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Monday, October 12, 2009

The Writing of Torah Shebal Peh (the Oral Law)

The Writing of Torah Shebal Peh (the Oral Law)

Based on Halichos Olam

Torah Shebal Peh is not allowed to be written down (Gittin 60b)

The reason for this is that this ensures an accurate transmission from generation to generation because one will have to study from a master who will ensure that he is understood correctly. (Ritva Ibid).

Rabbeinu HaKadosh (also known as Rebbi and Rav Yehuda Hanasi) (165-220CE) lived in the last generation of Tannaic scholars, and realized that due to the series of tyrannical rulers over Israel, and the laws and edicts forbidding Torah study, Torah Shebal Peh was being forgotten.

Due to Rebbi’s unique relationship with Antoninus, the Roman Emporer, there was a brief respite from the Jews troubles. Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi took advantage of the opportunity to, with the agreement of his contemporaries, convene a meeting of all the receivers of the mesorah of the Oral Law. They all recalled their teachings and it was written down and organized by Rebbi.

This work, known as the Mishnah (literally review) included anything that was transmitted from Moshe Rabbeinu on Mt Sinai and all their practical applications and disputes in theory practical applications. It also included later edicts, rules and safeguards that were enacted by the Rabbis.

The Mishna has six sections:

a) Zeraim – deals with the laws of agriculture
b) Moed – deals with calendrical events
c) Nashim – laws of marriage, divorce, levirate marriage and other marriage and vow related issues
d) Nezikin – laws of damages and monetary law
e) Kodshim – laws of sacrifices and other Temple related laws
f) Taharos – laws of Ritual purity and impurity

As the Mishnayos were typically precisely worded and cryptic, several of Rebbi’s students wrote parallel texts explaining the Mishanayos with additional reasoning and textual sourcing. These are known as Braisos or Tosefta.

Several generations later, a need was once again established to write down the Torah Shebal Peh by Rav Ashi, this time with much more detail and in greater length. This work, known as the ‘Gemara’, is based on the Mishnah but is an all-encompassing work and much broader in scope than the Mishnah.

The Gemara, or Talmud, has four objectives:

1) To fully explain the Mishnayos in their entirety and to add any additional dialogue that may have postdated the Mishna. To this end, the Gemara will often bring in Braisos to help elucidate the Mishnayos.
2) To issue a definitive ruling in the case of a dispute
3) To add any gezeiros or edicts that had been issued since the Mishna
4) To add various moral and ethical lessons to the masoretic tradition

This work was largely done by Rav Ashi in two editions (Baba Basra 157b) it was then added to very minutely by the Rabanan Sovrai, at which point (498CE) it was closed to further annotations.

For a more over-arching view of Torah Shebal Peh please read Rabbi Fink’s excellent article. Make sure to read the comments as well.

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Meet Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch HaberRabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber is sought after by all who know him for his Halachic and practical advice. His keen ability to put complicated matters into a digestible perspective coupled with his ability to get the facts, make him the perfect blogger to help us all “Do It Right”.

A native of Buffalo, NY, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber spent his childhood globetrotting with his family. His pioneering spirit first surfaced in Melbourne, Australia, where he was excited to be a member of the opening class of Mesivta Bnei Torah. From Australia the Haber family settled down in Monsey, NY. Ever the maverick, Tzvi promptly left home to study in Yeshiva Ohr Hameir in Peekskill, where he became a mainstay of the Yeshiva, and inspired his younger brothers as well as several friends from the Mesivta in Melbourne to follow him. He then joined his chaburah in Jerusalem, first at the Mir Yeshiva and then at the Bais Medrash of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, a senior scion of the famed Brisk dynasty. As his globetrotting family returned to Jerusalem, Tzvi returned to the US, to freeze in the famed, yet comparatively chilled Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

 In 2004 he met his wife, Suzanne Schor, a native of the warmer Los Angeles climate, and the couple settled in Lakewood, where he focused his pioneering and independent strengths on the study of Halacha, or Jewish law. His innovative spirit and innate ability to help others seeking to clarify the finer points of Judaism and integrate them into their daily lives inspired his decision to commute daily from Lakewood to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in order to bask in the day to day exposure to the world renowned Posek, HaRav David Feinstein. The daily commute was more than compensated for when he received Semicha from Rav Feinstien and the Kollel L’Torah U’lhorah (a division of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem) in Tamuz 5768, June 2008.

In August 2009, the Habers moved west, heading toward Los Angeles where Rabbi Haber joined the LINK-LA Kollel. After being an active member of the Kollel for several years, he joined the business world, however he is still actively involved in teaching and learning in LA.

Actively involved in all aspects of TorahLab, Tzvi has taken upon himself a quasi-role as administrator of quality control and has effectively improved and upgraded many of the smaller yet vital details involved in our site. His advice is eagerly sought and gracefully given.

Rabbi Haber is now living in the La Brea section of Los Angeles with his wonderful family. He can be contacted at tzvi@torahlab.org