When studying a text, I tell my students that nothing is accidental and that details are included or excluded for some sort of reason. Part of discussion is hypothesizing what that reason is (in each case or on the whole).

In the Torah, we see a set of details -- some narratives are detailed, others are dealt with only superficially; some people are explored at length, others (ostensibly just as important) are not; some laws are given explicitly and others are barely mentioned.

For example: the written Torah details the list of forbidden relationships, but provides no explicit detail of "work" forbidden on Shabbat. The Torah tells us how to behave with our slaves and animals, but not how to slaughter properly.

This is not a question of relative importance. Material provided in the Torah Sheb'al Peh is equally as necessary for the complete understanding, but is there a reason that certain material was put in one medium and some in the other?

I am at sea regarding tags. All help appreciated.

  • he.wikisource.org/wiki/…
    – Double AA
    Feb 24, 2017 at 13:47
  • R. Moshe Sh'muel Glasner explains in the introduction of his Dor Harevii that the point of leaving the Oral Law oral, was that it be flexible enough to accomedate new circumstances. Needless to say, many sharply disagree with him.
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 24, 2017 at 14:57
  • @mevaqesh would that mean that those elements left for the Oral Law are those that need to be flexible, but the ones in the written text don't?
    – rosends
    Feb 24, 2017 at 15:15
  • @Danno That was my understanding. Or more accurately, that writing something means it is not meant to have any flexibility. Not necessarily that not writing it, means that it is meant to have flexibility. After all, there could be other reasons to not write something. | I repeat that this is of course quite a controversial proposition.
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 24, 2017 at 15:21
  • @Danno In general, the more compact the language, the more it is reliant on the interpretive rules of the Torah. Through proper application of the 32 rules of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yossi HaGalili many of the laws and their details found in Talmud can be seen as directly rooted in the 5 books of Moshe. Those rules are supposed to be a direct teaching handed to us by Moshe. It means that the written Torah itself becomes a much more dense method of communication. Or to put it another way, it becomes 'pregnant' with meaning, a source of life. This is the paradigm of vessel and light (כלי ואור). Feb 24, 2017 at 16:16

1 Answer 1


As I noted in this answer, Ralbag writes that the question of why some narratives are very detailed and some are very sparse is a strong question, and to this day he has not found a sufficient answer. He goes on to suggest two possibilities:

  1. That was the way people talked in those days, and the Torah follows the normal customs.
  2. If the Torah wouldn't give excessive details in some places then when you read a sparse narrative you would think that it's sparse because that's how the Torah always talks. Now that the Torah has some heavily detailed narratives you have to wonder why a particular narrative lacks details, and the analysis that you engage in to figure this out will lead you to better understand the narrative in question.

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