Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 7]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Torah – The Divine Instruction

(pp.42-47)

A) About the author of the chapter:

Kaufman Kohler “… was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.” [1]

“Feb. 26, 1903, he was elected to the presidency of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.” [2]

[1] https://www.jta.org/1926/01/29/archive/dr-kaufmann-kohler-president-emeritus-of-hebrew-union-college-dies

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9419-kohler-kaufmann

B) Chapter Summary:

“During the Babylonian Exile the prophetic word became the source of comfort and rejuvenation for the Jewish people. Now in its place Ezra the Scribe made the Book of the Law of Moses the pivot about which the entire life of the people was to revolve. By regular readings from it to the assembled worshipers, he made it the source of common instruction.”[1]

“Upon the Pentateuch was built up the divine service of the Synagogue as well as the whole system of communal life, with both its law and ethics.”[2]

“The prophets and other sacred books were looked upon only as means of “opening up” or illustrating the contents of the Torah.  These other parts of the Mikra (“the collection of books for public reading”) were declared to be inferior in holiness, so that, according to the Rabbinical rule, they were not even allowed to be put into the same scroll as the Pentateuch.”[3]

“… neither the number, order, nor the division of the Biblical books was fixed. The Talmud gives 24, Josephus only 22.96 Tradition claims a completely divine origin only for the Pentateuch or Torah, while the rabbis often point out the human element in the other two classes of the Biblical collection.”[4]

“The traditional belief in the divine origin of the Torah includes not only every word, but also the accepted interpretation of each letter, for both written and oral law are ascribed to the revelation to Moses on Mt. Sinai, to be transmitted thence from generation to generation. Whoever denies the divine origin of either the written or the oral law is declared to be an unbeliever who has no share in the world to come, according to the Tannaitic code, and consequently according to Maimonides also.”[5]

“Originally, no doubt, Torah signified the instruction given by the priests on ritual or juridical matters. Out of these decisions arose the written laws (Toroth), which the priesthood in the course of time collected into codes. After a further process of development they appeared as the various books of Moses, which were finally united into the Code or Torah. This Torah was the foundation of the new Judean commonwealth, the “heritage of the congregation of Jacob.”[6]

“Judaism has the two factors, the priest with his regard for the law and the prophet with his ethical teaching; and the Jewish Torah embodies both aspects, law and doctrine. These two elements became more and more correlated, as the different parts of the Pentateuch which embodied them were molded together into the one scroll of the Law. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah, in denouncing the priesthood for its neglect of the principles of justice, and rebuking scathingly the people for their wrongdoing, pointed to the divine law of righteousness as the one which should be written upon the hearts of men.”[7]

“In a still larger sense the Pentateuch as a whole contains priestly law and universal religion intertwined. In it the eternal verities of the Jewish faith, God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and moral government of the world, are conveyed in the historical narratives as an introduction to the law.”[8]

“Thus the Torah as the expression of Judaism was never limited to a mere system of law. At the outset it served as a book of instruction concerning God and the world and became ever richer as a source of knowledge and speculation, because all knowledge from other sources was brought into relation with it through new modes of interpretation. Various systems of philosophy and theology were built upon it. Nay more, the Torah became divine Wisdom itself, the architect of the Creator, the beginning and end of creation.”[9]

“While the term Torah thus received an increasingly comprehensive meaning, the rabbis, as exponents of orthodox Judaism, came to consider the Pentateuch as the only book of revelation, every letter of which emanated directly from God. The other books of the Bible they regarded as due only to the indwelling of the holy spirit, or to the presence of God, the Shekinah. Moreover, they held that changes by the prophets and other sacred writers were anticipated, in essentials, in the Torah itself, and were therefore only its expansions and interpretations. Accordingly, they are frequently quoted as parts of the Torah or as “words of tradition.”[10]

“Orthodox Judaism, then, accepted as a fundamental doctrine the view that both the Mosaic Law and its Rabbinical interpretation were given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai.”[11]

“To them and to us the real Torah is the unwritten moral law which underlies the precepts of both the written law and its oral interpretation. From this point of view, Moses, as the first of the prophets, becomes the first mediator of the divine legislation, and the original Decalogue is seen to be the starting point of a long process of development, from which grew the laws of righteousness and holiness that were to rule the life of Israel and of mankind.”[12]  

[1] p.42

[2] Ibid.

[3] pp.42-43

[4] p.43

[5] Ibid.

[6] p.44

[7] pp.44-45

[8] p.45

[9] Ibid.

[10] pp.45-46

[11] p.46

[12] Ibid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *