"'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'"1

The problem was immense - the Rabbis, their disciples, and their Judaism were not found in the text of Tanakh. They did not exist during those times. To establish and authorize the Rabbis as rulers in Israel, it was necessary to revise the way that Israel understood the text. It was necessary to read rabbinic authority back into Tanakh.

There was a need for a powerful way, unlimited in scope and effect, to change the evidence against them. R. Akiba's method of interpretation provided the key. Talmudic revisionism did the rest.

Revisionism does not change the text, it changes the way the text is perceived. It is like placing an optical lens between the reader and the text. The lens refracts and/or colors the textual image that reaches the mind and heart. Once the lens is implanted, EVERYTHING must pass through it. The one who looks through the lens thinks that everything he sees is in the text. He does not know that the lens is there. In fact, if the lens were to be taken away, he would think that the true image he is seeing is a gross distortion.

Talmudic revisionism places the Rabbis in the forefront of all of God's activity from the time of Adam on.

The People in the Bible

Through this rabbinic lens, everyone in Tanakh is always thinking about the Rabbis and their ordinances. They are read into every situation. A seemingly straightforward verse that introduces the descendants of Adam to Noah is turned into Adam's exaltation of the uniqueness of R. Akiba and his learning.

"What is the meaning of the verse, ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam?' It is to intimate that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed him [Adam] every generation and its thinkers, every generation and its sages. When he came to the generation of Rabbi Akiba, he [Adam] rejoiced at his learning but was grieved at his death, and said: How weighty are Thy friends to me, O God."2 All of God's work from Creation on is said to have reached its glory in Akiba.

The descendants of Noah after the flood are said to have studied the rabbinic writings. "What does [the name] Babel connote? – R. Johanan answered: [That the study of] Scripture, Mishnah and Talmud was intermingled [therein]."3 At the time of the Tower of Babel, the Scriptures could only have consisted of the first 10 chapters of Genesis. Nothing else had happened yet. Abraham was not born. Moses would not be born for another 600 years. It would be 700 years before the covenant of the Law was given at Sinai. It would be more than 2000 years before the first rabbi appeared.

What Mishnah and Talmud [i.e. Gemara] could there have been? Was it written, or was it orally handed down backwards from Moses seven centuries later? Who among that generation which rebelled against God at Babel would have been studying it?

An ordinary plural is said to reveal Abraham's obedience to rabbinic decrees. "Raba or R. Ashi said: Abraham, our father, kept even the law concerning the ‘erub of the dishes,’ as it is said: ‘My Torahs’: one being the written Torah, the other the oral Torah."4

Even the rabbinic academy is inserted into the time of Abraham. "Eliezer, the servant of Abraham was an elder and a member of the scholars' council, as it is said: And Abraham said unto his servant, the elder of his house, that ruled over all he had, which R. Eleazar explained to mean that he ruled over [knew, controlled] the Torah of his master."5

Moses and the prophets are continually created anew in the image of the Rabbis. "The Rabbis did not consider the Pharisees as a new group but as the successors of the prophets. For them Moses and the Israelites were followers of Pharisaism even if they did not use the term. They referred to Moses as 'our Rabbi' completely blurring any distinction in the Judaism of the bible and that of their own day."6

Biblical heroes were changed into rabbinic disciples. "David exclaimed before the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Thou knowest full well that had they torn my flesh, my blood would not have poured forth to the earth. Moreover, when they are engaged in studying "Leprosies" and "Tents" they jeer at me, saying, "David! what is the death penalty of him who seduces a married woman?" I reply to them, "He is executed by strangulation, yet has he a portion in the world to come. But he who publicly puts his neighbour to shame has no portion in the world to come."’ "7

"David represented the Messianic model. The Rabbis transferred the personality of David to that of a veritable Pharisee of Pharisees."8 We are told that other kings besides David held the Rabbis in great esteem. "'He honoureth them that fear the Lord;' that was Jehoshaphat king of Judah, who every time he beheld a scholar-disciple rose from his throne, and embraced and kissed him, calling him 'Father, Father; Rabbi, Rabbi; Mari, Mari!'"9 "Mari is the Aramaic equivalent of Rabbi, my Master or lord."10

We are told that the prophets also were greatly attracted to the teaching of the Rabbis. "Elijah used to frequent Rabbi's academy."11 The Talmud claims that long before Alexander and the Greeks, the Sanhedrin was supreme. "For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews and accepted of the majority of his brethren. Of the majority of his brethren but not of all his brethren; this informs us that some members of the Sanhedrin separated from him."12

"For Esther did the commandment of Mordecai. R. Jeremiah said: [This means] that she used to show the blood of her impurity to the Sages."13

Just as the Rabbis revised the past, so they revised the future. "Even of more relevance to the Rabbis was the role of the Messiah as Pharisee par excellence. He would unravel their problems and interpret Biblical verses with clarity and precision."14 When Messiah came, he would come in their image and likeness.

The Teachings of the Bible

In a similar way, the Rabbis approached the teachings of the Scriptures. They wrote themselves in wherever they could. "Our Rabbis taught: Justice, justice shalt thou follow: this means, Follow the scholars to their academies."15 "Rab Judah said in Rab's name: What is meant by, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm? Touch not mine anointed’ refers to school children; ‘and do my prophets no harm’, to disciples of the Sages."16

They found hidden references to the whole range of their teachings. "Resh Lakish said, What is meant by the verse, and there shall be faith in thy times, strength, salvation, wisdom and knowledge? ‘Faith’ refers to the Order of Seeds; thy times, the Order of Festivals; strength, the Order of Women; salvation, the Order of Nezikin; wisdom, the Order of Sacrifices; and knowledge, to the Order of Purity."17

"He hath made me to dwell in dark places like those that have been long dead. [Lam.3:6] This, said R. Jeremiah, refers to the Babylonian Talmud."18 "And R. Judah? - [Scripture states:] According to the Torah which they shall teach thee, intimating that both the Torah and their [the Scribes'] teaching must be involved."19

The Midrash Rabbah claimed Scriptural proof that all that the Rabbis had decreed, and all that they and their disciples might one day decree, was all sanctioned in the Scriptures. To make the claim, Akiba's method of attaching immense importance to a single Hebrew letter was used.

"R. Nehemiah expounded: 'And the superfluities of the earth are included' [Eccl.v,8] means that even things which appear to you additions to the actual Revelation - for example, the laws of fringes, of phylacteries and of mezuzah - are also included in the Revelation, as may be inferred from the fact that it says, And the Lord delivered unto me the two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words (Deut. IX,10). R. Joshua b. Levi explained: It says, 'On them...according to all (kekol) the words (haddebarim),' and it is also written, All (kol) the commandments (hammizwah) which I command thee (ib. VIII,1). Instead of the expression kol the expression 'kekol' is used, instead of debarim, 'hadebbarim' is used, implying that Scripture, Mishnah, Halachoth, Talmud, Tosefoth, Haggadoth, and even what a faithful disciple would in the future say in the presence of his master, were all communicated to Moses on Sinai; for it says, Is there a thing whereof it is said: See, this is new (Eccl. I,10)? and the other part of the verse provides the reply to this: It hath been already (ib.)."20

Ultimately, the Rabbis taught that Torah itself recognized the indispensable superiority of halakha. (cf. Baba Metzia 33a) They taught that God would have destroyed Israel for rejecting the Oral Law. 21 They considered rejecting the Oral Law to be the same as rejecting God.

The God of the Bible

Even God Himself is transformed by the Rabbis and placed under their authority. He is depicted in the image and likeness of the Rabbis: "God keeps the commandments of the Torah, written and oral. T.B. Rosh ha-Shanah 17b depicts God in His Tallith prayer-shawl teaching Moses the order of the prayers.

"T.B. Sanh. 39a tells how God, after burying Moses, became defiled and purified Himself, not with water, but by fire. God kept the first Sabbath (Pirke de R. Eliezer, ch. XIX). God wears phylacteries (T.B. Ber.7a). In the T.B. 'Abodah Zarah 3b Rab shows how God occupies Himself every day. He studies Torah; He judges the world; He feeds all living things from the smallest to the biggest; He plays with leviathan. In T.B. Ber. 8a the opinion was expressed by R. Hiyya bar Abba that since the destruction of the Temple there is only 4 cubits [72 inches] of the Halakah left to God. In Gen. R. LXIV 4 R. Berekiah gave the teaching of R. Judah b. Ezekiel that there is no day without a new teaching (on the Law) produced by God in His Beth ha-Midrash [House of Study/Commentary] in Heaven. In T.B. Gittin 6b R. Abiathar and R. Jonathan gave different interpretations of Jud. 19:2 (the concubine of Gibeah). R. Abiathar met Elijah and enquired of him what God was doing then. Elijah told him that God was studying the subject of the concubine of Gibeah. On being asked what God said about it, Elijah reported: 'He (God) says: "My son Abiathar says so, and My son Jonathan says so."' 'What!' exclaimed the other, 'Is there any doubt with Heaven (God)!' 'No,' said Elijah, but both utter the words of the living God.' "22

God Himself studies the teachings of the Rabbis. He is transformed into "Ribbono shel Olam," the Master or Rabbi of the world. But as "Ribbono shel Olam," God is only one rabbi among many. In matters of halachah, He must follow the majority. He submits to them, and learns from them. The teaching that God was defiled is a monumental departure from "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts...."23

None of this can be seen in the text of Tanakh without the revisionist lens. Where even that is not sufficient, the rabbinic teaching becomes a tradition which is granted equal authority with Torah. Even more, whereas Torah is limited to what the Rabbis say it says, their teaching has no limits. Talmudic revisionism is the means for the Rabbis to attain the legitimacy and authority that Scripture denies them, but that only Scripture can bestow.


Replacement and Substitution

Another important aspect of Talmudic Revisionism is the consistent pattern of replacement and substitution. Rabbinic practices and decrees were substituted for Biblical ones. Usually these were related to the void created by the destruction of the Temple and the cessation of the sacrifices. Where would Israel find atonement?

The Rabbis presented numerous alternative means of atonement. Among them were circumcision, exile, death, burial, and giving to the Rabbis. Even hospitality was said to bring atonement. Looking to the description of the future Temple presented in Ezekiel, R. Johanan and Resh Lakish noted the proximity of the altar and the table. From this they concluded: "At the time when the Temple stood, the altar used to make atonement for a person; now a person's table makes atonement for him."24

The most prominent substitutes were study and prayer. "R. Huna said: 'If you study the laws about sacrifice, that is to me as if you had offered them.'"25 "Whoever occupies himself with the study of the torah needs no burnt offering nor sin-offering, no meal offering nor guilt offering."26 Reading the scriptures on sacrifices was equivalent to offering the sacrifices. "R. Jacob b. Aha said in the name of R. Assi;...Abraham then continued: Master of the Universe! This holds good whilst the Temple remains in being, but when the Temple will no longer be what will become of them? (God) replied: I have already long ago provided for them in the Torah the order of sacrifices and whenever they read it I will deem it as if they had offered them before me and I will grant them pardon for all their iniquities."27

The atoning nature of rabbinic prayer was said both to have originated in the earliest beginnings of the Jewish people and also to have begun almost 2000 years later. "R. Jose son of R. Hanina said: The Tefillahs [the 3 daily times of prayer] were instituted by the Patriarchs. R. Joshua b. Levi says: The Tefillahs were instituted to replace the daily sacrifices. It has been taught in accordance with R. Jose b. Hanina, and it has been taught in accordance with R. Joshua b. Levi. It has been taught in accordance with R. Jose b. Hanina: Abraham instituted the morning Tefillah...Isaac instituted the afternoon Tefillah...Jacob instituted the evening prayer..."28

The daily sacrifices began to be offered when the covenant at Sinai was given. That was several centuries after the Patriarchs. The daily sacrifices ceased after the destruction of the First Temple and then the Second. If the Patriarchs instituted the times of prayer, they could not have instituted them to replace the daily sacrifices. The daily sacrifices had not yet been offered for the first time.

Daniel did pray three times a day,29 and it is certainly possible that others did as well. So the practice may have been quite old, but there is no implication that his prayers replaced the sacrifices. Additionally, there were only two daily offerings in the Temple. The commandment was, "Prepare one lamb in the morning and the other between the two evenings."30 The time of evening prayer could not have been a substitute for the evening sacrifice, "for there was no corresponding evening offering. It is for this reason that the obligatory status of this worship service was always questionable and a matter of dispute."31

Other times of rabbinically prescribed prayer also substituted for the Temple sacrifices. "R. Hisda said in Mar 'Ukba's name: He who prays on the eve of the Sabbath and recites 'and [the heaven and the earth] were finished', the two ministering angels who accompany man place their hands on his head and say to him, and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged."32 The rabbinic house of study became a substitute for the Temple.33 For this form of atonement, the Rabbis replaced the priests.

"The pursuit of scholarship, in fact, possesses the power to induce supernatural redemption - particularly when allied with other forms of communal service. Hence: 'If a man occupies himself with the study of the torah, works of charity, and prays with the community', says God, 'I account it to him as if he had redeemed Me and My children from among the nations of the world' (TB Berakhot 8a). In an extended sense, popular study could even be described as a form of atonement."34

More than that, simply attributing a rabbinic teaching to its proper author could do what all the sacrifices of the Temple had no power to do. "He who quotes a statement by name brings redemption to the world."35


1. George Orwell, 1984, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., NY, 1949, P.35

The People in the Bible

2. Sanh. 38b, also A.Z. 5a

3. Sanh. 24a

4. A reference to Gen. 26:5

5. Yoma 28a

6. Basser, P.105

7. B.M. 59a

8. Basser, P107

9. Mak.24a Cf. 2 Kings 2:12.

10. Mak.24a n3, Cf. Aboth., VI,3.

11. B.M. 85b

12. Meg. 16b

13. Meg. 13b

14. Basser, P114 [San.97a]

The Teachings of the Bible

15. Sanh.32b

16. Shab. 119b [1Ch.16:22

17. Shab. 31b [Is.33:6]

18. Sanh. 24a

19. Sanh. 87a

20. Midrash Rabbah, Leviticus, trans. Judah Slotki, Soncino, London, 1939 [mid

7th c.] Pp.276-77 XXII.1

21. A.Z. 17b [2Ch.15:3]

22. Bowman, P.373, n. 241

23. Is.6:3

Replacement and Substitution

24. Hag.27a

25. Pesikta 60b

26. Rava in Men. 110a

27. Ta'anith 27b,p145

28. Ber.26b

29. Dan.6:11

30. Num. 28:3 See vv.1-8 for the complete description.

31. Donin, To Be A Jew, P.160

32. Shab.119b

33. Meg.29a

34. S.A. Cohen, Pp.169-170

35. Avot 6:6, Meg.15a, cited in Elman, P.21


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(go back)
 What Is A Rabbi
Tanakh And Oral Law
The Oral Law As Interpretation
The Historical Development Of Oral Law
A Fence Around The Torah
Talmudic Revisionism
Confronting The Scriptures
Uprooting the Scriptures