THE TORAH OF MESORAH - The Torah of Mesorah 4
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Torah She-Baal Peh – The Oral/Experiential Torah
The Oral law exists for a number of reasons:
- It explains concepts that cannot be fully captured in writing,
- It defines unusual or rare terminology,
- Most importantly, it provides a system of interpretation. This system of interpretation is crucial because it gives us three things:
- It guides us in the application of the Torah to new situations and new scenarios,
- It gives us standards and guidelines by which we can evaluate the legitimacy of interpretations and applications of the Torah, and
- It provides a means by which we can reconstruct any details of correct observance should it become blurred or forgotten due to exile
Mesorah - Transmission
The most important element in validating interpretations of the written and oral Torah is the concept of Mesorah. Mesorah is the greatest proof to the authenticity of any concept, practice, or interpretation.
Mesorah is a hard concept to translate. The closest translation is probably “transmission,” the giving over of information. It refers to an unbroken chain of transmission from the revelation at Sinai until the present time. Authenticity of concepts and practices is strongly based upon mesorah.
For example, the word totafot occurs in three similar passages: Exodus 13:6, Deuteronomy 6:8 and 11:18. The oral component of Torah tells us that totafot are Tefillin, phylacteries, the black boxes containing scriptural parchments which are worn by Jewish men during morning prayers. The oral component also tells us the complicated details of their writing and manufacture. For example: the boxes must be perfectly square and both the boxes and straps must be black. Yet, how do we know this is correct?
First and foremost – we know it is correct because we believe in the correctness of the oral component of the Torah. On top of that though, mesorah tells us it is correct because there has never been a time since the giving of the Torah when Tefillin were made or conceived of in any other way.
Another example is kosher slaughter. The Torah tells us that there is a method of correct slaughter (see above and Deuteronomy 12:20-21). Yet, the Torah does not define this method. The oral Torah, though, provides us with great detail on the process, anatomical, and technical requirements for kosher slaughter. We know this to be correct based on the authority of the oral Torah and based on the fact that there has never been a time since Sinai when kosher slaughter was done any other way.
It should be noted here that Mesorah carries more weight than even archaeological evidence. Archaeology is concerned with reconstructing forgotten things based upon a minute amount of evidence. Mesorah is known information transmitted from generation to generation without having been forgotten. When there is a known break in mesorah, the chain of transmission, and it has a practical effect on observance, we do not attempt to resurrect the mesorah based on archaeological evidence. For example, knowing which cities in Israel were walled in ancient times is important for a number of laws. We rely on mesorah, transmitted knowledge, to determine which cities were walled. Archaeological evidence is insufficient proof.
For an in-depth and advanced study of the Torah of Noahism go HERE.
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