The Torah Is Not In Heaven

Here’s the Wikipedia entry.

In a 2005 lecture on Deut. 30, Dennis Prager says: “Literally, this teaching is not a wonder. And it’s not far from you.”

From Baba Metziah 59:B (in the Talmud):

It is taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but the Sages did not accept any of them. Finally he said to them: “If the Halakhah (religious law) is in accordance with me, let this carob tree prove it!” Sure enough the carob tree immediately uprooted itself and moved one hundred cubits, and some say 400 cubits, from its place. “No proof can be brought from a carob tree,” they retorted.

And again he said to them “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the channel of water prove it!” Sure enough, the channel of water flowed backward. “No proof can be brought from a channel of water,” they rejoined.

Again he urged, “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the walls of the house of study prove it!” Sure enough, the walls tilted as if to fall. But R. Joshua, rebuked the walls, saying, “When disciples of the wise are engaged in a halakhic dispute, what right have you to interfere?” Hence in deference to R. Joshua they did not fall and in deference to R. Eliezer they did not resume their upright position; they are still standing aslant.

Again R. Eliezer then said to the Sages, “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let it be proved from heaven.” Sure enough, a divine voice cried out, “Why do you dispute with R. Eliezer, with whom the Halakhah always agrees?” R. Joshua stood up and protested: “The Torah is not in heaven!” (Deut. 30:12). We pay no attention to a divine voice because long ago at Mount Sinai You wrote in your Torah at Mount Sinai, `After the majority must one incline’. (Ex. 23:2)”

R. Nathan met [the prophet] Elijah [3] and asked him, “What did the Holy One do at that moment?” Elijah: “He laughed [with joy], saying, ‘My children have defeated Me, My children have defeated Me.'”

A lot of people don’t understand how post-Biblical Judaism developed.

For one thing, there never was a Biblical Judaism. There never was a Judaism limited to the Bible. Before there was a Bible, a Torah, there was an oral tradition that became the Torah and the Bible.

As long as there’s been an oral tradition, there’s been another oral tradition interpreting the oral tradition written down in the Torah and the Bible. They’ve always run together like ham and eggs.

Dennis: “I have no reason to believe that Moses wore a yarmulke. Certainly there was no Hanukkah, no Purim. These are rabbinic holidays. How did Pharisaic law become Jewish?”

I was raised a Protestant. It holds “sola scriptura.” The Bible and the Bible only shall be our creed. Protestantism holds that tradition is not bad but it is a human creation.

Dennis: “How did the rabbis claim authority to make later law? They base it largely on this sentence — the Torah is not in Heaven.”

“A Jew cannot say on law that I got a voice from G-d and I can prove in miracles that I am right.”

“The rabbis say the Torah says follow the majority and…our religion is on earth and we will determine what it is for Jews will do.”

“There are two justifications for rabbinic Judaism. The other is that there was an oral law given to Moses.”

“God has spoken and now it is our turn to keep religion going. That is one way of understanding this [verse].”

“I believe the rabbis were brilliant with this story…but I don’t know that that was what Moses had in mind. To say it is not so is to part with 2,000 years of Judaism.”

“I think that what Moses had in mind is related but not the same. This is what I think he was saying.”

“The Torah is not esoteric. If anybody comes and says they have a secret code to unlock understanding of what God wants, don’t believe them. It is totally clear what God wants.

“In every religion, you get people saying, there’s a real secret code to be unlocked here. Moses is saying no.”

“The Torah is given to all the Jews to understand all the time. You don’t need an intermediary to explain it. That’s the original intent of what Moses is saying. Ironically, that coincides with Protestant theology, but the rabbis did the opposite. The same phrase is used to make opposite points, each with their own legitimacy.”

“The kabbalah thing now. It’s really esoteric and mystical and you need special teachers to teach you what it really means. I’m skeptical. I don’t want them to close up shop. I have no antagonism. There are very wonderful people who study kabbalah.

“Same with Scientology. Scientology is very esoteric. You have to go into different levels of understanding for which you have to pay a lot of money. Just reading Dianetics will not suffice… I don’t accept that. It has to be available to me, Dennis. [Torah] is not secret knowledge. It’s not come to my class and I’ll share with you secret knowledge for $4,000.”

What I wonder about are the chicks who slept with guys in exchange for Torah secrets. Must’ve been some pretty powerful secrets to spread those tawny thighs.

Gnosticism means there’s stuff only available to the select few.

Christianity is a form of gnosticism — the secret to eternal salvation is belief in the divinity and life-giving efficacy of Jesus Christ.

That is sure an easier sell than Judaism’s “earn your way” approach.

Another consequence of this text that the Torah is not in Heaven is that there can be no further revelation that contradicts the Torah.

How did Jews react to Jesus? His first statement is that I am not here to change a thing, otherwise Jews won’t listen. “He would not get any Jew to listen if he had not started off with I’m not here to change anything.”

“Jews are preoccupied with life. That’s the one thing that unifies Jews. It’s the reason Jews became doctors. Fix. Heal people. Make this life better. That’s why Jews got involved in so many social organizations. They used secular things to fix the world. Fixing this world is a Jews’ preoccupation. Here is where you work it out.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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