The Council of My Nation – Law and Chosenness – Talmudic application of scripture

6. Talmudic application of scripture
Another Christian objection directed against the authenticity of our nation’s legacy targets the Talmudic application of scripture. The Talmud is replete with quotations from scripture, but these quotations frequently fail to conform to the plain meaning of scripture. On some occasions the Talmudic interpretation seems to stand directly opposite the straightforward reading of the verse. The Christian points to these Talmudic applications of scripture and presents a double-edged accusation. The Christian’s first charge is that we can deduce from the repeated quotations of scripture that the authors of the Talmud recognized the inadequacy of their own authority and sought to augment their teachings with scriptural support. The second charge of the Christian is that these same authors were incompetent in their application of the scriptures, and that it would be unwise for anyone to rely on their teachings.

It is beyond the scope of this work to analyze the specific Talmudic applications of scripture. (The reader is referred to the works of Malbim and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch – the latter has been translated into English and is available at many Jewish book-stores.) I will address the general concepts that elucidate the Talmud’s approach to scripture.

There are four different techniques that the Talmud uses in her application of the scriptures. There is the simple straightforward reading of scripture. There is a midrashic approach to scripture, which sees beyond the literal meaning of scripture. The midrashic technique will draw spiritual and ethical insights from the words of scripture in a process that is unrelated to the immediate context of the verse. This method is not applied in legal discussions. It is limited to the area of rabbinic literature which focuses on the narratives of scripture and on the moral lessons to be learned from scripture. A third application of scripture is the system of drasha. This method sees additional levels of meaning in every departure from the norms of the Hebrew language. This system of interpretation originates with Moses and is authoritative in matters of law. A final application of scripture is the use of a phrase from scripture as a mnemonic device. Being that in the era of the Talmud no written books existed aside from the books of scripture, an important method of memorizing information was to connect a piece of information with a verse from the scriptures. In this method, the information may have had no relationship whatsoever to the meaning of the verse. The point of the scriptural quote in this context was not to interpret scripture, but rather to remember the information.

When the critics charge that the authors of the Talmud have misquoted scripture in any given instance, it must be first determined which of these four methods of applying scripture is operating. Unless it was the first method – where the Talmud is attempting to give the plain meaning – then this criticism has no validity. Upon examining the works of the critics we see that not one of their examples is drawn from an instance where the Talmud is attempting to find the plain meaning of the verse. (For those who want to verify the matter – search the Talmud for the word “legufei”.)

Christian missionaries have taken the lead of secular historians in discrediting the talmudic method of “drasha” on a historical basis. It is beyond the scope of this work to discuss this matter which requires a certain level of mastery of the Talmud. The interested reader is referred to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s fifth volume of Collected Writings (published by Feldheim) in which he provides a comprehensive refutation to these accusations.

The Talmud’s regular quotations of scripture cannot support the missionary’s contention to the effect that the authors of the Talmud did not fully trust their own traditions. First, it must be noted that the authors of the Talmud sought to augment statements and concepts found in the scriptural books of the prophets, with support form the Five Books of Moses (Yoma 38b, Taanit 9a). It is not that they doubted the authenticity of the books of the prophets. The authors of the Talmud understood that every facet of true knowledge is present in the Five Books of Moses on some level. They saw it as part of the national effort to attain a full picture of the Law, by finding the connections that exist between the books of the prophets and the books of Moses. In the same vein they saw it as part of the national effort to understand the fullness of God’s Law, that they attempt to find the connections between the written words, and the traditions. From the context of the Talmud’s discussions we can gather that the national testimony that a given practice dates back to Moses, was more than enough to establish the authenticity of that practice. After all, the Five Books of Moses themselves are validated by the same method – it is the testimony of the nation that informs us that Moses existed and that these are his books. The accepted practices of the nation will not stand or fall on the basis of the scriptural derivations. The Talmud points to the scriptural derivations in order to enhance our appreciation for the totality of the Five Books.

Originally posted on: https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/the-council-of-my-nation/