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In Judaism,
according to Novak, “all law was assumed to be derived from the will of
God”(cite). The Torah acts as God’s covenant with the Jewish people, but as
society has changed, God’s commandments slowly became unethical to follow word
for word. It is often believed that in Judaism, God’s word must act as the
final verdict, however, the ongoing need for Rabbinic interpretation and
supplementary texts prove that it is actually not God who legislates in
Rabbinic Judaism, but the Rabbis.

            The biblical Hebrew word for
“religion” is berit, which in English
translates to the word “covenant”. It is the Torah that emerges from the
covenant between God and the Jewish people. The Torah holds commandments, laws
that the Jewish people are expected to follow. 
Within these commandments are two kinds of law: apodictic and casuistic.

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Though apodictic law is straight forward, casuistic law was hard to decipher.

This led to the need of interpretation by postbiblical scholars and Rabbis. It
quickly came to be that “the authority of the law itself…seemed to require
prophetic endorsement”(cite). This shows that God’s commandments were slowly
losing legitimacy without interpretation from a Rabbi, proving that Rabbis were
indeed acting as the final legislatures within the Jewish community. Novak
further supports this claim when he states, “the Torah, as law, depended on a
prophet for its authority”(cite).  People
slowly stopped referring straight to the Torah, but instead to the words of the
Rabbis. The Rabbis interpretations were not meant to contradict the original
commandments from God, instead they were to enhance his laws to accommodate the
changing society.

            Though it is expected for the Jewish
people to follow God’s commandments word for word, the authority of the
Rabbinic interpretation shows the legislative powers Rabbis hold. From seeing
the original commandments from God and comparing them to how they are
interpreted and applied in every day life, we see how God’s words now have a
completely different meaning from the original text. For example, the Talmud
interprets the verse “And a man who inflicts an injury upon his fellow man just
as he did, so shall be done to him…eye for eye, tooth for tooth…”(cite). The
Rabbis interpret this as mandating monetary compensations. From this, we see
how the interpretations from the Rabbis led to a more peaceful society. If the
Jews were to apply the word of God literally, then there would be many people
missing eyes and teeth. Thanks to the Rabbis, the Jewish people were able to
carry out the word of God in a way that was socially acceptable. By this
example, it is clear that we are indeed following the interpretations of the
Rabbis, not God.

            By around 538 BCE, the tradition of
interpretations and supplements to the Torah soon became known as the “Oral
Torah” which emerged the Rabbis, “a class of interpreters to be recipients and
developers of the oral tradition”(cite). It is through this oral tradition that
the Mishnah emerged. Jews believed the Mishnah to be the oral law given by God to
Moses. Through the Mishnah, Rabbis were able to express their own
interpretations and create a more conceptual ordering of the law. These “laws”
were formulated from the spoken words of Rabbis acting as jurists to a givena
case. It is important to note that no new laws were enacted; rather the Mishnah
was a compilation of old laws, traditional wisdom, and traditions. Novak notes:
“the Written Torah was viewed as holding the potential that the Oral Torah
would later develop”(cite). This quote supports the notion that Rabbis are
needed to further enact the laws given from God. Through this quote, Novak
shows how the Torah by itself is not complete but needs to be further developed
with the work of the Oral Torah. Rabbinic law continued to grow and soon rabbinic
interpretations were regarded to “have the same status of scriptural
law”(cite). This quote from Novak shows the influence Rabbis had in Jewish
life; the words from Rabbis were seen as having the same authority of
scriptural texts, further supporting the notion that Rabbis were acting as the
final legislatures in Rabbinic Judaism.

            The works of the Rabbis does not
stop with the Mishnah. From the Mishnah was born the Talmud, Responsa, and the
Codifications. All of which hold high authority in Rabbinic Judaism. The Talmud
was originally viewed as a supplement to the Bible but slowly gained
prominence. Embodying 1,000 years of religious thought, a;fkjal;sdjf states,
“the Talmud was an implicit statement that God’s word was not final”(cite).

This quote shows how it indeed is not God who is acting as the legislature in
Rabbinic Judaism. This shows us the role of Rabbis and how interpretation was
necessary to follow God’s commandments. Bokser notes the importance for
interpretation when he says, “…authority could not be found in the text or
apodictic teachings but only in a living interpretation of those texts”(cite).

This quote further supports my claim of Rabbis being the legislatures of
Rabbinic Judaism. Interpretation was needed to fully understand the word of God
and it is the Rabbis interpretations, which held authority in Rabbinic
Judaism. 

            Though there are examples that show
God’s original words still hold the primary legitimacy, the examples and cases
I have provided show the importance and authority given to rabbinic
interpretation. As the world progressed, interpretation was needed to keep up
with society. It is because of interpretation, God’s commandments can be
understood and applied to daily life. Through the Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud,
Rabbis were able to effectively help society function smoothly. The
interpretations “became an authoritative religious guide in all spheres of
life”(cite) in Rabbinic Judaism. Though given to the Jewish people from God,
the Torah proves to be the foundation of Judaism, however, it is through the
guidance and interpretations of the Rabbis that God’s commandments are able to
adapt and apply in the everyday lives of Jewish society.

            

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