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If Torah law is absolute, then why does it seem to have changed through the generations?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein


Library » Mitzvot » What are they? | Subscribe | What is RSS?



I understand the logic behind belief in G-d. However, in trying to become more observant I find that I am wrestling with two points.
1. Since the Torah contains the absolute truth, its laws should apply in all times and places. But the way of life of an observant Jew in ancient times would not be considered an observant lifestyle today (for example: polygamy, slavery, no Kipah).
2. Since the Torah contains the absolute truth its laws should apply to all of humanity.
These are two areas in which I can't see the logic behind the traditional beliefs. I am hoping you can address these points.
I very much appreciate your thoughts on this, Andy


Two great questions!

1. Torah is absolute truth, but people's lives aren't.

The Torah therefore permits, and in some instances obligates, the Torah scholars throughout the ages to create fences and ordinances AROUND the Torah, in order to keep Torah Judaism intact.

This system is very complex and too broad for one e-mail, but in a nutshell: if the Torah forbids one from doing something, it can never be permitted. But if the Torah says you MAY do something, it doesn't mean you HAVE to. Thus if one doesn't do it, he is not contradicting the truth of the Torah. So if a new issue should arise that makes a particular permitted thing problematic, the Jewish leaders of any given time have the right or obligation to forbid it (Example: forbidding polygamy or slavery, since people could no longer handle it properly).

It is only the things that Torah did not forbid or mandate that can be changed
Similarly, if the Torah says you HAVE to do something, then you always have to do it. But if the Torah does not oblige us, it doesn't mean it forbids us. Again, if the Jewish leaders feel that adding a certain element AROUND the Torah will help preserve Jewish identity and Torah practice, they have permission to do so and this is in no way contradicts the truth of the Torah (Example: mandating the wearing of a Kipah)

In other words, Torah's laws apply in all times and places. It is only the things that Torah did not forbid or mandate that can be changed.

2. Again, Torah is absolute truth, but people's lives are different.

Absolute truth says that 2+2 is 4. It will never be otherwise. Unless you have 2+3, then the result will be 5.

If all of creation was one identical object with the same objective, the Torah would apply universally to all of humanity, but we are not created identical and our objectives differ.

That is why the Torah has different rules for Priests, Levites, men, women, children, Jews, non-Jews, free people, slaves, healthy people, ill people, etc.

Because the Torah is absolute truth it can be one system that is applicable to all people. Each as it is fitting for them.

[Ed. note: You might also want to read about 'Why aren't we offering sacrifices any more?']


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Mitzvot » Prohibitions
Torah » Modifying Torah

Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
(pl. Kipot). The head-covering worn by Jewish males. Serves as a constant reminder of the existence of a Higher Being.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.