The Evolution Of Jewish Law

Ruby Faraday 2013

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Some background information...

It is said that Moses received the whole Torah on Mount Sinai in 1250 BCE. This meant that he was given the Written and Oral Law. The Written Law consists of Torah, Neviim and Ketuvim, whilst the Oral Law consists of (Mishnah, Gemara, Commentatries, Codes and Responsa.

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Revelation - Orthodox VS Reform

The word revelation defines the concept of G-d revealing the whole Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. There are two different perspectives on the theory behind who wrote the Torah, and what purpose it was meant to serve in our religion for years to come.

The Orthodox perspective is that the Torah was written by G-d and either given in parts or given all at once. Therefore the Laws and Mitvot are from God and this means that one must obey them. The Orthodox perspective is described as authoritative, binding and immutable.

The Reform perspective is that the Torah was not necessarily written by G-d but instead by people who were inspired or directed by G-d. Therefore Reform Jews don't believe they have to necessarily obey the Laws and Mitvot and they are not regarded as authoritative and binding.

Their conflicting ideologies can complicate Judaism as not all groups believe in the same things, or follow the same rules.

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What is the Written Law?

The Written Law or Torah she-bichtav is made up of three components, the Torah, including the 5 books of Moses, Nevi'im (prophets) and Ketuvim (writing). Together these components make up the Tanach. It was revealed in approximately 1250 BCE. The Written Law tells the story of our people, as well as outlines the laws that we are expected to follow.

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What is the Oral Law?

Just like the written law, the Oral Law or Torah she'be'al peh was received on Mount Sinai. It is comprised of the Mishna and Gemara. The Oral Law is known as the "how to" as it explains how to carry out the laws and mitzvot stated in the written law and makes the Torah more comprehensible. The Laws written down in the Written Law are not always clear or relevant to today. As a result of this, the Oral Law is vital as it allows us to apply and relate Jewish Law to modern day ethical dilemmas and any other troubling issues. Originally the Oral Torah was not written down though a figure by the name of Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi at approximately 160-200 CE decided to write it down. This was due to the fact that in 70 CE the second temple was destroyed by the Romans and the Jewish people were exiled out of their homeland. Previously the Oral Law had been passed down generation to generation by word of mouth and storytelling, but as the Jews no longer lived in the same area and they were now spread out all over the Diaspora, it would be almost impossible to be able to keep the Oral Law.

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Together the Written and Oral law make up Halacha which translates to Jewish Law. Jewish Law provides us with detailed guidelines as to how we are expected to live as Jews. The word is derived from the Hebrew word "holech" meaning to walk, implying that Halacha provides direction, movement and progress.

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As we know the Mishna is a part of the Oral Law. It was written in 160 CE and it covers the decisions of Scholars and Rabbis for over 400 years. It is divided into 6 books, Moed, Nashim, Nezikin, Kodshim, Teharot and each of them deal with different points of law. Eg. Nezikin translates to damages and it looks at civil and criminal law.

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Gemara is the second part of the Oral Law. In the three centuries following the compilation of the Mishnah, Rabbis throughout Israel and Babylonia analysed, debated and discussed that work. These discussions were recorded in the Gemara, which is essentially discussion on the two things that came before it being the Mishnah and the Torah.

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Talmud (times two!)

Together the Mishna and Gemara make the Talmud of which there are two!

Talmud Yerushalmi: The Jerusalem Talmud compiled in approximately 350 CE by Rav Muna and Rav Yossi.

Talmud Bavli: The Babylonian Talmud compiled in approximately 500 CE by two Babylonian safes, Rav Ashi and Ravina.

The first complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud was printed in Venice by Daniel Bomberg in the 26th century, whilst the Vilna Talmud was later published in the 19th century.

Though there are two versions of the Talmud (as the Jews were living in different areas) the Talmud Bavli tends to be the superior and more complete of the two and is the one that is studied the most nowadays. This may also be due to the fact that it was written later on, and therefore it is considered more relevant to today. Perhaps this is also because there are more Jewish people living outside of Israel than in Israel.

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Commentaries, Rashi and Tosafot

The commentaries on the Torah and Talmud were made in order to help us understand those texts. They were also the link in the chain as they contributed to Jewish Law and allowed it to be understood and relevant many years later. Rashi was amongst one of the most famous commentators who also had many of his students contribute to commentaries, along with Ramban (Nachmonides) etc.

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Codification of Jewish Law

The huge number of volumes written on Jewish Law brought about the need for a system of codification. This means that Halachic decisions needed to be separated from discussions and arguments of the Rabbis and recorded on it's own in a final book. This was done in order to make Jewish Law more accessible to the average Jew, and make it easy for Jews to know what they are obligated to do as Jewish people. The most famous codifications of Jewish Law are the Mishneh Torah an Shulchan Aruch written by Joseph Karo.

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Finally, the Responsa is a compilation of questions and answers on modern day issues published so that other Jews who may be struggling with similar things can use it as a reference and hopefully guide themselves accordingly.

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DJ Habers sick song (just for fun)

The Torah' s connected to the Mishna

And the Mishna's connected to the Gemara

·Mishna and Gemara together make the Talmud

And the Talmud is connected to Rashi

And Rashi's connected to the Tosafot

And Tosafot are connected to Mishneh Torah

·Mishneh Torah's connected to Shulchan Aruch

And then what follows is Responsa

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