Establishing G-d's Law
a matter of judgement is hidden from you, between blood and blood, between
verdict and verdict, between plague and plague, matters of dispute in your
cities — you shall rise up and ascend to the place that G-d shall choose. You
shall come to the Kohanim (priests), Levites and to the judge who will be in
those days, you shall inquire and they will tell you the word of judgement. You
shall do according to the word that they tell you, from that place that G-d will
choose, and you will be careful to do according to everything that they will
teach you… you will not deviate from the word that they will tell you, neither
right or left” (Deut.17:8-11).
are the implications of this paragraph?
learn from this the commandment to establish a court of law. Inevitably,
questions will arise among the Jewish people. It is therefore incumbent upon us
to have a court to settle these questions.
there is an obvious problem.
The Torah is the word of G-d.
How can mere mortals establish G-d’s law?
in the ancient times there was a Sanhedrin, a ruling body of seventy-one sages.
For the most part, the Sanhedrin existed mostly at a time when there was
prophecy (prophecy ended with the destruction of the first temple, while the
Sanhedrin lasted till a bit after the second temple was destroyed), and even
when prophecy ceased, they still had the ability to give ordination, a process
which had continued uninterrupted from the time of Moshe. Not long after the
destruction of the second temple, this ability to give ordination ceased. Do
these verses apply even today, when there is no Sanhedrin?
Talmud (Tractate Shabbos 23a ) asks, when we make a blessing on the Chanuka
candles, why do we say “G-d, Who has commanded us to light the candles,”
when the miracle of Chanuka is not written in the Torah, but took place a
thousand years later?
Aviya answers from the verse, “you shall not deviate from the word they tell
you, neither left or right.” The Rabbis of that time instituted the obligation
to light candles; it is therefore as if it was commanded by G-d Himself.
gave the Torah to human beings, it is not in the Heavens (Deut 30:12; Shabbos
88b, Bava Metzia 59a). And it is precisely human beings who must apply the Torah
to each generation.
although we no longer have the means to perform ordination, we do have rules
regarding what we do when we have questions. And because of our status we may
not contradict any final ruling of the Talmud (Megillah 2b; this is in fact true
relating changing any law that had been set by a court of greater number or
Talmud teaches us (Rosh Hashanah 25a) that the phrase “the judge who will be
in those days” refers to the leaders of every generation. The Chinuch writes
that the commandment to not deviate from the leaders applies in every
generation. And we see in practice that throughout every generation G-d has
given us leaders to make these halachic distinctions (obviously only referring
to decisions that were made by following the halachic process). And though there
may be disagreements, the area of disagreement is small, and the integrity of
the Torah is never breached.
is the reason that we have been able to keep the vibrancy of the Torah for over
three thousand years, and groups who do not follow these dictates inevitably do
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.