It's difficult for me to accept that laws that I see written in a modern day Halacha sefer really originate from what G-d Told Moshe thousands of years ago. This is because there is so much time in between, and because my mind is very fuzzy about exactly how information was transmitted.

Writing out precise, clear, rational explanations of how this Mesorah was actually transmitted, could help me settle my mind and give me peace of mind – provided that those explanations aren’t my own invention but have actually been claimed by the great scholars of Judaism as how the system of Judaism actually works.

Therefore I have written my understanding here. I am looking for sources that deny or confirm my understanding:

Regarding the part of the Oral Torah that’s "known via direct Mesorah": The Oral Torah includes EXPLANATIONS and DETAILS of the Written Torah (this is what I call “known via direct Mesorah”). Those explanations and details were not transmitted verbatim, but rather G-d taught it to Moshe, and then Moshe (and every teacher after him) transmitted it to his students in his own words. This means that every student in the chain of the Mesorah (some of whom later became teachers themselves) understood those explanations and details using his own LOGIC and passed it on based on HIS understanding. This is compounded by the fact that some things a student learned via reading it in a sefer (and not directly from his teacher) – which might have required even more injection of his own logic to understand.

Despite the fact that each person probably had a slightly different version of the Mesorah (due to the addition of his own logic – which was probably slightly different than another person’s logic), these differences would be ironed out and corrected over the generations, because the scholars in every generation analyzed and debated each other (and themselves) about the Mesorah that they were receiving and they would have figured out the best version and who to pasken like.

I am calling this the "historical process of mistakes and corrections".

(I also have the same understanding of "historical process of mistakes and corrections" regarding the Mesorah of the exact laws that the Rabbi's interpreted and legislated). (If you don't understand what I mean here, it could be helpful for you to read the 3 types of Oral Torah defined here)

See Sifra and Rambam here for support of my assertion that the Oral Torah includes EXPLANATION and DETAILS of the Written Torah.

See here (quote from Emes L'Yaacov) for potential support of my assertion that those explanations and details were not transmitted verbatim.

  • Hi Tzvi, thanks for pinging me. I am not really an expert in this subject. I do note that the question comes across a little unclear - I can understand it's something quite hard to find the words for. May I recommend you add in a section about why you are asking. What brought you to want to know the answer to this? That often is the quickest way to make the question crystal clear
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 15:58
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    The aggadah in Menahoth 29b where Moshe is sitting in the lecture of R. Aqivah and can't keep up seems relevant here. I don't think it's the case that all of the details of the law as it currently stands were transmitted at Sinai. Rather the system of the law is consistent with the system of Sinai. As the system gets transmitted down through the ages it will be manifest in slightly different ways as a function of place/time/culture. Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 18:00
  • Can I ask, is there any specific halacha you can provide which you feel "can't have been given by Moshe at Sinai"? This could be coming from different angles and I think we are just trying to guess where you are coming from and it would be best if you can help clarify that so we don't keep giving explanations that aren't answering your question
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 14:50
  • @RabbiKaii Thank you for your involvement. There isn't any specific halacha. I'm just trying to understand the whole system of halacha in Judaism better.
    – Tzvi K
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 15:56

3 Answers 3


Study of gemara in general paints a picture of how much we rely on the Sages of the Tannaim and Amoraim for what we have of the Oral Torah today. The Oral Torah was in debate form, and thus every teaching was quoted in the name of the teacher who taught it, which school and which court it came from. When students found that their statements from different teachers were conflicting, they researched it, tracked it down and resolved it, in mainly one of two ways.

Firstly, when the difference in tradition was contradicting the other, it is resolved by discovering they are talking about different contexts. This resolution process clarifies the Torah, deepening our understanding of Hashem. The other is using the principles that Hashem gave us to resolve the contradiction when it cannot be tracked down through research or reason. This means we know exactly what to do today in light of the confusion (i.e. what was never written down, and now in doubt).

So yes, a great deal of what we know (for sure) about Hashem today, halacha and haskafa, comes from logic and the intellectual acumen and righteousness of the Sages, may they be blessed, throughout all the generations since prophecy, which everyone is welcome to look at and critique (and marvel at) them selves through Torah study. And the other half is true also, they passed down to us a great deal of crystal clear Mesorah that has survived fully intact since the day it was taught to Moshe our Rabbi.

In the end, it's all true. In one physical universe, we can only pick one opinion, but they are all true, and this is why Ashkenazim and Sefardim, for example, who often take different opinions in the debates of gemara, don't view each-other as wrong at all. And any lost information (of which there has been some, sadly, although lots of research is also done into what exactly we have lost by our scholars, and things like the girsa changes in gemara by our Rabbis like the Vilna Gaon), will be recovered when Moshiach comes.

So this boils down to two points:

  • What we have as halacha and hashkafa today, you can take to the bank, that's our true, binding knowledge of Hashem (and there is more still to research and discover)
  • The process of the Oral Torah's transmission has been part of a process of vast increase and deepening in our understanding of Hashem

The Rambam spells it out quite clearly in Mishneh Torah, Sefer Hamada, Transmission of the Oral Law.

EDIT: After your reword, I think the premise is wrong. The premise is Hashem gave us a perfect, complete Torah 3336 years ago, and since then we've jumbled and messed it up. However, as I've tried to explain here and as the Rambam explains in the above link, that's the wrong way of looking at it. The Torah is not just a transmission, but a dynamic give and take between Hashem and His people, a blossoming flower of knowledge, a process where all of the "flaws" are actually avenues to deeper understanding. It was always meant to be like this. The only question you should ask is, who, in every generation, was the recognised court that was in charge of this process. Once you know that, then all you have to do is study it without reserve and be sure that you'll come to true knowledge of Hashem.

  • "The other is using the principles that Hashem gave us to resolve the contradiction when it cannot be tracked down through research or reason." Do you mean that we received DARKEI HA'P'SAK via direct Mesorah? Do you have a source for that?
    – Tzvi K
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 21:11
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    @TzviK אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים לְהַטֹּת is the predominant one, from which many devolve. Also, "There shall be one Torah and one law for you" (Numbers 15:16) means that whatever the leading sages of our time say, we follow as Torat Emet. This includes all darkei hapsak. Further reading: aish.com/48932007
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 17:57
  • Great link. Exodus 23/2 and Numbers 15/16 that you bring, it's not clear to me if we know your stated interpretation via direct Mesorah or via authorized Rabbinic interpretation. See here for an elaboration of this question.
    – Tzvi K
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 7:14
  • “Ashkenazim and Sefardim, who often take different opinions in the debates of gemara”. Nit-pick: As far as I’m aware, the differences between the Ashkenazim and Sefardim is due to taking different opinions in the debates of the RISHONIM (who sometimes simply UNDERSTAND the Gemara differently).
    – Tzvi K
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 8:11

God spoke it to Moshe Rabbeinu, then he contemplated it. And thus in each succession. This is hinted in "Chashmal" - as the Mishnah explains meaning "sometimes Chash/silent, sometimes Mallelot/talking." Why? because they were silent and listening when God spoke, then they contemplate and understand and express it. Thus explains Meir ibn Gabbai in Avodat Hakodesh and he explains the entire transmission there.

An excerpt:


ונראה לי שלזה רמזו רז"ל בפרק אין דורשין אמר שם מאי חשמל חיות אש ממללות, במתניתא תנא עתים חשות עתים ממללות בשעה שהדבור יוצא מפי הקב"ה חשות, ובשעה שאין הדבור יוצא מפי הקב"ה ממללות, הנה בארו כי הדבור יוצא להם מפי הקב"ה והם הקדמות החכמה שחונן ומשפיע עליהם ואחר כך ממללות, שהם מתבוננים ומשכילים ומולידים מההקדמות ההן חכמה רבה, והוא הדבור הפנימי השכלי שהוא תמיד בפועל, ומזה תרגם אנקלוס ויהי האדם לנפש חיה לרוח ממללא על שהוכן מתחלת ברייתו להיות שכלו בפועל כחשמל, אשר יתבאר מזה כי לא ימציאו שום דבר מעצמם השכלים הנפרדים, כי אין להם כח ורשות מעצמם כי אם מבראם נאצל עליהם שפע השגה ושלמות למען לא יטעו שהם רשות לעצמם

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    How does this answer my question?
    – Tzvi K
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 21:12
  • @TzviK Because the whole entire transmission and Mesora is explained in that Sefer. Including your questions re verbatim and logic. Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 15:36
  • I'll be honest with you. I tried looking at Avodat Ha'kodesh, but it was really long, and written in an unfamiliar way to what I'm used to. Also, I didn't find where he talks about the "historical process of mistakes and corrections" - not accepting it, nor denying it (which was my original question).
    – Tzvi K
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 7:21

I highly recommend reading the book "Dynamics of Dispute" by Zvi Lampel. Also, Artscroll's "Introduction to the Talmud" will probably have the exact sources you're looking for. It also includes an English translation of Rav Sherira Gaon's letter that goes through in detail the mesorah through history. Also, it is likely the case that a large chunk of the specific laws you see in a modern halachic sefer do NOT originate from God at Sinai - if you are familiar with the differences between biblical laws, rabbinic mitzvos, gzeros, and takkanos you will understand that.

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