I was reading about Karaite Judaism and it lists a number of reasons, some which I thought were compelling, for rejecting the Oral Law.

For example,

Joshua 8, 34–8, 35 states:

After that, he [Joshua] read all the words of the Torah, the Blessing and the Curse, according to all that is written in the Torah scroll. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua failed to read in the presence of the entire assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that walked among them.

If Joshua read every command that Moses had commanded, then presumably there would be no room for the existence of non-written commands that would form an Oral Law.

How would you reconcile this passage with the existence of an Oral Law?

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    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/7866/472 Jan 27, 2012 at 19:00
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    It doesn't have to mean that he read every commandment from the entire Torah, though. It may mean simply "of all that Moses had commanded to be said on this occasion" - i.e., the curses recorded in Deut. 27:15-26, plus blessings of some kind (the same verses reworded in the negative (Talmud Sotah 37b), or the blessings in 28:1-14 (Ibn Ezra)). Then again, even if it does mean that he read out all 613 scriptural commandments - Radak and Malbim take the verse in this sense - well, then, every one of those 613 is either explicitly stated in the written text, or directly derivable from it.
    – Alex
    Jan 27, 2012 at 19:22
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    Regardless of the other answers, I don't see anything here being read other than the blessings and the curses.
    – avi
    Jan 28, 2012 at 16:17

6 Answers 6


The statement "all the words of the Law" is modified by the next phrase "the blessing and the curse". The simple meaning of the verses is that Joshua explained benefits of keeping the law and vice versa. Not necessarily all commandments.

There are interpretations of the verse that all commandments were taught, but your question is based on a literal reading. (And, of course karaite only read a literal translation. I am surprised by their usage of these passages.)


Evidence for an oral torah:

In addition to what Hacham Gabriel said, the written torah itself provides evidence that it is incomplete, e.g. in D'varim 12:21 God tells Moshe to slaughter animals "as I have commanded you", but nowhere in the written torah is how to do that discussed. Thus, there must have been some supplementary instruction that Moshe received from God on Sinai.

But what about Joshua?

I don't have a source for the following; it is my own interpretation.

In both 8:34 and 8:35 the verb used is קָרָא , translated here as "read". This can be "read a document", which seems to apply in 34, but it can also mean "call" or "proclaim", as in the first word of the book of Vayikra, where God is clearly not reading anything but calling out to Moshe. So I speculate that Joshua read the scroll of the law and then "called" (proclaimed, "read out") the oral teaching, which obviously he couldn't read from a document since there was no document.


Joshua tought the oral law as well. Just because it doesn't specify the MILLIONS of Halachot it doesn't mean he didn't teach them.

The Torah is the basic outline for the commandments, but without the Oral Torah we are clueless. Like it says "don Tefilin." What are Tefilin? What shape? What color? How does it stay on my head?

He didn't just say "put Tefilin" and everyone started writing Tefilin with special intent that if not present would invalidate the entire thing.

God didn't expect us to just understand the 1000's of laws regarding each topic on our own! Joshua taught, and just because he did it doesn't mean they had to be written.

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    But that's just a translation (of totafos) question, and arguably it doesn't matter how the os stays on your arm (or the totafos on your head, for that matter). So all this argument proves really is that meanings of words were transmitted orally, not that halachos were.
    – msh210
    Jan 27, 2012 at 18:11
  • @msh210 what exactly is the difference? Jan 27, 2012 at 18:21
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    I know just about nothing about Karaite's beliefs, but I find hard to imagine that they don't agree that the meanings of words were transmitted orally. After all, how else would anyone understand a written text?
    – msh210
    Jan 27, 2012 at 18:34
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    I don't understand what you are asking me in that last comment.
    – msh210
    Jan 27, 2012 at 18:45
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    @HachamGabriel The point is, do we need the Talmud to understand the halachot, or can we just read the Torah and figure it out ourselves. (Assuming we have a good understanding of biblical hebrew)
    – avi
    Jan 29, 2012 at 10:26

It is not inconsistent to say that Joshua read only the written Torah yet read every word that was commanded (in the written Torah). It's like a student who gets a C on a test for not including in the answers very basic information that was expected, and then complains to his professor, "But I memorized the textbook that you yourself wrote, and I wrote down in the exam booklet every word of it!" The professor's response is automatic and obvious - "You repeated every word I wrote in my textbook, but you left out all the information that was brought up in discussions in class, and all the other readings I assigned, and everything we talked about whenever you came to ask me questions!"


This can seem like a pretty significant proof-text but there are several issues that need to be pointed out.

  1. No one would suggest that the Torah transcribed every word of Moshe spoke. People, as we know from the explicit text, consulted Moshe on a variety of issues for specific guidance. This responsibility was diffused to the Sanhedrin. Neither are specifically recorded.

  2. Similarly it says all that Moshe commanded was read, that doesn't mean that every word of the details were written.

  3. For the most part the entire Oral Law (meaning d'Oraisa of course, rather than d'Rabbanan) is written in the written law, it is just not explicit. Some would exclude halachos l'Moshe m'Sinai but I seem to recall that there are those who even include these.

  4. Finally the clear peshat is to affirm that Yehoshua read all that was commanded by Moshe, not that Moshe wrote every word, even if you can construe the words to imply that.


The Hebrew word translated as "read" here is "קָ֣רָא" which doesn't only mean "read." In fact, if you look throughout the entire Tanakh, it about 95% of the time doesn't mean "read" but instead "called" or "proclaimed": https://biblehub.com/hebrew/kara_7121.htm Therefore, here it should be translated as (paraphrased) "there was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not proclaim to the children of Israel."

  • David the Prince, Welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for posting this helpful answer! I look forward to seeing you around.
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 6, 2018 at 21:39

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