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Monday, 16 May 2016

080) ASTOUNDING WRITINGS ABOUT A 'NEW TORAH':



(NOTE TO READER: It must be pointed out at the very outset that this topic has been abused and distorted by many with varying agendas, both within and without Torah Judaism. The intention of this article is simply to explore a little known avenue of Torah though that many may find theologically intriguing if not challenging.)





INTRODUCTION:

While researching the previous article on Rabbi Yosef Albo (1380-1444), I happened upon his concept of a theoretically possible ‘new Torah’. Truth be told, I had come across vaguely similar notions as expressed within Chassidic and Kabbalistic literature, but this was the first time I had seen it as emanating from an avowed rationalist like the Albo.

In short, he proposes that under certain conditions, G-d could potentially present us with a ‘new Torah’ at some point in the future.

THE ARGUMENT OF THE ALBO:

The Albo posits, similar to Rambam that the Torah incorporated some aspects of its law, such as the sacrifices, directly to accommodate a generation that had emerged from superstitious and idolatrous practices during biblical times (see here).

But then he differs from Rambam who clearly maintained that the Torah can and will never change. Rambam was so firm about the concept of the eternity and immutability of the Torah, that he listed it as the ninth of his Thirteen Principles of Faith.

Rabbi Albo, however, took the view that in the fullness of time, when we have progressed sufficiently from ancient religious practices and become more spiritually ‘sophisticated’, it is theologically feasible that G-d may then present us with a ‘new Torah’.

He writes: “There is nothing therefore to prevent us from supposing that the divine law may in the future permit some things which are forbidden now...These things were originally forbidden when the Israelites left Egypt because they were addicted to the worship of evil spirits...But when that form of worship has been forgotten, and all people worship G-d, and the reason for the prohibition will cease, it may be that G-d will again permit it...I see no evidence nor necessity, from Maimonides’ arguments, that the immutability or eternity  of the law should be a fundamental principle of Judaism...”[1]

“When He gave the Torah He knew that the law would suffice for a time period which would be required to prepare the recipients and allow them to develop until they would be ready to receive the second regimen...”[2]

Rabbi Albo shows how, with time, G-d has already changed some things. G-d, he says, even at the beginning of the Torah permitted Noah to eat meat, something which had previously been forbidden.

Thus, according to Rabbi Albo, there do already exist some precedents which show that the Torah is not unchangeable.

This view, however comes with a very important and critical theological caveat which cannot be overlooked: 

The Albo explains that while Moshe gave us the Torah, and while we will never have another prophet greater than Moshe, it follows that no human can ever nullify Moshe’s Torah – but that does not preclude the possibility of G-d Himself who certainly can change the Torah if He deems it necessary.[4]

The only exception to this would be the Ten Commandments, which since given directly by G-d could never be repealed.

MIRASHIC REFERENCES TO A ‘NEW TORAH’:

1)      Rabbi Avin bar Kahana says: “ ‘A new Torah will emerge from Me. New Laws will emerge from Me’, says G-d.”[5]

2)      According to Yalkut Shimoni; “G-d will sit...and expound a new Torah which will be given through Mashiach.”[6]

3)      “The Torah which one learns in this world ‘is vanity’ by comparison to the Torah of Mashiach.”[7]

A TRADITIONAL MYSTICAL VIEW:

According to Kabbalah, the idea of some degree of change within the Torah structure, is not foreign at all.
The 13th century mystical work, Sefer HaTemunah, writes that creation is renewed every seven thousand years. During the change of cycle, the very letters of the Torah get rearranged to make new words which are appropriate to the new era. In this sense, the Torah remains eternal in its ‘inner’ form while its ‘external manifestation’ undergoes change.[8]

(Sadly this doctrine was exploited by Shabbetai Tzvi who claimed that a new era had begun and that therefore ‘the abrogation of the Torah is its fulfilment’.)

A MODERN DAY INTERPRETATION:

A unique and scholarly argument defending the concept of a ‘new Torah’ was put forth by the late Lubavitcher Rebbe (paraphrase):

According to Rambam: “The Mashiach, who will descend from David will be a greater genius than Solomon and a great prophet approaching that of Moses, and he will teach all humanity the way of G-d.”[9]

While this statement of Rambam appears to allude to a possible ‘new Torah’, it seems to contradict another statement of his that; “It is no longer the prerogative of a prophet to introduce a new part of the Torah.”

However, it is no longer a contradiction if one acknowledges that the essence of the ‘new Torah’ will be found hidden within the Torah of Moshe.

The only problem is that the ability to extract this ‘new Torah’ will be so profound that no man will be able to accomplish this. Only G-d will be able to do this.

It is for this reason that Rambam stresses that Mashiach will be both ‘great prophet’ and ‘great genius’ – because being a ‘great prophet’, G-d will reveal to him the ‘new Torah’ - and being a ‘great genius’, he will then be able to teach this profound ‘new Torah’ to all humanity.

Another reason why Mashiach will have to be a ‘genius greater than Solomon’ is because he will have to explain to the reconvened High Court in Jerusalem how the new innovations do in fact comply with Torah law as they know it.

In this sense the ‘new Torah’ will be well rooted within ‘the laws learned through tradition’.[10]

Thus, Mashiah would have to be the greatest genius and scholar ever to have existed in order to convince a reluctant establishment that the ‘new Torah’ (as revealed by G-d to him) has its roots and therefore authenticity in the Torah of Moshe.




[1] Sefer HaIkkarim, Maamar Three, Ch. 16
It’s interesting to see that this view seems to be contradicted by an earlier statement in the Albo’s same book: “It is incumbent upon everyone who professes the Law of Moses' to believe that the Torah will never be repealed nor changed…”  (See Maamar One, Ch. 23)
[2] Ibid. p. 115
[3] Another example he brings is the commandment to count the first month (which we now call Nissan) as the beginning of year. This was to remind the people of the centrality of the Exodus narrative. But when the Jews, centuries later, found themselves in the Babylonian exile, they gave the months Babylonian names, and no longer referred to them by number. When they emerged from that exile they continued to refer to the months by their Babylonian names in contradiction to the Torah command. They did this to replace the remembrance of redemption from Egypt with the new remembrance of redemption from Babylon.
It’s also interesting to see that according to Shaarei Yashar by Rabbi Shimon Shkop (Sha’ar 5 perek 1) the concept of legal ownership is described as being a social concept, not a Torah concept. (I thank Rabbi Chaim Finkelstein for pointing this out to me).
[4] Ibid. ch. 19
There is, however, some discussion as to what would be the case if the same conditions of the Sinai revelation could be matched or beaten by an overwhelming public gathering of over 600 000 people who hear G-d speaking directly to them.
The Albo suggests that; “The opinion of the Rabbis is that there will be such an event....my own opinion is that since this does not necessarily flow from an interpretation of the biblical verses, it is more proper to say that this matter depends on the will of G-d.”  (Ibid. p. 180)
[5] Vayikra Rabbah 13:3 This is in reference to a slaughtering (of the Shor Habor by the Levaithan) to take place in future times which is completely contrary to the halachik process as we know it today.
It should be pointed out that according to Maharatz Chayes and Eitz Yosef, this does not refer to a ‘new Torah’ but rather to a hora’at sha’a or temporary halachik exception or dispensation appropriate only to one particular time. (I thank Rabbi Chaim Finkelstein for this clarification.)
[6] Isaiah, Remez 429
[7] Kohelet Rabbah 11:7
[8]To a lesser degree, while generally we never rule in halachik matters according to the Kabbalah, it is well known that Chassidim who follow the mystical view, often do rule according to it. This creates scenarios that are sometimes at variance to the norms of their mainstream counterparts, and may be seen as ‘spiritual innovation’. 

[9] Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah 9:2
[10] Based on a Sicha of Second day Shavuot 5751.

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