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.


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


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