Rabbi Eli Cohen – Introduction to a Jewish Perspective of the Oral Law

No matter who we are, we all approach the Tanakh with a bias based on our worldview. But how does God want to be understood? Is there a particular bias and worldview through which we should consider Scripture?

Deuteronomy 33:4 – Oral Law

Jews For Judaism Australia
1,000 Verses (Your Pharisee Friend)
Rabbi Eli Cohen’s Facebook Page
Jews For Judaism Australia Facebook Page
Newtown Synagogue

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  1. rocky jackson says

    Did i hear correct if one sins it affects ALL.

    YET Sin is NOT affecting Humanity?

  2. Kelvin says

    Very good Rabbi, in regards of the different translation of Romans, no matter how you translated the fact is that Paul added or subtracted words from the Torah when he was quoting. Why? Nobody knows but the fact of the matter is that we are prohibited to add/subtract/change/interpret Yehovah’s word.
    Now I got to admit that I am one your biggest fan, and that this is going to turn into a very interesting program as we are about to deal with the Oral Torah; I don’t want to go crazy asking a million questions but I do have at least 2 that I have to ask as it has been in my mind forever. First of all I don’t believe in the Talmud so I am more like a Karaite, so You said that “you shall not kindle a fire on the Sabbath” does not change according to the time you live in (i.e. year 100 CE, 1500 CE or 2012) I agree, but them Why do Orthodox Jews wear Tzitziot without the thread of blue, when we clearly are commanded to put a thread of blue??? The Roman Empire does not exist anymore so why continue with the ban that they (Romans) imposed? (I Think that where all started 🙁 ) And my second questions is Why do Orthodox Jews wear a Kippa when is nowhere in the Tanach to wear Kippa??? Thanks and Shalom!

  3. James Hayman says

    Eli, are you saying that the Rabbis must be obeyed even if I have a different opinion or interpretation about a particular verse from the Torah? If you suddenly became all powerful what would you do to those who disagree with your understanding of Torah? What does the Rabbinate think about the Pope making essentially the same claim to saying what is to be believed? Jim

  4. Sven Brown says

    Rabbi Eli,
    I truly am appreciating your viewpoint and effort to explain the Oral and Written Law through a Jewish perspective. Thank you for your time and efforts. Please, don’t think me negative, but 2 things troubled me and your clarification would be appreciated. Are you just as critical towards the Hebrew Elders as you are of Sha’ul/Paul for ‘translating’ the word law or instruction (torah/torat) with the burdensome word nomos, when Sha’ul/Paul was only following the consistency established by the 72 Elders, that miraculously and independently translated the word nomos approximately 30 times in the Greek Torah of Moshe in the LXX or Septuagint the same way? According to Tractate Megillah of the Babylonian Talmud, the 72 Elders King Ptolemy used established the same word nomos in the 3rd century BCE, long before Paul lived.
    As well, I may have misunderstood this, but what fills in the blanks of the written Oral Law if the Oral is the pictures, videos, and living visit that is blank fillers in the community bringing the Written map names to life? Especially when it is said that if 2 Rabbis disagree, they are both correct and if a Rabbi disagrees with the written Law, the Rabbi is correct? That doesn’t speak towards the ‘relativism’ you spoke of that is between the Written and Oral (this is more like the contrast you said isn’t present) nor the point in the comment above that the Law is eternal through the ages. Thank you.

  5. Annelise says

    These are some questions I’ve heard from friends recently about the Oral Torah:
    *Is writing on the Sabbath really deserving of a death penalty? And why can leaders hang ‘mountains’ of burdensome laws like this from a single thread, or pull them out from nowhere?
    *How is turning on a light or a fan, or even opening a fridge, the same as kindling a fire?
    *Why do different communities have different laws, and sometimes even turn back laws from previous generations? And why can the rabbis find loopholes to their own laws, such as in creating an eruv to let people carry outside on the Sabbath, if the letter of the law is so important?
    *How do we know that the laws and traditions codified in the Mishna are a real continuity of what Judaism was from the start, since halacha isn’t a big theme in Tanach? What if the Pharisaic movement made a lot of changes?
    *Why is the Talmud so foundational for Jews in the present day if even its rabbis were in a conversation and disagreed with each other’s interpretations of the tradition? How can you tell what is vital in their message and what is peripheral?
    *In the case of some laws that were made quite clear in scripture, why are there so many additional specifications?
    *Why be so overly cautious when you make fences, such as in the laws about milk and meat?
    *Why do Jews thank God for commanding them to do things when those actions are rabbinic, not from the written Torah, and some of them were clearly instituted in later communities’ observance?

    It would be really good to hear other questions like this, and anything else that people are wondering about regarding the Oral Law and why you do or don’t think it’s an important claim to consider. Sounds like this is going to be a really interesting conversation 🙂

  6. Annelise says

    One more question to add to those above…

    It makes sense for leaders to be cautious that their communities should not to break the commandments, making rulings that help make this as simple as possible in the complexity of everyday life, and also to institute practices that will help to keep the spirit of the Torah alive in their midst. But what happens when a person fears that by listening to the rabbinic tradition you might be violating the written Torah? For example, if a person isn’t halachically Jewish, but they are a descendent of Israel, or just feel that everyone with faith in Israel’s God is obligated to keep the mitzvot. How can they trust that the rabbis are correct? Or if rabbis say it’s acceptable to ask someone to light a fire in your home to help a sick person, or merely to eat in the sukkah rather than also sleeping there, or to eat something that may have a tiny percentage of non-kosher contamination… how can you trust those decisions? What if an individual feels that keeping a rabbinic ruling takes away from the spirit of joy, grace, or compassion that are present in the Torah? What if the proof texts that halachic authorities are bringing to their decisions don’t seem to connect in the mind of a Jew trying to live their life in honour of what God actually wants? In all of these situations, there needs to be some reason to trust that rabbinic authority in your community is actually binding and from God, in a way that no other religions’ ‘oral tradition’ or community can claim.

  7. Laura says

    *Regarding the definition of a Jew. Do Ashkenazim/Kharzarian converts to Judaism make the claim that they are descended from the 2 tribes of Judah and Benjamin, therefore meet the criteria of the people that were exiled from Egypt?
    *Is the Oral Torah is equally important as the written Torah? How is the Oral Torah different from the Talmud? Which is the most important?
    *How is the Oral Torah different from the Pope/Vatican deciding which and how any new rules or traditions or abolishing of rules are to followed?
    * Are all laws from the written Torah applicable today? Is it appropriate for Jews to own slaves, stone people for not keeping the Sabbath, the wearing of mixed fabrics?

  8. Sven Brown says

    Like the other comments coming in about the halakah authority of the Rabbis changing the ‘community’ you say is constant, what garauntees are there that the practices of the community are not in fact against the letter and spirit of God’s intent? You site numerous Christian denominations and relate that each expression cannot be correct. Is the same true of the differing Jewish expressions and denominations? Do you view a Conservative Jew or Reform Jew or Lubavich Jew or Karaite Jew as walking in the same light that you walk in? Because they are all Jews with a community just like you?
    You make the claim, essentially, that the living expression of bringing the Torah to life avoids the frailty of man through watching the generations before. What if we observe the generations of Bey’t Shammai, for example? Further back even — the prophets of God in the Tanakh would have never have had a job, so to speak, if they never got it wrong. The House of Israel/Ephriam was scattered to the nations, losing both its land and community inheritance because of what it brought to life. The House of Judah wen into Babylon for the same reasons. How do we know some of what put Israel at odds with God isn’t continuing today in Judaism? You say it is the traditions not written that allowed the particular people to know how not to commit idolatry. Yet, to this day, the Jewish calender has a month honoring Tammuz, a foreign God, that the forefathers of those in Babylon never knew for a month known only by God according to the number of times the New Moon was sighted from the beginning of the month’s, Abib. King David had idols in his household that his wife put in his bed to represent him to those seeking his life. Yet, this is the consistency we can rely on? I look forward to your dialogue on all these matters.
    The seatbelt sign is lit for all of us! Hang on for a bumpy ride!

  9. Norm says

    The rabbinic tradition is nothing more or less than Jewish Catholicism. Proceed as you wish.

  10. Lori says

    I do think it is wonderful to look at the cultural background to all of these symbols that G-d provided from the beginning of time, from dreams that required interpretation to the blood sacrifices described in detail in Leviticus 16, to the Passover described in Exodus 12 – the ultimate sacrifice requiring lamb’s blood on the doorposts to avoid the death of the firstborn in the home. What I love about the Passover is that G-d demonstrated its significance in saying that THAT month should then be the first month of our year. And over and over, in 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and many other Scriptures, we read that upon returning to the LORD, the first thing the Israelites did was cleanse the altars with blood and reestablish the Passover.
    There is so much symbolism and culture in the Tanakh, and it is truly beautiful. It certainly merits much thought and prayer.

  11. Jim Murray says

    Thanks again, Jono and Rabbi Cohen, for a thought provoking program. I plan to listen to this one again, and I look forward to listening to future programs on this topic. A “flesh and bone” or community context seems, at least to me, worthy of consideration when weighing one’s approach to and understanding of Torah. Blessings to you and yours.

  12. Annias Bell says


    I have an Android phone instead of the iPhone now. As a result, I can’t get the podcast downloads anymore. None of the podcast apps I got from the Android Market will download Truth2u Radio.

    These programs have helped me tremendously and I want to contimue listening to them.

    You may email me with any suggestions you have.


    Annias Bell

  13. Annelise says


    Could you explain more clearly where you think the similarities lie between Catholic/Orthodox Christianity and, on the other hand, Rabbinic Judaism? I’m not a Christian, but I’ll give you my perspective of the strong and weak points in the Catholic argument. Then I’ll try and compare it to the Orthodox Jewish perspective; I’d love to hear your thoughts about that.

    Here are some things that I think Protestants should take very seriously from Catholicism.
    -Isn’t the canon of scripture a tradition of men, even if you accept it as being from God? If it’s not the Christian community (and the Protestant tradition) that tells you which books are inspired and which are manmade, then how exactly can you know what books comprise ‘the word of God’? Sincere people of various traditions have accepted and rejected different books from each other, not on the basis of ‘scripture’ but based on their tradition or on what they feel to be correct.
    -Wasn’t Jesus described as giving authority (through the ‘Holy Spirit’) to the apostles, to teach and make decisions about practice and orthodoxy in the churches, as we see numerous times in the book of Acts and the epistles? So who gave Protestants permission to ignore all Christian leaders and structures and interpret a few books according to what seems good to them?
    -The early church fathers described in their letters an orderly system of bishops quite similar to that mentioned in the NT, and they mention practices and beliefs (such as regarding the ‘eucharist’) that reflect modern Catholic/Orthodox Christian practice. So what if aspects of original Christianity have been lost by those who rely only on details that made their way into the NT letters? How do you know whether or not those things are important to God?

    In the end, though, I don’t think a person could accept that infallible authority resided in the Catholic or Orthodox church, or even in a very specific context of some of the Pope’s decisions. There have been massive, self-confessed mistakes that the churches had made with replacement theology and other violent affirmations (not to mention idolatry, though from a Christian perspective that could be answered). So in my view, a Christian would find that it isn’t safer to listen to that Catholic authority than to follow God to the best of your ability in the wider Christian community, relying on God even though some things are hard to pin down or understand.

    I want to point out that this failure on the part of the Catholic church doesn’t weaken the inherent importance of their arguments about how scripture can be known and about a community setting for obeying God’s commandments.

    Anyway, is it exactly the same with Orthodox Judaism? Orthodox Jews address Reform, Conservative, Karaite, and Messianic (and other) Jews, with a challenge about how they know did that Torah comes from God and how they can understand its application with only the written text. So yes, that’s similar to the Catholic argument. They also appeal to the Torah and Tanach for a record of how God gave authority to the leaders and community of Israel in a particular way. Catholics do this as well with the New Testament, HOWEVER these are two entirely separate claims, from two different communities, based on different events and passages in scripture. They should be examined separately.

    The objections to Rabbinic Judaism are also different to the objections against Catholicism, and they too need to be examined on their own merit. It’s important not to generalise. Orthodox Judaism also doesn’t claim to be infallible like some of the Pope’s decisions are believed to be. As a human society and also a vessel of the knowledge of God in our world, it’s complicated. But Orthodox Judaism does claim to be a) the preservation of important elements of Torah that were part of its original practice in Israel; b) a preservation of that community’s surrender to the rulings of judges and priests, to whom God gave authority; c) the context in which communities together must make new decisions, to allow the letter and spirit of Torah to be preserved in the best way possible, as the community grows, corrects itself, and testifies to God in the context of guarding the mitzvot.

    As far as I can see, challenges to Rabbinic Judaism are not sufficient to allow a Jew who wants to obey the Torah to do so out of the context of the community, nor to allow a community to break away from many things inherited in this form of biblical Judaism. It’s important to be careful with the Torah and the community that God has established Himself, even if sometimes those things seem counter-intuitive to us. There’s a lot of room for discussion and variation in traditional Judaism, but (as much as I understand it) some things are important for Jews to surrender to in love for God and as part of Israel.

  14. Pete Brown says

    It is written in the Oral Law on the subject of divorce: [A man may divorce his wife] even if she burned his dish, as it is stated [in Deut 24:1], “Because he discovers in her an immoral matter.” (Rabbi Hillel). [A man may divorce his wife] even if he found another more attractive than she, as it is stated [in Deut 24:1], “And it happens that she does not find favor in his eyes.’ (Rabbi Akiva). Now I understand the wider context and I think there are some principles behind these statements; however, I would like to ask if Rabbinical Judaism teaches these statements came directly from God YHVH to Moses at Sinai or if these statements are personal teachings of Hillel and Akiva? Thank you.

  15. Juli says

    Do you think PAUL undermined the words of God, or do you think it was the translators that omitted and added in order to support the Christian doctrine according to our “Christian” bibles?

  16. Juli says

    The part of Talmud that I struggle with is the fact that God himself tried to speak to the Israelites but they didn’t want to hear him. They wanted a “leader”. They feared God and his voice. Wouldn’t God want us to hear his voice directly rather than use the Rabbis to give their individual interpretation of what God may be trying to speak to each individual person? Can’t we all live the Torah that God has written in our hearts combined with the written Torah as we understand it through the Hebrew Sciptures?

  17. Norm says

    Annelise, let me explain myself
    Could you explain more clearly where you think the similarities lie between Catholic/Orthodox Christianity and, on the other hand, Rabbinic Judaism? I’m not a Christian, but I’ll give you my perspective of the strong and weak points in the Catholic argument.”

    Look at the words in my statement and do not let your mind or heart add to the meaning of them.
    “The rabbinic tradition is nothing more or less than Jewish Catholicism”
    I never said anything about “Catholic/Orthodox Christianity” I used the word as the following definition states, but I just expressed it as a “ism”
    1. universal; relating to all men; all-inclusive
    2. comprehensive in interests, tastes, etc.; broad-minded; liberal
    [from Latin catholicus, from Greek katholikos universal, from katholou in general, from kata- according to + holos whole]
    catholically , catholicly [kəˈθɒlɪklɪ] adv

    The only similarities if any are in the UNIVERSAL application upon the followers that submit to the authority of the system and since this is a Jewish source it is what I described in my statement.
    “Proceed as you wish.”

  18. rocky jackson says

    Hello Annias bell i have a android i listen to everything on truth to you simply be clicking on it, now it doesn’t download but plays…

    But alas every once in a while it abruptly ends just like this one and a few others…so i am about to listen again…hope it helps….

  19. Annelise says

    Hi Norm,

    I’m sorry I misunderstood your meaning there. But now that you’ve explained it, I don’t really understand what you were trying to say at all. Can you tell me why you wanted to write the comment that “The rabbinic tradition is nothing more or less than [universal Judaism]”? What’s the implication of that?

    Looking at the words alone in your first post, they’re completely ambiguous if not endowed with definition or context by the assumptions of the reader. I had to assume that you were talking about Catholic Christianity when you said Catholicism, because I don’t know any other sensible application of the term in this context, unless you were saying that rabbinic Judaism is ‘merely’ the oldest form of mainstream Judaism existent today.

    Even so, when we speak about Catholicism in modern English, we almost always mean the faith of the Catholic church. If you meant something else, I’m curious to understand it.

    But I’ll point out that no translation or interpretation of words can refer only to ‘the’ literal meanings of those words. You said “Look at the words in my statement and do not let your mind or heart add to the meaning of them,” but the semantic meaning of words, phrases, sentences, and whole compositions is dependent on the overlaps in context between speaker and listener 🙂

  20. Annias Bell says

    Thanks Rocky,

    I was able to listen also. This will do for now. I am greatful for these programs because I have wondered about this disconnect in Christianity with the so called “Old Testament” and “New Testament”.

    I have noticed similar patterns with Islam, Mormanism & Jehovah Witness. All of these religious systems reference the Tanach but have their own books that claim some authority from an angel or vision from God. In each instance, there were no other witnesses to confirm these revelations.

    When YHVH spoke to Israel, there were millions of people who heard Him. No other religion is able to say that.

  21. Kelvin says

    Amen and Amen Annias Bell, very well said and in few lines, not like me 🙂 it takes me many many lines and still I don’t make sence LOL

  22. Raphael says

    Hi Jono

    I have a question for Eli Cohen.
    It is clear to me that Judaism (broadly speaking) interpret the B’rit Chadasah from an anti-christian viewpoint and I guess, rightly so, as it is the christians (broadly speaking) that were their “enemies” for the last 2000 years. Unfortunately, that created a bias in their minds in how they viewed and interpret the Tanach as well as the B’rit Chadasah. My question is this: I am a believer in Yeshua as the moshiach, but do not believe in any trinity or messianic divinity. I thoroughly believe he was a man, like Moshe, which came and stressed the importance of the Torah and love for YHWH (by doing His commands). I do love everything in the Torah and from my broken understanding change my ways and thoughts to come in line with His instructions. I do venture from time to time in the Talmud and other Jewish sources and find them in some cases very enlightening, but do not allow myself to get too envolved with them. I first want to establish a solid foundation in the entire Tanach. I also do believe that there are some doctrinal mistakes built into the B’rit Chadasah and if there are “clashes” with the Tanach, I will re-evaluate my understanding of what I believe. The problem I am facing is that Judaism is so anti-Jesus that they do not seem to have room for somebody that believe as I do. I so long to join YHWH’s people, but they built so many man-made rules around themselves that it seems that a goyi, like me, cannot join. Any consolation?

  23. Annelise says

    Hi Raphael,

    I’m wondering… in your story of how you’ve come to stand with the beliefs you have at the moment, what is it that made you think Jesus was an important person to base your faith and life around?

    I’m not so much asking what you *now* believe are the proofs that he will come back as the king of restored Israel… but what the things were that caught your attention and made you feel that you had no choice before God but to think the New Testament is from Him.

    The reason is because I grew up in trinitarian Christianity, but when I came to realise that I could not and must not worship Yeshua as if he is God, I didn’t see any reason left to accept the New Testament or the Christian community as God’s light that He has placed in our world. Whether you came from a similar upbringing as mine and dropped the trinitarian belief, or whether you accepted Yeshua as only ‘moshiach’ for some other reason, it would be really good to hear why you accepted it and why you still want to accept it.

    Some other questions. Why don’t you think that the faith-filled and God-loving traditional Jewish communities have still got the role that they, righteous Israel, had before Jesus’ time? What changed, and why should we accept such a huge claim with all its consequences? What would we lose the ability to see and hear if if we were wrong? And what do you make of the fact that for some periods of history, the only communities accepting the NT were idolatrous? Don’t the Torah and prophets imply that the ‘new covenant’ is a restoration of the original obedience (with devotion to God) to His Torah?

    I’m genuinely interested in hearing your response, because I haven’t talked with many people who believe as you do.

  24. Annelise says

    Again to Raphael… to clarify what I wrote near the end there. When I asked whether Israel still has the same role as it did before, I’m not implying that you believe in a total replacement theology or something. But in the past, the community of righteous Jews and their leaders were able to decide whether a particular prophet or message was from God or not. I was trying to ask why we shouldn’t listen to the opinion held by most of the God-seeking Jews in that generation (and the ones following it) that Yeshua and the NT aren’t in fact central to God’s revelation to the Jewish people.

    And in my last question, I did read where you said that you value the Torah and obedience to it, and you even put it before the New Testament. But I was trying to talk about how the new covenant would be a renewal of the original commitment to Torah in Israel. Even if you can’t find any clashes with that and the New Testament, the NT is still a huge addition that totally changes how we look at obedience to Torah in a Jewish context, and at who is holding God’s words as He promised would happen in all generatins. So there needs to be a big and undeniable reason for claiming that this is the covenant God spoke about.

  25. The Remnant says


    There is iron in your words.
    The strength of iron that comes from seeking HIS face and searching Tanach to see if all these things are true.
    But the traditions of men are like chaff in the wind.

  26. David says

    Hi Rabbi Cohen

    I hope you continue to share your thoughts and understanding of Torah here at T2U from time to time. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing you speak and yes even your perspective on the Oral Law, I learned something new and if anyone were to ask me I’d say thats something good.

  27. Jeremy Childs says

    Aloha Jono and Rabbi Eli!

    Do you folks have another program in the queue? I’ve genuinely enjoyed the alternative perspective that you bring, Rabbi Eli! And I truly appreciate your unbiased approach, Jono, when you present us with programs like this! Good, solid stuff!

    Abundant Blessings!!!

  28. Karen Harvey says

    I’ve really missed new teachings with Rabbi Cohen the past two weeks. I truly hope he will continue to share the knowledge he has with us. I find his perspective informative and refreshing.

  29. Raphael says

    Hi Annelise

    Thanks for your questions. It gave me a lot to think about. Sha’ul says we should always be ready to give an answer regarding our faith. Truth be told, I am at yet another turning point in my faith and this time it will take me much longer getting around all the traps and “red tape” untill I will be able to say: “This is what I believe to be the truth!”.
    Yes, I also come from a trinitarian church for more than 30 years, but I have to say that my continued study of the whole bible made the transition so much faster once the scales fell from my eyes.
    I do believe that the B’rit Chadasah is definitely meant to be studied from a Torah-perspective – then Sha’ul is actually making some sense (as soon as we can get rid of our Greek mindsets).
    Regarding Yeshua as THE moshiach: The undeniable fact is that he existed and that people wrote about him and that people honestly believed him to be the long awaited moshiach. How much of what is written is correct is for me (and you) to earnestly investigate. How important it is, is still a question that I need to answer myself.

  30. Borris says

    I visited the Newtown Synagogue yesterday and was welcomed warmly, met very interesting people, ate great food and had fascinating conversation. I’m not Jewish but have a love for the Hebrew Bible – I’m looking forward to going back on Monday for Hebrew lessons.

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