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The Concept of Jewish Law

The revelation at Sinai is seen by traditionally religious Jews as the seminal event in the history of the Jewish people.The Bible shows God as having established a relationship with the patriarchs, A...

The revelation at Sinai is seen by traditionally religious Jews as the seminal event in the history of the Jewish people.

The Bible shows God as having established a relationship with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but Sinai solidified the relationship between God and Israel.

The classical Jewish understanding of Matan Torah(the giving of the Torah) as reflected in the Bible and in rabbinic literature, is that Sinai represents the central revelatory experience by God to the Jewish people.

This experience was and remains the highest form of prophetic revelation in history because it was transparent, audible, and occurred to a minimum of 600,000 male adults.

While the significance and awe of later prophetic revelation is clear, it in contrast usually occurred via dreams or visions to individuals. Subsequent authorship of the hagiographical literature occurred via the inspiration of ruach hakodesh (the holy spirit).

The uniqueness of Sinaitic revelation establishes the divine authorship of the dual Torah and consequently rabbinic exegesis thereafter. The Pirke Avot's (Sayings of the Fathers) initial verse "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders...etc." is the cornerstone of traditional Jewish orthodoxy on the matter.

The theological justification then for the view that "Torah" or the Covenant at Sinai represented the highest view of revelation and subsequently authority in Jewish religious life stems from unequaled manner in which the transmission took place.

The nature of the Torah lends it self to a level of authority expected to transcend the generations. Exodus 12:14 provides us with one example: "...throughout your generations you shall observe it [Pesach] as an ordinance for ever."

The classical orthodox Jewish position also views the term "Torah" as quite an inclusive term. The actual miraculous revelation at Sinai which resulted in the reception of a Written Law (i.e. Torah She Biktav) is at the heart of the revelation at Sinai, but it also includes the expository directives and methodology for adapting and developing Jewish law known as the Oral Law (Torah She'Ba'al Peh).

The term is inclusive of the entire Hebrew Bible and all subsequent rabbinic applications, decisions, and understanding to the present day.

For Orthodox Judaism then, revelation and thus Torah are as Louis Jacobs notes, static. That is, the Torah remains the same throughout the generations and Jews are obligated to observe it as an infallible guide to life provided by the "mouth" of God.

That position is articulated in the medieval period in by the great Jewish rabbi Maimonides' Thirteen Principles, and the hymn Yigdal where it states: " God gave his people a Torah of Truth by means of his prophet the most trusted of his household. God will never amend nor exchange His law for any other one, for all eternity."

If the Torah cannot be amended, then Halakhah (Jewish Law) can only be derived according to very well prescribed rules. The binding nature of the Torah as reflected by and through the prism of a rabbinic worldview cannot be negotiated.

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Jacob Lumbroso writes articles on history, foreign cultures, and Judaism. For more information on Tallits for men or other Judaica, visit

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