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Both the pious pre-Talmudic Book of Jubilees1 and the Talmudic Gemara2 agree that Angels kept the Torah in Heaven long before it was finally revealed through Moses to the people of Israel.3 My question would be whether traditional Judaism believes that this observance is still going on today. (The concept of not in Heaven seems unrelated, but I am not sure).


1 From the Jewish Encyclopedia article on the Book of Jubilees:

Note to a footnote: In the above-linked text of Jubilees, from the beautiful Sefaria site, the verse numbering differs from the one provided below by the Jewish Encyclopedia; nevertheless, all one has to do is scroll a few verses below the ones referenced to obtain the intended passage.

As a sign of its [ Israel's ] union with God, both the Sabbath and circumcision have been given to it, privileges which it shares with the angels (ch. ii. 18-21, xv. 26-27).

[T]he Hasidæan author represents circumcision as ordained in heaven from the beginning of Creation (ch. xv. 25-27).

The Sabbath that comes at the close of the twenty-two generations (ch. ii. 23) was also ordained in heaven, and was, therefore, given to no other nation but Israel, to celebrate as it is celebrated by the angels in heaven (ch. ii. 30-31; comp. Sanh. 58b).

It [ the Feast of Weeks ] was celebrated in heaven from the days of Creation until God ordained it to Noah.


2 A small passage from the much larger context of Shabbat 88b-89a:

[ The angels ] said before Him: [ The Torah is a ] hidden treasure that was concealed by you 974 generations before the creation of the world, [ and ] you seek to give it to flesh and blood?

A scholarly footnote, paraphrasing Rashi's commentary, adds the following:

As it is stated: “The word which He commanded to a thousand generations” (Psalms 105:8). Since the Torah, the word of God, was given to the twenty-sixth generation after Adam, the first man, the remaining 974 generations must have preceded the creation of the world.

Another plausible explanation for the presence of the mysterious number 974 would be Deuteronomy 7:9, ultimately amounting to the same conclusion.


3 From Chabad.org :

A question is asked: which is greater? Eino metzuvah ve’oseh — One who is not commanded and who observes Torah on his own volition or metzuvah ve’oseh — one who is commanded and fulfills what he has been commanded?

While at first thought one may reason that the former is greater, the Gemara (Kiddushin 31a) says “one who performs a precept having been commanded to do so, is greater than one who performs a precept without having been commanded to do so.”

Though Hashem had not specifically given the Torah to the angels they were content since they held that observing Torah voluntarily is more commendable and receives greater reward. However, when they saw that Moshe had come up because Hashem was going to give him Torah (though the Jews too observed Torah voluntarily for many years) so that they would be a metzuvah ve’oseh — one who is commanded and performs — they suddenly realized that they were in error all these years, and in reality one who is commanded and performs is greater.

In the comments below, a user has suggested the possibility that I might have misrepresented or misunderstood the Rabbi's words, and proposed that I get in touch with him, so as to clarify any possible misapprehensions, which I eventually obliged. Emailing him, I asked:

Is it only a mere academic or intellectual pursuit for them, or do they actually perform (some of) its Commandments ?

To which he rather promptly replied:

This is based on what is related in tractate Shabbat. Th[at] there was opposition from Angels to Moshes taking the Torah down to earth

which sentence is as clear as it is also cryptic. (Feels weird emailing him a second time to ask for yet further clarifications, though; I don't want to seem too pushy). Just thought it commonsense to mention it here, in the spirit of total transparency.

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The short answer to your paraphrased question, "Does traditional Judaism believe that Angels still keep the Torah today?", is yes. But their keeping is not like our keeping.

The key to understanding this is to realize that angels do not keep the Torah in the same way as human beings. In fact, this was the original proof which was given by Moshe Rabbeinu when the angels made their original objection to G-d about His giving the Torah to these lowly creatures of flesh and blood. The angels made their objection to G-d and G-d told Moshe Rabbeinu to answer them.

Angels are in the general category of Sichle'im (Intelligences without material, corporeal existence). In that state of being their perception is far greater than that of humans. And so, from the perspective that the Torah is wisdom, a thing to be studied, learned and comprehended intellectually, angels are far more suited to have the Torah than human beings.

But as Moshe pointed out as recounted in Shabbat 88b-89a, the ultimate purpose of the Torah is to engage with physical, material existence. This is something outside the domain of angelic existence generally. Angels only connect to Torah in terms of study, not in terms of fulfillment of the commandments materially. And the general rule is that the fulfillment through physical, material action is the main purpose of the Torah (המעשה הוא העיקר) like is found in Avot 1:17.

שִׁמְעוֹן בְּנוֹ אוֹמֵר, כָּל יָמַי גָּדַלְתִּי בֵין הַחֲכָמִים, וְלֹא מָצָאתִי לַגּוּף טוֹב אֶלָּא שְׁתִיקָה. וְלֹא הַמִּדְרָשׁ הוּא הָעִקָּר, אֶלָּא הַמַּעֲשֶׂה. וְכָל הַמַּרְבֶּה דְבָרִים, מֵבִיא חֵטְא:

And this is why the angels were not commanded to keep the Torah, like the congregation of Israel is. They study Torah and continue to do so, but cannot fulfill its commandments. From the beginning of their creation, they have not been suited for it.

This same principle is also one of the understandings about the offering of Nadav and Avihu. Even though it was accepted, it was not commanded. In kabbalistic language and the teachings of Chassidut, this is the concept of Ratzu v'Shuv, running toward G-d (to cleave to G-d) and returning (meaning connecting the result and effect of that cleaving to physical, material existence). As a consequence of their only fulfilling the Ratzu aspect, they were forfeit their lives (a soul dressed in a physical body). They were like angels. This is in keeping with what is taught in connection with the beginning of parshat Shemini 10:1-3 (see also Rashi to 10:3).

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The problem, you see, is wrong assumptions!

Your question begs the question: How can angels keep Torah if they do not exist? G-d is not a Pasha surrounded by servants that carry out the Pasha's commands. G-d has no need for assistants. Yes, tradition came up with the idea that there are angels, meaning messengers from G-d. But they should not be understood as figures outside natural law. Natural law is fixed and needs no change. If one wants to think of the existence of angels, think of the natural forces such as rain, snow, the laws of gravity, etc.

Another way to think of it is when we light the Shabbat candles before Shabbat begins. Similarly, the sun is always burning (giving off light) before and after Shabbat. A mitzvah? In a way, you could say it is keeping Shabbat (metaphorically) since it would be impossible to live without daylight. Yet it should be obvious that the stars do not keep kosher. I think they observe the Torah by obeying natural law, G-d's laws. In the beginning, G-d created or established the laws of nature to work throughout eternity. Natural law is fixed and needs no change. Thus, the stars or intelligence (as Maimonides calls it) are always observing the Torah.

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    Is this what traditional Judaism teaches on the topic ? – Lucian Oct 4 at 16:47
  • It is what Maimonides taught. – Turk Hill Oct 4 at 17:44
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    No, tradition did not "come up with" the idea that there are angels. They are described in the Torah. It's perfectly fine to understand them as a description of natural processes, but that's not an excuse to dismiss their attributes as depicted in the Torah and Chazal. You need to explain how those attributes describe the natural processes. To say "it's a metaphor" and end there is just lazy. To say "I know it's a metaphor but I don't know what it means" would be much better and more honest, though not terribly helpful. – Heshy Oct 4 at 20:02
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    @TurkHill: I was suspecting you were going to say that. :-) However, whether literal persons or metaphorical personifications, the angels are still supposed to obey the Torah, are they not ? – Lucian Oct 4 at 20:38
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    @Lucian: think of when we light the Shabbat candles before Shabbat begins. Similarly, the sun is always burning (giving off light) before and after Shabbat. A mitzvah? (metaphorically) since it would be impossible to live without daylight. Yet it should be obvious that the stars do not keep kosher. I think they observe the Torah by obeying natural law, G-d's laws. In the beginning, G-d created or established the laws of nature to work throughout eternity. Natural law is fixed and needs no change. Thus, the stars or intelligence (as Maimonides calls it) are always observing the Torah. – Turk Hill Oct 5 at 3:47

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