Midrash; Villain or Hero? – Excerpt from The Elephant and the Suit

Volume 4 versus Volume 5

Dr. Brown devoted the fifth volume of his series to invalidate the oral traditions of Judaism. One of the major criticisms voiced by Dr. Brown against these traditions focuses on the style and method of the Biblical interpretations found in the Talmud. Often enough, we will find that the Talmudic interpretations do not seem to conform to the plain meaning of the Scriptural text and Dr. Brown sees this as an inexcusable fault of traditional Judaism. With righteous indignation Dr. Brown declares: “Nothing can violate the plain sense of the text and carry any authority, otherwise the written word has no meaning and no authority” (vol. 5, page 53).

 

Let us note that all of the major theological principles of Judaism are explicitly spelled out in the Bible. The adherents of Judaism do not need to rely on anyone’s Scriptural interpretations when it comes to the fundamentals of the faith.

 

In the following paragraphs I will present the foundational Jewish beliefs concerning the key issues that stand between Judaism and Christianity (worship of God, atonement from sin, and the advent of the Messiah). I will also demonstrate how these beliefs are supported by the Biblical text.

 

Our devotion is directed to the God who spoke to us at Sinai and to Him alone. This core belief of Judaism is clearly stated in Exodus 20:1, 2. The passage records how God told the people: “I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage, you shall not recognize other gods before me”. This concept is repeated in Deuteronomy 4:35, where Moses reminds us: “You have been shown in order that you know that the Lord, He is the God there is none beside Him.”

 

Jews believe that God requires sincere repentance for the forgiveness of sin. This fundamental doctrine is plainly stated by the prophets. Isaiah taught: “Let the wicked one forsake his way and the iniquitous man his thoughts, let him return to the Lord and He will show him mercy, to our God for He is abundantly forgiving” (Isaiah 55:7). Ezekiel passes on the word of God: “As for the wicked one, if he repents from all his sins that he has committed, and he observes all My decrees and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he has committed will not be remembered against him…” (Ezekiel 18:21, 22).

 

All of Judaism’s core beliefs about the Messiah and the Messianic age are clearly expressed in the Jewish Scriptures.

 

The prophets spoke of the ingathering of the Jewish exile (Deuteronomy 30:3, Isaiah 11:12, 40:11, 43:5,6, 49:12,18,22, 60:4, 66:20, Jeremiah 3:18, 30:3, 31:7, 32:37, Ezekiel 11:17, 20:41, 34:13, 36:24, 37:21).

 

The prophets spoke of a Temple in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2, 60:7, Jeremiah 33:18, Ezekiel 37:26, 43:7, 44:15, Micah 4:1).

 

The Scripture tells us about a national return to Torah observance (Deuteronomy 30:8, Jeremiah 31:32, Ezekiel 11:20, 36:27, 37:24, 44:23,24).

 

The prophets taught us about universal peace (Isaiah 2:4, 65:25, Jeremiah 33:9,16, Ezekiel 34:25,28, 37:26, Hosea 2:20, Psalm 72:3).

 

And Israel looks forward to a world that is filled with the knowledge of God (Isaiah 11:9, 45:23, 54:13, 66:18,19,23, Jeremiah 3:17, 31:33, Ezekiel 38:23, Zephaniah 3:9, Zechariah 8:20‑23, 14:9,16).

 

The fundamentals of Judaism are explicitly spelled out in the Scriptures. It is only within the limited realm of practical observance of the Law of Moses that the rabbis applied the Talmudic method of Scriptural interpretation. In most cases, the rabbis applied these Scriptural interpretations only as a supplement to the plain meaning of the text, and not as a replacement for the plain meaning of the text. Furthermore, the theology that Dr. Brown is promoting has relegated Torah observance to practically nothing, in blatant violation of the plain meaning of the text. The historical record confirms that the Talmud embodies the only practicable form of obedience to the Law of Moses that is viable in the context of an eternal community. Dr. Brown brushes these considerations aside. Dr. Brown discredits the Talmud and her teachers because the Talmud contains Scriptural interpretations that are not in line with the plain contextual meaning of the Bible.

 

Let us turn back to Volume 4. It is here that Dr. Brown notices that the foundational texts of Christianity advocate a new belief system, a set of core beliefs that were hitherto unknown to the Jewish people. These writers teach that the Messianic era will incorporate a new election, an election of devotees of the Messiah. These writers preached that atonement for sin is achieved through loyalty to an individual. And the later generations of Christian teachers proclaimed belief in a trinity.

 

Not one of these foundational Christian concepts can be found in the Jewish Bible. (There are many scholars who believe that belief in the trinity cannot be found even in the Christian Scriptures, but that point is beyond the scope of this discussion.) The teachers of Christianity expected their Jewish audience to accept these radically new concepts on the basis of their own twisted Scriptural interpretations. These teachers did not stop there. They condemned everyone and anyone who did not accept their teachings to the eternal fires of hell.

 

Dr. Brown attempts to address this issue in his first section of Volume 4. Dr. Brown gives restrained expression to the Jewish objection: “The New Testament misquotes and misinterprets the Old Testament. At times it manufactures verses to suit its purposes” (page 3).  Dr. Brown does not share with his readers the fact that all of the theological underpinnings of Christianity stand on these fanciful interpretations and on nothing else, but for a Christian, he said a lot.

 

As part of his response to this Jewish objection, Dr. Brown cites the Talmud. Dr. Brown demonstrates to his readers how the authors of the Talmud utilized a free-flowing method of Scriptural interpretation, and he tells us that the early Christian teachers were simply doing the same.

 

Dr. Brown does not tell his readers that the authors of the Talmud did not use these interpretative methods to establish the fundamentals of their faith. Neither does he tell his readers that in Volume 5 he will point to these same interpretative methods to condemn Judaism. And he certainly does not tell his readers how the same interpretative methods of the Talmud can serve to exonerate the teachers of Christianity, while they stand as a condemnation for the teachers of Judaism.

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Yisroel C. Blumenthal

 

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21 Responses to Midrash; Villain or Hero? – Excerpt from The Elephant and the Suit

  1. Dina says:

    This post is relevant to a conversation I am having with Eric. In a discussion of Isaiah 53, Eric pointed me to a website that “proves” that the original Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 53 had it referring to the Messiah; only later did we change our interpretation to corporate Israel.

    I advise Christians to leave the Talmud out of it for the same reason I advise them to leave Hebrew out if it–they don’t know either one well enough or at all, so this makes discussing it difficult if not impossible.

  2. Devorah says:

    It is a lie that original Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 53 said it refers to the messiah. A 3rd century Christian (Origen) wrote “Now I remember that, on one occasion, at a disputation held with certain Jews, who were reckoned wise men, I quoted these prophecies (about Isaiah 53); to which my Jewish opponent replied, that these predictions bore reference to the whole people (Israel), regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nation.”

    R’ Moshe Shulman has a wonderful article explaining how the missionaries have lied about and distorted what our sages have to say about Isaiah 53. He has a few articles on Isaiah 53 — read “Isaiah 53 in the Talmud and Major Midrashim.” http://judaismsanswer.com/Isaiah53TalmudMidrash.htm

  3. Concerned Reader says:

    The NT internally has Israel being called the servant in Luke in the Magnificat, and Jesus often speaks switching between singular and plural, ie “I am the light of the world” “ye are the light of the world,” so speaking of the collective as an individual seems rather common for the literature. It’s ironic that the best source to refute replacement theology, and even to see more normative interpretation is in the NT itself.

  4. Paul says:

    To All,

    I appreciate all the comments, arguments, about for and against various religious philosophies. I read the various comments by all of you, some I agree with and some I don’t ( as you can see by what follows). That’s alright, you didn’t consult me about your beliefs. I only that wish that sometimes you would not dig your heels in so hard when being pushed a little. What follows is what I believe to be the basic absolute truth. Please, forgive an man if he tends to prattle on a bit to much.

    For me, the most pivotal portion of the Tanakh lies in Bereshit (Genesis). There it says “In the beginning when G-d ……..”. This is a profound thought. Before anything, before this dimension, this paradigm, this material universe, there was G-d. What is G-d like, why did G-d do what was done? I do not know, G-d did not consult me. So G-d sets up material universe with it’s rules, laws, and order. The universe, the earth, mankind continues to go on. G-d still has use and cares for the creation, otherwise, it would all be gone.

    After dealing with various persons and peoples throughout recorded and not recorded history, we come to what come that portion of the tanakh called Shemot (Exodus). There G-d, as mentioned, took a certain group people, freed them from slavery, protected them and led them to Sinai. When they reached Sinai, G-d spoke to them, all of them, from the greatest to the least of them. From Moses to a small child, from an Israelite to a foreigner. G-d at this time allowed all to hear and understand. Why did G-d do this, I do not know, G-d did not consult me.

    Next comes Devarim (Deuteronomy). There G-d lays his commandments, rules, laws, teachings, ordinances and etc. for the Israelites and foreigner. G-d said, do this as I have taught you and you shall be blessed, don’t do it and you shall be cursed. We said or thought that we can not do this, it is to hard for us. G-d said (” you can do this, it is not to for you” para.). Why did G-d do this, I do not know, G-d did not consult me.

    Having had many conversations pastors, priests, missionaries and common folk on the subject of religion. I am old man, born a jew and past 70, my faith lies with G-d. Not with the traditions, dogmas, and doctrines of man.

    G-d created man with with the ability to think, to reason and choose. So choose life and live.

    If G-d be G-d,
    Then G-d is G-d,
    So then,
    let G-d be G-d.

    • Dina says:

      Hi Paul,

      I hope you don’t mind my asking, which doctrines of man and traditions do you reject?

      Thanks,
      Dina

      • Paul says:

        Dina,

        As far as spirituality and G-d, I assume you are asking about those. For me I accept that which is clearly defined in the Torah and those which are spoken of in the prophets and writings. Basically those that originate with G-d and end with with G-d.

        I once heard an arch-bishop say that he did not speak for G-d, he spoke for the church. I have heard a rabbi speak and most of what he spoke about were fences that close in fences that close in fences that close in and so on.

        To define me further; I am orthodox in belief, a lover of the writings of Heschel and a follower of G-d.

        • Dina says:

          Hi Paul.

          Thanks for your response. I’m wondering if you reject other Jewish religious texts like the Talmud, that’s what I was getting at.

          • Paul says:

            Dina,

            The Talmud, as someone once said ” it is a very deep sea”. Do I reject it ? No. Do I understand it ? Not all, not all. That which I do not understand I ask and ask. From what I know the Talmud is Torah true. Still it was written by men, albeit, men who had a deeper understanding, greater learning and walked closer to G-d than I can ever presume to be.

            There was once a rebbe who said that Talmud was one rabbi arguing another over some small fact. This I tend to agree with somewhat. Did I hedge enough in the last sentence.

            What I tried to do in initial post was to distill down what I know is fact. Not my facts, no yours, not anyone’s, only G-d’s. Again please forgive my writing style, I don’t mean to be harsh.

          • Dina says:

            Thanks, Paul. I was just curious about what you meant when you wrote about the doctrines of man.

            All the best,
            Dina

  5. Paul says:

    Dina,
    The doctrines of man: There are two types of reasoning used when one speaks about theology. One is deductive reasoning and the other is inductive. C

    Take the Jewish view of G-d, it is what can be called deductive reasoning. Deuteronomy for instance. Read it five times, the last time in it’s original language if possible and you will understand judaism. The doctrine of G-d. The conclusion of a deductive argument is supposed to be certain.
    the conclusion of a deductive argument is supposed to be certain.

    Take the christian view of G-d, it is what can be called inductive reasoning. The trinity for example. All christian theologians and scholars will say that it doesn’t exist in the NT plainly. A doctrine of man. In mathematics that’s called inductive reasoning. It’s a conclusion inferred, rather than deduced from specific evidence.

    I hope this clears what I meant by the doctrines of man.

  6. Concerned Reader says:

    Paul: Inductive reasoning (as opposed to deductive reasoning) is reasoning in which the premises seek to supply strong evidence for (not absolute proof of) the truth of the conclusion.

    Deductive Argument of G-d Below: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/beliefs/Theology/God/The_Middle_Ages/Maimonides_on_God/Proving_Gods_Existence.shtml

    The universe is not empty; we can at least be sure that the things we perceive with our senses exist. We can explain the existence of these things in one of three ways: (1) All things are eternal and exist necessarily, (2) Nothing is eternal and exists necessarily, (3) Some things are eternal and exist necessarily, some things not. According to Maimonides, the first explanation is obviously wrong: we see things come into existence at one moment, perish at another. The second case is also wrong. If nothing were permanent, it is conceivable that everything might perish and nothing take its place. Maimonides objects that the idea of an empty universe is absurd. So a necessary Being is needed to ensure that the universe does not become depleted.

    This Being cannot derive its existence from an external source, because if it did, its existence would no longer be necessary; it would owe its existence to something else. Therefore, the necessary Being must be independent of everything else. Maimonides thinks that it is impossible for two things each to exist independently, because they would have to share a common nature or essence: independent existence. To the degree they shared it, they would be part of a larger whole and no longer independent. Maimonides therefore concludes that only one Being derives its existence from itself, and this Being is God.

    Since God is self-caused, everything that derives its existence from an external source must ultimately derive its existence from God.

    Notice that the language used in the article above abruptly shifts from a deductive argument, (referring to the necessary existent as an it, or a thing,) but then towards the end of the article, states that this thing is a being, and that this being is G-d. (this argument has switched from deductive, to inductive reasoning.)

    To speak about the Biblical description of G-d, one cannot avoid inductive reasoning because of how scripture speaks about G-d. G-d is not merely an abstract necessary existent like deduction proves. G-d is a being who gives commands, (this is why he is called person by Christians, because only an intellect can give commands.) Why is he called one, but having distinct persons? Because, he is described in scripture as totally transcendent person, but this total transcendence does not preclude his revelation as immanent person, and immanence is not pantheism, but is providentially acting person. 3 is only relevant in an inductive sense of relation and description, Not essence. Both traditions must use induction, otherwise we could all just be philosophers. It doesn’t imply traditions of men.

    • Paul says:

      I agree with most of what you wrote, except for the last paragraph. In it you make a few statements that I cannot comment on without knowing your meaning.

      1. …. one cannot avoid inductive reasoning because how scripture speaks about G-d. Where and how?

      2. G-d is a being who gives commands, ….. (A creator can and does limit the actions of his creation. My answer.)

      3. Because he is described in scripture as a totally transcendent person, …. Where and how ?

      4. But …. As it normally used in the English language, make null all previous staments.
      What is the meaning of your useage ?

      My description of G-d. — omni-everything, other than this I do not know.

  7. Concerned Reader says:

    …. one cannot avoid inductive reasoning because of how scripture speaks about G-d. Where and how? The Deductive argument can only tell us that there is an as you put it, “Omni everything.” It MAY be true to say that Omni everything is a creator that “can and does limit the actions of his creation.” But you have now crossed from deduction ( the existence of some sort of omni everything.) to an inductive description of a creative agent. Let me explain. When G-d is described as omni everything, there is the possibility that deductively speaking, this omni everything could be a thing: like say the universe, or an agent like the creator. Neither one is a deductively certain conclusion. If G-d as described in scripture is true, than we are forced to have an inductive description of an agent. Whenever G-d says, I am the L-rd, or issues a mitzvah, we can be sure that an agent is speaking, and that it is not an eternal force, or thing like the universe. See What I mean?

    • Paul says:

      You did answer any of the questions put to you . As for omni-everything, it is just my attempt to descript the indescribable. Any thought that anyone living or dead has had about G-d is bound to be produced by inductive reasoning, unless G-d has said such simply and plainly. Exodus 20:1-14 the ten words or commandments.

  8. Paul says:

    Excuse me, I should wrote ” you did not answer ….

  9. Concerned Reader says:

    1. …. one cannot avoid inductive reasoning because how scripture speaks about G-d. Where and how? Did not G-d speak to Israel on Sinai, or speak to Moses as a man speaks to his friend? This kind of knowledge and description of G-d cannot be arrived at using deductive reasoning. The whole bible speaks of G-d in intimate terms, not just as “omni everything.” Inductive reasoning is required.

    2. G-d is a being who gives commands, ….. (A creator can and does limit the actions of his creation. My answer.) You again cannot arrive at this type of knowledge by a deductive reasoning, but through induction in the light of reading scripture. G-d is not just described in such abstract terms.

    3. Because he is described in scripture as a totally transcendent person, …. Where and how ? G-d speaks with a still small voice, his will to the prophets. A THING, or Omni EVERYTHING does not have a voice, or a will. Only a being with a rational nature speaks with a voice, or possesses a will. This fact does not mean that G-d is not also transcendent, but transcendence does not make G-d abstract.

    4. But …. As it normally used in the English language, make null all previous staments. Where did I say this? Yes, we are forced by language to use terms we can understand, but this does not place a limit on G-d, heaven forbid.

  10. Paul says:

    1. At Sinai, G-d, spoke as G-d, not as friend, buddy, pal or anything else..

    2. Since G-d cannot be described, any term we as mankind use would be abstract.

    3. A voice, a will, a rational being. These are human terms, G-d as the creator ( again a human term) is so far above and beyond any term that you, I, or anyone can imagine.

    4. The word BUT was used twice in your last paragraph.
    4a. We are all limited by our language, from the most ignorant to the most highly educated.
    4b. How can a person conceive of placing limit on G-d.

    I believe and this me personally that by your answers to my specific questions, that you have my case.

    Shalom

  11. Concerned Reader says:

    If G-d is so indescribable according to you, how do you assert that he exists, spoke to Israel directly, etc. in a way that does not rely on the testimony of your Bible, or of yourself? A source that makes a claim cannot be used as evidence of itself, just as in a court case a partial witness is inadmissible evidence.

    . At Sinai, G-d, spoke as G-d, not as friend, buddy, pal or anything else. Not according to Exodus 33:11, Paul.

    4 &4B. How can a person conceive of placing limit on G-d. Given this statement by you, how can you assert that G-d exists at all? Also, Christians do not limit G-d to Jesus, in fact, it is heresy to do so according to all orthodox christian sources.

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