Is there an explicit mention mention of the Oral Torah in the Chumash? If not, why not?

3 Answers 3


There are a few hints to the Oral Torah in the Chumash, but nothing explicit.

One of these is found in Devarim 12:21:

וְזָבַחְתָּ מִבְּקָרְךָ וּמִצֹּאנְךָ אֲשֶׁר נָתַן יְהֹוָה לְךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ

you may slaughter of your cattle and of your sheep, which the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you

The problem is that we don't find any command of how to slaughter in the Torah. So the Talmud writes (Chulin 28a):

דתניא רבי אומר וזבחת כאשר צויתיך מלמד שנצטוה משה על הושט ועל הקנה ועל רוב אחד בעוף ועל רוב שנים בבהמה

As was taught in a braysa, Rebbi (R Yehudah HaNassi) says, "וזבחת כאשר צויתיך" teaches that Moshe was taught (orally) on the esophagus and trachea (that they need to be cut so that the slaughter is kosher), and on רוב אחד בעוף (that most of one of the above need to be cut for the slaughter of birds to be kosher) and on רוב שנים בבהמה (that most of the food pipe and most of the wind pipe need to be cut for the slaughter of animals to be kosher)

This is also brought down by the Simlah Chadasha (1:1), and discussed in my question here.

  • +1 isn't there a Ramban who argues about this point?
    – jim
    Nov 23, 2014 at 4:25
  • @jim Not that I know of, but I'll check. It would be Ramban on that verse?
    – MTL
    Nov 23, 2014 at 4:38
  • @jim The Ramban can be found here. I don't think he argues on this idea, just that "כאשר צויתיך" doesn't mean "like I taught you orally," it means "like I taught you by קרבנות, and those specific laws were taught על פה." ....what do you think?
    – MTL
    Nov 30, 2014 at 21:07
  • @Shokhet Why do you cite Devarim 12:21? The laws how to kill the animal are right in the following verses (22-25)? How is that a proof of Oral Torah? Also, there was no written Oral Torah before 2nd Temple and that is a fact. Torah says that Moses got only Tablets and Written Torah.(Shemot 24:12) Not a word about any Oral Torah. Otherwise, Levites (not Rabbis) and Judges must decide Torah matters. (Dvarim 17:9) Jan 14, 2016 at 8:52
  • I don't see how this answers the second part of the question: "If not, why not?"
    – Lee
    Aug 28, 2016 at 10:38

I would like to supplement the important answers which precede mine:

The "Oral Torah" is mentioned "explicitly" in the sense that [according to our tradition] it is the subject being directly referred to in places such as the verse cited in DanF's answer. On the other hand, the "concept" or "doctrine" of Oral Torah is not stated explicitly in the same manner as many other concepts are only mentioned obliquely (resurrection of the dead, afterlife) or without full explanation ("angels") in the written Torah.

Yet despite not being "explicitly" taught, the written Torah is not self-sufficient for the implementation of its commandments and a number of important mitzvos implicitly demand recourse to an outside "living" body of knowledge. Notably, while we can learn certain things about the Torah's calendar from the written Torah we could not carry it out on the basis of the written Torah alone. Ironically some communities who rejected the Oral Torah objected to the "Rabbinic" move away from establishing the new moon by witnesses, a practice known from the Oral Torah but near as I can tell not explicitly mentioned in the Torah.

Similarly it would be impossible to identify which day was the seventh day for the observance of the Sabbath based off of the written Torah. Nor does the written Torah give explicit guidance on what constitutes a melachah ("work) on the Sabbath despite decreeing the ultimate penalty for Sabbath desecration.

In our own day we see the need for an outside body of knowledge (and what happens when it is lost) regarding the issue of techeles, while others might argue that any source for the "color" would be fine according to the written Torah it is not at all clear what color we would be looking for without resort to outside information to explain to us what color "techeles" is, never mind its source or how to process it.

Then there are other areas where we see apparent allusions, Shokhet has mentioned that the Torah alludes to a command regarding ritual slaughter that isn't discussed otherwise in the written Torah. How to to produce tefillin (without a reason we should believe that it wasn't a literal command). Perhaps most significantly the written Torah establishes a court of seventy elders with broad authority but without much explicit discussion otherwise.

Why G-d opted for the written Torah to require external information in order to observe the mitzvos may require a number of answers, but that it does is a matter of fact.

  • You said, "...the written Torah is not self-sufficient" and "Why G-d opted for the written Torah to require external information..." You are using your own personal conclusions to justify your belief in an "Oral Torah". The OP was looking for an explicit mention of the existence of an "Oral Torah." There are plenty of explicit statements in Torah to keep what is written, like Deut 28:58 "If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book...", but nothing like that for a parallel oral Torah.
    – user34203
    Feb 27 at 2:51

According to the introduction to Rambam's Mishnah Torah the Torah does mention the Oral law in the verse Shmot (Ex) 24:12. My loose translation:

"... I shall give you the stone tablets, the Torah and the mitzvah that I have written to teach them".

Ramba"m explains that the word "Torah" means the written law, and the word "mitzvah" means the Oral Law.

Yes, this requires exegetical methods to determine the method of how he inferred this. So, when you say in your question, "explicit" meaning, "Does the Torah say the actual words, "Oral Law", the answer is, no. But, according to Ramba"m, the Torah does explicitly mention this. (We may get into semantics of what the term "explicit" means, in this case...)

I can't say as to why the specific words "Oral Law" are not mentioned. Perhaps, at the time that the Torah was written, which according to many beliefs (I think Ramba"m included) that it preceded the creation of the world, maybe when G-d created man, there was an initial expectation that man's level of understanding would be so high that he would be able to immediately understand all the nuances of the Torah as written without further translation?

Another possibility - When I first learned Chumash in 2nd grade, we were told to translate the Hebrew words, literally, without looking in Rash"i or any other commentaries. (Yes, I had a very high-functioning demanding yeshiva. I wish others would model this example, today.) The teacher wanted you to really toil in the Torah. Rashi was like the "Monarch Notes". In a similar sense, perhaps, God wants people to toil and work over the literal translation a bit, and think it through prior to getting the explanation? Again, conjecture on both of my answers...

  • The explanation you bring in the name of HaRaMBa"M is actually taken straight from the Talmud Bavli, Masekhet Berakhot 5A.
    – Lee
    Aug 27, 2015 at 15:44
  • I think exegeting the verse into the Oral Torah we know today is a stretch. But if I came from a rabbinic tradition, I might be more willing to try harder to find it in the Torah. Maybe it's easier for me to look critically at evidence like this. I built a life, family and career on a false messiah so I learned to look critically at anything that can't be questioned. But maybe there's another possibility. Maybe it's not explicit in the Torah simply because it isn't there? Karaites were 40% of the Jewish population at one point.
    – user34203
    Feb 27 at 3:04

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