Yeshua and the Oral Law

To a certain degree, Yeshua (Jesus) followed Karaite Jewish principles. He rejected the Oral Law and traditions, where they contradict the Old Testament (Tanakh):

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.
He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is a korban (offering to God),” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.(Quote from Isaiah 29:13)’”
Mat. 15:1-9 (also in Mark 7:1-13)

The argument is not whether washing your hands is important or not, but making a law out of it. Yeshua never says that it is wrong to wash your hands. In fact, he kept some of the traditions: For instance he celebrated the feast of Hanukkah (חֲנֻכָּה, see John 10:22-39), which does not contradict the Written Law.

The Law On Washing Hands
Rabbi ‘Awira expounded sometimes in the name of Rabbi Ammi and at other times in the name of Rabbi Assi: Whoever eats bread without previously washing the hands is as though he had intercourse with a harlot; as it is said, For on account of a harlot, to a loaf of bread (Prov. 6:26). Raba said: [On that interpretation] the verse, For on account of a harlot, to a loaf of bread’ should have read: ‘On account of a loaf of bread, to a harlot’! But, said Raba, [the meaning is:] Whoever has intercourse with a harlot will in the end go seeking a loaf of bread.
Rabbi Zerika said in the name of R. Eleazar: Whoever makes light of washing the hands [before and after a meal] will be uprooted from the world.
Rabbi Hiyya ben Ashi said in the name of Rab: With the first washing [before the meal] it is necessary to lift the hands up; with the latter washing [after the meal] it is necessary to lower the hands. There is a similar teaching: Who washes his hands [before the meal] must lift them up lest the water pass beyond the joint, flow back and render them unclean. Rabbi Abbahu says: Whoever eats bread without first wiping his hands is as though he eats unclean food; as it is stated: And the Lord said: Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their bread unclean. (Ez. 6:13, out of context)
Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nashim, Excerpt of Sotah 4b

As a response to the Pharisee’s question, Yeshua condenses a rather complicated tradition from the Oral Law to show how it contradicts the Written Law.
Yeshua’s conclusion is obvious: The Oral Law does in no way supersede or nullify the Written Law. In fact, he told his followers not to follow the rabbinical decrees (see The Seat Of Moses). Rather, he took the freedom to observe some traditions, not as commandments, but because it was his culture. Yeshua never rejected the culture of his people. But since he was a true Jew, one who would set YHVH (God) above everything else, he had to reject the contradictory Oral Law. Instead, he kept the Written Law given by YHVH (God) to Moses and the people.

The Tradition: Honouring Your Parents1
Two rabbinic traditions are involved in this debate: First, honoring your parents is considered by the Mishnah to include financial support. The second tradition is about a vow to offer one’s belongings to the Lord, where the vow involves another person. When someone makes that vow, the other person who is involved can not profit from those belongings.

[If one vows to another:] “May I be forbidden to you, (i.e., may any benefit from me be prohibited to you), the [person who was prohibited by is prohibited [from deriving any benefit from him].”
Mishnah, Seder Nashim, Excerpt of Nedarim 5:4

Or put more simply: If my parents ask me for support, and I make a vow in the terms of: “Whatever you may ask from me shall be a korban (offering to the Lord)”, then whatever they ask from me can ONLY be used as a gift devoted to God, and it can never be converted to another use. Therefore, my parents would never have any profit from me even if they are in need. According to the tradition of the first century, this vow would be valid, and I would not need to honor my parents, or help them in any physical way.
The Mishna gives an example of this practice:2

It once happened in Bet Horon that one’s father was forbidden to benefit from [his own son]. Now he [the son] was marrying off his son [and wanted his father to participate], [so] he said to his friend:
May the courtyard and the banquet be a gift to you, on the condition that my father come and feast with us at the banquet.
Thereupon [the friend] said:
If it is truly mine then let it all be consecrated for Heaven!
He said to [his friend]:
But I did not give it to you so that you consecrate it to Heaven.
[The friend] responded:
You gave it to me so that you and your father may eat and drink together and become reconciled with one another while the sin of breaking the vow should be on [my] head.
Mishnah, Seder Nashim, Excerpt of Nedarim 5:6

Note that as a result of events similar to the one recounted above, a decree was made after the first century (Mishnah, Seder Nashim, Nedarim 9:1), allowing for a person’s vow to be annulled so that they could honor their parents.

References

1 Article on NazareneSpace.com
2 Mishnah, Seder Nashim, Nedarim 5:6

Emphasis

In western cultures, in order to emphasize something, a person who is speaking raise their voice. In written text, an important passage is often emphasized by underlining it or by using a bold typeface.
In Hebrew culture however, the same meaning is either repeated in a slightly different way or contrasted through its opposite meaning.

Repetition

It seems that the Hebrews knew thousands of years ago what we are learning now: Repetition makes it easier for us to remember something. Repetition is what everyone uses to memorize any type of information. In Hebrew, it is used as an emphasis.

Examples

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.
Gen. 1:27

In this next example, keep in mind that the word for spirit, in Hebrew, can also mean breath:

The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
Job 33.4

Here, the the exact same Hebrew word was repeated, not only the meaning:

To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
Psalm 22:5

These repetitions occur as much in the Gospels, which again shows how deeply rooted this Hebrew mindset was even in the first century. In this case, the idea, i.e. the concept of influencing the surroundings, is repeated:

You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
Mat. 7:13a&14a

Contrast

The contrast shows the importance of a certain statement through the opposite meaning. For instance, you will only notice that bread needs salt if you have tasted unsalted bread before.

Examples

The book of Proverbs is probably the one where this method of emphasis is most used:

Blessings are on the head of the righteous,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.
Prov. 10:6,9

Yeshua (Jesus) uses this method in his teachings as well:

[The kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth,
yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.
Mark 4:31-32

The Oral Law And The Written Law

The Oral Law contains the legal and interpretative traditions that, according to tradition itself, were given by God orally to Moses (מֹשֶׁה, Moshe) at Mount Sinai, together with the Written Law (see definition below). Therefore, according to the rabbis, the Oral Law is equal to and the only rightful interpretation of the Written Law. They were not to be written, but passed down orally through the ages.

Definitions:

  • The Oral Law (תורה שבעל פה, Torah she-be-`al peh) is also called: Oral Torah, Oral Traditions, Traditions of the Elders or, in the New Testament, Works of the Law.
  • The Written Law (תּוֹרָה, Torah) is also called Written Torah, the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch. It is the first part of the Old Testament (תַּנַ”ךְ, Tanakh).

The Oral Law contains the written rabbinic texts (like the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the Midrash) explaining the traditions of the people of Israel as well as the interpretations of biblical texts. It is called Oral Law because it was originally handed down orally, which means that young scholars (like Paul) had to learn these traditions by heart, or conveyed by word of mouth and memorized, as the Mishnah states.1

Before the destruction of the second temple, it was forbidden to write down the Oral Law (i.e. the explanation of the Torah). However, with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the existence of Jewish culture became threatened and therefore, publication was the only way to ensure it could be preserved.2 A first redaction of the Oral Law, in the form of the Mishnah, was completed around 200 A.D. Over the next 400 years, this collection was extended through debate and discussion (Gemara) in the two centers of Jewish life, Israel and Babylonia. The Gemara with the Mishnah came to be edited together into compilations known as the Talmud.3

Who is speaking?

Besides the fact that there are quite a few contradictions between the Oral and the Written Law, another linguistic difference is quite striking. And that is the person who speaks, the subject. This is a comparison between the two:

And YHVH said to Moses: “Is YHVH’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.” Num. 11:23

As you can see, like almost everywhere in the Written Torah, the Lord (YHVH) speaks directly to Moses and the people. Now the following passage is from the Mishnah, and it shows the most common wording of the Oral Torah:4

From which time are we to recite the shema in the morning? When [there is enough light so that] one can distinguish between [the] blue [strands] and [the] white [strands of the tzitzit]. Rabbi Eliezer says, Between [the colors] blue and green [and one may recite it] until sunrise. Rabbi Yehoshua says, Until the third hour [of the day], since it is the habit [of the children] of kings to rise at the end of the third hour [therefore it is within the time limit of “and speak of them … when you arise” [referring to the recital of shema (Deuteronomy 6:7) i.e., when all men, even late risers such as princes arise from their beds]. Mishnah, Excerpt from Zeraim, Berakhot 1:2

In the Oral Torah, the rabbis are the ones who speak and proclaim the different statements: They have a debate as to how the Written Torah is to be interpreted. Furthermore, there is no consensus in the Oral Torah: Different rabbis have different opinions and they rarely agree. In the Written Torah on the other hand, there are no contradictions. YHVH never contradicts himself.

Karaite Judaism

The Karaites reject the Oral Law and rely only on the Tanakh (Old Testament) as acceptable scripture. Some Karaites go as far as only accepting the Peshat meaning (plain meaning, see chapter on PaRDeS) of the text.

References

1 Mishna, Seder Nezikin, Avot 1:1. The manner of teaching and memorization is described in Seder Mo’ed, Eruvin 54b
2 Tosefta on Seder Nezikin, Eduyot 1:1 “When the Sages went to Yavneh they said: The time will come that a man will seek a matter in the Torah but will not find it. He will seek a matter from the Scribes but will not find it…They said: Let us begin [to record] with Hillel and Shammai.”
3 Article on Wikipedia
4 Translation by emishnah.com

The seat of Moses

The following passage seems to contain a controversy, where Yeshua seems to order his followers to do what the Pharisees say, yet not to do it:

Then Yeshua said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their tefillin broad and their tzitzit long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.”
Mat. 23:1-8

First off, Moses’ seat was a seat in the synagoges where the rabbi who was teaching would sit. And it seems like they were often teaching works. The term works of the Law refers to the Oral Law (see a future post, not yet written).
Now according to this passage, we should follow whatever the rabbis say, yet we should not follow their works, i.e. follow the Oral Law. This makes sense, but then comes the next controversy: If he commands us to follow the rabbis, why does Yeshua speak so badly of them in the following verses?
The answer can be found in the Shem Tov’s manuscript. Matthew probably wrote his gospel in Hebrew, and this is the name of the owner of one of several manuscripts of the gospel of Matthew that was kept in Hebrew (This topic is to be covered in a future post).1&2 In this manuscript, there is a small difference in the text. And that difference is only 1 letter, but it completely changes the meaning of the verse:

Mat. 23:3, modern Hebrew (translated from Greek):
לכן כל אשר יאמרו לכם תשמרו לעשות אך כמעשיהם לא תעשו כי אמרים הם ואינם עשים
Mat. 23:3, Shem Tov’s Manuscript:
עתה כל אשר יאמר לכם שמרו ועשו ובתקנותיהם ומעשיהם אל תעשו שהם אומרים והם אינם עושים

This slight difference is the subject of the sentence: they. In Shem Tov’s manuscript, the same verb is conjugated with he.3 Effectively, Yeshua is saying this (according to Shem Tov’s manuscript):

Then Yeshua said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever he (Moses) tells you, but not the works they do.”
Mat. 23:2-3

About the Hebrew gospel of Matthew

These are some sources used here, until I have enough time to cover the topic:

1 Benner, Jeff A., Ancient Hebrew Research Centre in Semitic Origins of the NT
2 Gordon, Nehemia, The Greek Jesus vs. the Hebrew Yeshua
3 Wiktionnary, they will say vs. he will say.

Hebrew word puns

The Hebrews love word plays. They are part of Hebrew poetry. Someone with a western culture background (Europe, North America, Australia & New Zealand) would say (for example):1

The artist painted the canvas.

In western (Greek) culture, we try to avoid this these repetitions since they are perceived as boring. In Hebrew, however, word puns are something they loved to do. So they would write something like:

The painter painted the painting.

Examples

Then the Lord God formed the man (adam) of dirt (adama) and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
Gen. 2.7

This kind of word plays are found everywhere in the Hebrew Old Testament (Tanakh, תַּנַ”ךְ). And interestingly, they are also found in the New Testament, as soon as the Greek text is translated back into Hebrew:1

And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones (ebenim) to raise up children (benim) for Abraham.
Mat. 3:9

And directing the crowd to sit (yashav) down on the ground (esev), he took the seven (sheva) loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke (shavar) them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied (seva), and seven (sheva) baskets full of the broken pieces left over.
Mat. 15:35-37

This can not be a coincidence. The authors of the gospels deliberately chose their words to reach out to people with a Hebrew culture.

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man (adam) should scatter (zara) seed (zera) on the ground (adama).”
Mark 4:26

Another common Hebrew technique is shown in this example: The two middle words (zara zera), the center of the message, are encased in adam and adama.

References

1 Benner, Jeff A., Ancient Hebrew Research Centre in Semitic Origins of the NT

Introduction to the seven feasts of Moses

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.
Lev. 23:1-2

The feasts throughout the year

The following listing is meant as a summary, while the feasts will be looked into more in detail in future posts:

  • The first three feasts (in spring) follow each other immediately, and are often considered to be one big feast.They are meant to celebrate the exodus, being freed and leaving Egypt:
    • Passover (Pesach, פֶּסַח)
    • Feast of Unleavened Bread (Hag HaMatza)
    • First Fruits (Bikkurim, ביכורים)
  • During summer, Pentecost (Shavuot, השבועות) is a celebration of the arrival at Mt. Sinai, where God gave Moses the tablets of stone with the 10 commandments.
  • The last three feasts (in fall) are meant to be reminders of our sins, through repentance. Sukkot fits in by reminding us of the 40 years spent in the desert because of the people’s sin:
    • Feast of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah, ראש השנה‎, in the bible Yom Teruah, יוֹם תְּרוּעָה, literally “day of raising a noise”)
    • Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, יוֹם כִּפּוּר)
    • Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot, סֻכּוֹת)

The development of a baby

Several years ago, while talking to a gynaecologist, Dr. Zola Levitt noticed several uncanny parallels between the development of a baby during pregnancy and the seven feasts of the Lord.1

Ovulation

And on the 7th day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the 7th day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.
Gen. 2:2-3a
Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation.
Lev. 23:3a

A woman’s ovulating cycle follows the weeks, as it is completed every 4 Sabbaths (28 days).

In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the Lord’s Passover.
Lev. 23:5

Similarly to Pesach (the Passover), on the 14th day of the first month, the egg appears (called ovulation). And during Pesach, according to Jewish traditions, an egg is part of the meal.
If the egg-cell is not fertilized within approximately 24 hours, it dies and leaves the woman’s body through menstruation.

Fertilisation

Within 24 hours of Pesach, the feast of Unleavened Bread (Hag-HaMatza) starts. According to Dr. Levitt, bread symbolizes the Messiah (called the bread of life), and through him the beginning of a new life.

Implantation

You shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.
Lev. 23:10b-11

The first fruits (Bikkurim, ביכורים), the beginning of signs of life after the death of winter, every year, show how God planted the land for his people to live. And similarly, an embryo plants itself (called implantation) into the wall of the womb (the placenta) within 2 to 6 days after its fertilization, and it begins to grow.

The shape of a human being

You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord.
Lev. 23:15-16

About fifty days later, the embryo starts looking like a human being. Before that, its shape is not distinguishable from an animal’s embryo.2
And likewise, after 50 days, Pentecost (Shavuot, השבועות) is celebrated. And during Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given, effectively transforming Jesus’ disciples who were hiding, having run for their lives after Jesus’ death, into new creatures, bold to preach the gospel.

Hearing

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation.
Lev. 23:24b

On the 1st day of the 7th month, the baby’s hearing is developed, paralleling the festival of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah, ראש השנה‎). For the first time, it can hear and distinguish sounds outside the womb.

Blood

Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement.
Lev. 23:27a
But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: […] And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.
Extract of Lev. 16

Yom Kippur (יוֹם כִּפּוּר) was the day on which the priests would bring blood into the Holy of Holies in the temple, to atone for the sins of the people. Likewise, on the 10th day of the 7th month, the hemoglobin of the baby’s blood is ready to provide sufficient oxygen to sustain life. And instead of still using the mother’s hemoglobin, that role is now switched to the baby’s.

Lungs

On the 15th day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the Lord.
Lev. 23:34

A baby’s lungs are fully developed by the 15th day of the 7th month. If it is born prematurely, it will most probably survive. Before that, it would have a hard time breathing.

Birth

The eight days of Hanukkah are celebrated, 9 months and 10 days after Passover. On average, birth takes place on the 10th day of the 9th month. In Jewish families, a son is circumcised eight days after birth. Hanukkah symbolizes a new beginning, because the temple was re-dedicated.

Summary

The following table summarizes these parallels:

Biblical Feast Date Ref. Stage of the development of a baby
Passover (Pesach, פֶּסַח) 14th Nisan Lev. 23:5 The egg appears, 14th day of the 1st month (Nisan)
Feast of Unleavened Bread (Hag HaMatza) 15th-21st Nisan Lev. 23:6-8 Egg fertilized within 24 hours
First Fruits (Bikkurim, ביכורים) Sunday following Pesach (during Hag HaMatza), 2-6 days after Pesach Lev. 23:9-14 The egg attaches itself within 2-6 days to the wall of the womb and begins to grow
Pentecost (Shavuot, השבועות) 6th Sivan Lev. 23:15-22 Around the 50th day, the embryo takes on the form of a human
Feast of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah, ראש השנה‎ in the bible Yom Teruah, יוֹם תְּרוּעָה) 1st Tishrei Lev. 23:23-25 On the 1st day of the 7th month, the baby’s hearing is developed
Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, יוֹם כִּפּוּר), when the blood was taken into the Holy of Holies 10th Tishrei Lev. 23:26-32 On the 10th day of the 7th month, the hemoglobin of the blood changes from that of the mother, to a self-sustaining baby
Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot, סֻכּוֹת) 15th-21st Tishrei Lev. 23:33-43 On the 15th day of the 7th month, the lungs become fully developed
Festival of Lights (Hanukkah, חֲנֻכָּה), nine months and 10 days after Passover. 25th Kislev – 2nd/3rd Tevet Not a biblical celebration 8 days after birth, in Jewish families, a son is circumcised

References

1 Video on Youtube, on Zola Levitt’s homepage.
2 Pictures of embryos during pregnancy. Note that the implantation in this source happens in week 4, so the 50th day is in week 11: Link

Further links

The biblical calendar

Nowadays, the Jewish year begins with the feast of Rosh Hashanah (Feast of trumpets, ראש השנה), which usually somewhere in September. This is not, however, the beginning of the Hebrew year as ordained by God.1
In biblical times, the year began with the month of Nisan2 (נִיסָן‎), called Aviv in the Torah (5 books of Moses: Lev. 23:5; Num. 9:1-5, 28:16). The name Nisan is of Babylonian origin. Nisan usually falls in March–April on the Gregorian calendar.

This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.
Exodus 12:2

It is during this first month that the Passover (Pesach, פֶּסַח) is celebrated.

Overview over the year

In some years, Rosh Hashanah is postponed. In that case, Kislev can be shortened to 29 days, and the year is called a short (chaser) year, or Marcheshvan can be lengthened to 30 days, and the year is called a full (maleh) year. In a regular (kesidran) year, Marcheshvan has 29 days and Kislev has 30 days though.

The calendar rules have been designed to ensure that Rosh Hashanah does not fall on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday. This is to ensure that Yom Kippur does not directly precede or follow Shabbat, which would create practical difficulties, and that Hoshana Rabbah is not on a Shabbat, in which case certain ceremonies would be lost for a year.
The solar year is about eleven days longer than twelve lunar months. The Bible does not directly mention the addition of “embolismic” or intercalary months. However, without the insertion of embolismic months, Jewish festivals would gradually shift outside of the seasons required by the Torah. This has been ruled as implying a requirement for the insertion of embolismic months to reconcile the lunar cycles to the seasons, which are integral to solar yearly cycles.3

The following table gives an overview over the Hebrew calendar:

# Hebrew Common Length Babylonian analog Holidays Notes
1 נִיסָן Nissan 30 days Nisanu Passover Called Abib (Ex. 13:4, 23:15, 34:18; Deut. 16:1) and Nisan (Est. 3:7)
2 אִיָּר / אייר Iyar 29 days Ayaru Pesach Sheni, Lag B’Omer Called Ziv in 1 Kings 6:1, 6:37
3 סִיוָן / סיוון Siwan 30 days Simanu Shavuot
4 תַּמּוּז Tamuz 29 days Dumuzu 17th of Tammuz Named for the Babylonian god Dumuzi/Tammuz
5 אָב Ab 30 days Abu Tisha B’Av, Tu B’Av
6 אֱלוּל Elul 29 days Ululu
7 תִּשׁרִי Tishrei 30 days Tashritu Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah Called Ethanim in 1 Kings 8:2, 1st month of civil year.
8 מַרְחֶשְׁוָן / מרחשוון Marcheshvan, Cheshvan 29 or 30 days Arakhsamna Called Bul in 1 Kings 6:38
9 כִּסְלֵו / כסליו Kislev, Chisleu, Chislev 29 or 30 days Kislimu Hanukkah
10 טֵבֵת Tebeth 29 days Tebetu 10th of Tevet
11 שְׁבָט Shevat, Shebat, Sebat 30 days Shabatu Tu Bishvat
12L* אֲדָר א׳ Adar I* 30 days *Only in Leap years.
12 אֲדָר / אֲדָר ב׳ Adar, Adar II 29 days Adaru Purim

References

1 Article in the Jewish Encyclopedia
2 Article in the Jewish Encyclopedia
3 Article on Wikipedia

A promise

And it shall come to pass, if [the gentiles] will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, ‘As YHVH lives,’ even as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then I will give them a place among my people.
Jeremiah 12:16

So far, this is the strongest promise to the gentiles that I know of. Most of the others are to Israel. But if the gentiles become part of YHVH’s people, the same promises apply to them.

The four levels of interpretation

The rabbinic methods of interpretation are based on what they call four levels, abbreviated as PaRDeS.1 PaRDeS is an acronym of the following words:

  • Peshat (פְּשָׁט): meaning plain or simple. It is used for the most obvious and simple meaning or a text.
  • Remez (רֶמֶז): meaning hints. It is used for the allegoric (hidden or symbolic) meaning beyond the literal sense.
  • Derash (דְּרַשׁ): meaning inquire or seek. It is used for the comparative (midrashic) meaning, looking at similar occurrences of a word.
  • Sod (סוֹד): meaning secret or mystery. It is used for the esoteric and mystical meaning, as often used in the Kabbalah.

The following chapters will take a closer look at these methods.

A closer look at the PaRDeS

Peshat – פְּשָׁט

Peshat refers to the plain text in its context in the scriptures. A chapter can only be fully understood in its context, and that context might include the entirety of the bible. Many biblical prophets quote other books in the bible. A simple example is Peter’s quote of the book of Joel in his sermon (Acts 2).
The Peshat (or Pshat) is therefore the most basic literal meaning of the Torah. Rabbinic beliefs claim that it is not necessarily identical to the apparent plain meaning of the text, but is an explanation of the text based on the tradition as it has been handed down in the Oral Torah (Mishnah and Talmud) following closely the literal meaning. Most traditional Jewish editions of the Torah are published together with Rashi’s commentary, which is the classic example of Pshat exegesis.1

The Jewish commentary that deals with the peshat level is called the Mishnah, meaning second to the Torah. It offers simple explanations of the various Mosaic Laws and rituals. Coupled with the [Gemara], the two commentaries make up the Talmud. The [Gemara] is the commentary used in the Remez or hint level of interpretation.2

Remez – רֶמֶז

The Remez is the hint level, and it uses allegorical hints. For example, if an author explains his interpretation of a biblical text without quoting a verse literally, a person with sufficient knowledge of the bible can still understand the meaning of the interpretation and the symbolic allusions.
The Remez is also an allegorical and philosophical level. It goes beyond the mere elementary knowledge which can be applied to our daily lives.
Many parables and poetic texts are included in the Tanakh, like the psalms or prophecies, that have a deeper, a Remez, meaning. Even Yeshua (Jesus) uses parables in his teachings to convey deeper meaning.

Derash – דְּרַשׁ

The commentary for the Derash (or Drash) level is called Midrash. The term comes from the process of thrashing grain – separating the kernel from the chaff. […] Remez may be allegorical, but drosh deals with parables or riddles. […] Allegories (see Remez) are simply metaphoric stories that teach a practical lesson. Riddles, on the other hand, are far more difficult to understand.2

The Drash includes moralistic parables as well as derivation of rabbinical legal rulings based on the text. This includes the usage of gematria (number codes) and similar methods to relate texts that are otherwise unrelated. There are two types of Midrashim, Aggadic and Halakhic Midrashim:3

  1. Midrash Halacha – Scriptural sources for Jewish Laws.
  2. Midrash Aggada – blend of history, parables, and poetry.

Sod – סוֹד

The fourth level, Sod, literally means secret, because of the esoteric interpretation used in the Kabbalah. Another Sod level, the Sod of Sod, or secret of secrets, is sometimes used for the innermost meaning of the Torah as it is expounded in the philosophy of Chassidism.1
Prophecies are sometimes called as being part of the Sod level, as they are deeper revelations, which are not of this world.

The rabbis describe it as one standing in the darkness of the early morning and seeing the finger-like radiance of the sun that announces its imminent rising. Once the sun lifts above the eastern horizon, the radiance disappears. It is the radiance or aura that speaks of [Sod] – the secret level. It can best be seen if one does not look directly at it, but rather catches it out of the corner of the eye.2

Conclusions

Both the rabbinic methods of interpretation called Drash and Sod are problematic for several reasons:

Word counts & Gematria

Considering how often the ancient biblical texts had to be copied in order to safely transmit them, it is surprising that only some minor errors were introduced in the texts.

And Cain said to Abel his brother. And it came to pass when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slayed him.
Gen. 4:8, Masoretic text

Here, the words “Let us go into the field” are missing. They were re-introduced in many translations based on the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Tanakh) that contains them.
In some cases, letters were simply doubled, or left out. The text can still be understood and therefore, these errors can not be seen in modern translations.
Nevertheless, the result of these errors is that it becomes difficult to believe interpretations based on word counts, or sometimes gematria. This does not have an influence on etymological analyses of single words though.

Other

Many interpretations based on the Drash and Sod levels are difficult to comprehend, and are sometimes erroneous. Sometimes, single words are taken out of context in order to convey a certain meaning, even so far as to contradict the Pshat (simple, obvious) meaning of the text.4

Examples

The parables of Yeshua (Jesus)

The riddle aspects of the Remez can be seen in Yeshua’s parables. In Matthew 13, the disciples ask him why he uses these riddles. They ask Jesus to speak more plainly so that the multitudes might understand. To this, Jesus replies that the parables were designed so that the blind might not see. Expanding on this passage goes beyond the scope of this post though.

Paul’s interpretation of Hagar and Sarah

In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul uses the Remez level of interpretation for its symbolism, which is why it seems a quite unusual to people unfamiliar with it:

Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. Galatians 4:24-26

Considering that Paul was educated at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), a grand-son of Hillel, the respected Jewish rabbi.” about Jewish religious law Acts 23:3. Therefore, he was used to the Jewish methods of interpretation, and his mention of allegories most probably referred to the Remez.

References

1 Article on Chabad.org
2 Article on Prophecy In The News
3 Article on Bet Emunah
4 Nehemia Gordon in The Hebrew Yeshua vs. the Greek Jesus, starting at 29:00

Additional links