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Closely Related:
- What Scripturally based interpretation methods exist for omissions?
- How should Exodus 34:27 be properly interpreted?

Question:

Does the the context, parallel texts, earliest translations, or earliest commentaries explain, affirm, or refute whether Exodus 34:27 actually indicates the existence of an Oral Law?

Note: For grammar and syntax aspects, please see related question - which might inform the answer to this one.

Jewish Encyclopedia, Oral Law - According to the rabbinical interpretation of Ex. xxxiv. 27, the words indicate that besides the written law——God gave orally to Moses other laws and maxims, as well as verbal explanations of the written law, enjoining him not to record these teachings, but to deliver them to the people by word of mouth (Giṭ. 60b; Yer. Meg. iv. 74a; comp. also IV Ezra [II Esdras] xiv.).

NASB, Exodus 34:27 - Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”

Jewish Virtual Library, Judaism: The Oral Law -Talmud & Mishna - Without an oral tradition, some of the Torah's laws would be incomprehensible.

  • This argument is quite a weak one and not commonly used. However, one of the most famous verses which supposedly prove the existence of an oral law is the one in Deuteronomy 12:21. Since there is no such command in the OT (to slaughter when your hungry), this must refer to the oral law which handed down the laws pertaining to kosher Shechita. But as you know, all these arguments can be easily refuted, see the commentary of the Ramban. – Bach Jun 26 '17 at 19:10
  • @bach - I added a related question, that I hope will allow both issues to be addressed separately, at: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/28490/… – elika kohen Jun 27 '17 at 5:46
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I am not certain that Exodus 34:27 either confirms or refutes the existence of an Oral Law. Most of the arguments for the existence of an Oral Law which I have seen generally focus on written laws which would make no sense without an interpretation not present in the actual written text. It is therefore inferred that there must have always been an Oral Law to complement the written one. However, 34:27 certainly seems to imply the existence of a written law. Here is the verse again:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה כְּתָב לְךָ אֶת הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה כִּי עַל פִּי | הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה כָּרַתִּי אִתְּךָ בְּרִית וְאֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל

And the L-rd spoke to Moses: "Write for yourself these words, for upon the mouth of these words I have established a covenant with you and with Israel."

The literal translation "upon the mouth of these words" is very interesting, since it almost seems to be alluding to speaking the commandments being written down. It is generally interpreted that 34:27 refers to Moses writing down the laws given in the previous 26 verses of Chapter 34. The usual interpretation of the following verse 34:28 is that G-d inscribed the tablets. But regardless of who inscribed the second set of Ten Commandments, this is a written law, with no mention of an Oral one.

Rashi, the Rabbinic commentator, refers to Gittin 60b, as you cited in your question, which discusses the prohibition of writing down the Oral Law. Assuming it was forbidden to write down the Oral Law, then whatever Moses or G-d did record physically could not have been part of the Oral Law. Rather, the Oral Law could be defined as whatever missing pieces were there requiring a verbal explanation.

In summary, I would say that 34:27 appears to confirm the existence of a written law, but it is not until later in the Torah (Pentateuch) that particulars in the law arise which might imply the need for an Oral Law to exist.

  • Tim - +1 - I posted a separate questions about the proper interpretation of, "י עַל פִּי" - which I hope will be a purely grammatical discussion. However, here I am hoping for supporting passages, ancient affirmations, contextual indications, etc. I am updating the question to remove the "syntax part". In other words, I think your analysis of the Hebrew would be great there... and your arguments, and summary are perfect for this one. Can you post your hebrew analysis at hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/28491/… – elika kohen Jun 27 '17 at 6:05

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