Jul 25, 2011
וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־רָאשֵׁי הַמַּטּוֹת לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יהוה׃ אִישׁ כִּי־יִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַיהוה אוֹ־הִשָּׁבַע שְׁבֻעָה לֶאְסֹר אִסָּר עַל־נַפְשׁוֹ לֹא יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ כְּכָל־הַיֹּצֵא מִפִּיו יַעֲשֶׂה׃
Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, “This is what the LORD has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
(Numbers 30:1–2, ESV)
Vows & Oaths
The above passage comes from last week’s Toah portion, Matot, and contains a key by which we can better understand a teach of the Master found in the Apostolic Scriptures. In this passage we find the Scriptural rule for vows, oaths and self-induced prohibitions.
The first thing we note in this passage is that whatever proceeds from our lips is binding. In fact, it becomes as binding as Scripture. In a sense, when we make a vow or pledge an oath, we have created a new restriction upon ourselves that is above and beyond the obligations of the Scriptures. We have, in a sense, “added to Scripture.” This is one reason why both the sages, and our Master are so critical of vows and pledges.
A person should take care not to make any vows. It is even preferable not to vow to give charity. Rather, if one possesses something to [give to] charity, he should give it immediately; if one does not possess the means at present, he should wait until he does, and then give without taking a vow. [1. http://www.torah.org/learning/halacha/classes/class250.html]
The above quote is a typical quote from a Jewish source. The general consensus in regard to taking upon oneself vows or pledges is not a favorable one. The master agrees:
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37, ESV)
Hebrew Word Play
There is, however, something deeper which I would like us to notice. In the Hebrew, there is a play on words that we do not completely catch in the English. Three times it uses a combination of words which play upon one another.
- yidor neder (to “vow a vow”) – the root being נדר
- hishava shavua (to “oath an oath”) – the root being שבע
- le’sor issar (to “bind a binding”) – the root being אסר
Two of these are somewhat obvious in our English. The last one, however, is not so obvious. The KJV actually brings this out a little more by translating this as “to bind his soul with a bond.”
Binding & Loosing
In this passage, we clearly see how “binding” is associated with a restriction. This is the precedent by which the rabbis use the term to “bind” or loose” in regard to things which are questionable in their use. For instance, a rabbi would “bind” (restrict/forbid) the use of a certain type of crock pot for use on Shabbat. Or they might “loose” (permit) an activity which might be questionable.
It is in this very context that we should understand the words of Jesus in Matthew 18 in regard to “binding” and “loosing”.
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18, ESV)
In this passage, the context is dealing with church discipline. Jesus is telling them that the decisions they make in this regard will be upheld by his authority in heaven. They have the power to both restrict and permit anything that is not clearly spelled out in the Scriptures. This is even more apparent in the DHE, as the Hebrew uses the same terminology as the passage in Numbers.
אָמֵן אֹמֵר אֲנִי לָכֶם כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־תַּאַסְרוּ עַל־הָאָרֶץ אָסוּר יִהְיֶה בַּשָׁמָיִם וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר־תַּתִּירוּ עַל־הָאָרֶץ מֻתָּר יִהְיֶה בַּשָׁמָיִם
In this passage, he says, “kol asher ta’asru al ha’aretz asur yihyeh bashamayim” – “everything that you bind on earth will be bound in the heavens.”
Rather than giving his disciples authority to “bind” demons, or “loose” finances (as I was taught growing up, and contrary to much contemporary teaching), this teaching of the Master is associated with apostolic authority. Yes, Jesus gave his disciples authority over demons. However, this teaching is in no way associated with demons or spiritual warfare. It is, however, a clear case in which both Jesus and the rabbis are using their clear understanding of the Torah to allow the creation of legislation within their communities.
Apr 15, 2006
A few people have been asking about where to read the account of Akhnai’s Oven (which can also be “Aknai’s Oven”). This is the link to the source of this text.
Here is the text of the argument:
We learnt elsewhere: If he cut it into separate tiles, placing sand between each tile: R. Eliezer declared it clean, and the Sages declared it unclean; and this was the oven of ‘Aknai. Why [the oven of] ‘Aknai? — Said Rab Judah in Samuel’s name: [It means] that they encompassed it with arguments as a snake, and proved it unclean. It has been taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but they did not accept them. Said he to them: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let this carob-tree prove it!’ Thereupon the carob-tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place — others affirm, four hundred cubits. ‘No proof can be brought from a carob-tree,’ they retorted. Again he said to them: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!’ Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards — ‘No proof can be brought from a stream of water,’ they rejoined. Again he urged: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it,’ whereupon the walls inclined to fall. But R. Joshua rebuked them, saying: ‘When scholars are engaged in a halachic dispute, what have ye to interfere?’ Hence they did not fall, in honour of R. Joshua, nor did they resume the upright, in honour of R. Eliezer; and they are still standing thus inclined. Again he said to them: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven!’ Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: ‘Why do ye dispute with R. Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halachah agrees with him!’ But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: ‘It is not in heaven.’ What did he mean by this? — Said R. Jeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because Thou hast long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority must one incline.
Another source for this text (with a slight variation) can be found at this link. Be sure to scroll down to the page 140 marker.
Both Avi ben Mordechai and his inspiration Daniel Gruber use this passage in order to try and cast reproach upon rabbinical authority. The claim is made that the rabbis are actually in opposition to the Written Word of God, and will not listen to Hashem even if they hear from Heaven itself. For some time I was swayed into this line of thinking, until challenged to examine the context of this argument firsthand. Upon a cursory exmination, it appears that I have been duped.
In short, this argument is a classic example of how the rabbis upheld Scripture in a case where a person wanted to try and outwit Scriptural authority through clever devisiveness. R. Eleazer, siding with Akhnai (apparently the owner of the oven, or a nickname for such, meaning “snake” in Aramaic), is the classic representation of the false prophet warned against in Deuteronomy 13. R. Eleazer rules that the clay oven (Read the Biblical laws associated with the contamination of earthen vessels, including ovens), which has been “broken” via being cut apart and mortared back together is oblivious to contamination from contact of a dead animal. First, both Akhnai and R. Eleazer in this scenario are intentionally working to find a loophole around the Biblical ordinance for contamination, and immediately shows a rebellious nature towards the commandments of Hashem.
Second, the halachah of R. Eleazer actually is working to “abolish the Torah” in the same way that many within Christianity are doing today, and have been doing throughout the centuries. Rather than using the written Word of Hashem as the plumbline by which all things are aligned, they follow charismatic leaders with whom are signs and wonders.
Opposite of what we have been lead to believe, the case of Akhnai’s Oven actually is one in which the rabbis are upholding the Written Word of God over the opinions of man, even when backed by signs and wonders.
You must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.
(Devarim / Deuteronomy 13:3)
Mar 6, 2006
Well, after a couple of hours discussion with a friend who knows the Torah and Talmudic writings far better than I, and reexamining the Scriptures and the original Talmudic source regarding the impurity of Akhnai’s Oven, I have come to some clear understandings of things that were unclear previously regarding rabbinic teachings. I plan on sharing a full discourse on this soon, but in the meantime am planning a formal apology for even mentioning Avi ben Mordechai’s Galatians book on my site. I am continuing to research this information, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that I am going to have to refute this and other such works as being in opposition to the written Scriptures (which they claim to be upholding).
If you would like to begin doing your own homework in the meantime, read the account of Akhnai’s [clay] Oven and the argument between Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and the other rabbis. Before you do, however, re-read Vayikra/Leviticus 11:29-38 and Devarim/Deuteronomy 13. Then, make sure you read a version of the account that mentions the rulings of Eliezer and the rabbis before they delve into the argument. I think things will start becoming apparent from there. I’ll post more when I have time.
Update: A followup to this post can be found here:
(This link has been fixed. 03/11/2009)