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A chat with Rabbi Jacobson about Torah's immutability

by Rabbi Levi Jacobson

  

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Yaak.: Someone asked me about Torah evolving and I explained that to a certain extent nothing could be added or subtracted, but that this has to be adapted and applied, but that essentially Torah has not changed.

Rabbi Jacobson: It depends what he meant by its “evolving.”

Yaak.: Well, I think he said “evolving,” ‘cause he was trying to rationalize Conservatism.

Rabbi Jacobson: You cannot come up with something that contradicts the Torah — taking things out, changing things, though you can talk about the Oral Torah.

Yaak.: Oh, now I remember, we were talking about fences around the Torah. I said that it doesn’t change Torah--it protects it. But I found myself unable to really understand the scope of the topic.

Rabbi Jacobson: Why?

Yaak.: Simply because on the surface “fences” seems like additions, which is why I wanted to understand the definition of an addition. Because this guy isn’t very knowledgeable and couldn’t differentiate. I just told him that it’s somewhat complicated because the Torah clearly delineates the difference between additions and fences implemented to maintain the Torah’s authenticity

Rabbi Jacobson: An “addition” is saying there is a change in the Torah: five parshiot [chapters] in Tefillin, or three for that matter. You are changing the Torah if you say that. You get what I'm saying? The same Torah also says that you must listen to what the judges (rabbis) tell you. Is that a contradiction? I don’t think so.

Yaak.: Tell me if I understand... To alter the intentions or meaning of the Torah: wrong. To alter our behavior so as to ensure that we don’t alter the Torah... OK?

Rabbi Jacobson: Sounds right.

Yaak.: Right, but the rabbis, as they are empowered by Torah, do make “changes” so to speak... but they just must be in line with the abovementioned?

Rabbi Jacobson: Correct.


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COMMENTS

Immutability of Torah

Posted by: Anonymous, Forest Hills, NY on Jun 30, 2005

I live in the United States of America.

I am NOT Torah observant; my belief system is that of a Republic.

Indeed, the US Founders made the point that anytime one is handed law by fiat, it is tyrannical.

Indeed, in a Republic, "We The People" make our own laws. To have law that one can neither make nor redress is tyranny and to obey such law willingly is clearly the mark of a slave.

Hey, that's just my opinion.

Editor's Comment

In a free society, no one person has the right to rule over another, but if you own a corporation is it tyranny to impose your will upon your workers? I believe, sir, that this world is G-d's corporation...

Torah's Immutability

Posted by: Anonymous, Los Angeles, CA, USA on Dec 28, 2005

I wanted to add a few things to the above. It is is possible to make a fence around the Torah without changing the Torah itself; you are merely adding a fence, not 'renovating the house itself.' This fence is composed of rabbinical prohibitions.

For example:

The rabbis added the wide-ranging prohibition callled melachos. A melacha is something that one cannot handle during Shabbat (and Yom Tov), such as a pen, an umbrella, and a dollar bill. Even though one didn't write with a pen he just handled, nor did he use an umbrella he just picked up, nor did he do business with a dollar bill. It is better to break a rabbinic prohibition by accident than to break a Torah prohibition by accident. This, however, does not mean that we should not listen to some paranoid rabbis.

These rabbis have used their authority in conjunction with the permission of the Torah to ensure the Jewish Nation will observe the Torah in its' glory.

Editor's Comment

I believe the commentor means "muktzah", not "melachah".

revision

Posted by: Anonymous, Los Angeles, CA, USA on Dec 28, 2005

Whoops -- yes, the editor was right -- I did mean to say muktzah -- I got mixed up with the two words, which probably makes sense when you account the fact that I posted this at 12:00 a.m.
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.
Tefillin
Black leather boxes containing small scrolls with passages of the Bible written on them. Every day, aside for Sabbath and Jewish holidays, the adult Jewish male is required to wrap the Tefillin--by means of black leather straps--around the weaker arm and atop the forehead.