When Judaism claims that the Oral law was transferred from Mount Sinai to today, what exactly was transferred over?

Meaning, what specific body of information was transferred as opposed to later commentary, extrapolation etc.

(I ask this specifically in regards to the time of Ezra when the Torah Shebiktav was almost completely forgotten. How was it the the Oral torah itself survived?)

  • Tosefta peah ch. 3; Bava Kama 94
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 3:44
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    sefaria.org/Rambam_Introduction_to_the_Mishnah.11?lang=bi and on
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 5:28
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    Rabbi Zvi Lampel deals with this at length in his book Dynamics of Dispute.
    – N.T.
    Commented Jan 25, 2021 at 11:50
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    "... the time of Ezra when the Torah Shebiktav was almost completely forgotten". As this is the main context of your question, providing your source for that claim could improve the question, and help others give better answers.
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented May 24, 2021 at 3:10

3 Answers 3


The Talmud (Berachot 5a) states:

וא"ר לוי בר חמא אמר ר' שמעון בן לקיש מאי דכתיב ואתנה לך את לוחות האבן והתורה והמצוה אשר כתבתי להורותם לוחות אלו עשרת הדברות תורה זה מקרא והמצוה זו משנה אשר כתבתי אלו נביאים וכתובים להורותם זה גמרא מלמד שכולם נתנו למשה מסיני

R. Levi b. Hama says further in the name of R. Simeon b. Lakish: What is the meaning of the verse: And I will give thee the tables of stone, and the law and the commandment, which I have written that thou mayest teach them? 'Tables of stone': these are the ten commandments; 'the law': this is the Pentateuch; 'the commandment': this is the Mishnah; 'which I have written': these are the Prophets and the Hagiographa; 'that thou mayest teach them': this is the Gemara. It teaches [us] that all these things were given to Moses on Sinai.

(Soncino translation)

  • This doesn't answer the question. What is "gemorah" ?
    – Big Mouth
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 3:23
  • judaism.stackexchange.com/a/110859/16706
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 4:14
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    Gemara refers to the techniques used for explaining the Oral Law and applying it to cases not directly described there.. Thus, every generation had a "Gemara" that was taught orally.. The Gemara in the Babylonian Talmud is the Gemara of the Amoraim of Bavel. Because we no longer have our own living gemara, we study the written Talmud instead. Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 10:10
  • I personnaly don't understant what does this Gemara means. Even the end of the very Torah, we don't know if Moshe wrote it, if Yehoshua. I don't think it could be taken "pchatly"; did they lost Meguilat Ester ? How could you say that each navi wrote his book, as it was already wrotten ?
    – EzrielS
    Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 11:19

I think that there were two informations transferred :

  • How to read the Torah, i.e the 13 midot. And then, whatever hazal learn from them is called "divrei sofrim" even if it's deoraïta, as the Rambam wrote in Kiddushei Kessef.
  • All the Halacha(ot) leMoshei Missinay, which are mostly explainations about existing Mitsvot (eg black squared Tfillin etc) but also a few "new" mitsvot as Nissouh' Hamaïm. It should be noticed that sometimes, Hazal gave some Drasha which is "just" an Asmarta, ie a memorization help, for an Halacha Lemochei Missinay.

This is what I understood from the Maharats Hayes in his book "Maamar Torah Chebeal Pe"

  • So essentially, the entire Oral Torah, when being transferred through the generation of Ezra is a fairly minimal amount of information. Definitely not something that wouldn't have made it through. Is that correct?
    – Big Mouth
    Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 19:48

Rambam (Mamrim 1:2) defines that which the Sages learned ''מפי השמועה'' as the Oral Law, the details of mitzvah performance, transmitted by Moshe Rabbeinu. A computer search of his Mishneh Torah produces about 100 such details he labelled ''מפי השמועה''.

This is in contrast to the many more halachos that were explicitly stated in the Written Torah itself, and the thousands of otherwise unknown details the Sages derived by applying the Sinaitically revealed methodologies of interpretation, and of course the gezeyros, takaanos and minhagim they instituted.

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