Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • Subjects of Jewish Thougts
To dedicate this lesson

How can I trust the transmission of the Torah?

Our faith is based on 600,000 adult males who saw with their own eyes and experienced receiving the Torah at Sinai, and transmitted this to the generations afterwards. Why shouldn't we say that, just like other people had folklore and legends that they believed, we also had such tales throughout the period of the Judges and First Temple, and that at the time of Ezra the Scribe, he gathered them all together into one book that we now call the Torah? After all, the Talmud says that during his time, parts of the Torah were forgotten and he reinstated them.

undefined

Rabbi Elyashiv Kafka

Kislev 15 5783
Translated by Hillel Fendel

Question: I have been bothered for a long time by a question of faith that I have not found discussed by any of the Rishonim [the medieval-period early commentators]. I am a religious person, with no doubts about the existence of the Creator or the concept of Reward and Punishment, both of which are necessitated by logic. I also believe in the World to Come. But what mainly bothers me is how our traditions were transmitted. Our faith is based on 600,000 adult males who saw with their own eyes and experienced receiving the Torah at Sinai, and transmitted this to the generations afterwards. Why shouldn't we say that, just like other peoples had folklore and legends that they believed, we also had such tales throughout the period of the Judges and First Temple, and that at the time of Ezra the Scribe, he gathered them all together into one book that we now call the Torah? After all, the Talmud says that during his time, parts of the Torah were forgotten and he reinstated them.

Answer: It is good that you are looking for answers; don't stop until you find an explanation that settles your mind. We believe in the Torah because we received it one generation after another. Each generation believes it because their parents believed it; could it be that the first generation to believe it simply made up a story about 600,000 people at Sinai? Why then should it be accepted by the next generation, if they themselves had no knowledge of it? Other peoples claim "archaeological evidence" for their legends – but of what value is a clay piece with a few letters on it, compared to our entire holy books which precisely replicate those of millennia ago? (This is of course no wonder, given the strict laws of writing Torah scrolls…)

And to assume that Ezra the Scribe was able to make up something based on a mixture of myths and legends and thus to change the lifestyle of an entire nation would be tantamount to the following: The Prime Minister of Israel announces that a book has been found showing that in actuality, we all originated in Antartica and we had to run away because the ice was breaking apart and whales were multiplying and threatening to take over our living space – and that the book requires us to live according to a system of laws and rules that would require us not to eat two days a week, wear only red and gray, and take on many other assorted rules and restrictions. Would anyone believe him? Would anyone take on these new rules? Of course not. Similarly, Ezra could not have made up a history, with strict obligations, of which no one of his generation knew.

In terms of the legends of other nations, it is quite true that other nations had stories of a Great Flood. Does this not simply indicate that there actually was such a flood, and that it is "remembered" by other peoples slightly differently? There are also ideas in other religions that are parallel to our own, for the reason that the Divine Light in the world was experienced by many – but was best explained and put into practice by the Jewish People.

In order to get articles like this delivered straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the Israel National Torah newsletter here.


את המידע הדפסתי באמצעות אתר yeshiva.org.il