This week’s Parasha contains one of a number of proof texts for the existence of the “Oral Law.” Remember there is the Torah of the Written Law and the Torah of the Oral Law? Many of the “details” of being Jewish are contained in the Oral Law, codified in the Mishnah. Frequently, people ask “where does it say that in the Torah” only to learn that it is part of our Oral Law or think it is just a tradition.
This week’s Parasha states that animals are to be slaughtered as “I have instructed you.” (Deuteronomy 12:21). The Torah does not expressly state how the slaughter is to be performed. There are many details of ritual shechita that are spelled out exhaustively in the Mishnah and elucidated further in the Gemarah which, combined together make up the Talmud.
Our traditional belief is that God transmitted much more detail to Moshe than was actually transcribed in the Torah itself. Moshe then passed it down to others who have passed it on to us.
Of course, many are not observant of the written Torah, let alone what is spelled out in the oral Torah. However, the existence of the Oral Torah is one of the most beautiful and brilliant aspects of the Jewish faith.
The existence of the Oral Law is proof that God expects us to evolve in our beliefs and practices. The oral law as we know it concerns itself with exploration and explanation of the myriad details and endless possibilities that could not possibly be spelled out in a finite book.
We have the written Torah as the skeleton and the oral Torah as the flesh. It is the meat on the bones.
The written Torah projects an awareness that humankind will advance and need to consider the impact of change and technology. Ours is certainly not the first generation to do so. Changes in technology used to be slow. Now change is constant.
The beauty of Conservative Judaism is that its philosophy is to find answers to complex problems confronting modernity, allowing for change within a Torah framework. Okay, I know that is my personal opinion.
The timelessness of Torah is guaranteed by the existence of the Oral Law and the fact that we are encouraged to have Rabbis and scholars who can help us live and practice as Jews in a modern world. All of our teachings are supposed to make sense all of the time and each generation is allowed to interpret and evaluate them within a changing context.
This Shabbat we learn with Ruth Bergman who will engage us on this week’s Parsha and Haftarah. 9:45 in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.
This is Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul (you know what is coming and I hope we are all getting ready).
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh tov!