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How do we know the Oral Torah is true?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

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Question: 

How do we know that rabbis didnt make half the Torah sheba'al peh up [Ed. Oral Torah]? isnt it like chinese whispers?

Answer:

I am glad you mentioned Chinese Whispers.1

The usual result of Chinese Whispers is that by the time the word reaches the end of the line it is completely different than the original utterance. Why? Because the rules of the game are that the word must be transmitted silently and quickly, and repeating is not allowed.

Now, what if you set up 50 lines with 50 people in each line and your friend says a word to all fifty of them. They in turn each transmit the word to the next in their line, so on and so forth. When it reaches the last 50 people you ask all of them what the word is. To your surprise, each and every one of them says the same exact word. You are not satisfied, so you go back up the line to the second to the last group of 50, and each of them says the same exact thing. So you continue up the chain to the next group and the next group, and they too each say the very same word. 200 distinct people, in 50 different lines, through four tiers in the line, all saying the same word.

The teachings of the Oral Torah were, and still are, transmitted loudly, clearly, and slowly. The laws are questioned and examined. The same law is reviewed as many as 100 times before moving on to the next law
Do you think the word they are saying is the word your friend originally uttered?

Chances are it is.

The astonishing question would be 'how did that happen'?

Here's the secret: The system for transmitting the Torah is the precise opposite of the rules in Chinese Whispers. The teachings of the Oral Torah were not to be related and transmitted silently, quickly, and only once. To the contrary, the teachings of the Oral Torah were, and still are, transmitted loudly, clearly, and slowly. The laws are questioned and examined. The same law is reviewed as many as 100 times before moving on to the next law. And most importantly all these teachings are lived, not just studied.

My father, for example, heard the same teachings and lived in accordance with the same laws that he witnessed from his grandfather, which are identical to the laws he now observes his grandchildren doing. That is five generations, four continents, over a hundred year time span, yet all living the same exact teaching.

And that is just my father. His grandfather observed the same, and so did his grandfather.

When someone picks up a book of Judaism for the first time it is easy, and natural, to wonder how we know this is all true. But when you witness, and perhaps merit to live, the unbroken chain, you question and wonder if it is even possible to consider the notion that any myth would be able to last so long under so much scrutiny, amongst so many different people, and through so many varying conditions.

In light of the vast and varied testimonials it is more logical to question whether Neil Armstrong ever walked on the moon than it is to doubt the authenticity of the Torah. Think about it.

Footnotes

  • 1. Also known as Telephone or Broken Telephone.

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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.