Where Will Your Descendants be in Three Generations From Now?


Sample Population Count
Charedi 6.4 3% 100 295 874 2588
3.23 3% 100 151 228 346
Conservative 1.82 37% 100 62 38 24
Reform 1.72 53% 100 51 26 13
Unaffiliated 1.62 72% 100 36 13 5

The above statistics are taken from various studies, among them those done by Anthony
Gordon & Richard Horowitz, and written about in such places as “Moment,” “The Jewish
Spectator,” “The Jewish Observer,” and The Vanishing American Jew, by Alan Dershowitz.

Origins of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox


TRACING THE TREE OF LIFE by Lawrence Keleman

JEWISH ACTION, Summer 1999, pp 17-21

333 7th Ave, New York, NY 10001


The path to Orthodoxy is long and labyrinthine. Does G-d exist? Did He give the Torah? Did He also provide an oral tradition? Like many Jews rediscovering their heritage, I had to confront and resolve each of these challenges.

Eventually, we pre-baalei teshuvah [returnees to Judaism] arrive at the denominational
crossroads. Convinced of the Torah’s Divine origin and aware that, to be decipherable, the Pentateuch must have been given with an oral explanation, I sought the Jewish movement in possession of that ancient mesorah [oral tradition].


Working chronologically, I began with the Orthodox. About 2,000 years before the Reform and Conservative movements arrived on the scene, Orthodox sages recorded the claim that the oral tradition was received from G-d at [Mount] Sinai in [the year] 1,248 B.C.E. and passed down intact to the sages of the Mishnah(1). Later Talmudic texts affirm a belief in a G-d-given oral tradition(2), as do the writings of medieval and post-medieval Orthodox scholars(3).

Although the Sadducees and the Karaites rejected the oral tradition of the Orthodox, secular scholars concur that these groups were short-lived splinters off the historical mainstream of Orthodoxy(4). Until today, Orthodoxy claims, the oral tradition has been passed down intact, parent-to-child and teacher-to-student(5). Theoretically, the Orthodox could possess the original oral tradition.


The second-oldest extant Jewish movement is Reform. The grandfather of Reform was
Moses Mendelssohn (1729 — 1786). Although Mendelssohn never publicly rejected the oral tradition’s Divine origin, perhaps portentously, four out of six of Mendelssohn’s surviving children converted to Christianity(6).

In a parallel event, one of Mendelssohn’s greatest students, David Friedlander (1765-1834), wrote to Pastor Teller, Counsellor of the Prussian Ministry of Religion, on behalf of himself and several other Jewish householders, offering to join the Lutheran Church. Only after Pastor Teller rejected Friedlander’s request for conversion did this student of Mendelssohn set himself to reforming his own religion(7).

What Mendelssohn hesitated to say publicly about mesorah [the Divinely revealed oral
traditions of the Jewish People], Abraham Geiger (1810-1874), the most influential of
Reform’s second generation, boldly proclaimed. In 1837, Geiger called the first Reform
rabbinical conference in Weisbaden, Germany, and declared:

 «The Talmud must go, the Bible, that collection of mostly so beautiful and exalted HUMAN books, as a divine work must also go.(8)«

With this declaration, Reform became the first known group in 3,100 years of Jewish history to deny the Torah’s Divine origin(9). The Reform [also] rejected the mesorah.

Shortly after Geiger organized German Reform, his American counterpart, Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900) launched the movement in the New World. In an 1850 debate at the Charleston synagogue, he declared that he didn’t believe in a personal messiah or in bodily resurrection(10), both of which were pillars of the Jewish oral tradition(11).

In 1857, Wise published a new prayer book which omitted the traditional prayers for a return to [the land of] Zion, the rebuilding of the temple, etc., paving the way for Reform’s official declaration of anti-Zionism at the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885(12). Wise went on to found the Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College, and at their first graduation ceremony in 1883, Wise served «Little Neck Clams, Filler de Boef, Salade de Shrimps, Grenoiles (frogs legs) a la Creme, and Ice Cream.(13)«

In mid-November 1885, Dr. Kaufman Kohler convened the Pittsburgh conference of Reform leaders, hoping to formally establish official Reform positions on a range of subjects. Kohler attempted to set the conference’s tone with statements like,

 «We consider [the Holy Scriptures] composition, their arrangements and their entire contents as the work of men, betraying in their conceptions the shortcomings of their age;(14)» and «We must discard the idea as altogether foreign to us, that marriage with a Gentile is not legal.(15)«

In his opening statement to the conference, Kohler told the assembly:

«I do not for a moment hesitate to say it right here and in the face of the entire Jewish world that… circumcision is a barbarous cruelty which disfigures and disgraces our ancestral heirloom and our holy mission as priests among mankind. The rite is a remnant of African life… Nor should children born of intermarriage be viewed any longer exclusively by the primitive national standard which determines the racial character of the child only by the blood of the mother… I can no longer accept the fanciful and twisted syllogisms of Talmudic law as binding for us… I think, if anywhere, we ought to have the courage to emancipate ourselves from the thralldom of Rabbinical legality(16).

With few modifications, the conference unanimously adopted Dr. Kohler’s proposed
Pittsburgh Platform. The Reform movement thus accepted «as binding only the moral laws» of Judaism, rejecting, «all such as not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.» The platform swept away Jewish dietary laws because «they fail to impress the modern Jew.» Kohler was then selected to be president of the Hebrew Union College, and a year later he declared,

«There is no justification whatsoever for… the most precious time of the student to be spent upon halachic discussions… [and] the inane discussions that fill so many pages of the Babylonian Gemara.(17)«

Under Kohler, the HUC preparatory department required no Talmud study, although students were asked to take courses in New Testament and Koran(18). Kohler referred to Reform Jewry as, «We who are no longer bound to the Shulhan Aruk.(19)» Within Reform circles, the mesorah was then not only lost; it was anathema.

By 1972, Reform had drifted to the extreme. A survey commissioned that year by the Central Conference of American [Reform] Rabbis, reported that «Only one in ten [Reform] *RABBIS* states that he believes in G-d in the more or less traditional Jewish sense.(20)«

The remaining 90% [of Reform *RABBIS*] classified their faith with terms like: «Agnostic», «Atheist», «Bahai in spirit, Judaic in practice», «Polyoxist», «Religious Existentialist» and «Theological Humanist»(21).

During the 1990 Central Conference of American [Reform] Rabbis’ debate on the ordination of professed homosexuals, an HUC professor reminded the committee that Leviticus 18 calls homosexual acts an abomination; but a member of the majority easily disposed of his objection, saying,

«It’s pretty late in the day for scripture to be invoked at CCAR debates.(22)«

The same year, about 25% of Reform leaders under age 40 had married gentiles(23). By 1991, the overall intermarriage rate among Reform Jews had topped 60%(24).


A debate had long raged among Reform activists over the pace at which Judaism should
evolve. While Abraham Geiger felt that reformers should ACTIVELY lead the community
away from «outdated» beliefs and practices, his colleague Zacharias Frankel, whom many cite as the Conservative movement’s intellectual ancestor, felt that progressive leadership would build resentment and stimulate rebellion, and therefore: «the reformer’s task was simply to confirm the abandonment of those ideas and practices which the community set aside.(25)«

Thus Frankel wrote(26):

«The means [of transformation] must be grasped with such care, thought through with such discretion, created always with such awareness of the moment in time, that the goal will be reached unnoticed, that the forward progress will seem inconsequential to the average eye.»

This in-house debate continued through the period of the Hebrew Union College banquet and the publication of the Pittsburgh Platform. Reform’s accelerating leaps away from Jewish tradition jarred those who preferred Frankel’s more subtle approach, and these conservatives branched off to form a new movement — Conservative Judaism. In 1886, they founded the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, named for Frankel’s Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau(27). An article printed in the new institution’s magazine declared that JTS would steer a course between «stupid Orthodoxy and insane Reform.(28)«

As a branch off of Reform, then new Conservative group possessed no more affinity to
mesorah than their parent movement. Solomon Schechter (1849-1915), who took over JTS in 1902, violated the Sabbath publicly(29) and wrote that «the three Rs» stood for «rotten ranting rabbis.(30)» Conservative historians say that Schechter’s successor, Cyrus Adler (1863-1940) «shared the anti-clerical bias.(31)«

Reform scholars laud the next head of the Conservative seminary, Louis Finkelstein
(1895-1991), for creating «a new willingness on the [Jewish Theological] Seminary’s part to apply [secular] critical method to the study of [C]Humash.(32)» Under Finkelstein’s guidance, JTS organized an essay competition in 1959 on the theme «The Traditions in Genesis 1:1 — 25:17 — Resemblances to, Dependancies Upon, and Contrasts With Traditions of Other People(33)» and by 1970 Finkelstein had introduced an advanced Bible seminar whose course description promised «an analysis of the various sources of the Pentateuch.(34)«

Finkelstein’s progressive approach had instant practical consequences: Despite the Biblical prohibition on lighting fires on the Sabbath,(35) the Rabbinical Assembly issued a paper permitting driving automobiles to Sabbath [prayer] services(36). Just as its Reform ancestor had, Conservative «Judaism,» was unraveling.

Finkelstein’s wife entirely repudiated her faith and dropped all Jewish observances(37).
Finkelstein’s attitude toward halachah might best be illustrated by his approach to the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh [saving human lives] during World War II. In the period beginning 1938, when many young German Jews applied to JTS to get visas to America, Finkelstein refused to issue letters of acceptance(38). According to history, published by JTS itself:

«The plight of ordinary Jews in Eastern Europe did not occupy Finkelstein’s attention… There is no doubt that Seminary leaders, faculty and students knew of Nazi atrocities against the Jews during World War II. As a member of the American Jewish Committee and the Joint Distribution Committee, Finkelstein regularly received reports about Nazi atrocities… Although moved by the plight of European Jewry, he nevertheless neither responded to direct appeals to participate in protest actions on their behalf nor involved the Seminary in any public activity about the Holocaust.»(39)

The JTS document states, «There is no evidence that the Seminary tried to raise money in order to rescue German Jews by admitting them as students.(40)» Indeed, money was not the obstacle: In 1938 Finkelstein found all the funds necessary to launch the Seminary’s Institute for Inter-denominational Studies, which «brought together Protestant, Catholic and Jewish clergy and scholars for courses on the various religious traditions,(41)» and «during the war Finkelstein sought to expand the Institute, raising money from Littauer, the Warburgs, and other Seminary contributors, and obtaining a $20,000 grant from the New York Foundation.(42)«

In 1943, when asked why he was diverting critical resources to interfaith dialogue while
European Jewry was being exterminated, Finkelstein explained that the Interfaith Institute «has evoked such high praise in many quarters, and has done such effective work, that I am sure all of us agree it must be kept open and expanded at all costs.(43)«

When the Holocaust ended, Finkelstein’s interest in international affairs was suddenly
kindled. Citing a letter he wrote to the New York Times on 11 August 1945, the Seminary
history boasts that Finkelstein’s concern for brotherhood and democracy prompted him to extend sympathy also to the Germans, and he urged the Allied occupation forces to treat them benignly.»(44)

Gerson Cohen (1924-1991), Finkelstein’s successor, spent most of his career fighting for the ordination of women rabbis. Cohen was initially opposed to such a radical departure from tradition(45); but when a JTS-commissioned survey found that synagogue members favored women’s ordination, Cohen did an immediate about face(46). Cohen was initially stymied by the opposition of the entire JTS Talmud staff; but he dealt with this problem by creating an independent commission to decide the issue and awarding only one (of 14) commission seats to a JTS Talmud staff member(47). Half the commission seats were given to laypeople(48). Cohen confided to his friends that he would «try to ram the commission’s report down the faculty’s throats.(49)» HUC’s Ellenson and Bycel observed that:

«The [Jewish Theological] Seminary — in deciding to ordain women as rabbis — broke
dramatically with whatever remained of its Orthodox roots.(50)«Ismar Schorsch, JTS’ current Chancellor, admitted in 1986 that all of the Conservative clergy’s ties to the past, to the mesorah, have been broken:

«There is almost no common denominator between the profession of the modern
[Conservative] Rabbi… and the [Jewish] religious leadership of the Middle Ages.(51)«

David Lieber, once president-emeritus of the JTS branch in Los Angeles and president of the International Association of Conservative Rabbis, offers these (by now trite) confessions: «I do not believe in the literal divine authorship of the Torah(52),» and «I do not believe The Law in its details to be of divine origin.(53)«JTS Professor of Jewish Philosophy Neil Gillman describes the [Conservative] movement’s position more eloquently: «The biblical account of the revelation is classic myth… Torah then represents the canonical statement of our myth.(54)«And again, disconnection from the mesorah has practical consequences. At the 1980 convention of Conservative rabbis, Harold Kushner, one of the movement’s most influential leaders, offered these sober observations:(55)

Is the Conservative movement halachic? Not «Should it be halachic?,» not «Would the world be better, would my job be easier, more gratifying if it were?» But «Is it?» And the answer is that it is obviously not. Conservative Judaism is not halachic because Conservative Jews are not halachic, and increasingly even Conservative rabbis are not halachic.

Although it takes time, lack of mesorah eventually corrupts observance; and lax observance stimulates spiraling assimilation. In the Conservative movement today, we see the beginnings of the spiritual and demographic unraveling that rips apart any Jewish movement disconnected from mesorah: One study found that 4% of Conservative Jews rediscover Orthodoxy each year, 13% move into Reform, and 35% drop all Jewish affiliation; another [study] found that 37% intermarry(56).


The Conservative movement splintered twice, spinning off the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Seminary in 1968 and the Institute for Traditional Judaism in 1985.

Reconstructionists, led by JTS professor Mordechai Kaplan, broke off to the left, jettisoning belief in the supernatural altogether(57).

The Institute for Traditional Judaism, led by JTS Professor David Weiss Halivni, broke off to the right, arguing that G-d had given something to Moses at Sinai, but that the original revelation had been corrupted and lost during the Babylonian exile(58).

According to Weiss Halivni, the Torah represents only a sixth-century B.C.E. man-made
guess as to the original materiel’s form and content. According to both groups, we do not possess a G-d given Torah, let alone a Divine oral tradition explaining the Pentateuch.


Analysis complete, I stepped back to witness Orthodoxy flowing straight through history, reiterating in each generation its ancient claim to a Divine [Divinely-Revealed] Torah and oral tradition. Reform branched off two centuries and immediately confessed that it had no mesorah. Indeed, it intended to reform what it had received. Reform passed its lack of mesorah to Conservative, who bequeathed the same to its left-wing and right-wing splinter groups.

Today, not only does Orthodoxy claim to possess the G-d given solution, their demographic performance attests to it. Even in the midst of the worst assimilation in recorded Jewish history, today’s Orthodoxy produces the lowest intermarriage rate (2%) and boasts not only the largest day-school enrollment rate, but also the largest adult enrollment in rabbinical seminaries (over 10,000)(59).

Moreover, I saw that even Orthopraxy-without-mesorah — Jewish learning and mitzvah
observance conducted without intimate connections to the previous generations’s sages (Mendelssohn-style) — eventually decays, producing increasingly assimilated «movements,» until nothing is left physically and spiritually of Judaism and its carriers.

Today, I realized, there are only two groups: Orthodox who possess mesorah, and everyone else who doesn’t(60).

Finally, perhaps crucially, I permitted myself a personal immersion in the world of mesorah. I entered a community of sages and detected what thousands before me found: a profound sincerity that even the leaders among the non-Orthodox admit they can not replicate. HUC Professor of Jewish Religious Thought, Eugene Borowitz, thus offers this confession(61):

«When the Bible was G-d’s book and the Oral Torah had been given to Moses at Mount Sinai, there was no question why we should give them reverent attention.

They were G-d’s own communications and, in a time when there no longer was prophecy, the best way one could be in touch with the Divine. When Reform Judaism insisted that the various books of the Torah tradition were largely human creations, that had the advantage of allowing unprecedented innovation. It also devalued the old texts and made them less sacred.

A simple experience brought the point home to me tellingly. I was teaching in a group
together with… an Orthodox scholar. After reading a rabbinic passage to the group he put his book down on a desk, but so near the edge that it became unbalanced and fell off . He quickly retrieved it, kissed it, and put it more carefully on the desk, not stopping the development of the theme he was presenting. Kissing books, particularly when they have fallen, is a nice old Jewish custom which reflects very much more than respect for authors and publishers. It is related to our belief that our books derive ultimately from G-d — that in loving G-d one must love G-d’s words, the Oral and Written Torah.

I wonder if Liberal Jews with their sense of the humanity of our sacred literature could ever come to such regard for Torah that — leaving aside their sense of propriety — they could ever think of kissing one of its volumes.»

I cried the first time I saw a yeshiva daven [pray] — ordinary, but sincere people pouring forth their hearts in whispered praise and pleas, the way their teachers and teachers’ teachers had for centuries.

I was dumbfounded watching Orthodox businessmen arrive in the beis medrash [study room] at 5:00 A.M. to pore over daf hayomi [daily page of Talmud] — a feat that many
non-Orthodox rabbis are incompetent to perform — and touched when I found that they also returned after work each evening to prepare with their rebbe [teacher] for the next morning’s class.

I remember vividly the first time I accompanied Tomche Shabbat — an unlikely conspiracy of teenagers, young professionals and elderly sages — on their way to furtively deliver crates of challahs, grape juice and chicken to the community’s needy every erev Shabbat; and I recall trembling when I discovered that such an organization exists (and has always existed) in Orthodox communities around the world.

I will never forget the intense concern that filled my teacher’s bright eyes when, stroking his white beard, he read me the Talmudic passage, «If a man masters the entire Bible and Talmud, but fails to make intimate connections with the previous generation’s sages, he forever remains an ignoramus.(62) I will never forget how he held my hand and whispered, «You must always have a rebbe.»

It was with this portrait before me that I returned to Orthodoxy, to mesorah, and to a world of promise and awe — a world in which my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will touch Divinity and, with reverence and passion, lovingly kiss their sefarim [holy books].


1. For example, see Pirke Avot 1:1-2.

2. For example, see Talmud, Tractate Berachot 5A, Shabbat 31A, Megillah 19B and Gittin

3. Maimonides’ Introduction To Seder Zeraim.

4. See Josephus, Antiquities XIII:7, Hyam Macoby, Revolution In Judaea (New York;
Taplinger Publishing Company, 1973) pp 55-74; Leon Nemoy, Karaite Anthology (New
Haven; Yale Univ. Press, 1952).

5. For example, see Rabbi D. Z. Hoffman, Die Erste Mischna (Berlin, 1882), p 3, and H.
Chaim Schimmel, The Oral Law (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1987) pp 19-35.

6. Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study (University of Alabama Press: 1973) pp 4-5, 98.

7. David Rudavsky, Modern Jewish Religious Movements: A History of Emancipation and
Adjustment (New York: Behrman House, 1967) pp 156-7.

8. Michael A. Meyer, Response To Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in
Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) p 91.

9. Even the Sadducees, Karaites and Christians professed belief in the Torah’s Divine origin; they only rejected the Orthodox oral tradition.

10. David Rudavsky, Modern Jewish Religious Movements: A History of Emancipation and Adjustment (New York: Behrman House, 1967) pp 288.

11. Maimonides’ Introduction To Perek Chelek (Tractate Sanhedrin), Foundations # 12 and # 13.

12. While the historical mainstream clung tightly to the dream of a return to Zion for
[approximately] 2,000 years of exile, the fifth item in the [Reform] Pittsburgh Platform
declares, «We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.»

The [Reform] movement softened its position in the 1937 Columbus Platform, but still feared offering enthusiastic encouragement through the return from the Diaspora: «In all lands where our people live, they assume and seek to share loyally the full duties and responsibilities of citizenship… [yet] in the rehabilitation of Palestine we behold the promise of renewed life for many of our brethren.»

In its 1976 San Francisco Platform, the Reform movement echoed this limited Zionism, «We encourage aliyah for those who with to find maximum personal fulfillment in the cause of Zion,» immediately adding, «We demand that Reform Judaism be unconditionally legitimized in the State of Israel.»

13. See John J. Appel, «The Trefa Banquet,» Commentary, February 1966, pp 75-78.

14. Walter Jacob, ed., The Pittsburgh Platform in Retrospect: The Changing World of Reform
Judaism, (Pittsburgh: Rodef Shalom Congregation Press, 1985) p 104.

15. Ibid, p 112.

16. Ibid, p 101.

17. Jack Wertheimer, ed., Tradition Reviewed: A History of the Jewish Theological
Seminary of America, volume 2, (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America,
1997) p 550.

18. Tradition Reviewed, volume 2, p 551.

19. Ibid, p 550.

20. Theodore I. Lenin and Associates , Rabbis and Synagogue in Reform Judaism, (West
Hartford: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1972) pp 98-99.

21. Ibid

22. Milton Himmelfarb, «What Do American Jews Believe» symposium, Commentary,
August 1996, p 35.

23. Elliot Abrams, Faith or Fear, (New York: Free Press, 1997) p 108.

24. Egon Mayer, «Jewish Continuity in an Age of Intermarriage,» in Symposium on
Intermarriage and Jewish Continuity, vol 1, Council of Jewish Federations General
Assembly, Baltimore, Nov 21, 1991.

25. Michael A. Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in
Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) p 91.

26. Ibid, p 86.

27. Tradition Renewed, vol 2, p 57.

28. American Hebrew 57:18 (6 Sepetember 1895), p 426. In the history of Conservative
Judaism published by the Jewish Theological Seminary, American Hebrew is described as
«an unofficial voice for the [Jewish Theological] Seminary, indeed an arm of Seminary
propaganda and publicity» (Tradition Renewed, vol 1, p 38).

29. Ibid, p 60.

30. Ibid, p 68.

31. Ibid, p 56.

32. David Ellenson and Lee Bycel, «A Seminary of Sacred Learning: The JTS Rabbinical
Curriculum in Historical Perspective,» in Tradition Renewed, vol 2, p 559. Ellenson is
Professor of Jewish Religious Thought at HUC-Jewish Institute of Religion [Reform] in LA,
where Rycel is Dean.

33. Ibid

34. Ibid

35. Exodus 35:3

36. Tradition Renewed, vol 2, p 420.

37. Ibid, vol 1, p 530.

38. Marsha L. Rozenblit, «The Seminary During the Holocaust Years,» in Tradition
Renewed, vol 2, p 278-9. Rozenblit is Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University
of Maryland, College Park.

39. Ibid, p 282-289.

40. Ibid, p 279.

41. Ibid, p 286.

42. Ibid, p 287.

43. Ibid

44. Ibid, pp 295-6.

45. Ibid, p 489.

46. Ibid, p 497-9.

47. Ibid, p 492-5.

48. Commission members included: Victor Goodhill (Professor of Otoloic Research, UCLA); Marion Siner Gordon (Attorney); Rivkah Harris (Assyriologist); Milton Himmelfarb
(American Jewish Committee); Francine Klagsbrun (Author); Harry Plotkin (Attorney); and Norman Redlich (Dean, NYU Law School).

49. Tradition Renewed, vol 2, p 502.

50. Ibid, p 574.

51. Ibid, p 575.

52. David Lieber, «What American Jews Believe» symposium, Commentary, Aug 1996, p 53.

53. David Lieber, «The State of Jewish Belief» symposium, Commentary, Aug 1966, p 116.

54. Neil Gillman, «What American Jews Believe» symposium, Commentary, Aug 1996, p 23.

55. Harold Kushner, «Is the Conservative Movement Halachic?» in Proceedings Of The 1980
Convention (Rabbinical Assembly, 1980).

56. North American Jewish Data Bank data extrapolated from the 1990 National Jewish
Population Survey. See also Chaim I. Waxman, American Jews in Transition (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983), p 186.

57. Mordecai Kaplan, Judaism As A Civilization (New York: The Macmillian Co, 1934) pp

58. David Weiss Halivni, Revelation Restored (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997) pp 1-10.

59. Elliot Abrams, Faith or Fear (New York: The Free Press, 1997) pp 166-197. See also M.
Herbert Danzger, Returning To Tradition: The Contemporary Revival of Orthodox Judaism (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1983).

60. The non-Orthodox editors of Commentary made the same observation in the introduction to their 1996 symposium The State Of Jewish Belief: «Reading the responses, one sees that the true division is between Orthodox and non-Orthodox. Cover the identifications of the non-Orthodox and what they write will not usually give you a clue to a Reform or a Conservative affiliation.»

61. Eugene Borowitz, Reform Judaism Today (New York: Behrman House, 1977) p 133.

62. Talmud, Tractate Brachot 47B.

The Platforms of Some Jewish Denominations

I love all Jews. We are required to by the Torah.

I did not wish to write this article, but people keep sending me letters asking me about the platforms of the various Jewish demoninations.

I am not absolutely certain of anything but the Orthodox and original teachings (and I welcome corrections from anyone who can furnish proof), but here’s what I have gleaned about the major Jewish denominations, from information I gleaned from their own websites. Bear in mind that there are probably other groups as well, and some of them comprise subsets within them. (And I just might write an article about the subsets in Orthodox Judaism, some time in the future.) But basically, here is what the main groups are about.

A precautionary word: Orthodox Judaism believes that all Jews are Jews, no matter what they believe or do. We do not accept non-Orthodox teachings as valid, but a Reform (or Conservative, or Reconstructionist, or whatever) Jew is still a Jew.

Orthodox (the original Judaism): We affirm that the Torah — which includes both the Oral and the Written — was created by G-d and taught to Jews. Changes are never necessary, as Torah Law can be applied to any situation.

This has been proven to be true. I live that life, and I know it is true.

Conservative: They assert that the Torah was created by people (Jews) with Divine Guidance. They believe that the Written and the Oral Torah were created at different times, by men, despite the fact that it is impossible to understand either of them without the other.

Each generation, according to the Conservative, is likewise given Divine Guidance to make «necessary» changes.

Changes are instituted to bring their thinking in line with the philosophical thought of the dominant culture, despite the fact that Judaism has never done this. (Though, of course, numerous deviant cults among the Jews have always done this throughout history. None of those cults exist anymore as such, if at all. Some examples were: The Sadducees, the Boethusians, the Chitzonim, the Hellenizers, and the Jewish-Christians. Christianity exists today only because that group split off entirely and became a completely different religion. At no time was any deviant philosophy accepted into mainstream Judaism.)

Conservative Judaism came about as a break-off group from Reform, by people who felt that Reform was leaving traditional Judaism at too fast a pace. They agreed with the Reform that Jews should leave traditional and original Judaism, but they felt it should be done more slowly. I’m not sure why.

Reform: Essentially, they believe that you get to decide what to believe. The Torah, they claim, is man-made entirely, and has been continually changed and adapted, despite all evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, despite the fact that the Torah and history show that Judaism has never tolerated dissenters to the Torah’s opinion, they have the chutzpah (gall) to claim that Judaism has always been pluralistic, that the Torah supposedly has never demanded «uniformity of belief or practice.» This, of course, is obviously baloney. Take one cursory look at almost any chapter of the entire Tanach (Jewish Bible), and you’ll find recriminations against people who have even slightly deviated from the Torah’s teachings, even if they adhered to everything else.

According to their latest platform, the Reform do not believe in Heaven or Hell, but they believe in the immortal soul. (I guess the immortal soul suffers from boredom for all eternity, since there is no actual place for the soul to go. <shrug>)

According to surveys taken in the past, a high percentage of Reform «rabbis» do not believe that G-d exists. Nevertheless, Reform believes, officially, that all Jews have an obligation (who created this obligation, I cannot imagine) to study «the traditions,» and then choose what works for them. Ultimately, however, the Reform say it is more a question of «keeping in touch with your roots,» than it is a way of serving Hashem. How this can be said to be the same as the original Judaism, I cannot imagine. It’s not even similar to Judaism in any way. (But yes, they are still Jews, if their mothers are Jewish.)

About ten years ago, a friend of mine who was Reform said it is against Reform teachings to disbelieve in G-d, and that it is impossible to be Reform and not believe in G-d. Maybe that was the official stance, but that was not the way it was in practice, since all my other Reform friends at the time did not believe in G-d. (And yes, they were and are still my friends.) Furthermore, a board of Reform rabbis has recently ruled that congregations who have removed G-d from their prayer books are still eligible for inclusion in the Reform Movement. Which is not to say that they condone or encourage it. They don’t. At least not officially. But as far as the official Reform platform goes, if you don’t believe in G-d, you are still religiously compatible with Reform beliefs.

Reconstructionist: They believe that if there is something you do not understand in the Torah, it means that you are correct, and the Torah is wrong. They say that in ancient times the Jews were very primitive, but we evolved, and kept changing our Torah, as the world’s societies evolved. (Again, it assumes that we keep in concert with Gentile philosophy, and that we have never known anything about morals and ethics that the Gentiles didn’t teach us. The truth is actually closer to the other way around, though not entirely.) Reconstructionists love to say «the past has a vote, not a veto.» If you don’t like what the Torah says, do what YOU like doing. Poof! Gone is the discipline the Torah teaches, because you don’t have to obey anyone at all except yourself, and, of course, the Gentile philosophers who have shaped modern-day thinking.

By contrast, Orthodox Judaism teaches that if you want to do the right thing, study the Torah. Everything you need to know about how to live properly is in the Torah. By Torah, we also include everything that the Rabbis have taught in concert with the Torah, because that is part of the original Torah. The Rabbis did not make anything up. All the Torah was created by G-d 2000 years before He created the universe. G-d gave us, the Children of Israel, all of the Torah, and we have transmitted the Torah down through the ages to this generation, and we shall, with G-d’s help, continue to do so with our own children, and theirs, and so on, as long as the universe shall last.

(Again, let me reiterate: All Jews are Jews, no matter what they
believe or do
, even if they belong to Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist congregations. The only exception is that if a Jew becomes an idolater he loses his connection to the greater Jewish «Family,» though he is still required to repent and return to Judaism. For example, a Jew that becomes a Christian loses his identity as a member of the Jewish Family, even though he is still Jewish, and sins every moment that he is Christian. By Jewish Law, Christianity is permitted to Gentiles, but is considered idolatry for Jews. (Please note that the Jewish legal term of idolatry is better translated as «foreign adherence,» and applies to any religion or belief system that Judaism considers such, and therefore even applies to atheism, which technically has no «worship» at all.)

When he returns to Judaism, he returns to the «family.» A Jew who has joined or was born into a Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist group is still a Jew in all things.I repeat, he is still a Jew. However, the teachings of those groups do not constitute true Judaism. They are a deviation from the original Judaism. But their members are still Jews. I don’t care what you have heard or read that Orthodox Rabbis supposedly said. They never said it, and it isn’t true even if they had said it, which they didn’t. Jews are always Jews.)

What Can’t Jewish Law be Altered?

Why Can’t We Change the Rules?

Answer: Because they don’t need to be.

There is a very common fallacy argued by many people. They contend that people change, therefore the rules should change. This is a logical argument, and should not be ignored. It deserves discussion.

The truth is that the only major thing that changes about people is their opinions. People do not change, and truth does not change. People are motivated by essentially the same things by which we have always been motivated. People have essentially the same desires we have always had. Human nature has stayed exactly the same, and this is why people say that history repeats itself.

The only thing that really changes from culture to culture and from time to time is what public opinion holds to be right and wrong. And that is the basic flaw in popular cultural mores. Malleable moral standards are fallacious and unreal concepts. Anything transitory cannot be fundamentally true.

However, Judaism believes that G-d created the Torah first, and used the Torah as a blueprint from which to design the universe. Thus, the Laws of the Torah are as eternal as the universe.

Throughout all the ages, the Jews have been exiled in many lands. The Egyptians practiced incest. The Jews maintained that incest is wrong. We still do, and we always will.

The French have no qualms about extra-marital affairs. Rabbinical works of long ago mention this as a problem centuries ago. The Jews maintained it was wrong. We still do.

There were cultures that practiced theft and crookedness to degrees that would put Ferengi to shame. The Jews have always maintained it is wrong. We still do.

I am not claiming that we have never had sinners who practiced these and other immoral acts. But we never changed Judaism to reflect the mores of other cultures, or of the dominating society.

I once met a Jewish woman who insisted that it was time for Orthodox Judaism to modernize, as she had. She couldn’t exactly explain what she meant by «modernize,» but subsequent discussion revealed that she was completely unobservant, and had finally become reconciled with the fact that her daughter had married a gentile.

This was the modernization we should embrace? The loss of our culture through syncretism and assimilation? The adoption of popular culture and ideals, to the detriment of our own?

The fallacy is in thinking that Judaism actually once fitted into society, but is now outdated. Actually, we have never fit into «society,» nor were we ever supposed to.

When the Jews were in Egypt, we kept ourselves separate. We dressed differently, we did not intermarry with unconverted Egyptians, we spoke our own language, and we kept our own names.

When the Jews were exiled to Babylon, after the Destruction of the First Holy Temple, we still kept ourselves separate from the Gentiles. We dressed differently, we kept only Jewish names, we spoke our own dialect, and we observed the Torah as best we could under the circumstances. This is what we do today, and what we have done in every exile we have endured. Had we not done so, we would have assimilated into the Babylonian culture, and not remained Jews.

When we were returned to the Holy Land, to rebuild the Second Temple, there eventually arose a group that insisted we «modernize.» We must join the world’s general movement towards enlightenment and acceptance, they said. Yes, That means assimilating; yes, that means watering down the Torah; but the time has come to alter the Torah. We must join the world and be accepted. So they insisted.

They were called Hellenisers, because they imitated the Greeks. Modernize, they said. Don’t be so rigid and different. But we resisted, and we kept the Torah. That’s how Chanukah came to be. The Hellenisers and the ancient Greek culture are all gone today; but we still exist — we who stood apart.

The Romans came to the foreground of world politics, and similar movements sprung up. Still we resisted. The ancient Roman culture no longer exists; the Jews do.

The American culture will some day go the way of all its predecessors. It, too, with all its imitators, will dissipate, and be replaced by something even more «modern,» which will in its turn be replaced by something else new.

And we Jews, with our «archaic culture that can never seem to fit in,» will still be here.

So is our culture archaic?

Whatever the society, whatever the abomination, we did not fit in. Judaism never accepted the beliefs and mores or any other culture, thus we were never in step with any other culture.

It would be correct to call us «archaic,» or «outdated,» if there had ever been a time when we were modern and in style. But there never was such a time. We have always been outside of the dominant style and culture. We have never fit in. We have never fit into society, thus we are not archaic. We are timeless.

And the reason? Because no matter how many times the masses change their attitudes and beliefs, right is still right, wrong is still wrong. To us, it does not matter what popular world opinion thinks is right and wrong. And no matter how society has changed, Judaism has always had whatever it needed to meet the challenge. This is why there are no new unanswerable questions in Judaism. Everything is already answered by Judaism! Hashem fashioned Judaism to be able to deal with any situation. There is nothing new under the sun….

If I feel that something is morally wrong, and the Torah says it is morally right, than I am mistaken, not the Torah.

Many people mistakenly think that our life or culture is static and unchanging. This is not true. To the degree that it is static, that is good. It means that we have been keeping our morals, and have not been assimilating. But even Judaism takes into account the changes and tides of societies and peoples.

It is also a mistake to think that «strict and unalterable» means «inflexible.» Judaism is not inflexible. Judaism takes the perfect balance between firmness and flexibility.

Likewise, Judaism takes into account the fact that people have individualistic minds and free choice. A proper study of Judaism will show you this.

Haven’t Rabbis Changed the Laws?

The Rabbis have contended points of Law for centuries. Many people have the impression that the in Talmudic discussions, Laws have been changed countless times. That being the case, why can’t we do the same?

There are really two issues here: the nature of the Rabbinical debates, and our authority to decide Jewish Law. We’ll begin with the first point.

Yes, the Rabbis have contended points of Law, but always on minor details of Laws, never on major issues. Nowhere in the Talmud will you find differences on core matters. If you think you know of any, please cite them to me.

Secondly, each and every disagreement in the Talmud is based on strict and unalterable rules and parameters. Each and every point of view is based on the application of specific established relevant and correct rules in each case.

Thirdly, no one voiced personal opinions based on their emotions and «what feels right.» They based everything on established Halachic precedent.

When, for example, Bais Shammai (the School of Shammai) and Bais Hillel (the School of Hillel) disagree about the lighting of Chanukah lights, it is never about the basic, major concepts of Chanukah that they disagree.

All agree that each household is required to light one light per night for eight nights.

All agree that a higher level is to light one light per person each night.

All agree that the highest level — admirable, but not obligatory — is to vary the number of lights each night.

The problem was that in those days no one could afford to light more than one light per night, so the practice of multiple lights had fallen into disuse. What then was the original Law ordained by the Rabbis two centuries earlier?

Thus, what they differ on is whether to increase the lights or to decrease the lights. Each has a logical theory based on established Talmudic concepts that were applied to other Laws.

Bais Shammai says it should resemble the Biblical Commandments of the Sacrificial offerings of the Succos Holiday, since the Rabbis usually instituted details of Laws in forms that resembled Biblical Law. Since those sacrifices decreased in number, so should the Chanukah lights. We should therefore start with eight and decrease until one.

On the other hand, says Bais Hillel, we have a rule that in holy matters we increase, not decrease. In keeping with this standard, we should start with one light and increase each day.

That is how a disagreement takes place in the Talmud: only on a minor matter, and only between very learned scholars who had good Talmudic reasons for expounding a theory.

The fact that such people can disagree does not give license for the likes of us to abrogate any Law of the Torah because we feel we have the right to disagree.

So it is not correct to say that «Since the Rabbis disagreed, so may we.» Even the Rabbis were cautious before they disagreed with another Rabbi, how much more so must we!

Why Don’t We Rebuild The Holy Temple?

This article is intended to be read after my article «Sacrifices and the Holy Temple

To be sure, if we had the Holy Temple, we would resume the Holy Service, including the offering of sacrifices. So why don’t we rebuild the Holy Temple?

The most obvious answer would seem to be that we can’t for political and safety reasons. The Muslims have control over the Temple Mount, and for us to destroy the Muslims’ holy site to build our own would be a terrible and most dangerous idea. There would be no Jew safe in the entire world, or at least wherever there are Muslims.

When the Messiah comes, may it be soon, this will be resolved in a peaceful way, to everyone’s satisfaction. Don’t ask me how. If I knew how, I would be the Messiah. Obviously, I am not. (Isn’t it refreshing to meet someone on the Internet who is not making outrageous claims about himself?)

However, there are other issues involved. Even if we received the consent of every Muslim in the world to raze or move the various Mosques from the Temple Mount, we still would not be permitted to rebuild the Holy Temple just yet.

Here’s why:

Nowadays it is forbidden to enter the precise area where the Holy Temple used to be, because we are all ritually impure.(1) Whoever does so is violating a Biblical Prohibition punishable by death. In order for any of us to be able to become ritually pure, we would need the ablutions of the ashes of a red cow administered by a Cohen (Priest).(2)

Let us assume we have performed this ritual, and are now pure. Now we need an altar. Just any altar wouldn’t do, it must be in the Temple area.(3) Therefore we must rebuild the altar. (I’ll bypass the problems with that, as they are too complicated to explain.)

The next problem is the location of the Altar. The Law is very precise about just where the Holy Altar must be located. It is forbidden to place the Altar anywhere else. When they built the Second Holy Temple, they had to find reliable witnesses who could testify to the exact spot. They found three such witnesses, the prophets Haggai, Zephaniah and Malachi, but we don’t have any prophets or witnesses today. Thus, until a prophet (we assume that it will probably be Elijah) comes and tells us where to build the Altar (among many other things we need to know first), we cannot build the Holy Altar.(4) The answer to this I shall discuss later, Hashem willing.

Without the Holy Altar it is forbidden to bring sacrifices.

Let us assume we were able to build the Altar, properly, and in the precise location. We would still need a Cohen whose genealogy can be determined absolutely and verified.(5) The answer to this problem I shall discuss later, Hashem willing.

Our next problem is that we must appoint a High Priest, or all Service is forbidden.(6) To appoint a High Priest, we need a Sanhedrin, which is a body of 71 ordained rabbis acting as the Supreme Court of the People Of Israel.(7) We cannot assemble a Sanhedrin, because the Sanhedrin must consist of rabbis ordained with the Mosaic Ordination, which was transmitted from Rabbi to Rabbi since Moses.(8) However, the Mosaic Ordination ceased to exist in the year 358 C.E. because of the persecutions Constantinius perpetrated upon the Jews.(9) This too, I shall answer later, Hashem willing.

There are yet other problems, such as Laws involving the Priestly Garments, the exact measurements of the Temple area, and many, many more, all of which demand as yet undiscovered answers.

And there are other types of concerns as well. The Torah does not even consider it a requirement on our part to rebuild the Holy Temple until most or all the Children of Israel live in the land of Israel. And there is also the matter of the Return of the Ten Tribes to consider, which will be part of our Final Redemption.

When these things have taken place, and we have made lasting peace with our enemies; when all Jews have returned to the Holy Land of Israel, and religious Jews have complete temporal and religious control over the land, then we will know that our Final Redemption has begun, and we can then turn our thoughts towards rebuilding the Holy Temple.

We have a tradition that Elijah the Prophet will arrive and reveal himself to us before the Advent of the Messiah.(10) He will arrive and answer all questions and resolve all doubts.(11) He will reveal to us which families are definitely Cohanim.(12) And he is a recipient of the Ordination Of Moses(13) and can therefore restore the Sanhedrin. And he will bring peace to the world.

Thrice daily, all observant Jews pray: «…and restore the service to the Holy Sanctuary, and the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayer you will accept with love…»

Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, in his work, Moadim Uzmanim,(14) in his treatment of the subject, ends off by saying:

And according to what we have explained at length above, there are innumerable reasons why we do not rebuild the Holy Temple or the Altar, nor bring sacrifices today. Nor does the repossession of the Land of Israel change that Law at all. We are unable, and therefore exempt according to the Law, without a doubt, for many reasons, until the Messiah arrives…G-d forbid that anyone should reconsider or doubt this…And I only discussed these matters out of interest in the subject, due to love of the Holy Temple and the Holy Service.

May the Holy One, Blessed is He, pour upon us a spirit of purity from high above, and may we be found worthy of having G-d’s Holy Manifestation in our midst when G-d returns the Service to His Sanctuary speedily, and with our own eyes may we merit seeing everything straightened out.


1. Mogen Avrohom Orach Chayim 561:2

2. Numbers 19:1-22. For a deeper discussion of the actual Laws and rituals of this process, see Maimonides, Yad, Purity, the first two divisions: The Laws of Impurities, and the Laws of the Red Heifer.

3. Maim. Yad, Laws of Sacrifices 19:1

4. Responsa of the Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim Responsum 208, based on B.T. Zevachim 62a

5. Babylonian Talmud, Yevamos 74b. See also Rav Hai Gaon, Succah, near the end.

6. Maim. Yad, Laws of Entering the Temple 4:15

7. Maim. Yad, Laws of the Utensils of the Temple 4:15

8. Maim. Yad, Laws of Sanhedrin 4:1

9. Zemach Dovid 4118

10. Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 43b

11. Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 13a

12. Mishnayos Eduyos 8:7

13. Maimonides, Introduction to Yad

14. Volume Five, Section «Laws Regarding the Land of Israel,» Responsum 351

Why Do We No Longer Bring Animal Sacrifices?

Quite a large number of people have wrote and asked me the following question, or variations thereto:

Q. It is my understanding that Jews still live under the Law of the Torah. So
when did the Jewish people stop making blood sacrifices and why did they

A. Let me begin by telling you some of the history of sacrifices. The first to offer a sacrifice to Hashem were the brothers Cain and Abel. They brought the sacrifices as praises to Hashem. Cain brought vegetation, which was not a bad idea, since it was the work of his own hands. The problem was that he brought his worst produce, as he did not really wish to bring a sacrifice at all.

Abel, by contrast, brought one of his best animals. Hashem was pleased with his intentions. We all know the result of that incident. Cain later repented his murdering Abel, and he was forgiven. Note, by the way, that Cain did not bring a sacrifice for atonement, and yet he was forgiven his sin.

Many people brought sacrifices to Hashem, for many reasons, and in many places. After the Flood, Noah brought many sacrifices as well.

Abraham, of course, brought sacrifices, and was even willing to sacrifice his son when he thought Hashem wanted him to. Of course, as we know, Hashem had never intended that Abraham actually bring Isaac as a sacrifice, Hashem merely wanted Abraham to think that. Abraham passed the test, and human sacrifice has never become a part of our heritage.

When we, the Children of Israel, received the Torah from Hashem at Mount Sinai, a new era was begun. New Laws came into effect, concomitant with our new status. One of the many new Laws was the Law that we were no longer allowed to bring sacrifices to Hashem just anywhere. Certain sacrifices were permitted on specially hallowed altars, but others had to be brought only in the Tabernacle, the first Sanctuary. That Sanctuary was a mobile Sanctuary, and was intended to be temporary.

When the Children of Israel entered the land of Canaan, whose name Hashem changed to the Land of Israel, the Tabernacle was given a more steady home. Nevertheless, it moved about five times to different places. For a short while, the Holy Ark was in the hands of the Philistines, but the Tabernacle was not moved at that time.

In Shiloh they built a stone building for the Tabernacle, and it stayed there for 369 year. I have heard a rumor that archeologists have found some relics on the site. If that’s true, that would certainly be interesting.

By this time, it was no longer permissible to build altars just anywhere. Now the restrictions were even greater. Certain sacrifices were still permitted at any hallowed altar, but not as many as before. When the two and a half Tribes that lived in Trans-Jordan built an altar, there was an uproar about it, until they explained that the altar was on the order of a banner, a reminder, not a place for sacrifices (see Joshua 22:9-34).

The ultimate plan was for a Holy Temple, where the mobile Sanctuary would find a permanent resting place, so to speak. The Torah explicitly commands that once the Holy Temple is built no sacrifices at all may be brought anywhere else. And that is irrevocable Law. Once the Holy Temple was dedicated and in operation, it was forbidden for Israelites to bring sacrifices anywhere else in the world.

For example, we find that the Torah says, «You may not worship Hashem your G-d in such a manner. This you may do only on the site that Hashem your G-d will choose from among all your tribes to place His Name there. You must seek His Presence, and you must go there. You will bring there your elevated offerings, your eaten sacrifices, your tithes, your hand-delivered elevated gifts, your general and specific pledges, the first born of your cattle and flocks….» (Deut. 12:4-6).

And the Torah continues, «You will not do then what we do here now, where each person does as he sees fit. For you have not yet come to the resting place and hereditary land that Hashem your G-d giving you. When you cross the Jordan and you settle the land that Hashem your G-d is allotting you, and Hashem has granted you safety from all your enemies around you, and you are living securely, there will be a place that Hashem will choose to rest His Name there. It is to there you must bring all that I command you, your burnt elevated offerings, your eaten sacrirfices, your tithes, your elevated gifts, and all your choice pledges that you might pledge to Hashem» (Deut 12:8-11).

As if this were not strong enough, the Torah warns us: «Watch yourself! Lest you bring your burnt elevated offerings in any place you see fit. Only in the place that Hashem will choose, somewhere from among your tribes, there shall your bring your burnt elevated offerings, and there you must do all that I command you concerning this.» (Deut 12:13-14)

Once the Holy Temple was built, we were no longer permitted to bring sacrifices anywhere else.

And the clock could not be moved back. The earlier eras are gone, and cannot
be restored. Once the Holy Temple was built, the Laws of all previous eras and
situations were no longer relevant. That is what the Torah commands.

When King Solomon built the Holy Temple, he prayed that if the Jews get captured and taken away from the land of Israel, they should be able to pray and Hashem should hear their prayers, even when they are not at the Holy Temple (1 Kings 8:46-49). But he explicitly says pray, because outside of the Holy Temple we may not offer any sacrifices.

When the First Holy Temple was destroyed, there was no place to bring sacrifices. It was, in fact, forbidden to bring sacrifices, since there was no Temple. We then asked Hashem, how will we attain atonement? Hashem said, through Hosea: «Take words with you and return to Hashem. Say to Him, ‘Forgive all sin and accept the good we do. We will offer prayer instead of animals» (Hosea 14:3).

And King solomon also teaches us, «He who conceals his sins will not succeed, but he who confesses and abandons them will obtain mercy» (Proverbs 28:13). While it is true that there is more to repentance than that, anyone who follows those two basic instructions — confess your sin to Hashem and stop committing the sin — Hashem will have mercy on that person.

So, where it is impossible to bring sacrifices, we can be forgiven through repentance, confession and prayer. But when it is possible to bring sacrifices, we are required to, and we must. As King David prophesied, «Do good, as You see fit, to Zion. May You rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then will You desire the sacrifices brought by the righteous, burnt offerings and whole offerings; bullocks will then be offered upon Your altar» (Psalms 51:20-21).

After seventy years of Babylonian Exile, just as the Prophet Daniel had promised, the exile ended. Many Jews returned to the Holy Land, and we once again built the Holy Temple. And still it was forbidden to bring sacrifices anywhere else.

420 years later, the Holy Temple was destroyed again, this time by the Romans. Once again, we were in exile. This time, the Rabbis told us, the exile will last very long, and no end date is known.

And when the Messiah comes, the Holy Temple will be rebuilt, and once again we will bring sacrifices on the Holy Altar there, as it says «And the sacrificial offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to Hashem, like in the olden days years ago» (Malachi 3:4).

It is still forbidden to bring sacrifices outside of the Holy Temple. We follow, today, the instructions taught us by King Solomon, the Prophet Hosea and the other Prophets, and we pray without bringing sacrifices.

In addition, when we wish to bring a sacrifice, we study the Laws of the particular sacrifice we wish to bring.

So the short answer to your question is that we can no longer bring Sacrifices because the Torah forbids us to bring any Sacrifices outside of the Holy Temple. Since we have no Holy Temple, and it is impossible for us to rebuild it at this time, we keep praying to Hashem that we should be able to rebuild it soon in peace, and once again be able to bring the Praise and Thanksgiving Sacrifices once again.

Why then, do we not simply rebuild the Holy Temple now? I discuss that in the next article in this series, «Why Don’t We Rebuild The Holy Temple?»

May Judaism Be Changed?

A man, whom I shall call Ted, wrote me and attempted to prove to me through various arguments that Jews have changed Judaism into another religion. I shall, with Hashem’s help, debunk those and other arguments.

First, I want to clarify the basis of the issue. Jewish Law states that in the normal course of things we may not permit what Judaism has forbidden, nor may we repeal or abolish what is obligatory. We may often forbid what is permitted, but not always. There are restrictions on doing that as well. And when we may add a restriction, it must always clearly be a Rabbinical restriction, and never treated as a Biblical restriction.

We consider forbidding the permitted when necessary an ineluctable part of Judaism. It is part and parcel of the process of keeping Judaism alive. And it has worked successfully for over 3,300 years.

However, permitting what was forbidden, or rejecting what was obligatory — those are actually changing Judaism in forbidden ways.

Now to discuss Ted’s points.

Ted’s first «proof» was that we no longer offer animal sacrifices. Therefore, he concluded, there is nothing wrong with changing Judaism. He used this to justify not observing those
elements of Judaism he did not wish to keep.

There are a number of fundamental mistakes with that line of reasoning.

The reason we do not bring sacrifices today is because the Torah forbids us to bring sacrifices anywhere outside of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. (See my article about this, Why Do We No Longer Bring Sacrifices?) Since the Romans destroyed our Temple and sent us into exile it has been forbidden for us to bring sacrifices. Therefore, we are actually
obeying the Torah by not bringing sacrifices. It is certainly not a product of our deliberately changing Judaism. Quite the contrary: it occurred against our will.

Three times a day we pray that Hashem restore to us the land of Israel, the Holy Temple, the Davidic kingdom, true divine rule, the system of Elders and the Sanhedrin (the highest Jewish Court), among other things. When these things are restored to us, the Holy Service at the Temple will be reinstated, and we will once again bring sacrifices. In fact, we pray explicitly for that to happen as well, when we say, three times a day, «Return the Service and the fires of Israel to Your Temple Sanctuary, and their prayers please quickly willingly accept with love…. This is an integral part of the Amidah prayer, which we pray three times a day. (The «fires» is a reference to the fact that some sacrifices were burned on the altar, either completely or in part.)

It is important to understand that our exile was forced upon us by outsiders. The fact that another culture conquered us does not mean that we have the right to change Judaism. If you read analytically what Ted wrote, you will see how his contention is not logical. What Ted was unknowingly saying, when you look at the historical perspective, is this: «Since the Romans kicked us out of the Holy Temple, and against our will we cannot keep the sacrifices, we may therefore willingly change anything we want in the Torah.» How does that follow?

Modern western civilization shies away from the thought of sacrifices. That’s because most people don’t understand the reasons for the sacrifices, and the values that are behind them. (But that’s outside the scope of this article. Perhaps I’ll write about that another time, Hashem willing.) If the Holy Temple stood today, we would bring sacrifices today. And yes, I mean animal sacrifices, as much as that horrifies many «modern» people. The only reason we don’t bring the sacrifices is because we can’t. Judaism, as I have written in other articles, does not follow after the mores and beliefs of the masses. Judaism follows the teachings that Hashem gave us, teachings that Hashem used when He created the universe. Those don’t change by popular demand.

This is not to say that there have been no changes in the way Jews live and behave — as long as it does not affect our religious thought and practice. More importantly, they must bring about increased religious thought and practice, without lessening any other Jewish observance.

Judaism forbids syncretism. Syncretism means taking ideas from people or cultures outside of your religion and adding them to your religion. For example, most of Christianity has been taken from pagan religions. Christianity, in all its forms, is chock full of such examples of syncretism. As Christianity spread, a great deal of cultural exchange took place, and the Christian Church assumed a great deal of pagan ideas and customs. The Egyptian scenes of the goddess Isis and her baby Horus found their way into Christianity as Mary and Jesus through the Copts, who were later Egyptian that became Christians. The pictures of the Madonna and the baby Jesus were simply patterned after much older depictions that originated in ancient Egypt.

The Christian Holiday of Easter began as an adaptation of the Jewish Holiday of Passover. In fact, some branches of Christianity call Easter by the name «Pascha.» But Christians do not celebrate Passover as the Torah tells us to — as the season during which Hashem took us out of Egypt, saved us from being slaves, made us into His people, and elevated us into spiritual beings. In Christianity, Pascha took the pagan form of celebrating the death and ascension of their god, just as a number of other pagan cultures have done. But now, many Christians don’t even call it Pascha at all. They call it Easter, a name that derives from the pagan goddess of spring, Eostre.

Christmas itself actually comes from the Roman Saturnalia, a pagan festival in honor of their god Saturn, and the birthday of the sun. On Saturnalia, Romans exchanged gifts with each other, feasted, lit bright lights, and celebrated the «light returning,» good will for all, and similar festive occasions that filtered into Christianity. When the Germanic tribes were Christianized, some of their rituals and customs were brought into Christianity as well, such as the Yule log. The twelve days of Christmas come from the Germanic twelve-day Yule. Yule was a very ancient pagan holiday celebrated on that day for at least two millennia before Christianity even existed.

Even the Christian day of rest was moved from the seventh day, the day explicitly stated in the Torah as being the Sabbath, to the sun god’s festival day, Sunday. The concept of the trinity comes from various pagan religions, as does the concept of their god dying to wash away their sins. (In fact, very little of Christianity comes from Judaism. What apparently happened was that they took pagan ideas and tried to claim support for them from the Torah.)

These are common examples of syncretism, where a religion has adopted the ideas of other religions, and thus changed. This sort of behavior is forbidden in Judaism. Furthermore, we have never needed to take religious ideas from the Gentiles. We have the Torah, which is so vast, and which tells us everything we need to know about Hashem and how to become the best people we can possibly become. We do not need to learn about it from Gentiles.

There are many things — not religious things — that are worth learning from the Gentiles. As the Rabbis teach us, «If someone says that the Gentiles have knowledge, believe it, because it is true. If someone tells you that the Gentiles have Torah, don’t believe it, because it is not true» (Midrash Eichah Rabbah, 2:13).

So, it is not syncretism if we make use of modern inventions and other products created or developed by other cultures. (You’ll notice I use a computer, and even the Internet.) It is syncretism to adopt religious beliefs, holidays, or other religious practices from other cultures or religions.

For example, wearing clothing that is similar to gentile clothing is not syncretism. In no way has the understanding or practice of Judaism changed because of the clothes we wear, so that is not syncretism. Even Chassidim, the most cloistered sector of Jews, wear clothing that in overall approach is similar to gentile clothing: shirt, pants, jacket, etc. That is not a problem. This is not the syncretism that the Torah forbids.

There is a problem in imitating gentile styles. That is, if many gentiles are now wearing a
certain style of clothing, because it’s the «in» thing, it’s the current fad, then it could often be forbidden to wear it. Certainly, if it identifies someone as being part of a certain non-Jewish culture, it is forbidden for a Jew to wear it.

The Talmud says that there are three essential characteristics in the definition of a nation: clothing, language, and names. A nation is defined by these three attributes. Any dissolving of these attributes is a descent into assimilation. Therefore, Orthodox Jews take Jewish names, pepper our English with Hebrew, Aramaic, and Yiddish words, and wear clothing that differentiates us from the Gentiles.

It is, however, permitted to wear a gentile style after the gentiles have stopped following that fad, since that clothing is no longer associated with that culture.

You may have heard of a Jewish author named Chaim Potok. Potok, a man with no real Jewish knowledge (though he claimed to be a Conservative rabbi), liked to say that Chassidim today wear the garb of the Polish nobleman of a few hundred years ago. This refers to the long jacket (or coat, as some call it) that we wear, which reaches down to below our knees. (Potok never, to my knowledge, explained why he considered this «fact» significant.)

Like most of what Potok said or wrote about Jews or Judaism, this is fairly stupid. In the first place, even a small amount of research reveals that the Polish noblemen did not wear the sort of jacket / coat that Chassidim wear today, or ever wore. Polish noblemen wore a jacket of a completely different style. Their jackets covered the sides and sometimes the fronts of their thighs, and did not reach down in back at all, because it would have intefered with their horse riding. (And as Rabbi Asher Wade says, Polish noblemen did not want to look like Jews!)

Furthermore, there are some ten or twenty different types of Chassidic jackets, and all of them look very distinctly different. Which one is supposed to look like the jacket of the Polish nobleman?

But the truth is that all this is irrelevant. It is permitted for Jews to wear a style of clothing that Gentiles used to wear, if the Gentiles are no longer wearing that style. Even if Chassidim are wearing something that Polish noblemen once wore, of what significance is that? (I have noticed, however, that whenever Potok made that claim during an interview, he smirked, so I must assume he used to say it to gain some sort of personal satisfaction. There is no bliss like the ignorance of a bigot.)

Someone else once insisted, in a letter to me, that Judaism has changed its Laws because we no longer have slaves. That is incredibly ridiculous, as I’m sure you realize. No Law changed because we no longer have slaves. For that matter, the Torah does not command us to have slaves at all. We transgress no Torah Law by not having slaves. The Torah merely says that we are permitted to keep prisoners of war as slaves, as long as we treat them humanely. If we didn’t keep them as slaves, there was always the danger that they would go back home and return with yet another army and invade us again. It was either keep them as slaves or kill them. In any case, there’s indication that Jews seldom had slaves anyway.

But the fact that Western society today is built differently so that slavery is illegal does not mean that we have changed the Laws of Judaism.

Now, it can be correctly argued, that many Jews have changed Judaism. Yes, this is true. The Reform, the Conservative, the Reconstructionist, and even some groups of people who still call themselves Orthodox. They have changed their «Judaism»; that is, they have changed their way of life, but the Laws of Judaism have not changed. If they make an official change, they are no longer performing Judaism, but what they have decided to do. (And I’m going to say this one more time, because I am sick of the letters I get from people about this: THEY ARE STILL JEWS, EVEN IF THEY STOP OBSERVING JUDAISM.)

One woman wrote me that in her community they do not observe the Commandments of the Torah, but they feel that «as long as you believe in G-d and act like a good person then you are fine. As long as you help others try and have faith then you can’t go wrong.»

That’s a very beautiful Buddhist sentiment. It’s also what many Christian denominations believe. But it’s not Jewish. Of course believing in G-d, acting like a good person, helping others, and having faith is very important in Judaism. But these are just a few of the Commandments found in the Torah, not all of the Commandments. In fact, Judaism teaches that it is impossible to maintain faith in Hashem — which is essentially emotional — without performing the physical acts of the Commandments.

Among many Orthodox Jews, however, the Laws of Judaism are still followed, and have not been changed. The Laws of Judaism were created by Hashem. Hashem has always known the future, and therefore He created Laws that could be applied in all times.

Some non-Orthodox groups argue that the only way Judaism could survive is if it evolves. Therefore, they argue, they must change the Laws of the Torah. (What they really mean is that we should stop keeping the Torah.) I find this ridiculous. Charedi
Jews have been keeping a Judaism that has not had to change or reject any of the Laws of the Torah since Hashem gave it to all of Israel at Mount Sinai. It has survived, and so have we. How have we managed to survive? And if  statistics mean anything at all, we are growing and they are shrinking.

And note another thing: the people who argue that the Laws of the Torah should be changed are those who have never actually observed those Laws in their entirety! If Charedi Jews, who keep all the Laws that we are actually able to keep, were to argue that we must change something, it would be much more believable.

If you look at what the non-Orthodox are trying to change, you will see that it is mostly because modern Western civilization has adopted those beliefs. They wish to keep up with the times. Here’s an example: The Torah says that it is forbidden to perform certain acts. However, today’s society simply calls them an «alternative lifestyle,» and tells people to accept it as equally as valid as any other lifestyle. Therefore, some non-Orthodox groups feel that the Jews should do the same. Never mind what the Torah says, they tell us. Judaism, they argue, should be changed to keep up with the times.

Think about this. Where would Judaism be, if Jews had always said «we have to keep up with the times?» When the Syrian-Greeks under Antiochus Epimanes conquered Jerusalem, they forced the Jews to worship idols. Greek culture was the popular thing back then. Why shouldn’t we have adopted it?

Yet the fact remains that we didn’t. Antiochus told everyone that the religion of the Jews won’t last long, because he would force them to assimilate. Many Jews became Misyavnim, Hellenisers (in other words, Greek imitators), and joined the Greeks in their orgies, their nude exercises, and their other disgusting practices. They truly believed that Judaism was a thing of the past, and would not last. There isn’t much difference in what many believe today.

Yet we did last, and the entire Greek culture is gone. Most people have forgotten what the Greeks have done, and know nothing about Greek culture. No one even remembers the Hellenisers — except the Orthodox Jews! The only people who still remember the ancient Jews who sold out their religion are the Orthodox Jews who study Jewish history.

Greek culture moved on, changed, and devolved into the various cultures that exist today, some of which still retain small elements of the ancient Greek culture and teachings.

Long after the American culture has been and gone, Judaism, in its ancient form, with perhaps only external changes, will live on.

And those who walk slowly to the melting pot will be subsumed no less than those who run at a faster pace.

How Do We Know Our Tradition is Correct?

It is fair to ask, when presented with information, «how do I know the information is correct?»

This question must be answered, because it addresses the most basic question of Judaism. We Jews follow a way of life that has been handed down from generation to generation, from parent to child, from Rabbi to student, for over three thousand years. How can we demonstrate that the information is correct?

Do not think that we simply accept that it is true and leave it at that. Jews are some of the most skeptical people in the world. We don’t just believe everything we hear. We ask for the evidence.

So: How do we know that the Tradition, that is, the Laws and other Teachings of the Torah, have been transmitted correctly?

Let us examine the method of Transmission of the Torah that Jews have used, as well as other relevant factors. We will see that the way the Torah has been transmitted through the ages makes errors and falsifications impossible.

The first thing to note is that the Torah is not the property of a few people. It is not esoteric or secret knowledge kept in the hands of a secret organization. Every Jew is expected to study Torah. We each have our individual abilities and gifts, and we are all therefore expected to study Torah at the highest level we can attain. (And before I get letters about this, it applies to women too. Women are required to
study — at the very least — all the Laws that they must fulfill, and today much, much more study and knowledge is expected of them than in years past.)

Some people think the Talmud was written by a few Rabbis plotting together in an attic somewhere, deciding what Jews should do and not do. This is a radical error. It is completely false, and not even close to fact by any means. It was not composed, but recorded, by thousands upon thousands of Rabbis and students working in
public, openly discussing all the issues. This ensured the highest safety against errors.

We are a nation of Torah. We have always been, and we always will be. There were times of great oppression, when Torah study was made difficult by the gentile governments around us, but through it all we stuck to it. And not individually — but en masse. Torah has always been taught publicly. Not, as some seem to think, one little old Rabbi in a basement or dungeon teaching one decrepit geek of a student, neither of whom has any idea of how the common man lives.

The truth is that Rabbis taught the Torah in public, with other Rabbis at their sides, and with thousands of students learning and asking challenging questions. These were Rabbis who usually had jobs in what some people call «the real world,» and they came from all sectors of Jewish society. Some were poor, some were rich, but all of them lived the Torah they taught, and lived in the world around them like everyone else.

The Talmud tells us that Rabbi Akiva had twenty-four thousand students. He was not unusual. The Talmud doesn’t say he had an inordinately large number of students. No, quite the contrary. In the Torah Academies of Israel and Babylon there were learned Rabbis sitting together in a semi-circle, with all their thousands of students sitting behind them. And the Talmud teaches that every Rabbi should create many, many students (Avos 1:1).

The Talmud says that for a while Rabbi Gamliel of Yavneh would allow entry to the highest Academy in Yavneh only to some students. But then one day that was changed, and they allowed all students to enter. That day, says the Talmud, they had to add seven thousand more benches to the academy! We’re not talking about private study here. We’re talking about study that involved all the people. An entire nation.

The Talmud says (Sanhedrin 91b) that whoever refuses to teach Torah to another Jew is stealing his inheritance from him. The Torah says, «The Torah that Moses taught us is an inheritance of the Congregation of Jacob» (Deut. 33:4). Therefore, the Torah belongs to all Jews, by ancestral right. Thus, if you refuse to teach a Jew Torah, you are stealing his inheritance, his birthright.

Moreover, say the Talmudic Rabbis, why does the verse use the term «Congregation of Jacob? Why not say, «the Children of Jacob,» or «the descendants of Jacob?» It is to teach us, explain the Rabbis, that the Torah should not be kept private, but should be taught in public, with the congregation participating (Midrash Tehillim 1:1).

The Tradition did not begin with the Mishnah and Talmud, of course. Remember, Moses taught the Torah to all of the Children of Israel. As I have written elsewhere, Moses was taught directly by Hashem, every single word of Torah, both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. Hashem made special arrangements so Moses could ask any question he needed to ask. Hashem taught Moses the Torah passage by passage.

Moses then taught Aharon the High Priest everything he had learned. Then, while Aharon was still sitting there, he called in Aharon’s two sons Elazar and Isamar, and he taught them. Then they called in the Seventy Elders and he taught them. Then they called in all the Children of Israel, and Moses taught them. The Children of Israel would write each teaching down.

Then Aharon taught everyone the same passage. Then the two sons of Aharon taught everyone the passage. Then the Elders would teach it. This way, each person learned it at least four times, at several levels. (We can imagine that each probably had their own teaching style as well, which maximized general understanding.) Then people would gather with the leaders and learn with them, reviewing, asking questions, discussing each issue. Every group of ten Jews had a Teacher. Ten groups had a Teacher of that hundred, and ten hundreds had a Teacher of that thousand, and so on. (The Teachers were chosen from the most honorable and learned people to be found.) So again, all this was done in public.

After Moses passed away the Children of Israel continued to study Torah. In the Land of Israel they built yeshivos, and Teachers taught Torah to thousands upon thousands of students constantly. Some yeshivos were smaller, of course. We find, for example, that the Prophet Elisha had at least one hundred students (2 Kings 4:38-44). Students generally searched until they found the best Teacher for them, since people aren’t all able to learn at the same level.

We also had, when we all lived in Israel, the Torah’s complex system of appellate courts, to guarantee self-correction and various other checks and balances. Each city had a Jewish Court of 23 highly-qualified Judges, who were also required to teach Torah publicly. Jerusalem alone had at least three courts, the Supreme Court (later called the Sanhedrin) consisting of 71 Judges with their students. All this was to ensure that the Torah was preserved accurately, and to ensure that all of Israel knew the Torah.

Other countries have gross national products. The national product of the Jews is the Torah. The Nation of Israel never had gladiators, nor circuses, nor sports arenas, nor theaters, nor pageants, nor any of the recreational diversions that were found so often among other nations. The study of Torah has been our national recreation, our pastime, our holy service to Hashem.

And it was not a casual pastime. Most Rabbis devoted their entire lives to studying Torah. They studied it day and night, and slept and ate little. Many Rabbis had to work for a living, but their lives were wholly devoted to Torah study. They recited Torah as they worked. (This is true even today. I actually knew a man who did this constantly. He worked in a warehouse, walking around filling orders. He would recite Mishnayos by heart all day. When I wanted to speak to him I often had to wait until he finished the Mishnah he was reviewing.) And after work they hurried to study Torah in whatever time they had for as long as they could stay awake. As King David says in Psalms, «I love your Torah so much that that’s what I talk about all day» (119:97).

Hillel the Elder (112 B.C.E. — 8 C.E.) began as a very poor man. He earned very little money a day. Each day he would give half his money to the doorkeeper of the yeshivah so he could attend the classes of Shmaya and Avtalyon, the leading Elders of the generation. Once, on a Friday, when he did not have the few pennies it cost, Hillel climbed up the wall of the Academy and listened through the skylight. It began to snow, and he stayed on. Eventually, he got stuck there, and his body was noticed Shabbos morning, stuck on the skylight on the roof under the snow. The Leaders of the generation themselves, Shmaya and Avtalyon, ran and brought a ladder and climbed up and took him down. To save his life, they started a fire (even though it was the Sabbath, since we are obligated to break the Sabbath to save a life).

This sort of man will make sure to learn Torah without errors, and he certainly
does not falsify his teachings. He loved the Torah too much for

The study of Torah was so important, that Jews would stop at nothing to learn it. And because it was so important to them, they took great care to preserve the teachings of the Torah perfectly.

It was Avtalyon, one of those two Rabbis in that story, who used to warn his students and colleagues, «Rabbis! Be very careful with your words, so that your students do not make any mistakes» (Avos 1:11). How very important it was to the Rabbis that the Torah be taught carefully and correctly, so that mistakes do not occur.

The study of Torah was so dear to the Jews that many safeguards were put in place to ensure that it was done properly. The Talmud talks about Rabbis teaching the same material hundreds of times to the same student to make sure it was understood properly. The Rabbis instructed all Torah students to review every lesson at least one hundred and one times (Babylonian Talmud, Chagigah 9b).

The Talmud (Megilah 7b) says that one year, on Purim, Rabbi Cahana was sitting with his student, Rabbi Ashi (circa 425 C.E.), and no one showed up to the Academy to study Torah. Rav Ashi asked, «Why are none of the Rabbis coming to the Study Hall?» Rabbi Cahana answered, «Perhaps they are still busy with their Purim Meal.» (On Purim we are obligated to eat a festive meal.)

Said Rabbi Ashi, «Couldn’t they have eaten it last night?»

Answered Rabbi Cahana, «Don’t you know that Rava (a leading Rabbi from around 325 C.E.) taught that if you eat the Purim Meal at night, you have not fulfilled your obligation.»

«Rava said that?» asked Rabbi Ashi.

«Yes, indeed,» answered Rabbi Cahana.

When Rav Ashi heard that, he asked Rabbi Cahana to teach it to him forty times, and only then did he feel that he had this Law «in his pocket,» so to speak.

This was not a complex Teaching. Yet this is how hard he worked to make sure he understood and remembered a simple Law. For the more complex ones he worked even harder. This was the standard method of Torah study — constant repetition to make certain that it was correctly understood and remembered.

The Rabbis lived and breathed Torah. It was part of them day and night. They talked about it constantly, even while they were doing other things, and they reviewed and went over their studies endlessly. They always desired to fulfill the verse that says, «And you shall ponder the Torah day and night» (Joshua 1:8).

This was the standard to which the Rabbis have always held themselves. You or I might content ourselves with studying something once or twice, but the Rabbis, whose responsibility it was to preserve the Torah and transmit it correctly, took their obligations seriously and worked hard to keep the Tradition intact.

Why, then, are there differences of opinion at all in the Talmud? Don’t the Rabbis disagree about major issues in Judaism?

Actually, no. There is not a single disagreement in the Talmud about core matters of Judaism. Each and every single dispute in the history of Jewish Law has been about a minor detail of the Law. Sometimes, during the times of oppression, when the government outlawed the study of Torah, and Jews had to study quickly and privately, some details became slightly obscured. For example, the Rabbis never argued about the basic Laws of Chanukah. They disagreed only about one detail — a detail that is not even a necessary part of lighting the Chanukah Lights. (Full discussion of this concept belongs in its own article, not here.)

Rabbis used to spend dozens of years studying before they considered themselves even partly learned. And until their dying day they did not stop learning, studying, and teaching. And they constantly gathered students so they could teach yet more and more, and they constantly asked questions so they could continue to learn more and more.

The basic skeleton of the Talmud is the Mishnah. It is said that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (Rabbi Judah the Prince) created the Mishnah. This is not correct. The Mishnah is a codification of already-existing Laws, and was accomplished by thousands of Rabbis together, over a long period of time. Rabbi Yehudah the Prince and all the Rabbis of his generation arranged the final version of it, and finished it around the year 188 C.E.

No one who ever lived throughout history ever had more teachers than Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi. Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi studied Torah from many Rabbis in person, and spent years asking questions and probing Torah issues. He even sent emissaries to other countries to have questions discussed and answered. He wanted whatever information any and every Rabbi could give him, even if that Rabbi was no longer alive. When Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi met a Torah student or scholar, he asked him who his Rabbi was. Then he asked the student to teach him what his Rabbi had taught him. «What did your Rabbi teach about this issue, and about that issue? And the next issue?» And so on. He collected Torah information like some people collect Pok้ Mon cards.

Then he gathered to him as many Torah teachers and students as possible. He left no one behind, if he could help it. And they began to study all the information each and every one of them had. Every Rabbi, every student, and every reputable person who had anything to say, was allowed the time to speak. Every word mentioned was studied, discussed, turned over, wrung through, examined, and worked over. Every statement had to be verified from various sources. For example, if one student quoted his Rabbi concerning a certain Law, all the available students of that Rabbi were asked to verify or dispute that statement. And students of other Rabbis were asked if their Rabbis had made the same statement or had differed with it. Even spellings were verified, since a variant spelling can change the meaning of a word (see, for example, Eruvin 53b).

And then they began to form the Mishnah. They not only examined each teaching, they also looked for the best possible way to phrase each Law. They once again probed each student. «How did Rabbi Meir phrase this Law when he taught it? Precisely what words did Rabbi Akiva use when he discussed this matter?» Note that they did not invent the Laws. They were constantly absorbed in the process of understanding and transmitting the Laws correctly. They couldn’t possibly create new «traditions» in public, with so many other Rabbis and students around absorbing all that took place, questioning, probing, asking, teaching, and commenting. Nor was it very easy to make a mistake, with so many others around to correct them. (Just try saying anything about Judaism in front of other Jews — you’ll be discussing and arguing about it for weeks, at least!)

Rabbi Yehudah the Nasi and his Court also decided which words should be composed into the Mishnah, and which should remain as explanatory discussion (known as «Talmud»).

And years later, when the greater discussions of the Talmud were written down, the same process was continued. Ravina and Rav Ashi and all their compatriots gathered Rabbis and students, and sent questions and emissaries to every place a reliable Torah Scholar might be found, and they tracked down every Torah teaching they could.

And they did not simply accept what was told them. Each statement in the Talmud is checked, double-checked, verified, discussed, analyzed, taken apart, put back together again in various different ways to see which works best, and then just when you think they have finished, they have more to discuss about it! Testing the accuracy of a Tradition is precisely what the Talmud does most. That is of the highest importance to any and every Torah Scholar.

And all this was done in public, as a massive national project. It was not done in secret, and it was not done by a few people. It was not the work of a «congressional subcommittee,» or a U.N. «fact» finding team. This was the work of the entire Nation of Israel. If one person had made an error, or deliberately changed something, or had some sort of bias or prejudice, the rest of the people would have made an outcry.

A major part of the preservation of the Torah Tradition was performed by the women. While they did not do the recording of the Tradition (though they did sometimes contribute vital information), it was the women who safeguarded it for their families. The women protected the level of observance at home, and were the ones who most encouraged the younger children to study Torah. A mother’s relationship helps determine a child’s level of Torah study and observance. King Solomon said, «Listen, my son, to the moral instruction of your father, and do not forsake the Torah of your mother» (Proverbs 1:8). Torah observance would not exist today were it not for the Jewish mothers.

By the various methods we have used, the true Torah Tradition has been very well-preserved. If you look at Jews around the world, you will find, among the minor differences, an amazing similarity of practice. Every Orthodox synagogue lifts up the Torah Scroll to show the congregation the words of the Torah. Some do it before the Torah Reading, and some do it after the Torah Reading. But they all do it.

Every religious Jew in the world uses the same four species during Sukkos. Yet the «Pri Etz Hadar» species is not specifically defined in the Torah. It is only through our Tradition that we know that it is the Esrog (citron). Yet every Jew in every part of the world knows this and uses that fruit — even communities that existed before the Talmud was written.

People who refuse to believe that the Torah has been transmitted accurately down the ages have seldom examined the matter fully and carefully. And often they are not very reasonable about it at all. Would it be logical to dismiss all of science because just about every single scientific fact discovered or theorized prior to 1930 has since been proven incorrect? It makes more sense for a person to study each matter carefully and choose those which ultimately have been proven to be correct.

Today, Torah is available to just about everyone, in quite a few languages. You can find classes almost anywhere, even online, on the Talmud and most other aspects of Judaism. You can determine for yourself the logic of the Talmud, and you can see for yourself whether the Talmud is concerned about how correct its information is.

Certainly, to dismiss the entire Talmud without examining it properly, just because someone believes that it is full of errors, is not at all logical.

As I quoted earlier, the Torah that Hashem gave us is an inheritance to all the Congregation of Jacob. No matter what your status, if your mother was Jewish, or if you converted to Judaism, the Torah belongs to you just as much as it does to me. It is your inheritance. It is your property.

Come and get it.