / Leviticus 16:30.
G-d shall effect atonement.
The day itself atones.
Rabbi [Y’udah HaNassi] says: Yom Kippur atones whether one repents or one does not repent. Talmud, Shevuot 13a.
The key to understanding the difference between Yom Kippur and every other day of the year is that we can turn to G-d at any time. On Yom Kippur G-d comes to us. Normally we bring sacrifices, or prayers, or acts of charity to G-d. We go to Him and we thank Him, or ask Him to forgive some wrong we did. We can do this at any time, all through the year. This is the difference between the Yom Kippur sacrifices and those mentioned in Vayikra / Leviticus 5-6 (4, too). All of those are about us going to Him. On Yom Kippur He comes to us.
The difference with Yom Kippur and all other days of the year is that instead of US asking Him for forgiveness -- He seeks us out and in His infinite kindness and mercy forgives us -- the day itself is the atonement.
Even in the days of the two Temples the various blood sacrifices did not atone for major sins and wrongdoings of the Jewish people. There are two major categories of sacrifices -- communal (those for the nation) and individual (for each person's wrong doings). . .
There was no sacrifice on Yom Kippur where an animal was sacrificed and this cleansed the Israelites sins. The offer brought on Yom Kippur that cleansed sins was the one where the scapegoat was not sacrificed. It was sent ALIVE into the wilderness.
The key to understanding the difference between Yom Kippur and every other day of the year is that we can turn to G-d at any time. On Yom Kippur G-d comes to us. Normally we bring sacrifices, or prayers, or acts of charity to G-d. We go to Him and we thank Him, or ask Him to forgive some wrong we did. We can do this at any time, all through the year. You asked about the difference between the sacrifices mentioned in Vayikra / Leviticus 5-6 (4, too) -- this is the difference. All of those are about us going to Him. On Yom Kippur He comes to us.
The difference with Yom Kippur and all other days of the year is that instead of US asking Him for forgiveness -- He seeks us out and in His infinite kindness and mercy forgives us -- the day itself is the atonement.
"On Yom Kippur, the day itself atones... as it is written, For on this day, it shall atone for you." Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 1:3
It isn't the sacrifices which atone on Yom Kippur -- or even our prayers. It is the day itself which atones -- and this is what makes Yom Kippur so special. This is the day G-d comes seeking us (rather than the other way around).
There were individual and communal sacrifices on Yom Kippur described in Vayikra (Leviticus) 16 that atoned for very specific things -- but not for the sins of all of Israel. There was a sacrifice brought by the kohein gadol (high priest) for himself and his family. One for the kohein gadol and the other priests. . .The חַטָּאת cḥattat (accidental sins) and אָשָׁם asham sacrifices were PRIVATE offerings brought by INDIVIDUALS, not “atonement” offerings on behalf of the entire nation. The חַטָּאת chatat (sin sacrifice) was for a missing of the mark (you tried to do good but missed) and the אָשָׁם asham (guilt / tresspass sacrifice) was for three different types of violations:
1. unintentionally taking and using something from the holy Temple. The person must return the items, add 1/5th in restitution and bring an asham;
2. asham taluy is for when you aren't sure if you sinned or not, so just to be sure you bring an asham taluy. If later you discover that you did commit a cheit (accidental sin) you bring a chatat (sin offer);
3. asham g'zelot if you lied under oath defrauding someone of his things or money. In this case again you have to return the stolen things and add 1/5th to it as well as bring the asham g'zelot.The communal Yom Kippur (“Atonement Day”) ceremonies are detailed in chapter 16 of Vayikra (Leviticus), wher AN OX was offered for the kohein gadol (high priest) and all the other priests (verses 3, 6, 11) and two GOATS were offered for the nation (verses 5, 7-10, 15). As I already mentioned, the one sent away into the desert, and NOT killed was the one who symbolically “carryied away” the nation's sins.
Missionaries seem think there was some "magic" in blood sacrifices and this is not supported by the Jewish bible. Indeed sacrifices were not so much for G-d as they were a gift from G-d.
The Rambam explained this when he told us that G-d doesn't need sacrifices.
In other words, the Jews were used to bringing sacrifices and this is why G-d permitted them. Qorban gave man a way to feel closer to G-d by giving Him something of value (be it money, flour, an animal, etc.).
In pagan religions the gods were bloodthirsty and needed blood to be satisfied. In Judaism G-d permitted man to bring sacrifices because man needed them -- He needs nothing.
Maimonides, aka the Rambam, suggested that qorban (sacrifice) was ordained as an accommodation of man's primitive desires. In his Guide to the Perplexed (3:46), the Rambam explains that the nations of the world that worshiped animals generally worshipped one of three domestic animals: either sheep (as did the Egyptians, Targum Onkeles Sh'mot / Exodus 8:22), goats (as in Vayikra / Leviticus 17:7) or cows (as in India, until today).
In order to remove any reverent thoughts for these animals from Jewish minds, Hashem commanded us to take specifically these three animals, and to slaughter them and burn them on the Mizbe'ach. (In ch. 3:32 of the Guide, the Rambam offers yet another approach to the matter of sacrifices).
This whole fixation on blood, blood, blood by missionaries is not supported by the Jewish bible. The missionaries take the statement that blood can atone for SOME sins and somehow morph it into "you need blood for sins to be forgiven." This is akin to eating a slice of pizza because you are hungry and then insisting that the only type of food that exists in the world is pizza. How crazy is that?
The key to understanding Yom Kippur is that man may atone for sins at any time -- through various means (prayer, repentance, kindness, charity. . .). On Yom Kippur G-d, in His infinite mercy, forgives us without our even asking. On Yom Kippur it is the day itself that atones (not goats, bulls, etc.).
Vayikra / Leviticus 16 speaks of the various sacrifices brought on Yom Kippur.
Vayikra / Leviticus 16:16 speaks of a specific sacrifice made for accidental defilement of the Temple (not general sins let alone "all" sins). Notice the use of the the word "unclean."
"He (the high priest) shall then slaughter the people's sin offering goat, and bring its blood into [the inner sanctuary] beyond the cloth partition. He shall do the same with this blood as he did with the bull's blood, sprinkling it both above the ark cover and directly toward the ark cover. With this, he will make atonement for the Israelites' defilement, as well as for their rebellious acts and all their inadvertent misdeeds." Vayikra / Leviticus 16:15-16.
The Torah says לְכָלחַטֹּאתָם, חַטָּאַת which means an unintentional sin. Here is Rashi's commentary:
"from the defilements of the children of Israel-. [i.e., atoning] for those who, while in [a state of] uncleanness, had entered the Sanctuary, and it never became known to them [that they had been unclean], for it says: לְכָלחַטֹּאתָם, חַטָּאַת denotes an unintentional sin. - [Torath Kohanim 16:42; Shev. 17b]and from their rebellions. [i.e., atoning] also [for] those who, in a state of uncleanness, willfully entered [the Sanctuary, thereby defiling it]. - [Torath Kohanim16:42; Shev. 17b]He shall do likewise to the Tent of Meeting.i.e., just as he had sprinkled from [the blood of] both [the bull and the he-goat] inside [the Holy of Holies, with] one sprinkling above and seven below, so shall he sprinkle from [the blood of] both [the bull and the he-goat] on the dividing curtain from the outside once above and seven times below. - [Torath Kohanim16:43; Yoma 56b]which dwells with them, [even] amidst their defilements. Although they are unclean, the Divine Presence is among them. - [Torath Kohanim 16:43; Yoma 56b]."
Likewise the priest sacrificed a bull for himself and his own household for the very same reason:
"When Aaron (the first high priest) enters [this inner] sanctuary, it must be with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. Aaron shall present his sin offering bull, and make atonement for himself and his (fellow priests)." Vayikra / Leviticus 16:3-11.
Most missionaries fail to mention the BULL's BLOOD that is sprinkled on the ark cover to atone for the priests' sins. If the goats blood covers "all" of the Jews then why do the priests have to bring this sacrifice?
Doesn't that blow the idea that somehow the goat sacrifice atoned for "all sins?" After all it is the blood of the bull which atones for any unintentional sins by the priests. It seems that most missionaries are skimming the chapter rather than reading it for the details.
They also miss the far from minor detail that it is the LIVE goat which carries away sins big and small:
"Aaron (the first high priest) shall press both his hands on the live goat's head, and he shall confess on it all the Israelites' sins, rebellious acts and inadvertent misdeeds. When he has thus placed them on the goat's head, he shall send it to the desert with a specially prepared man. The goat will thus carry all the sins away to a desolate area when it is sent to the desert." Vayikra / Leviticus 16:21-22.
No blood sacrifice!
Here is a link to R' Aryeh Kaplan's translation of Vayikra / Leviticus 16 (link).
Hopefully you've noticed that although there are indeed blood sacrifices brought on Yom Kippur when a Temple is standing (this is the only place G-d designated for sacrifices) -- the "big" sins did not have a sacrifice, even in the days of the Temple itself. The "scapegoat" was sent alive into the desert per the Torah. (The Talmud tells us that this goat was sent off of a cliff to its death to avoid it wandering back into town bringing back all the sins! But, this is NOT a "sacrifice" -- it is one of those rabbinical fences missionaries do not "believe" in).
From Rambam's "The Laws of Repentence":
If a person violates any mitzvot of the Torah, willingly or unintentionally. . .he must repent. . .Similarly, people who are sentenced by the Rabbinical court to be executed, or to be lashed, do not attain atonement through their death or lashing unless they repent and confess. . .
1:2] The goat that is sent to Azazel is (likened to a sacrifice) for forgiveness for all Israel;therefore, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) recites a verbal confession that includes all Israel, as it is written, "And he shall confess on it, all the transgressions of Israel." (Leviticus 16:21).
This goat atones for all transgressions in the Torah: both those punishable by death and not punishable by death; intentional sins and unintentional sins; those the transgressor is aware of, and those of which he is unaware. This applies only if one repents. If one does not repent, the goat atones only for the light sins
Now that the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) is not standing, and there is no sacrificial altar for atonement, we are only left with repentance. Through repentance, G-d forgives our sins, and no mention is made of these sins even if one sinned one's whole life and repented only in his final moments. As it is written, "The wickedness of the wicked will not cause him to stumble when be turns back from his wickedness." (Ychezkiel 33:12).
Sacrifices were not magic -- they were a gift of G-d to help us truly atone by giving up something of value to Him. G-d forbids and abhors human sacrifice. The death of Jesus (if he ever even lived) couldn't have atoned for the sins of anyone -- he was simply murdered by the Romans as were tens of thousands of Jews. The Day of Atonement is not the "only" day sins could be forgiven -- sins can be forgiven at any time. It is a special day when G-d comes to us, and when the day itself atones.
It strikes me as funny that while most missionaries are "sola scriptura" (and don't "believe" in the Talmud or the rabbis) they are more than happy to quote Jewish sources when they think they can use them to "point" to Jesus perceived to be in some Jewish source. There are even some missionaries who specialize in distorting Jewish sources.
The latest blog post focuses on how missionaries misuse Jewish sources (either through ignorance or deception I cannot say). Through the use of a specific example I show how easily a Christian can be misled by missionaries who purport to be expert on Judaism, but in reality distort it.
Rosh HaShanah (the head of the year) has just passed, and not surprisingly missionaries are trying to link Jesus to the holy day. One site even claims that the High Holiday prayer book (מחזור / Machzor) not only "points" to Jesus, but even claims that there is a prayer that mentions Jesus by name (the name being used being "Yeshua").
There is no prayer in that machzor as claimed by the missionaries.
There is a poem (not a prayer) -- a silent meditation (it is not read out loud) which mentions a man named יֵשֽׁוּעַ/ Yéshu'a -- but what ultimate gall for a missionary to claim that this person is the Christian "Jesus"! The name יֵשֽׁוּעַ / Yéshu'a was highly unlikely to be the Hebrew name of Jesus. There are no Hebrew copies of the Christian bible from ancient times -- everything we have is in Greek. The Greek name for Jesus in the early papyri was Ἰησοῦς / Iesous.
Ἰησοῦς / Iesous would not be translated as יֵשֽׁוּעַ / Yeshu'a. The closest iterationn would be יֵֽשׁוּ / Yéshu.
Why don't missionaries want Jesus' Hebrew name to be יֵֽשׁוּ / Yéshu? They have been told that the name יֵֽשׁוּ / Yéshu insults Jesus. It does not, and quite a few Jewish men have been named יֵֽשׁוּ / Yéshu. The name יֵשׁוּ / Yéshu appears in the Babylonian Talmud nine times.
The Greek names given for Jesus do not represent the Hebrew form יֵשֽׁוּעַ Yéshu'a because that form would transliterate into "Jesuas," not Jesus. Jesuas is not a name used for Jesus -- meaning יֵשֽׁוּעַ Yéshu'a is simply made up and doesn't fit the known early Greek names for Jesus. I recommend reading "The Yeshua Name Game" by UriYosef for more information on how missionaries have tried to invent a Hebrew name for Jesus.
Even if יֵשֽׁוּעַ / Yéshu'a had been Jesus' Hebrew name (highly unlikekly) what makes a missionary jump to the conclusion that the יֵשֽׁוּעַ / Yéshu'a mentioned in a poem (not a prayer) in the Rosh HaShanah prayer book refers to Jesus? Do missionaries automatically think that every use of the name "Joseph" in the Christian bible is really referring to Joseph Smith of Mormon fame? I highly doubt it! Yet, missionaries make ridiculous claims that a Hebrew name can only possibly mean Jesus?
How about the poem itself? It is fairly obscure and is only found in a few machzorim (High Holy Day prayer book). The poem is mystical in nature and harks back to a desire to once again have a Temple in Jerusalem. Poems are not generally considered "literal," yet missionaries try to latch on to this particular poem because it has the name יֵשֽׁוּעַ / Yéshu'a in it.
So if this poem isn't about Jesus, who is the יֵשֽׁוּעַ / Yéshu'a mentioned in it?
A biblical high priest.
יֵשֽׁוּעַ / Yéshu'a is a kohen gadol (high priest) who is mentioned in the T'nach (Ezra and Zechariah). Yet simply because the name sounds similar to the recently "made up" Hebrew name for Jesus the missionaries have plastered this poem all over the interent. Do a search for yourself on "yeshua" and "rosh hashana prayer." Quite a few entries pop up claiming that "Jesus is mentioned on Rosh HaShanah"! Just how many people do you think have had that name through the ages (it is an abbreviation of the name "Joshua").
Hebrew readers may want to read this article by Dr. Yehuda Liebes. The Artscroll Rosh HaShanah Machzor translates the phrase as "Yéshu'a [the Kohen Gadol] minister of the Inner Chamber."
The poem in the machzor (high holy day prayer book) is found at point when the shofar (ram's horn) is blown, and a time when verbal prayers are not allowed. Speech of any type is forbidden during this time in the service. The Ga'on of Vilnius stated that while this passage was appropriate for silent meditation it was not to be read out loud (as a prayer). Here is a translation:
“…sound be embroidered into the [heavenly] curtain by the appointed angel [טרטיא”ל], just as You accepted prayers through Elijah, who is remembered for good; יֵשֽׁוּעַ/ Yéshu'a (Ben (son of) Yehozadak), minister of the Inner Chamber; and the ministering angel [מט”ט]; and may You be filled with mercy upon us. Blessed are You, Master of Mercies.” Rosh HaShanah Machzor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, K’hal Publishing,pg. 449.
The passage in the machzor (mystical in nature and read silently while the shofar is blown) mentions Elijah (the prophet) and two others, one of whom is יֵשֽׁוּעַ / Yéshu'a -- a kohein gadol (high priest) mentioned in the books of Ezra and Zechariah. Yéshu'a (Ben (son of) Yehozadak - (transliterated also as Jeshua) was the High Priest at the time of the rebuilding of the Temple and together with Zerubavel led the people who returned to Israel from Babylon. Link.
Why do missionaries assume that every person named "Joshua" in history must be the Jesus of their religion?
For further information about this poem read Menashe Walsh's blog post (link). He writes "Yeshua ben Yotsadak. . . was the High Priest at the time of the rebuilding of the 2nd Temple and together with Zerubavel led the people who returned to Israel from Babylon."
This is much ado about nothing, and just more proof that missionaries just love to distort Jewish teachings (either from ignorance, repeating something some other missionary said without researching the facts or outright lies).
Misleading missionaries will often reference Jewish sources to bolster their case that even the Talmud (or Rabbi XYZ) supports the Christian interpretation. Invariably these "proofs" are nothing of the sort -- generally taking non-literal stories and trying to use them literally.
Michael Brown (shown in the image with R' Moshe Shulman) has written many books "answering Jewish objections" using just this approach.
Who is Michael Brown? If you are unfamiliar with him, Brown claims he was born a Jew and states he was raised as a Conservative Jew. There are no details as to his Jewish education as a child, but he himself admits that he was drug addict (age 14, heroin by age 15) and thief who turned to Christianity (officially at age 16). This is not slander, this is what Brown writes about himself.
In other words, Brown had very limited Jewish education -- and any education he has since acquired has all been from Christian sources. He may have been born a Jew, but his education was limited and he has never practiced Judaism as an adult.
Would you take the experience of a 16 year old heroin addict / thief who never went to medical school, but decided to take an alternative medical course and then hang a shingle as an expert of modern medicine?
Why accept that Brown has any true knowledge of Judaism given that his education is all from non-Jewish sources (B.A. in Hebrew from Queens College, his M.A. and PhD. degrees are in Near EasternLanguages and Literature from New York University)?
He is a visiting professor at the Christian Denver Theological Seminary and Southern Evangelical Seminary in North Carolina. Christian institutions. Not Jewish.
Yet he authors books with titles such as "Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus." He presents Jewish sages as if they endorse Christianity. I am using Dr. Brown as an example, because there have been many Christian missionaries before him (and concurrent with him) who do precisely the same thing.
Brown specializes in throwing out lots of "Jewish sources" -- 4-5 at a time so that it becomes impossible to refute his assertions. It takes him 10 seconds to make an accusation and it would require hours of study to look up each source and most likely an hour to verbally refute each one of the sources he spouts off with such abandon. For example, Brown says that the Ramban (Nachmanides) agrees with Chrstians that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the messiah. Is this true? Here is what Brown wrote: "While it is true that Rashi, Ibn Ezra and Radak all interpreted the passage with reference to Israel, other equally prominent leaders, such as Moses ben Nachman (called Nachmanides or the Ramban) felt compelled to follow the weight of ancient tradition and embrace the individual, Messianic interpretation of the Talmudic rabbis (found in the Midrash, despite his belief that the plain sense of the text supported the national interpretation)."
Is Brown purposefully lying to his readers, misleading them through misdirection, or is he innocently misusing sources (not realizing the differences in Jewish sources)? I don't know -- and does it really matter? Whether done "on purpose" or by accident Brown is completely misusing the sources he throws out with abandon.
Brown mentions that the Ramban was speaking of מדרש / Midrash. There are two major types of midrash -- midrash halacha (legal discussions) and midrash aggadah (stories that are NOT literal and should not be used to "prove" anything theologically. They are meant to make a moral point). To understand Midrash I recommend reading "What is a Midrash?"
Brown will often reference thse stories as if they are the Jewish teachings about the bible (rather than a story to make a moral point). This is misleading in the extreme. It is possible that somewhere in his many books that Brown explains to the Chrstian what Midrash Aggadot is -- stories which were written to make a moral point and are not literal interpretations of scripture. . . but if he has I have never found such a quote. Missionaries (including Brown) usually just throws out a source and the reader is left to either do his (her) own research or just take the quote at "face value."
Let's read what Moses ben Nachman (called Nachmanides or the Ramban) really had to say on the subject of the servant in Isaiah 53. The following is from a debate between Nachmanides (the Ramban) and a Jewish apostate, Friar Paul, in front of the King of Aragon. This is referred to as "The Disputation at Barcelona":
Friar Paul claimed: "Behold the passage in Isaiah, chapter 53, tells of the death of the messiah and how he was to fall into the hands of his enemies and how he was placed alongside the wicked, as happened to Jesus. Do you believe that this section speaks of the messiah?"
"I (Ramban aka Nachmanides) said to him: In terms of the true meaning of the section, it (Isaiah 53's servant) speaks only of the people of Israel, which the prophets regularly call 'Israel My servant' or 'Jacob My servant."
Already it should be apparent that Brown's statement "Moses ben Nachman (called Nachmanides or the Ramban) felt compelled to follow the weight of ancient tradition and embrace the individual, Messianic interpretation" is the exact opposite of what the Ramban actually said. If an innocent Christian seeking the truth relied on Brown's book he would already think that up is down -- that the Ramban thought the subject of Isaiah 53 was "the messiah" when the Ramban clearly himself said the servant is "the people of Israel."
To quote him again "it (Isaiah's 53's servant) speaks only of the people of Israel."
You now know that Brown's quote is misleading. The Ramban clearly said that the servant "speaks only of the people of Israel, which the prophets regularly call 'Israel My servant' or 'Jacob My servant." NOT THE MESSIAH -- apparently not so compelled as Brown would have his readers believe to "embrace the individual, Messianic interpretation."
How about Brown's claim that the "ancient tradition" of the Jews was that Isaiah 53 is messianic? Not according to Origen, an early church father wrote in the year 248 CE that the Jews said the servant of Isaiah 53 was Israel. He wrote that Isaiah 53 “bore reference to the whole [Jewish] people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations.” Origen, Contra Celsum.
Missionaries often purport to quote Jewish sources, as Brown did with the Ramban, but the quotes are either out of context, or turned upside down to appear to say the reverse of what is actually intended. This example is used to encourage Christians to not blindly believe what they are told by a missionary. Research the facts for yourself!
Brown did not lie outright in the quote I gave (above), because he states in his parenthesis that the Ramban was speaking of Midrash -- but he does not tell his readers that the Ramban identified the servant as the Jews and he does not explain to his readers that Midrash are non-literal stories (so that means the Ramban did not think the servant was the messiah). . .
He simply lets his readers jump to the wrong conclusion based on the way he worded his statement.
Let's read a bit more from the Disputation -- we can read for ourselves what the Christian friar said to the Ramban, and the Ramban's replies:
Friar Paul, in his debate, used the same argument that Brown posits in his quote. The Friar said: "I shall prove from the words of your sages that it speaks of the messiah."
To which the Ramban replied to the Friar "It is true that the rabbis in the (Midrash) aggadah explain it as referring to the messiah."
This last sentence by the Ramban is the one missionaries leap upon to convince Christians that Jews believe the servant in Isaiah 53 is the messiah -- the problem is that they do not tell "the rest of the story." The Ramban does what Brown neglects to do -- he explains to the Friar and the King that Midrash is not a literal interpretation. An explanation which Brown's readers might have found helpful! The Ramban said "Know that we Jews have three types of books.
Brown's readers might have warranted hearing this statement "In regard to this book, those who believe it well and good, but those who do not believe it do no harm."
Yet, in reading Brown's paragraph it seems as if sages like the Ramban literally believed that Isaiah 53's servant was the messiah. Brown misleads his readers (intentionally or through his own lack of knowledge I do not know). Yet a Christian reading Brown's quote would most likely believe that the Ramban personally thought the servant in Isaiah 53 was the messiah -- because they are left with a half-truth.
Brown's statement that the Ramban "felt compelled to follow the weight of ancient tradition and embrace the individual, Messianic interpretation of the Talmudic rabbis (found in the Midrash, despite his belief that the plain sense of the text supported the national interpretation)" is more than misleading, it is completely false.
Compelled??? The Ramban was a man with the bravery to stand in front of the king of his country and dare to tell him the truth about Judaism contrasted with Christianity. This man is not likely to be compelled to say something he does not believe!
The Ramban (Nachmanides) merely stated to the king that the rabbis (Talmudic sages and others) referred to Isaiah 53's servant as the messiah (and Moses, Moshiach ben Yosef (not "the" messiah) and others -- which Brown conveniently does not mention to his readers) in STORIES. Let's not forget that the Ramban said "In terms of the true meaning of the section, it speaks only of the people of Israel, which the prophets regularly call 'Israel My servant' or 'Jacob My servant.'"
Missionaries like Brown using that specific quote from the Ramban would sure clear up the mistaken idea given by Brown and other missionaries -- but for some reason they never present that particular quote to their readers!
If you only read Brown's quote would you not have thought that the Ramban "felt compelled to follow the weight of ancient tradition and embrace the individual Messianic interpretation (of the servant in Isaiah 53 being the messiah)"? Yet in reality:
The Ramban goes on to tell the king that Jews reject Jesus as the messiah. Why do suppose Brown felt it was OK to misuse the Ramban to "answer Jewish objections to Jesus" and yet NOT tell those readers that the Ramban completely rejected Christianity?
Then the Ramban said to the King of Argon at Barcelona: "I am amazed. The words said in our presence to convince us that the Nazarene (Jesus) is the Messiah, were said by the Nazarene himself when he brought this same message to our ancestors and tried to persuade them. . .
"They (the Jews who knew Jesus) refuted him to his face with a perfect and strong rejection despite the fact that it was he who spoke, who knew and could argue his claim that he is divine, in accordance to your opinion, better than you can today. Now, if our ancestors who saw him and knew him did not heed him, how then can we believe and heed the voice of the king, whose only knowledge of the matter stems merely from the hearsay of distant reporters who heard it from people who neither knew him nor were his countrymen as our ancestors knew him and witnessed his life."
Here is a link to a copy of the Disputation at Barcelona from whence come the Ramban's quotes. This was the Ramban's own report of the disputation, in translation. Rabbi Moshe Shulman's website "Judaism's Answer" has some excellent refutations of common missionary misuses of Jewish sources. Here are a few from the section of the Rabbi's website entitled Lies, Damned Lies and What the Missionaries Claim the Rabbis say. This page has articles on distortions found in books that were written to target Jews for conversion. While it is true that in any book errors can occur, and we should always try to be understanding, Sometimes we find errors that cannot be excused as 'mistakes' but are either due to purposeful distortion, or people claiming to be scholars who by their works show that they are not.
Criteria for Inclusion
Articles in Alphabetical Order by Rabbi Moshe Shulman:
Driver and Neubauer and their distortions of Rabbinic texts
Dr Michael Brown and his erroneous chronology in Volume 1.
Response to Dr. Michael Brown's objection to my comments which appear in his Volume 4.
Dr. Arnold Fructenbaum and the Rabbis views of Isaiah 53 before Rashi
Rachmiel Frydland's claims about Deuteronomy 18 and the Ralbag.
Dr. Daniel Gruber and his claim in his book "Rabbi Akiba's Messiah".
Risto Santala and Psalm 110
Dr. David Stern and his claims about Rashi on Isaiah 53
Response to Dr. Michael Brown's objection to my comments about Dr. David Stern.
In this blog post I've used this one example of Michael Brown and his misuse of the Ramban on Isaiah 53. This example was used to prove a point -- tht missionaries often misquote or take out of context the words of various Jewish sages. They also often use mistranslations. The example was about Michael Brown and his quote from the Ramban (Nachmanides, Moses ben Nachman). . . and it should show readers to be wary of any missionary reference of a Jewish source. When presented with such "Jewish proof" go back and check the source.
This is not easy to do (check the source) because most missionaries do not quote the sources! Often one missionary will just take a claim from an earlier missionary (I've found a few of these in Brown's books as well). R' Moshe Shulman's articles are an excellent place to start checking some of these sources as he has scholarly taken great pains to check some of the most often found.
The missionary misuses of the Talmud, the Targums and various Midrash Aggadot which are found all over the internet tend to do exactly what Brown did with this passage. Many of them come from a 19th century book entitled "The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters." This publication was put together by Christians and for the most part sources are not given. I have written articles about this book, as has R' Shulman (link).
Let the moral of this post be: do not blindly believe what a missionary might tell you about Jews or Jewish teaching. Do your own research, or ask a learned Jew to prove to you the proper quote and context.
The written תּוֹרָה / Torah (instructions / teachings) is "G-d's little instruction book" on how to live a G-dly life, grow spiritually and become holier. G-d gave seven instructions to all of mankind (these are called the Noahide mitzvot because they were given prior to G-d's contract with Abraham). At Sinai the Jewish nation agreed to an additional 606 מִצְווֹת / mitzvot. The Talmud tells us (Tractate Makkot 23b) that there are 613 commandments in the Torah; 248 Positive Commandments (do's) and 365 Negative Commandments (do not's) to be found within.
Keep in mind that no one has the right to change any of the mitzvot. "Do not add to the word that I am commanding you, and do not subtract from it. You must keep all the מִצְווֹת / mitzvot / commandments of G-d your L-rd, which I am instructing you." D'varim / Deuteronomy 4:2.
Note the wording, the Torah says "do not add to the word that I am commanding you."
The mistake of many missionaries is that they read the "do not add. . . and do not subtract" and think that this means everything ever -- yet the Torah itself says no such thing. The Torah clearly says "to the word that I am commanding you." The commandments (mitzvot) cannot be changed PERIOD.
This does not mean that we cannot add things outside of those commanded by G-d. Indeed there is a category called מצוות דרבנן / mitzvot d'rabbanan (rabbinical commandments). There are שבע מצוות דרבנן / seven mitzvot d'rabbanan. Along with Chanukah and the Shabbat candles you can the holiday of Purim, praying three times a day, reciting kaddish after the dead, making a blessing before eating, and washing of the hands (which the Christian bible gives as a requirement in it -- before it ever was one -- yet more proof that whoever wrote it did so long "after the fact").
Another aspect of rabbinical mitzvot are rabbinical "fences" meant to prevent people from accidentally violating one of the Torah mitzvot. For example the Torah tells us to keep dairy and red meat separpate, but the rabbis extended that "fence" to include poultry. How is this not "adding" to the original mitzvah? It doesn't change it (you still cannot eat dairy with red meat) -- it merely adds other kinds of meat so that people won't accidentally eat dairy and red meat because they are used to doing so with poultry.
the Torah commands us to follow rabbinic laws, so there’s nothing “only” about it!
"you must keep the Torah as they (the judges) interpret it for you, and follow the laws that they legislate for you. Do not stray to the right or left from the word that they declare to you." D'varim / Deuteronomy 17:11.
Ergo the judges have the authority to create new legislation (such as not eating poultry with dairy) and this is not changing the previous mitzvah (do not eat red meat with dairy) because they did not suddenly permit eating red meat with dairy -- they did not change the mitzvah). . . Make sense? They simply added a "fence" that would help people avoid accidentally eating red meat with milk. . .
The origin of the בית דין הגדול / Beit Din HaGadol (the Great Court) Sanhedrin can be found in the Council of the seventy elders founded by Moshe Rabbenu (Moses): "G-d said to Moses, 'Assemble seventy of Israel's elders - the ones you know to be the people's elders and leaders." (Bamidbar / Numbers 11:16).
Since the time of Moses we Jews have always had judges / courts of law / democratic governing bodies ever since. Even in the days of King Saul and King David this was true. Berachot 4a implies that the אב בית דין / Av Beit Din (Head of the Court) of the "supreme court / congress" (Sanhedrin) during David's reign was בניהו בן יהוידע / Binayahu ben Yehoyada. David was likely the Nasi Beit Din (Prince / President of the Court). Meod Katon 26a says that King Saul was president of the Sanhedrin in his reign, with his son, Yonatan, also a member.
Want more? Read about Jehoshaphat (Y'hoshafat): "in Jerusalem, Jehoshaphat set up judges of the Levites and the priests and of the chiefs of the fathers' [houses] of Israel, for the judgment of the L-rd and for quarrels, and they returned to Jerusalem." (Divrei Hayamim II / 2 Chronicles 19:8).
Jewish courts also determined who was a prophet (Jesus was not a prophet). Jewish courts decided whatt books went into the bible and which were left out (אַנְשֵׁי כְּנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה / The Men of the Great Assembly).
Jewish courts do not use juries. The smallest Jewish court consists of three judges, and these courts still exist today. In ancient times appeals could be made to courts with 23 judges, all the way "up" to the great court which had 70 judges (this number is fixed in the Torah).
A three judge court could, for example, rule on theft cases. A capital punishment case (for example) required a court of 23 judges (a small Sanhedrin), but false prophets had to be adjudicated by the great Sanhedrin of 71 judges (the Great Sahnedrin). (Mishna, Sanhedrin 1:1-6).
It is important to realize that missionaries who reject Jewish judges claiming they rely "only" on the bible are actually rejecting the Jewish bible since the bible itself dictates listening to Jewish judges -- and it was Jewish judges who decided which books to include and exclude in the T'nach (e.g. Prophets and Writings).
What type of questions might come before a court? Adjudicating issues around the 613 mitzvot. "what if the person who stole something was starving and he stole food from a market to avoid death?" That is a particular case that might come before the court that would require them to adjudicate in that specific instance.
Jewish law has many safeguards in place to prevent courts from "running amok." This is one reason the death penalty was so rare (more than one in 70 years was rare). A capital (death) case required 23 judges. No Jewish court can have less than three members. Judges must be expert in the Torah. Majority rules -- but if the court is unanimous for guilt in the case of a death penalty case the person is not put to death. The rules for passing a sentence of death were nearly impossible to meet (the two eye witnesses, a majority of the judges passing the sentence, but at least two on the side of innocence, etc.) that very few were ever meted out. . .
No doubt there are some flaws -- not within the laws (those come from G-d) -- but in human implementation of the law. Still the safeguards are remarkable. The written Torah tells us:
To appoint judges and officers in every community of Israel (D'varim (Deuteronomy) 16:18)
Judge honestly between each man and his brother (D'varim (Deuteronomy) 1:16)
Do not testify as a false witness against your neighbor. (Sh'mot (Exodus) 20:13)
A single eyewitness may not testify against a person where the death penalty is involved. (Bambidar (Numbers) 35:30)
Do not pervert justice. (Sh'mot (Exodus) 23:6)
Do not join forces with a wicked person to be a corrupt witness. (Sh'mot (Exodus) 23:1)
Do not follow the majority to do evil. (Sh'mot (Exodus) 23:2)
Do not speak up in a trial to pervert justice. A case must be decided on the basis of the majority. (Sh'mot (Exodus) 23:2)
Keep away from anything false. (Sh'mot (Exodus) 23:7)
Do not accept bribery. Bribery blinds the clear-sighted and twists the words of the just. (Sh'mot (Exodus) 23:8)
You must investigate and probe, making careful inquiry. (D'varim (Deuteronomy) 13:15)
One witness must not testify against a person to inflict any punishment or penalty for a crime that he may have committed. A case must be established through the testimony of [at least] two or three witnesses. (D'varim (Deuteronomy) 19:15)
This is what you must do] if a corrupt witness acts to testify falsely against a person. Two men who have testimony to refute [the false witnesses] shall stand before G-d, before the priests and judges who are involved in that case. The judges shall carefully interrogate [the refuting witnesses], and if the [first] two witnesses are found to have testified falsely against their brother you must do the same to them as they plotted to do to their brother, thus removing evil from your midst. (D'varim (Deuteronomy) 19:15-19)
Do not give anyone special consideration when rendering judgment. Listen to the great and small alike, and do not be impressed by any man, since judgment belongs to G-d. If any case is too difficult, bring it to me, and I will hear it.' (D'varim (Deuteronomy ) 1:17)
Do not pervert justice (D'varim (Deuteronomy) 24:17)
The last few posts have discussed what the oral Torah is and how it came to be written down over hundreds and hundreds of years -- first as the מִשְׁנָה / Mishna (study by repeating -- from the word שנה, or “to review”) and then גמרא / Gemara (study). Together they are called the תַּלְמוּד / Talmud which means “instruction." It is important to understand that the commandments are given in the Torah -- nothing in the rest of the bible (Prophets / Writings) has the authority to change the mitzvot.
The Talmud is a combination of explaining "how to" fulfill the written mitzvot (for example -- the written Torah may say to put a sign upon your doorpost, but it does not explain what that sign should be, or where it should be placed. Those explanations are found in the Talmud). Debate around minor points are discussed at length in the Gemara (along with stories, humor, etc.).
G-d gave our courts the authority to make legal rulings based on the Torah. In that sense they cannot be wrong -- if they follow the rules and do so attempting to do the right thing then they ARE doing the right thing even if the ruling itself seems wrong (or is even reversed at some later point). Think of the United States of America as an example. There were times when women could not vote. There were times when blacks were slaves. At the time, ruling within the laws of the nation, the United States Supreme Court made rulings that were considered legal and binding and "right." Over time the laws changed -- women voted, blacks were free men and over time we would like to think we are being truer to the freedoms inherent in our country.
The Jews have always had halacha (Jewish law) which comes from G-d. That does not change and cannot be changed. It DOES have to be interpreted -- to specific legal cases and new occurrences (when would a Jewish astronaut observe "sundown" for Shabbat in outer space?).
One thing that is difficult for non-Jews to grasp is that we are co-creators with G-d. He put us on this planet to learn and grow and to make decisions. This makes the question of "right or wrong" decisions somewhat academic -- we are SUPPOSED to do this -- and that is why G-d commanded us to create courts and judges and to listen to them.
The key for understanding Jewish courts and judges is to realize that when our Sages, Rabbis, and the Sanhedrin teach something, it must be consistent with the contents of the Torah. If it is consistent, then it's a true teaching; if it is inconsistent, then it is a false teaching, and it is to be discarded.
Some non-Jews seem to think that what is in the bible is ancient and does not apply to today. Jews know that the Torah does apply to today and we live our lives by it. There are still Jewish judges and courts of law, as there have been in every generation since Moses himself. The Sanhedrin was the supreme council of Israel. As long as it stood, it was the supreme court and legislative body in all matters of Torah law. As such, the Sanhedrin was entrusted with keeping and interpreting the Oral Torah.
The Great Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court / Legislation) met in the Temple area, in the Chamber of Hewn Stones (לשכת הגזית / Lishkat HaGazit). It was only in this chamber that the Sanhedrin could perform all its functions, including the trial of capital offenses. In 28 CE (3788 on the Jewish calendar) the Chamber was destroyed, thus eliminating the Sanhedrin's ability to pass the death penalty (ergo the "trial" of Jesus as described in the Christian bible could never have happened).
The Sanhedrin itself moved to another room on the Temple Mount initially, and when Jerusalem was destroyed in 68 CE (3828) it moved to the city of Yavne. For the next century it moved from Yavneh to Usha, then to various other locations. The Sanhedrin remained in existence until the 4th century of the common era when it was eventually disbanded. Today there is no great court, but there are many three judge courts throughout the world. These courts ordain rabbis, perform conversions and oversee other aspects of daily Jewish law.
For nearly 200 years the sages worked together to write down Jewish law so that it would not be forgotten. This Herculean effort, the מִשְׁנָה / Mishna, was finalized around 190 CE. Another work of this same time period was the ברייתא / Baraita which recorded teachings "outside" of the six orders of the Mishna. The word ברייתא / Baraita means "outside." The תּוֹסֶפְתָּא / Tosefta was also collected -- this was "additional" or "supplementary" information.
Jews being Jews, no sooner was the מִשְׁנָה / Mishna complete then the debates began. I use the word "debate" -- but let me be clear there is not even ONE argument in the Talmud about core matters of Judaism. Each and every single dispute in the history of Jewish Law has been about a minor detail of the Law.
Let me repeat that, because some missionaries make a "big deal" about the fact that the Gemara is written as dialog with one Rav' saying one thing which another saying the opposite. . . this is the manner in which Jews learn. BUT there is not even one disagreement in the entire Talmud about anything that is a core issue (not about which mitzvot we should or should not follow for example).
The debate was never about what the law required (for example, the Mishna says we are commanded to kindle Chanukah candles as part of the celebration), but rather sometimes the minor details were in question (should we light the Chanukah candles starting with one, and adding a candle each night, or should we start with eight candles and remove a candle each night?).
The discussions and debates around the law (halacha) lasted for 200 years in Judah and 300 years in Babylon.
Another point of clarification -- although we speak of R' Y'hudah HaNasi as completing the Mishna (for example) we are just giving the name of the head of the effort. Neither the Mishna nor Gemara was a "one man" process. All of the learned Jews of the era who could be rounded up for the process were part of the process. The sages literally found every reliable Torah Scholar they could and that person became a part of the process. We have a list of the names of the תנאים / Tannaim (teachers) and אמוראים / Amoraim (sayers or spokesmen) who later compiled the Gemara. Some of the names can be found here. The work was done in public -- nothing was hidden. This was a Herculean effort -- all to ensure the accuracy and that not "one" opinion could sneak in by accident.
If you recall from the last post, the authors of the Mishna are called תנאים / Tannaim (teachers) . The men who compiled the Gemara are called אמוראים / Amoraim (sayers or spokesmen). There was a man named אבא אריכא / Abba (father) Arika who was the last of the Tannaim and the first of the Amoraim. He moved to Babylon and headed a Yeshiva (school) at Sura (Babylon). R' Arika was a follower of R' Y'hudah HaNasi (Judah the Prince), the Tannaim who finalized the Mishna.
Around 219 CE R' Arika moved from Judah (Israel) to Babylon.
Once the Mishna was complete sages in both Judah (Palestine) and Babylon began to use it for study, and then began the legal discussions, the stories, the debates and even histories. . . The great yeshivot (schools) in Palestine and Babylon studied the Mishna exhaustively and over the next hundreds of years the rabbis in Babylon and Palestine began to write down these discussions in a series of books that came to be called גמרא / Gemara (which means "to study").
The communities were separated by over 500 miles, and 1800 years ago travel by camel was about 25 to 30 miles per day. Without problems it was a minimum of 20 days travel -- thus the study was done in two separate communities -- one in Palestine and one in Iraq (Babylon). Out of these two communities emerged the תַּלְמוּד יְרוּשָׁלְמִי / Yerushalami (Jerusalem or Palestinian) Talmud and the Bavli (Babylonian) Talmud. The Bavli was published around 500 CE, while the Palestinian Talmud was published around 400 CE. When people speak of the תַּלְמוּד / "Talmud" they mean the Mishna and the Babylonian Talmud.
The community in Palestine was under initially Roman, and later Christian control. A central Yeshiva met in Teveryah (Tiberias), but as Christianity grew in what remained of the Roman Empire it became more and more difficult for Jews to work on the Gemara. What do I mean by "more difficult"? Jews lost most of their civil rights. A Jew marrying a Christian was put to death. The Sanhedrin, was forbidden to meet These are just two examples of the severe repression against Jews. Just existing became difficult, making it almost impossible to complete the discussions around the Mishna. As a result the Palestinian Talmud remained fragmented with whole parts of it lost (or never completed).
Interestingly enough the Jerusalem / Palestinian Talmud covers all the tractates of Zeraim (seeds) while the Babylonian Talmud only has one tractate (Berachot - blessings). Since halacha (Jewish law) pertaining to farming is relative only in the holy land the topic may not have been considered that important in Babylonian exile. . .
The community in Babylon was growing and flourishing. 10,000 Jews initially were exiled in Babylon around 434 BCE (and 11 years later the rest of the Jews followed). A majority of the Jews there did not return to Israel with the prophet Ezra. Most remained in Babylon, and Jews lived there for 2400+ years, until they were exiled by the Iraqis in 1948 when the modern state of Israel was created.
After the destruction of the Temple in 68 CE in Jerusalem and the later rebellion resulting in the Romans exiling most of the Jews from the land in 135 CE many moved to Babylon to an already flourising Jewish community. The few Jews who remained after 135 CE were subject to Roman persecution and eventually Christian persecution. In 363 CE the Roman Empire shut down the Sanhedrin (Jewish courts / governmental system) and the main Jewish community was well established in Babylon.
The head of the Jewish community in Babylon was the ריש גלותא / Rosh Galut (Head of the Exile). The Rosh Galut was a direct descendant of King David. For over 40 generations (1500 years) he was considered to be Even the representative of the Jewish community in Babylon (sometimes just as a figure head). The Jews of Babylon were an oasis in the world of Jewish exile. Ergo they had the luxury of spending hundreds and hundreds of years discussing, debating and compiling the Babylonian Talmud.
Jews learn by discussion and dialog. Rarely is there a teacher who stands in the front of a room lecturing. In Jewish schools people sit around a table, read a line or a paragraph and discuss it -- possibly for hours on end. A Jew sitting down to read a page of the Gemara this is like entering a classroom -- the very discussions in the Talmud are akin to the discussions in a Jewish Yeshiva. To a non-Jew who reads a translation of the Gemara they are confused -- it seems like a bunch of people sitting around and arguing. What the non-Jew sees as confusion the Jew sees as a teaching method. There is even a name for this method -- On every page it seems that the rabbis are arguing. This kind of argument ― the purpose of which was to arrive at the kernel of truth ― is called פלפול, from "pepper." Spicy. It is an intense and detailed method of learning.
To a non-Jew (especially a Christian who thinks Jews are too "legalistic") it seems like hair splitting. To a Jew it is a method to determine how to apply every single mitzvah in the written Torah to the world we live in even today. We have to understand not only the details, but the logic. The Gemara is looking at every kernel to make sure we don't miss a single thing. The bottom line is -- are we doing what G-d wants us to do?
Another important point is that much of the discussion and dispute is focused on relatively minor points while the larger issues are generally not disputed. I discussed this earlier, using the example of lighting Chanukah candles. On the big issues there is no debate -- no one questioned whether or not we should keep kosher, or if maybe somehow a pig could be made kosher. Those things had no reason to be discussed because the written Torah makes it clear what is and is not kosher. The oral mitzvot tells us HOW to butcher a kosher animal. . . none of those things were in question. They were totally in agreement on the big issues.
So there you have it -- the Talmud is comprised of Mishna and Gemara. When we say "Talmud" we mean the Babylonian Talmud (the Jerusalem Talmud was never completed do to persecution).
Along with the discussions on the finer points of Jewish law, the Gemara includes אגדתא / Agadata -- stories meant to emphasize a moral point in the bible.
So the Talmud is not the evil thing some anti-semites claim. It is not hidden either. The Talmud is not "holier" than the written Torah -- they are companion works. You truly cannot understand the written Torah's mitzvot without the Talmud.
Since the Babylonian Talmud was completed some 1600 years or so ago Rabbinic commentary has continued. It continues to this very day -- because learning, debate and discussion is a very important part of the Jewish people.
The Mishna was an attempt to keep the bare bones of the oral mitzvot as Jews were being dispersed across the world. The wars against Rome began in 66 CE and ended with most of the Jews being exiled from the holy land in 135 CE when the final revot (the בר כוכבא / Bar Kocbha rebellion) was squashed. Archeologists have discovered coins used by the Jews during the rebellion. The coin shown to the left shows the Temple a rising star. The other side shows a lulav (lulav -- date palm tree frond used in Sukkot). The Hebrew says: "to the freedom of Jerusalem."
Roman historians tell us that over 500,000 Jews died in the rebellions. By the time the Romans renamed Judah "Palestine" (after the ancient Jewish enemy, the Philistines) Jews had migrated throughout the Roman Empire -- as far as Spain, India and Egypt. The Jewish community in Egypt had been thriving since the days of Yirmiyahu / Jeremiah. Many other Jews fled to Babylon -- which had been home to Jews since the Babylonian Exile in 434 BCE.
When Cyrus gave the edict that Jews could return to Judah, many remained in Babylon. It is estimated that only 42,000 Jews returned to Judah, with nearly a million remaining in Babylon. They formed Synagogues and a rich Jewish life. It was to this vibrant community that many Jews fled around 135 CE.
The Roman who defeated Jerusalem had promised Yohanan Ben Zakkai that if he became Emperor he would let the Jews establish the Sanhedrin and schools in the town of Yavneh. Vespasian became Emperor within a year of his promise, and kept his word, allowing the school to be established after the destruction of Jerusalem. The school ben Zakkai established at Yavneh became the center of Jewish learning for centuries and replaced Jerusalem as the seat of the Sanhedrin. It was at Yavneh, nearly 100 years after Ben Zakkai, that the finalized Mishna appeared.
For the next hundred years the Tannaim in Yavneh compiled the oral Torah into the מִשְׁנָה / Mishna. The last generation of Tannaim was overseen by Y'hudah HaNasi circa 170-200 CE at which time the Mishna was finalized.
The goal in putting the oral mitzvot in writing was to create a brief and concise document that is cryptic by design. The מִשְׁנָה / Mishna 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 Mishna is divided into six sections known as סדרים / Sedarim, which translated means "order."
The first section, סדר זרעים / Seder Zera'im deals with agricuture. זֶֽרַע /zera is usually translated as "seed" or "living offspring of the physical parent." Seed is not the best translation since the word denotes the living entity that results from a fertile parent (male, female, or plant). This order discusses the mitzvot pertaining to the plants of the land such as laws of prohibited mixtures, laws of the Sabbatical year, for example. There are eleven tractates within this Seder, the first of which is ברכות / Berachot (Blessings) which has to do with many of the Jewish prayers -- including those blessing food.
The second section, סֵדֶר מוֹעֵד / Seder Mo’ed (appointed times) contains twelve tractate -- each explaining a different holy day. The first holiday discussed is Shabbat (Sabbath). The tractates explain requirements (for example, does it require fasting, or avoiding certain actions such as lighting a fire, etc.)
The third section, סֵדֶר נָשִׁים / Seder Nashim, focuses on the mitzvot around family purity, marriage, there are seven tractates.
The fourth section, סדר נזיקין / Seder Nezikin deals with the court system including both civil and criminal laws. There are ten tractates including one on idolatry. Penalties and punishment are also discussed.
The fifth section, סֵדֶר קָדָשִׁים / Seder Kodashim discusses holy things including ritual practices of the Temple (qorbanot / sacrifices). There are eleven tractates
The sixth section deals, סדר טהרות / Seder Tohorot discusses ritual purifications and impurities.
Some things were not included in the Mishna, but they were important enough to keep. They were collected in the תּוֹסֶפְתָּא / Tosefta -- literally "additional" or "supplementary" information. It was completed shortly after the completion of the Mishna. In fact, the תנאים / Tannaim (teachers) mentioned in the Tosefta are the same as those mentioned in the Mishna -- along with scholars from the two following generations – almost all either direct descendents of the tannaim mentioned in the Mishna. Most editions of the Talmud include the Tosefta as well.
After the completion of the Mishna, and the deat of Y'hudah HaNasi, a new generation of scholars called the אמוראים / Amoraim (explainers) began to discuss, explain and interpret the teachings of the Mishna. These discussions went on for over 200 years in Judah (Palestine), and 300 years in Babylon -- and eventually those discussions became the commentary and debate around the statements in the Mishna. We will discuss this גמרא / Gemara (study) in the next post on the topic of the Talmud.
The written Torah tells us all about the oral. The written Torah will often tell us to do things, and the "how" to do it is not explained in the written Torah. It will say "do it as I told you." This alone shows that the "how" was oral.
Most Christians reject the idea of an oral Torah. Some do so based on the idea that Jesus quoted a lot from the Scriptures but never from the Talmud. Therefore, goes the thinking, Christians should reject the oral mitzvot.
This is very strange, because in the Christian bible Jesus is quoted as telling people to listen to the Pharisees, saying they sit in Moses' seat (even though there is a great deal of anti-semitism about Pharisees in the Christian bible, there are also complements from Jesus) -- and the Pharissees were the keepers of the oral mitzvot (Torah).
On top of that the oral law is actually mentioned in the Christian bible -- by Paul, not Jesus. Paul actually references the oral mitzvot in 2 Timothy 3:8 Paul names the two magicians mentioned in S'hmot / Exodus 7. Paul says: "Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses" 2 Timothy 3:8 The names of the magicians are not given in the written Torah, but the names are given in the oral Torah. Paul gives those names. To the missionaries who want to totally throw out the oral mitzvot -- do you also intend to throw out the words of Paul?
Paul also claims to be something of an expert on the oral mitzvot (though it is obvious he wasn't). Paul says he: "profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers." Gal. 1:14 "traditions" = oral mitzvot.
Ergo Paul at least did not reject the oral Torah.
It is actually impossible to even read the written Torah without the oral Torah. . . There are no vowels in the Torah!! To even read Hebrew one must learn from the oral law.
Shabbat 31a tells the story of a non-Jew who came to the famous R' Shammai, saying to him "How many Torot (plural of Torah) have you?"
"Two,' he replied: 'the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.'
The non Jew said "I believe you with respect to the Written, but not with respect to the Oral Torah; make me a proselyte on condition that you teach me the Written Torah [only]."
R' Shammai scolded and rejected him in anger.
The gentile then went to R' Hillel who accepted the man as a student. On the first day, R' Hillel taught him the Hebrew Aleph-Bet (alphabet), beginning with Alef, beth, gimmel, dalet. . .
The next day the man returned and Hillel taught him the aleph-bet, but in reverse.
The man was confused and said 'But yesterday you taught me the opposite!"
R' Hillel explained that is the entire point -- no one can even learn the Hebrew aleph-bet without a teacher. Why rely on the teacher to correctly teach you how to read, and then not rely on the teacher with the respect of the oral law?
R' Hillel and Shammai were the last pair of זּוּגוֹת / Zugot. They lived at the time of Herod the Great -- and died shortly before the beginning of the common era (and the supposed life of Jesus). Who were the זּוּגוֹת / Zugot?
From the time of Moses there were Assemblies -- called the Elders of Israel starting in Sh'mot / Exodus chapter 3. The 70 elders (Sh'mot / Exodus 24:1,9; Bamidbar / Numbers 11:16,24) were already leading the people, even in Egypt. These men were from all the tribes and comprised both court judges and government -- later they would constitute the Great Sanhedrin. Sh'mot / Exodus 3 tells us that even Moses had to go before this governmental body and present his credentials to be accepted. "'Go, gather the Elders of Israel, and say to them, 'HaShem, the G-d of your fathers, appeared to me - the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Sh'mot / Exodus 3:16.
After the return from Babylonian Exile the prophets (including Ezra the Scribe) created a "Great Assembly" which comprised of 120 men rather than 71 (the 71st was initially Moses). When Shimon HaTzaddik, the last member of the Great Assembly died in 273 BCE, a period began known as the period of the Zugot, meaning "pairs." The last of the "pairs" were R' Shammai and R' Hillel from the story given above.
For almost 300 years, there were always two rabbis in charge of the Jewish courts and governmental bodies. The two were the נָשִׂיא / Nasi (the president or "prince") and the אב בית דין / Av Beit Din (the head of the Sanhedrin). These pairs are all listed in פרקי אבות / Pirei Avot / "Ethics of the Fathers." The Zugot were succeeded by the תנאים / Tannaim (teachers).
Among the first of the תנאים / Tannaim (teachers) was a name which may be familiar to Christians: the great גמליאל / Gamliel. R' Gamliel is mentioned in the Christian bible. He was the grandson of R' Hillel and became Nasi (prince) of the Sanhedrin. He died around 50 CE. R' Shimon ben Gamaliel succeeded him as Nasi (his son or son-in-law). The Romans beheaded him, and he was succeeded by his son who was known by the name of יהודה הנשיא / Y'hudah HaNasi (Judah, the Prince). Y'hudah HaNasi and his generation were the last of the תנאים / Tannaim (teachers), and it was he who finalized the Mishna (the first half of the Talmud).
Hopefully all of this detail is not boring -- I am going into detail so that you will see that none of this was "made up." These were real people (many are discussed in Roman histories as well as in Jewish history). R' Y'hudah HaNasi was an amazing man -- a learned man in Torah and in governing (he was very wealthy). He even befriended Roman leaders, including Marcus Aurelius (161-180 C.E.). This was important, because it was through his relationships that he was able to save Jewish teaching.
If you read your T'nach (bible) you know that the Jews were exiled to Babylon. While many returned to Judah (Israel) with Ezra (the prophet), many more remained in Babylon. They remained there until the 20th century when many were forced to flee as refugees -- most to Israel. By 2000 years ago there were nearly as many Jews living outside of Judah as in it. After the Temple was destroyed in 68 CE even more Jews fled, and by 135 CE the last real revolt against Rome failed and the Romans exiled most of the remaining Jews. For the next 2000 years most Jews lived spread around the world.
We went from a time of yeshivot (schools) like those of R' Hillel, Shammia and Gamliel who boasted tens of thousands of students to the very real possibility that our knowledge would be lost to diaspora (exile). Thus our leaders came to a decision -- they would have to write down the oral teachings for the very real possibility that if they did not do so they would be lost to history. This was a very difficult decision. The oral Torah was oral for a very good reason. The basic rules were firm and unchanging, but the application was meant to be adaptable to new situations (how about electricity as a new situation?).
Although R' Gamliel was a Tanna, the first Generation of the Tannaim was led by יוחנן בן זכאי / Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai. Ben Zakkai (Jonathan, son of Zakkai) was a former student of R' Hillel and he was alive when the Temple was destroyed in 68 CE. He did a very brave (very foolish) thing to try to save Judaism. He faked his own death and had his "body" removed from Jerusalem in a coffin -- you see there were Jewish warriors who would not let anyone in or out of the city. . . His "body" was taken to the Roman leader's tent. This Roman was Vespasian and he was beseiging Jerusalem. R' ben Zakkai emerged from a coffin in front of Vespasian, telling the Roman that he had had a vision that Vespasian would soon be emperor. Vespasian laughed at him. Ben Zakkai asked a favor of the Roman, realizing that the Jews could not beat the Romans -- but Ben Zakkai hoped to save Judaism if he could not save the land. He asked Vespasian to let Ben Zakkai establish a yeshiva (school) in the town of Yavneh (near modern Rehovot). Vespasian promised that if he became emperor he would grant Ben Zakkai's request.
Vespasian became Emperor within a year, and kept his word, allowing the school to be established after the war was over. The school ben Zakkai established at Yavneh became the center of Jewish learning for centuries and replaced Jerusalem as the seat of the Sanhedrin. It was at Yavneh, nearly 100 years after Ben Zakkai, that the finalized Mishna appeared.
For the next hundred years the Tannaim in Yavneh compiled the oral Torah into the מִשְׁנָה / Mishna. The last generation of Tannaim was overseen by Y'hudah HaNasi circa 170-200 CE at which time the Mishna was finalized.
The מִשְׁנָה / Mishna is a very cryptic work explaining all the principles in sixty-two tractates. The tractates, מסכת / Mesechtot, provide the background for every subject of Halacha (Jewish law) found in the Oral Torah.
The 62 sections are divided into six orders (Sedarim):
The Chabad offers a multi-video series on the Mishna called "Tour of the Mishna."
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.