Throughout Israel's history, her religious leaders developed a system of commentaries on the Scriptures that has come to be known as the Oral Law, or Talmud. Originally intended to keep the Jewish people from breaking God's commandments, ironically and tragically, the Oral Law has prevented us from seeing God's love and Messiah as found in the Scriptures.
While ministering in the Ukraine, a familiar question was asked of me, only this time in Russian, "If Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and the prophecies in the Jewish Scriptures are as clear as you say they are, then why don't our rabbis who study the Scriptures see this?" That is a good question.
Actually, the prophecies predicted a partial blindness upon Israel in regard to recognizing our own Messiah (Is. 53:1-7). But for a more complete answer, an overview of Jewish history will help. As we consider these key points in Jewish history and their repercussions for the Jewish people today, may it lead us to extend compassion and mercy to those who still do not see (Rom. 11:31).
There are three periods of Jewish history we need to consider:
1. The Development of Oral Law (516 B.C.-A.D. 70)
2. The Destruction of the Second Temple (A.D. 70-135)
3. The Persecution of the Jewish people (A.D. 135 to the present).
The Development of Oral Law: 516 B.C.-A.D. 70
When our people returned from Babylonian captivity, our leadership was devoted to prevent such a catastrophe from ever taking place again. The rabbis reasoned that "it was the holiness of the Law and our disobedience to it that resulted in the exile." Thus the rabbis developed a system of buffers or "fences": "The Oral Law," providing additional rules for the people to keep which would "preserve the original commandments from trespass" (Talmud Aboth 1:1).
A Fence Around the Law: The Traditions of the Elders
In the Schulchan Aruch, "the code" of rabbinical Judaism for all ritual and legal questions, some of the fences regarding the issue of work on the Sabbath are seen:
- "He who spills any liquid in a place where the soil is apt to produce something is guilty of violating 'the law against sowing'" (80:28).
- "Mud on one's garment may be scraped off with nail or with a knife if it be still moist, but if it be completely dry it may not be scraped off, for it is equivalent to the act of grinding" (80:38).
And there are many, many more like these, covering each area of personal, public, religious and vocational life.
As mentioned, the intent of these "fences" was to keep people from breaking God's laws and coming under His wrath again. However, the result of the Oral Law was, and is today, that the people became in effect 'insulated' from the Scriptures.
Hence, they never really fear God's law, but deal primarily with the "traditions of the elders." With this system in place, the Jewish people can never truly understand God's holiness or His love, because the same Law of God that expresses His holy standards and judgment also expresses His love and promises (Deut. 7:7-8;18:1-22). And when Messiah came, He was judged not by scriptural standards, but by the Oral Law and the traditions of men.
In Matthew 12:1-2, the teachers of the Law confronted Yeshua over His disciples picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath. Though the Law of Moses clearly stated that it was legal to eat from a field or vineyard as you passed by (Deut. 23:24-25), the Oral Law made this unlawful. When Yeshua's disciples picked the heads of grain, the religious leaders thought they saw several transgressions committed:
1. Harvesting—As the disciples picked the grain
2. Sifting—Rubbing grain in their hands to separate the chaff
3. Winnowing—Blowing the chaff away
4. Grinding—Crushing the wheat to eat it
Was this the interpretation God intended for the Sabbath laws? No, this was not any different than it would be to open a "lunch bag" to eat the food inside of it, which also would be considered work by the rabbis.
This is one example of how the rabbinical community, fearing the judgment of God upon Israel for "disobedience," could be consumed with technicalities while displaying a lack of compassion toward a hungry neighbor. Messiah responded to these men, "But He said to them, "Have you not read what David and those who were with him did when he was hungry, how he entered the house of God and ate the ritual bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for those who were with him, but only for the priests? ... If you had known what this meant, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent" (Matt. 12:3-4, 7; referencing Hos. 6:6).
Even if the rabbis would not permit Messiah's disciples to eat as David and his men had been allowed to do simply because they were hungry, they certainly should have permitted the disciples to eat out of compassion.
Lord of the Sabbath
"For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Matt. 12:8). As Lord of the Sabbath, Messiah had unquestionable authority that should have been respected, but sadly was not because He was evaluated according to tradition rather than according to Scripture. He was judged by the traditions of men which for 2,000 years have kept my people from seeing Yeshua for who He really is.
The teachers of the Law had become "blind guides of the blind" (Matt. 15:14), blinded by their traditions to the truth of Scripture, judging the very Lord of the Word by their own rules! And so it is still today. The fences remain, and without the Word of God, my people remain unable to see Him who is the very Truth for their lives.
In my next article, I will continue our study with the second of three events in Jewish history that still hinder the Good News. Until then, Shalom.
Dr. Sam Nadler is a Jewish believer in Jesus and has been in Messianic Jewish ministry for over 40 years. Sam is the president of Word of Messiah Ministries, which is bringing the Good News to the Jew first but not to the Jew only, and planting Messianic Congregations in Jewish communities worldwide. To encourage and equip the body of Messiah in our shared calling, Sam is invited to speak in churches across the country, and has written multiple books on Jewish evangelism, discipleship and the Feasts of Israel.
For more information and resources, or to invite Sam to speak at your church, visit: wordofmessiah.org.
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