What Does That Have to Do With the Price of Tea in China? | Dvar Torah Behar

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This week we read the double parsha of Behar and Bechukosai. Behar mostly deals with the laws of Shmita, the Sabbath of the land, and Yovel, the Jubilee celebration every 50 years. The parsha begins with these words:

“And God spoke to Moses at mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When you come into the land which I give you, then the you shall keep a sabbath on the land to God.”

Rashi quotes a medrash that asks the Talmudic version of “What does that have to do with the price of tea in china?” In this context, the question is “what does the obligation to keep the Shmita have to do with Mount Sinai?” In other words, why does the Torah emphasize that this mitzvah was given at Sinai?

The answer, says the medrash, is to teach us that just as this mitzvah was given at Sinai with all its details, similarly, all the mitzvos given at Sinai were given with all their details. The Torah goes into more detail about the mitzvah of shmita than some of the other mitzvahs. The details of other mitzvahs were given as part of the oral tradition. The verse reminds us that just as all the details of this mitzvah were given at Sinai (in the written Torah) so too all the details of the other mitzvahs were given at Sinai (albeit in the oral Torah).

This answer begs a new, perhaps bigger question. Read…

Rabbi J.H. Hertz’s Epic Introduction to the Talmud (with a little controversy mixed in)

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I am indebted to Alan Brill of the Kavvanah blog for sharing this gem.

One of my favorite topics and themes in Judaism is understanding the structure and methodology of the Talmud. I am constantly looking for more sources and studying, adapting and adjusting my understanding of the issues. Until I read the post on Kavvanah I did not know about the introduction to the Talmud written by Rabbi J.H. Hertz. I read it and I loved it.

I strongly suggest you read the entire introduction. It is written beautifully and with such an inspiring view of the Talmud that it becomes required reading.

Some highlights: Read…

The Accuracy of the Written Torah

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A really old Torah scroll

I’m no scholar of ancient texts. But there are scholars of ancient texts. A large group of them has been studying the evolution of the text of the Tanach (the Jewish version of the Old Testament) for 53 years.

It is important to note that the text we have today has remained virtually unchanged since the 11th century. It was then that Maimonides used the Aleppo Codex to codify a version of the Torah scroll. That version is almost exactly what we have today.

But notice, I used the word “almost”. That’s because it is not exactly the same. Or it might not be exact. There are several nuances that differentiate the standard Torah scroll used in the majority of Jewish communities from the Yemenite Torah text tradition. They can’t both be exactly the same as the text codified by Maimonides. Read…

Essay: The Oral Law in Judaism

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This essay was inspired by a recent post on DovBear. I have cross posted this post there as well. Head over there for more discussion.

What follows is my understanding of The Oral Law and its transmission to us. This article does not attempt to validate or prove its transmission as fact, rather it explains just what is being transmitted when we refer to Torah SheBaal Peh (TSBP).

I am sure there are plenty of maamarei Chazal that are not 100% congruent with this approach. I am also sure that there are many maamarei Chazal that do jive with this approach. I have spent many hours studying and analyzing the concept of TSBP and what follows is what I believe to be a rational, coherent, non-apologetic approach. Read…