Is there a methodology used in Judaism to authenticate traditions (that it orginated from person to whom it is attributed) and deem it halacha or a correct position? For example, Muslims have what they call 'Hadeeth Science' which they use to authenticate hadiths (sayings of their prophet which were transmitted orally and then later recorded).

I've been reading this article which quotes a lot from Shammai and Hillel, and I have no idea of knowing which traditions are accepted as authentic and which aren't (Link). I have also read on another website, negative statements, particularly towards non-Jews (Link) attributed to Hillel and others. How do I know what's authentic and what isn't or what is halacha?

  • 2
    I don't fully understand what you mean by "authentic" -- whether they are by the people they are by? Or whether they reflect accepted cultural positions? Not all talmudic statements are either halachic in nature or the opinion codified as halacha. For halacha, you can look in a code of law and then decide which tradition within the code is yours.
    – rosends
    Oct 21, 2012 at 19:56
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    According to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadith_studies it appears to be trying to distinguish fake sayings. Judaism had something like that about 2000 years ago in deciding which books of Tanach are valid. Especially Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) was very divisive. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_Hebrew_Bible_canon
    – Ariel
    Oct 21, 2012 at 20:13
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    @Ariel I don't think the test for entry to the canon had much to do with authenticity.
    – Double AA
    Oct 21, 2012 at 20:23
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    @DoubleAA I don't agree. However you must broaden authenticity to include that the person did not falsely claim divine inspiration.
    – Ariel
    Oct 21, 2012 at 20:28
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    @Ariel But there were many texts which were divinely inspired which were not included. What happened to the nevuot of Natan and Gad? Of Achiyah Hashiloni?
    – Double AA
    Oct 21, 2012 at 20:29

3 Answers 3


I think that other people have already answered the question, whether in comments or in the question field itself, but I wanted to point out something about the website to which you linked, Mahalia, and to make sure that you see my comments.

Michael Hoffman, who authored that article, denies the charges of being an antisemite on the grounds that he doesn't hate Jews, he hates "Judaics" (that's his word for it, I kid you not). He boasts of having spent ten years studying the Babylonian Talmud, though chose to devote none of that time to learning Hebrew or Aramaic, which is why his transliteration is inconsistent, his pronunciation (should you listen to one of his online lectures) so laughable, why he revels in taking everything out of context, and why his references are always to the pagination of English language editions. Why somebody would devote ten years of his life to studying something that makes him so angry, I have no idea.

In any case, the fruit of his labour (Judaism Discovered: A Study of the Anti-Biblical Religion of Racism, Self-Worship, Superstition and Deceit, 2008) is full of factual inaccuracies and slander. Israel Shamir, who is himself extremely critical of Judaism, wrote a scathing review of it here. I would be extremely wary of any of Hoffman's publications. While he has not devoted as much of his time to Islam as he has to Judaism, he has elsewhere described Islam as being profoundly influenced by the Talmud, Muslim nations as being backward, and Sharia law as being every bit as monstrous as he claims that the halakha is.

He is proudly a Holocaust denier (he rejects the term, however, saying that you cannot "deny" a myth) and a supporter of Holocaust deniers (chiefly Irving and Zündel). If you want to find more accurate information about the Talmud and about Judaism, I would recommend looking at academic literature (the fact that most of it is written by people who happen to be Jewish is no less insidious than the fact that most scholarship on the New Testament is by Christians), or at rabbinic literature - by people like Rabbi Gil Student, Rabbi Natan Slifkin, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, etc. That's my personal preference, others will certainly have theirs.

I do, however, applaud you for asking your question here. If you are interested in following up on any of the things that you have read by Michael Hoffman et al, a good place to start is Rabbi Gil Student's The Real Truth About the Talmud.

  • Since you brought Rabbi Gil Student's website, maybe you also want to include Torat Emet (same author; different site)
    – b a
    Oct 22, 2012 at 0:41
  • I don't mind you adding it if you want to, but I specifically mentioned the one I did because it deals with the sorts of claims made by Michael Hoffman and others. Torat Emet is very interesting too, but how does it relate to this issue?
    – Shimon bM
    Oct 22, 2012 at 0:43
  • I'm not an expert on their claims, but a brief look shows that Torat Emet seems to be dealing with the veracity of the Talmud (and other topics) while The Real Truth About the Talmud seems to be dealing with its morality (they do overlap a little bit)
    – b a
    Oct 22, 2012 at 0:59
  • Like I say, I don't personally think that site is so relevant to the topic, but I'm not at all precious about my answer and I won't mind in the least if you want to add it :)
    – Shimon bM
    Oct 22, 2012 at 2:21
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    My apologies, @Mahalia - I wasn't meaning to make any assumptions. Given that you commenced your question with a reference to Islam, I thought that you might have been. I shall edit my response accordingly. Of course, your religion is irrelevent to both the question and to my comment.
    – Shimon bM
    Oct 22, 2012 at 7:01

I don't know anything about sites you linked to (and I don't wish to read them). But BOTH Hillel and Shamai are considered authentic! (Authentic means real, not fake or incorrectly recorded - are you using a different definition?)

Just because we don't in practice follow one authority (Rabbi) or another does not make them not authentic. It's makes them a minority opinion, but their opinion is still considered part of Torah.

In general majority rules (for Rabbis of equal stature). So if multiple Rabbis gave options, they were tallied and the halacha is like the Majority. There are other rules that take into account the stature of a Rabbi, with the general rule that the earlier the Rabbi lived the better.

They have utterly misunderstood the position of Hillel with regard to underage sex. In very short under 9 a boy is physically unable to have sex, so with regard to laws that need to determine if sex occurred it can be assumed that for a 9 year old boy it didn't.

Judaism is very careful with sexual laws, it prohibits people from being in compromising situations. For example a male babysitter of a girl child. Or opposite sex cousins even touching each other. (American society thinks nothing wrong of things like this.)

So, what Hillel is saying is that a boy under 9 or a girl 3 can not have sex, so the laws restricting these situations doesn't apply.

This is light years apart from saying that Hillel permits it! It is in fact so completely wrong, that whoever said it can be assumed to be deliberately falsifying information! I would strongly recommend not reading ANY writing of people like that since you never know when they are lying to you.

  • google.com/…
    – Double AA
    Oct 21, 2012 at 20:10
  • @DoubleAA Thank you :) I know what it means - I was wondering if he was using it as an incorrect translation of Halachic. (Since something can be authentic, but not the Halacha.)
    – Ariel
    Oct 21, 2012 at 20:17

From what I understand the question is asking if there is a methodology that is used which compares various writings of a particular sage in order to determine if they genuinely come from the same person. This can be done by comparing writing style, cultural or historical references in a statement, general syntax etc.

Based on this understanding of the question I would answer that there are many academic scholars whose focus is exactly this. They use these methods to try to determine the author of everything from the Bible through the Prophets and down (historically) to the talmud and various mystical texts such as the Zohar.

I am unaware as to whether they have given a specific name to this methodology but it exists in academic Judaic studies as it does in the studies of other religions and other historical documents (these methods were used as part of a recent discovery of a text from Archimedes)

However, and this is a big however, religious Jews generally do not subscribe to these findings. We believe in our tradition as it has been passed down generation after generation. Thus, if a statement of Hillel is quoted in the talmud, barring a revision by a competent Rabbinic authority, we will assume that statement is from Hillel irrespective of any comparative syntactical study.

As has been mentioned in other answers it is obviously quite easy to take any statement out of context, especially if the author's intentions are clearly malicious. If you want to know what a statement means in context I would suggest consulting an orthodox Rabbi whom I'm sure will appreciate your desire to seek the truth, and who can guide you through the ancient source text.

  • It's also a big 'generally' (although you did indicate that already by bolding).
    – Double AA
    Oct 22, 2012 at 16:18

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