In what sense can it be said that a certain core part of Jewish tradition is contained in an Oral revelation called the ”Oral Law?’”
In his “Validating the Oral Law,” Yourphariseefriend, says (my bolding):
”Judaism claims that it possesses an authentic understanding of the Biblical laws that goes beyond the words that are written in the Bible. ”
By ”words” I assume that what he means is surely not just isolated words but larger chunks of written discourse in which words are the basic ingredients of its meaning. The discourse may be a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, and progressively larger chunks of discourse.
So, what to make of the next paragraph?
”According to Judaism, when God taught Moses each of the laws, He did not just recite to Moses the words that were subsequently recorded in the Bible. God presented Moses with the complete spiritual concept of each one of the Biblical laws.”
God’s supernatural WORD consists, naturally, of human words in context. So, when a person reads what Moses wrote, one expects to understand what the words mean, which, in the nature of language, should contain ‘what is signified (the ”concept”) by the words (the signifiers).
It is thus certain that: ”When Moses taught the people, he too did not limit his teaching to the recitation of words. Moses gave over the understanding that he was granted by God pertaining to each of the commandments.”
And how did Moses ”give over the understanding that he was granted by God pertaining to each of the commandments?” Was there something else beyond the discourse (words in context) that God revealed to him? Well, for the Oral lawyers there obviously was.
Now, it is of course true that there is a wide diversity of intellectual and verbal understanding among all populations, the Jews being no exception. That is why we have teachers and wise people (chochomim) to help those with lesser gifts to understand. In our scriptural context, to understand what? The words that Moses wrote, surely. Obviously the meaning must be in the words, unless you’re a kabbalist and believe that the meaning is in the letters (even the bits of the letters) (graphemes) and/or other levels of meaning beyond the ”surface” level (See my “Letters of Hebrew fire: the depth and the death of meaning”).
”When the Jewish people passed the Law on to their children, they did not limit the communication to the recital of words or to the delivery of a book. The children absorb how their parents live the Law, how their parents sense the Law and the spiritual concepts that stand behind each of the laws. The Jewish people accept the Law of Moses together with the understanding that they received from the Jews who walked before them. Judaism recognizes that not every concept that their parents teach them originates with Moses. Many customs and practices accumulated over the generations and the Jewish people keep record of the origin of each practice and custom. But the core spiritual concept that stands behind each of the commandments goes back to Moses.”
Then follows ”seven basic lines of reasoning through which we can establish the veracity of the Oral Law. I discuss the first one ”through which we can establish [that] the authenticity of the Oral Law is the same line of reasoning that we use to establish the authenticity of the Jewish Scriptures. Both Jews and Christians agree that the Jewish Scriptures were provided by God to give guidance to His people. It follows therefore, that God would put in place some method of validation through which subsequent generations can be confident that these books are truly His word.”
“The method of validation that God utilized in order to ratify His word throughout history is the living testimony of the Jewish people. The process is briefly described in the opening phrases of Psalm 78. “That which we have heard and know and our fathers have told us. We shall not withhold from their sons, recounting unto the final generation the praises of the Lord, His might, and His wonders that He has wrought. He established a testimony in Jacob and set down a Torah in Israel, which He commanded our fathers to make known to their sons. So that the final generation may know; children yet to be born will arise and tell their own children, so that they may place their trust in God, and not forget the works of God, and they will safeguard His commandments” (Psalm 78:3-7).”
“The method that God used to confirm His Law to the final generation is the living testimony of His chosen witness nation. These witnesses ratify both the Written Torah and the Oral Law. If we cannot trust the witness for one, we cannot trust the same witness for the other.”
If I may summarise Yourphariseefriend’s words (the words ”written” in brackets are mine):
How does one ”establish the veracity of the Oral Law?
”God would put in place some method of validation through which subsequent generations can be confident that these (written) books are truly His word…The method that God used to confirm His (written) Law to the final generation is the living testimony of His chosen witness nation. These witnesses ratify both the Written Torah and the Oral Law.”
So, it is the Oral law defined as the ”living testimony” that is used to ”ratify both the ”Written Torah and the Oral Law.”
My question is: How can the Oral Law (living testimony) be used – and why does it need to be used – to ratify the Oral Law (living testimony? Surely the Jewish position is that the Oral Law ratifies the Written Law. But then why call this living testimony oral law rather than oral teaching. Isn’t the Torah ítself – and doesn’t the very word Torah – mean teaching?
The Roman Catholics have their infallible popes, the Muslims their infallible Hadiths, and the Jews their infallible oral law (as well as their fallible chochomim).
In sum, why do the Jews (the Karaites excluded) regard the written revelation as reveilation, which requires an oral revelation to unveil? After all, God will protect his Word in the written law (I use “law” in the wide sense of the “scriptures”) as we read in Psalm 78 (which Yourphariseefriend quotes above to buttress the oral law).
“That which we have heard and know and our fathers have told us. We shall not withhold from their sons, recounting unto the final generation the praises of the Lord, His might, and His wonders that He has wrought. He established a testimony in Jacob and set down a Torah in Israel, which He commanded our fathers to make known to their sons. So that the final generation may know; children yet to be born will arise and tell their own children, so that they may place their trust in God, and not forget the works of God, and they will safeguard His commandments” (Psalm 78:3-7).