If He wanted to us to follow all of it and the oral law was most of what we received at Mount Sinai why didn't He tell us to write it all down?


2 Answers 2


Written Torah and Oral Torah are different in kind. Written text is static, an orality is dynamic. Hashem didn't "Want" to hand us halakhah as a set of fixed laws, He "Wanted" us to figure our which path we will take to redeem ourselves. This is an aspect of what it means when it says "these [the positions of Beis Shammai] and those [of Beis Hillel] are the Ideas of the 'Living' G-d. And the halakhah is like Beis Hillel." If everything were text, there would only be one opinion, no human contribution. As it is, we are told halakhah on a meta-level, we are told how to extrapolate and interpolate new Torah from existing Torah.

This is also why the need to codify the mishnah was considered a tragic expediency necessary for Torah to survive altogether under Roman oppression. It's not that memorizing the Torah is better than having it written down, it's that the halakhah gained a rigidity that we would have been better off without.

If there were no Oral Torah, there would be no system of extrapolation to new cases like electricity of fax machines.

Some understand this as being a difference between the first Tablets and the second. R Yoseif Dov Soloveitchik (the first; ie the Beis haLevi, Derashah 17) writes that the first Tablets contained the entire Torah, even down to “a question a student will ask his rebbe in the last generation.” With the second Tablets came the concept of Oral Torah and the need for Torah study. They entail Hashem’s choice to make Torah less well known but more internalized into the people. Making the nation Hashem’s “parchment”. (Or as I put it, making the Torah a process, which then requires the Jewish People to actually progress.)

The Beis haLevi refers to the thought of Chazal which says that had we not made the Golden Calf, the redemption from Egypt would have been the complete redemption. That sin necessitated further exiles, a longer process to reach the ultimate redemption, And this is why the first Tablets could not exist in a post-calf world — for two reasons: First, because without the Torah being intimately tied to the Jewish People, our host nations would have co-opted it. And second, the unity of the people and the Torah would give us a self-definition that would enable us to survive as a distinct people.

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    "R’ Chaim Brisker (Derashah 17)" Do you mean Beis Halevi?
    – wfb
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 19:54
  • Yes, corrected, thanks. By the way, based on this Beis haLevi, R' Herschel Schachter has a piece calling Yom Kippur the Yom Tov of Torah sheBe'al Peh torahweb.org/torah/2004/moadim/rsch_yk.html Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 20:47
  • Firstly thanks for your answer:) You mentioned that if everything would be given in text that there would only be one opinion. What is wrong with having one opinion that we are sure about Additionally, why wouldn't we have a system of extrapolation without it? The thirteen rules of extrapolation could be included in the written law. Also what do you mean by 'no human contribution', don't we have a lot of commentary on the written Torah? Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 15:26
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    @DonCorleone: First, there is no fundamental of Judaism that G-d controls everything. That He could, certainly. But you are confusing modern (since the Ba'al Shem Tov and Vilna Gaon) understandings of Judaism with classical ones. I guarantee you, Rambam (Moreh 3:18,51), Chinukh, #546, Sefer haIqarim 4:10, Or haChaim (Bereishis 37:24), and others did not deny a fundamental. We have free will. Actually, I think only Izhbitz Chassidus goes as far as even attributing sin to G-d... Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 22:19
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    The Oral Torah is the process and its accumulated results. That's why it's oral, so that it can conduct a dialog. You cannot ask "why have an Oral Torah, we could have had a process without it", because the two halves of that question contradict eachother. The second you have a process, results accumulate, Oral Torah. That's what Oral Torah is by definition. (Like a daughter is a female child by definition so you cannot have a daughter without having a female child -- they're the same thing.) Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 22:21

Because it would be impossible to have written all the details of everything that had to be done. In fact there are many things that did not have words available to describe the details of the laws at that time. As an example, consider electricity or using a fax machine on the sabbath. It would have been impossible to write done every detail of every case of every law especially the cases that are on the boundaries.

Note the ORAL LAWarticle explains that no matter how much detail is given, there would be problems in understanding exactly what is written. As a result, Hashem created the oral law so that a person learning the Torah and Halacha would have to study with a rav who can explain the details and prevent misunderstandings.

Consider the story of Antignos Ish Socho who was misunderstood by his students Zadok and Baysus (Greek spelling Boethus) who founded heretical sects.

Thus, it is necessary to have an oral law so that the previous generation of Chazal can ensure the accurate transmission of the meaning of the Torah.

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    But God didn't explain to Moshe about electricity and fax machines either, yet He explained enough to enable those interpretations. One could ask why that, the oral law that was later recorded in the mishna and g'mara, wasn't given in written form from the start. Was there an inherent value in having an oral transmission from the start? (Presumably yes, as had God wanted to write it all down, He could have.) Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 3:16
  • Isn't the Mishnah the oral law? I was under the impression that everything else is Rabbinic explanation/commentary. Wouldn't it have simpler to include for example; "You shall bind the phylacteries as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals at the hairline."? Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:31
  • @DonCorleone The mishnah is a written version of (a summary of) the Oral Law and was written only because the Jews were faced with extinction so that it could have been lost. It would not have been simpler because no matter how detailed the writing, there would have been details lost (such as what shape are "phylacteries") Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:52
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    @sabbahillel That's a really, really easy detail to include, and hence a bad example of a law that would be easily lost.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 20:49
  • @DoubleAA I just included that because the detail is not in there and DonCorleone used that as the example. Yes it could have been make square with a larger base of kosher leather and painted black with straps and ... (Even something as easy as this just keeps getting longer). Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 22:43

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