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Rabbinical Judaism vs. Karaites, Sola Scriptura

December 3rd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Here is my modification of a story I got from economist David Friedman’s blog. (The Torah is the Bible; the Mishna and Talmud are commentaries.)

A young scholar came to the Rabbi and he said “Rabbi, I have been studying the Torah, and it is a trial and a tribulation to me. It goes into great elaboration over the heave offering, and the first tithe, and the heave offering of the first tithe, and the second tithe, and the poor man’s tithe, and gleanings, and the corners of the field, and I know not what else, and I cannot follow the tenth part of it all. What am I to do?”

And the rabbi said to him, “Do you know anyone who has a copy of the Mishnah that you might study?”

And the young scholar answered, “my uncle has a scroll of the order “seeds,” and no doubt would permit me to study it.”

“Then go,” said the rabbi, “and for the next month study the Mishnah, and then return to me.”

A month later, the young scholar appeared before the rabbi, still more distraught and unhappy.

“Rabbi,” he said, “The Mishnah is a terrible confusion. It gives one rule from one sage and another from another, and a third from a third sage, and it tells me that the school of Hillel said this and the school of Shammai said that, and I cannot tell for all it says what the law is or how I am to act. I am weary and confused and know less of the law than I did before I began to study it. Rabbi, what am I to do?”

“Do you” the Rabbi asked “know anyone who possesses scrolls of the Talmud, and would let you read in them?”

“My wife’s brother, Rabbi, possesses scrolls of one of the orders of the Talmud, and no doubt would permit me to study it.”

“Then go, and for the next month study Talmud, and when that time is done return to me.”

“Oh Rabbi, the Talmud is a terrible confusion and mess and tangle, and I can make nothing of it. For not only does it give one answer from one sage and a different from another, but those commenting on the answers offer two explanations for the first, for neither of which any rhyme or reason is presented, and three for the second, and make the two sages to agree on one rule, or agree on the other rule, but never tell me what the law is, and if there is any in the whole community who knows less of the law than I do after reading for a month in the Talmud I cannot guess who it could be. Rabbi, what am I to do?”

“Have you still the scroll of the Torah?”

“Indeed I do, Rabbi.”

“Take it down and read it, that you may learn the law.”

A week later the Rabbi met the young scholar, and he said to him “How go your studies.”

“Wonderfully well, Rabbi. I have been studying the Torah, and nothing could be clearer. For each case it gives one rule, not two or three, and it spends no words at all on explaining away the disagreements of the sages, but merely tells what the law is in plain words.”

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  1. David Friedman
    December 3rd, 2009 at 22:09 | #1

    Note that in the version I originally posted, it wasn't the Torah that was studied first and last, it was the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides' legal code. It's a whole lot clearer and better organized as a source for law than the written Torah–and contains a lot of stuff that isn't in the written Torah, representing the oral Torah and the decisions of the sages.

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