I received an excellent question in the “comments,” showing how good it is to write the book in public and get such useful feedback. I am duplicating it here with my answer.
Sat, 17 Sep 2011 00:00:25
If possible can you clear up the following for me.
The Sadducees insisted on the bible as a guide.
The Pharisees followed the Torah.
What is the difference between the two? I thought the Torah and the Bible were the same really except the bible (Old Testament) was in book form for the house and the Torah the laws in the form of a scroll used in the Temple (Synagogue)?
The confusion comes from the definition of the Torah and the Bible. In the narrowest sense, the Torah is the name given to the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In a broader sense, the Torah is the entire Jewish Bible, or the Old Testament (Tanach), which includes the above mentioned Torah – the five books – and also the many books included in Nevi'im (the Prophets) and Ketuvim (the Writing). This is the entire Written Torah, which is believed by the Jews to be given to Moses by God, on Mount Sinai. The New Testament, which is part of the Christian Bible, is not part of the Tanach, which is a bit ironic, since there is fascinating evidence that Hillel the Elder was Jesus’ teacher – but more of this in a future chapter.
However, in the broadest sense the Torah is the entire content of Jewish teachings – and that includes the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah consists of legal and interpretative matter, traditionally believed to be directly transmitted by God, together with the Written Torah, at the meeting between Him and Moses on Mount Sinai. The material was passed down orally to subsequent generations. Jewish Law, as we know it, is not based only on the Written Torah, but also on the Oral Torah. It was memorized – but was not inflexible. As an interpretive tradition, it was free to evolve and discover the hidden meanings of the Written Torah that were gradually revealed as time went by – since God did not intend the Torah to be for one generation only, but forever.
Not everyone agreed. The Pharisees went by the Oral Torah. The Sadducees, and a few other groups, went by the Written Torah only. In the end, the Pharisees won, and the Oral Torah remained the governing law. It was eventually written down, in what we now call the Talmud. Even as a written document, it allows constant interpretation, questioning and debate – the cornerstone of Jewish intellect.