Current State of the Law in Today’s Times
The Web of 8 Factors
Scope: This article is humbly aimed at the entire observant Jewish world: including the religious leadership, talmidei chachamim, talmidei chaverim and “the rest of” Am Yisrael.
In my humble assessment, there is a “web of 8 factors” that is now disrupting our ability to accurately understand, apply and disseminate Jewish Law – in terms of what is permitted and forbidden. This is having a harmful effect on Jewish continuity, and needs to be taken more seriously. This “web of 8 factors” will be addressed below in detail. The bad news is that many “Observant” Jews are oblivious to the effects of these ensnaring factors, and the interference it sometimes has on the accurate purveyance of Torath Moshe. Unfortunately, some of our righteous Jewish scholars and teachers have also unknowingly fallen prey to this “web of 8 factors.” I suspect that a few might even be shocked after being shown these corruptions.1 From a thousand feet up, this lack of correct understanding and dissemination, which many times translates into a lack of perceived moral clarity, is hurting our people. Besides being fodder for some minim and apicorsim, the ramifications of “non-authentic” dogmatic transmission is also hurting our efforts at Jewish continuity and Qiruv. Come on folks. Our kids want the original stuff, and can smell when something is off. We need to do better. The good news is that this can all be corrected.
Many Jews have instinctively sensed this condition for years, but have not known what to do about it – without being estranged from the community. This lack of guidance leaves many “regular but scholarly Jews” in a state of dazed bewilderment. Unfortunately, the only thing left for them to do is to pick a Rabbi “to hold by” – without understanding the legal implications and liabilities that are still incumbent upon them to fulfill. But what can be done to ease their souls? After all, only qualified scholars can study and understand these issues… right? (To be addressed later).
RaMb’M Raised Red Flag On This Very Issue
On the leadership side, most of our Rabbis and Teachers are moving along with the purest of intentions2. Unfortunately, many box themselves (and their followers) into corners, by forcing themselves to rely upon a roughly-woven mesh of later-day legal precedents and opinions – which have been drastically altered over time. What other choice do they have – is the common explanation. This phenomenon is described further as one of the 8 factors below. Unfortunately, this diminishes the ability to understand and demonstrate the legal issues involved – to their flocks. And while no one would dare deny the greatness and need for strong Rabbonim, the ability to identify and understand the sources is not what it used to be – for anyone. And while no one wants to directly question the leaders of our generation in this respect (by presenting them with a dirty laundry list of corrupted practices), RaMb”M raised a red flag on this very issue – over 800 years ago – when the scholarship was undeniably much higher! In my humble assessment, we really need to replay this warning again, before this generation gets swallowed up (Heaven forbid) in the WEB OF 8 FACTORS.
Question: But before you start this article, why is it really so important to know what is prohibited and what it forbidden in the first place?
Answer: Well, according to RaMb”M, the ultimate tranquility of earth (and the world to come) depends upon it! So yes, it is really important to get these things right.
RaMb”M answers: “I believe that no one should stroll through the garden of Jewish mysticism unless his belly is filled with bread and meat, by which I mean knowledge of what is prohibited and permitted and similar issues relating to the other commandments. Even though these matters were called ‘minor’ by the sages (who said that Ma’aseh Bereshith & Merqavah is a major matter and the halachic discussions of Abaye and Rava are relatively minor matters), it is still appropriate to master the latter first, since they provide basic mental tranquility to an individual. They are a gift of God to promote social tranquility on earth so that we may inherit the world to come.” (RAMBAM – Maimonides)
The Web of 8 Factors:
To Avoid The Web of 8 Factors – You First Have To Know What They Are:
In quick summary, the following factors have contributed to our current inability to accurately understand and purvey the requirements of Halakha:
Factor #1) The current refusal by (~ half) of our leadership to admit that all “legislation” that came after Rav Ashi & Ravina’s court is still non-authoritative – even though the exact opposite perception has been (and is still being) perpetuated and popularized to the masses – by many of our “leaders”. My source for this statement is over 40 years of direct observation.3
Factor #2) The ever-increasing level of pilpul & some chidushim (new understandings) – that take unjustified liberties in unnecessarily reinterpreting, coloring or even adding to (or diminishing from) the law. More often than not, these well-intentioned additions wind up causing the exact opposite result that is trying to be accomplished in the first place.4
This is a great sorrow for me – because most of the time – a more detailed (and systemic) analysis of the Mishneh Torah shows these are not real problems in the first place at all – and can be debunked with logic and accurate texts of the Mishneh Torah!
Factor #3) The inability of many of today’s teachers and students to admit that they are not qualified (without intensive study of the Mishneh Torah) to correctly deduce the “fully settled” legal issues that were agreed upon by the last legitimate Sanhedrin (and last court of Rav Ashe and Ravinah). Besides the effects of the long exile, the most basic prerequisite for Talmudic understanding of the Oral Law requires a complete and total mastery of the entire Talmud Bavli AND all of the associated, accompanying works required for its elucidation – in a way that completely, contextually, systemically and fully grasps all of these sources together – in an interconnected way. And over here, we are merely speaking about this as a prerequisite for the possibility of being able to correctly learn or teach Talmud – in order to deduce the LAW (which is a really bad idea). The RaMb”M explains why people in his own society were not fully capable of deducing these things – and EVEN MORE SO does this apply to our own times. If in his own times, people were not qualified, how can anyone seriously think they are somehow more-qualified than people that were much closer in time, place and accuracy to the original source materials?
Regarding the ability to learn, my Rav haMuvhaq writes:
“Those who just learn Bavli – without all the earlier and basic Israeli texts (Mishnah, Tosefta, Mekhiltot, Sifra, Sifrey, and Yerushalmi) are simply FOOLING themselves (in terms of understanding it). Bavli was written in the context of the earlier works – just as it was written in the context of the TN”K. They often bring [only] short phrases, referring to the whole of the matter in the earlier work, whether TN”K or Israeli works, and they MEAN the whole matter in its whole context — not just these words taken out of context. Thus, almost no one today has any idea what they are reading in the Bavli, as they jump into the Bavli without the foundations. It is like studying integral calculus without learning arithmetic, algebra, and trig.”
However; all that being said, we should still aspire to learn the texts of the Oral Law. But how so? In this article, we are merely arguing the reason(s) how we should or should not learn or rely upon the actual books of Talmud Bavli and associated works (to deduce the law) – and what should be the priority. In terms of law, the priority is to learn & rely upon Mishneh Torah as our legal filter – for the many reasons listed in this article. About the Mishneh Torah, RaMb”M wrote: “Thus, I have called this work the [Complete] Restatement of the [Oral] Law (Mishneh Torah), for a person reads the Written Torah first and then reads this work, and knows from it the entire Oral Law, without needing to read any other book between them.”
Regarding the need for Talmudic study (and related works), one can click here for more information. Heaven forbid you think we are dissing Talmudic study!
Factor #4) Subjective & strong cultural loyalties, lineages and / or political motives still keep people from objectively examining the accuracy of the traditions they have been handed & continue to transmit. When we are sure, why would correcting them be an affront to our ancestors. 5
Factor #5) Many times, mystical influence is been allowed to trump existing law, when there is no legitimate legal authority to change the law that came from the last legitimate Sanhedrin, which preserved the legacy of Beit Hillel.
Factor #7) Low study skill levels. For example: an inability or lack of desire to use an “Even HaShushan” dictionary. Another example relates to the lack of a proper Rav or Moreh to learn from in a way that incorporates Hebrew and participation.
Factor #8) Previous censorship of Jewish manuscripts – that continues to have profound effects on our critical manuscripts (even תלמוד בבלי) – to this day. For most, this is a hard pill to swallow. There is definitely a ‘lack of access’ to pristinely preserved texts. Although not a major factor, it still plays a role. One famous example can be seen in the terms used to describe the definitions of Gevil (for Sifrei Torah), Qlaf (for Tefillin) and Duchsustos (for Mezuzoth). Some versions distort the meaning of these terms, through the obvious copyist errors. 6
To make matters worse, these problems have been around for hundreds of years now. Without going into all the problems mentioned by RAMBAM (even in his own times), what is a descent truth-seeking Jew or Ben Noach supposed to do today, in order to know the requirements of the law?
Below, we explain why the Mishneh Torah is this only extant reliable source we currently have, and how it can unite our people.