In the Name of HASHEM, G-d Eternal
In the Name of HASHEM, G-d Eternal

The 13 Fundamental Principles Of Our Torah Tradition

With Tolerance, Respect, and Love for Jews of Other Torah Traditions

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Principle 2 – The Sanhedrin and Talmud: the Very Foundation of the Oral Law and its Final Repository

At the Command of HaShem, Moses instituted a Supreme Court of 70 Elders aside from himself, the first Sanhedrin, to be the very foundation of the Oral Law: its guardians and absolute authority for all future generations. (1)Hil. Sanhedrin ch.1, Hil. Mamrim ch.1, cf. Deut. 11:16, 16:18

Just as the Sanhedrin has the sole authority to interpret the Torah, it is also the only body with the authority to legislate decrees and institute customs (rabbinical law) that are binding on the entire Jewish People and the rest of the world, including gentiles. (2)Hil. Mamrim ch.1, cf. Deut. 17:8-13

Only the form of the Oral Law that was faithfully transmitted down through these courts down to the last Sanhedrin is valid and obligatory. The Talmudic literature, the legal writings of the Tannaim and Amoraim, is the final repository of the legal traditions of the last Sanhedrin, which disbanded in about 400 C.E. While there are Torah traditions, oral knowledge, and wisdom that have been forgotten over the ages, the authentic Oral Law of Moses is in our hands today, essentially intact. This includes the keys to restoring the organs of Torah governance that were lost (see Principle 12).

How could the Talmudic literature have such authority, when its final and most authoritative layer, the Babylonian Talmud, was codified by a post-Sanhedrin court outside of Israel, a full century after the last Sanhedrin disbanded? (3)The points in these paragraphs is treated fully in my book “Oral Torah From Sinai” (Lightcatcher Books © 2011) in the section ...continue

The only post-Sanhedrin court whose legislative authority was universally recognized was the unique court of Rav Ashe and Ravina in Babylonia. After the last Supreme Court was disbanded, disputes arose regarding ancient, authoritative legal traditions maintained in Babylonia, the Baraithoth, that appeared to contradict the Mishnah, or Mishnaic rulings that whose meaning had become unclear. The law was given a final re-codification by Rav Ashe’s court: the Babylonian Talmud. Although it does include some new decrees and customs that were not instituted by a Sanhedrin, it is still recognized as the final and most authoritative written source from which the Law is determined.

Nonetheless, as was well understood by the greatest post-Talmudic halakhic decisors, even the Babylonian Sages never had the power to contradict the authoritative legal traditions established in the Land of Israel. Their new decrees and customs were only intended to safeguard the law. Their authority was based on their unique ability to determine and officially codify what the original law was, and the fact that its rulings were accepted by the majority of the Jewish People – which no later court could claim.

It is still a question, however, as to whether or not clearly novel Babylonian legislation truly obligates the Jewish People. In either case, it is perilously difficult to distinguish with certainty between their decrees and authentic Sanhedrin law, since the final Sanhedrin in Tiberius recognized the superior scholarship of their Babylonian counterparts, and ratified their decrees. In the context of the rest of Talmudic literature, the Babylonian Talmud (in its original form) would have remained the most authoritative source of the halakhah (official Jewish Law), were it not for the difficulties discussed in Principle 7.

If there is a question regarding original Babylonian legislation, certainly no post-Sanhedrin court or individual after Rav Ashe has the authority to add to or give an alternative ruling to rabbinical law as it was written down by the time the Babylonian Talmud was formally sealed, about 500 C.E. Since then, only authentic Talmudic Law, based purely on the written word from the original Talmudic literature, is the halakhah.

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Notes   [ + ]

1. Hil. Sanhedrin ch.1, Hil. Mamrim ch.1, cf. Deut. 11:16, 16:18
2. Hil. Mamrim ch.1, cf. Deut. 17:8-13
3. The points in these paragraphs is treated fully in my book “Oral Torah From Sinai” (Lightcatcher Books © 2011) in the section “Tackling the Hard Questions” (pp.29-68).