The Oral Tradition
to the Talmud
Rabbi Moshe Taub
Israel of Greater Buffalo
written document, no matter how perfect, is always open to misinterpretation”
introduction to Mishnah
Imagine: A boy in India discovers an abandoned book sitting along a dirt
road. It is written in English, so he rushes home to his English speaking
grandfather who can tell him what knowledge this tome holds. The grandfather
explains to the child that this is a book on the rules of Baseball. Curious,
they meet every afternoon to sit and read from this treasure they now have.
After several months they decide they are ready to play this exciting sport and
gather friends around explaining to them the rules of the game; strikes, balls,
hits, etc. Now, what will this game look like? Will it have even a remote
resemblance to our great national pastime? Remote at best. For until they
actually see a game of baseball played, not just read about it, they
cannot fully understand and identify with what a bat is, the role of the
scalpel in the hands of a medical student, no matter how informed that student
might be, is a liability. He must
first go through the necessary residency where he sees first hand what he has
wisdoms, from the practice of law to learning how to read, needs oral and visual
in His infinite wisdom understood that to just hand over to a people a document
alone, a constitution, would only sully His objective. He had to make this text
ambiguous and non direct in order to bind that nation to a constant yearning for
first hand knowledge from their parents and teachers. They in turn had received
that same knowledge from their previous generations, thereby creating a constant
unbroken chain to that awesome mass-revelation, thus thwarting any misreading.
An oral tradition to complement, nay, elucidate the Divine text.
Keep the Sabbath holy…” , but how? Not even one of the 39 forbidden acts of
Sabbath is clearly taught to us in the written Torah.
shall slaughter…. as I have commanded you”, yet nowhere in all of the
canonized Torah is any law of Shechitah (ritual slaughter)
are these Teffilin the Torah commands us to wear? What is Matzah exactly?
Tzitzes? A Mikvah? What constitutes theft?
is the remarkable gift that has sustained us. We just won’t know until
we ask- we can not do it on our own. All the movements
away from Halachik Judaism are at their core a denial of the oral tradition,
where the written word is open to flexible and convenient personal
this nation’s story developed so did its sufferings. Through exiles and
persecutions, their structure of laws – covering all spectrums of society life
- had miraculously remained intact. Tort law; as deliberate and detailed as our
American system. Property law; where liens and loans are discussed with the
realism of the modern market. Family law; where divorce and inheritance are
dealt with the sensitivity and complexity it deserves.
is not to mention all the ritual law which is as multi-faceted as one would
expect from the Divine.
then the inevitable happened. Affliction spawned forgetfulness which in turn
generated controversy. This new chasm had to be sealed. It was time to work for
G-d (Psalms 119:126), to do the unthinkable yet the necessary:
preserve the life blood of this nation, the oral would have to be transformed to
what of the tradition of transference – that secret that had sustained us?!
Rabbis, with their knowledge of the past and sense for the future, articulated
the oral tradition in a written form in a way that was nothing short of genius.
wrote the Mishnah, and later, the Gemorah (Talmud) where all the oral laws are
explicated in a most chaotic way. Riddles and purposefully lacking text collide
in an explosion of the unexplained and ambivalent; where the Sabbath and
astronomy are discussed in a single breath; where leaps must be made from pure
mathematical logic to mystical esoteric thought in single page.
does a nation study this text without aide from teachers who can prove their
theories through reason as well through transmission?
can’t. The oral tradition has been sustained!
this nation is suffering again and although its body is whole its soul is
calling out. So many, without standard Jewish education, want to know and
understand G-d’s wisdom. They may have a Torah (Bible) at home translated to
their mother tongue, yet they feel almost like that Indian boy who longed to
play ball yet lacked the tradition of the game.
nation leaves no one to die in the battle field. So a plan was conceived where
on top of study sessions for all different backgrounds, a separate unique one
will be formed; A Daf Yomi (lit. folio a day) – where all Jews
can discover and rediscover the intellectual marvel of the Talmud. One page a
day. A “tithing” of time to G-d and his wisdom – this nation’s wisdom.
plan spread like wild fire. From London to Los Angeles, from Moscow to Mexico
City, Jews, from around the world, once again began to replenish their souls and
quench their spiritual thirst using the Talmud as their compass. What a
spectacle it was last year when Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum and
stadiums and auditoriums from around the globe were sold out to the hundreds
of thousands of Jews who wanted to take part of and bear witness to the
tenth completion of the Talmud since Daf Yomi’s inception. Jews - celebrating
together their greatest miracle; The Oral Tradition.
what is myth and what is fact in this storied faith. You will not only gain for
yourself but reconnect to that chain your grandparents clung to so tightly that
helped secure our future as Jews.
From Sinai to Buffalo.
Yomi takes place nightly at the Young Israel of Greater Buffalo, 105 Maple Road,
after the evening services. For complete schedule call 634-0212 or visit their
web site at yibuffalo.org