- Free Interpretation of Torah
- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- What is the Torah's view on whether we have free rights
to interpret the Torah and it's laws as we see fit?
- Today, many people say, "I follow what laws I can, and
interpret (follow) the Torah in my own way". Or, "I
have to be comfortable with my Judaism. Maybe its good
for some people when all the laws are followed, but that's not
for me". And, "G-d knows that I'm doing my best."
- In response to this last statement, I say, G-d knows man
perfectly. He designed us, and possesses the foreknowledge that
man would make this claim. In response, G-d stated in the Torah
(Deut. 29:18) that if one says,"Ki b'shrirus libi alaich",
"because I go in the councils of my heart", he will
not be safeguarded from the curses of G-d written therein. Meaning,
if one 'feels' that something is correct, while it opposes Torah,
this "following of one's heart" (one's own understandings)
will cause his inevitable destruction.
- If one posits that there is a G-d who gave the Torah, these
opinions will be problematical for a few reasons:
- Accurate Transmission of the Law
- The Talmud contains the only valid interpretations
of Jewish Law. As the Torah points out, "Al pi haTorah asher
yorucha", "you shall follow the Torah as they (the
Rabbis) teach you". Meaning, no one but the accepted Rabbis
have the right to interpret Torah law. Additionally, we are not
experiencing a "telephone" scenario of second, third,
and fourth generation of discussions. We are reading the actual
and only discussions of the law. Hence, no distortion.
- Complete Body of the Law
- The Talmud contains the only recorded discussions
of the Rabbis, informing us what the only possibilities of the
theories of the law are. There are no other possible views. No
one can come along after the Talmud and offer another interpretation.
If 3 opinions are listed in a given section in the Talmud, there
are only 3 because a fourth is impossible, given the structure
of the law. If one wants to add more, what he performs or understands
will not be considered Judaism according to all Rabbis from Moses,
throughout the Talmud. The Torah clearly states (Deut. 13:1)
"Every thing which I command you to do, that is what you
should be careful to do. Do not add upon, it and do not detract
- Precise Structure of the Law
- To this, one might feel restricted in his thinking, "I
can't come up with another interpretation?" This response
is generated out of a need to feel unrestricted. The fact is,
we are restricted!
- The Torah, like any other science created by G-d, possesses
a limited a structure. It is not a free system of interpretation.
All interpretations of the Rabbis were based on principles handed
down directly by Moses, from G-d. As G-d created this Torah,
He is the only One Who can tell us how it was written so we understand
His intent. We cannot project our understanding onto Him. If
we are to follow the Torah, it must be by his rules. Similarly,
if one desires to learn the effects of boiling on certain chemicals,
he must reach 212º F . If he only reaches 211º F, he
is not working within chemistry. One degree of deviation from
what boiling is, is not recognized by scientists, or by nature
as "boiling". Here too we are restricted , if we desire
to accurately understand science.
- The same applies to the Torah. It is a science, just as chemistry,
biology, physics, as it is created by the same Creator. Torah
contains the same level of ingenuity in design. This point must
- Additionally, the Torah has built in safeguards against someone
suggesting new interpretations:
- Reading of the Chumash each week to make the passages fluent
on our lips; The meticulous laws governing the writing the Torah;
Laws where to start or end a paragraph in the Torah scroll; Laws
regarding spaces in the Torah scroll; How to write each letter
in the Torah; G-d commanding us to follow the Rabbis, to the
exclusion of any other source for interpretation; G-d has promised
us that the Torah will not leave our mouths ever. G-d guarantees
that what He gave will not be lost. If G-d gave it, He is sure
to make certain that it reaches its goal of surviving all generations.
- If one is honest, and can objectively separate their desire
to be "free of commandments", and takes care to learn
diligently, one will appreciate the wisdom and beauty of the
precise structure which the Torah was created with. It takes
time to uncover, but with a good teacher, one can gain in this
life, from what his Creator intended for him.
- When misinterpreting the Torah, one does not see his mistake
immediately, as is seen in the lab when two chemicals violently
interact. Due to this 'delayed effect' of Torah misinterpretation,
one is wrongly assured of his own interpretations. We must abandon
the attitude that we can casually offer our own interpretations.
I would like to see this same person casually offer his own interpretations
of quantum physics to a board of scientists. Without following
precise rules and theories, which take time to learn and understand,
he will most certainly be laughed out of the lab. Even more so
here, one must be careful not to underestimate the Creator's
precision and numerous rules embedded in the Torah. Addressing
this attitude, King Solomon referred, (Koheles, 5:1) "Don't
be excited (with) your mouth, and do not hasten to bring forth
words before G-d, for God is heaven and you are on Earth, therefore
let your words be few".