The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees
There is an interesting story in the Talmud (in the tractate Bava Mezia 59b) that illustrates the attitude of many Orthodox Jews toward the Scriptures. This popular story centers on a group of rabbis who are holding a halakhic debate as to whether an oven that has become religiously unclean can be made clean again. (Halakha refers to principles and rules for living which inform Jews about how they are to conduct their lives.) In this story found in the Talmud, the majority of the rabbis conclude that an unclean oven cannot be made clean again. A certain rabbi by the name of Eliezer disagrees, asserting that it can be made clean again. This led to the following exchange:
On that day, Rabbi Eliezer put forward all the arguments in the world, but the Sages did not accept them. Finally, he said to them, “If the halakha is according to me, let that carob-tree prove it.” He pointed to a nearby carob-tree, which then moved from its place a hundred cubits, and some say, four hundred cubits. They said to him “One cannot bring a proof from the moving of a carob-tree.”
Said Rabbi Eliezer, “If the halakha is according to me, may that stream of water prove it.” The stream of water then turned and flowed in the opposite direction. They said to him, “One cannot bring a proof from the behavior of a stream of water.”
Said Rabbi Eliezer, “If the halakha is according to me, may the walls of the House of Study prove it.” The walls of the House of Study began to bend inward. Rabbi Joshua then rose up and rebuked the walls of the House of Study, “If the students of the Wise argue with one another in halakha,” he said, “what right have you to interfere?” In honor of Rabbi Joshua, the walls ceased to bend inward; but in honor of Rabbi Eliezer, they did not straighten up, and they remain bent to this day.
Then, said Rabbi Eliezer to the Sages, “If the halakha is according to me, may a proof come from Heaven.” Then a heavenly voice went forth and said, “What have you to do with Rabbi Eliezer? The halakha is according to him in every place.” Then Rabbi Joshua rose up on his feet, and said, “It is not in the heavens” (Deuteronomy 30:12).
What did he mean by quoting this? Said Rabbi Jeremiah, “He meant that since the Torah has been given already on Mount Sinai, we do not pay attention to a heavenly voice, for You have written in Your Torah, ‘Decide according to the majority’” (Exodus 23:2).
Rabbi Nathan met the prophet Elijah. He asked him, “What was the Holy One, Blessed be He, doing in that hour?” Said Elijah, “He was laughing and saying, ‘My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me.’”
Hyam Maccoby, a British Jew who was both a scholar and author, shared the following comment on this passage from the Talmud. “This extraordinary story strikes the keynote of the Talmud. God is a good father who wants His children to grow up and achieve independence. He has given them His Torah, but now wants them to develop it...”
Dear saint, do you perceive the serious error in what is revealed regarding the attitude of the Orthodox Jew toward God and His holy Scriptures? Does Yahweh truly desire for His people “to grow up and achieve independence?” Does Yahweh want His people to direct their own way and rely upon their own wisdom to such a degree that they do not even heed the voice of God speaking from the heavens? Did Yahweh actually instruct the Hebrew people at Mount Sinai to “Decide according to the majority”? The Scripture cited to support this dangerous view is the following:
You shall not follow a multitude in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice…
The rabbis of Israel have twisted this verse to derive from it something Yahweh never intended. The divine intent of this commandment is that a man must stand for truth, righteousness, and integrity, even when the multitude around him is clamoring to do evil. The rabbis read into this commandment the principle that the majority opinion should rule, but only when the majority is not clamoring for that which is false, unrighteous, or evil. This rabbinic interpretation is an example of casuistry – the use of clever but unsound reasoning, especially in relation to moral questions.
This idea of God assigning to man the principle of majority rule is a fabrication. Yahweh never gave any commandment that the Hebrew people should determine halakha, the laws of how life should be lived, through majority rule. A very great transition occurs when a person adopts this false view. No longer is God viewed as the judge and determiner of truth, life, and justice. Man steps into God’s place, being the final arbiter of how the Scriptures are to be applied to daily life, and going far beyond the Scriptures to create a body of legislation and advice on subjects the Bible does not address.
At the heart of this fictitious tale found in the Talmud are the words ascribed to Rabbi Joshua, “It is not in the heavens.” To what does “It” refer? The answer is “Judgment,” “Rule,” “the establishing of halakha (Jewish Law).” These things are not to be found in the heavens. The argument behind this claim is “that since the Torah has been given already on Mount Sinai, we do not pay attention to a heavenly voice.” In other words, God has already given the Hebrew people His law. Now they are on their own to apply it and develop it into a full and mature body of legislation and counsel to inform the Jewish people in every aspect of how life should be lived.
With subtlety worthy of Satan himself, the Jewish “sages” followed in the footsteps of Lucifer when he aspired to make himself like God, to rule his own life, and to no longer be ruled by God.
But you said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”
Is it not “independence” that Lucifer was seeking? He did not want to be ruled by God. He wanted to be equal to God, choosing his own way, ruling his own life. This same attitude is being taught in this passage from the Talmud. Rabbi Joshua argues that the answer to questions on the Law cannot be found in heaven, they must be resolved by man. “We don’t need to pay attention to a heavenly voice.” We see a great contrast in the life of Christ. He was always beholding the Father. He only did what He saw His Father in heaven doing, and He only spoke the words His Father commanded Him to speak.
Yahshua therefore answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”
“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
Yahshua therefore said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”
Yahshua said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.”
“For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak.”
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.”
Though Yahshua was equal with God, He did not seek independence. He stated “As I hear, I judge.” What a great contrast this is to the teaching of the Talmud. The Talmud tells the Jewish people to ignore the heavenly voice. It instructs them that they are on their own. They are to “grow up” by no longer looking to God to inform them about sin, and righteousness, and judgment. This is the cunning of Satan. This is the spirit of antichrist. The Son of God did not come to lead men to independence from His Father. He came to draw men unto Him. Yahshua consistently declared the need of God’s people to be dependent upon, and in communion with, God through the agency of the Holy Spirit.
“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.”
The Talmud teaches that men can determine their own truth. It is filled with the thoughts and opinions of the rabbis as they applied their carnal minds to the interpretation of God’s word. Christ has testified that we need the Spirit of God to know truth. His apostles declared the vital role of the Holy Spirit in ascertaining the thoughts of God, and the utter inability of the carnal mind to apprehend spiritual truth.
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
I Corinthians 2:11-14
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
As disciples of Christ we are to bear much fruit for the glory of God. We are informed that we can ONLY bear fruit if we ABIDE in Christ. We do NOT want to be independent. The branch that is independent from the vine withers away. It will be gathered up and cast into the fire.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”
Talmudic Judaism is apostate because it has separated itself from God. The Son of God declared this to be true. He warned His disciples of the persecution they would suffer at the hands of those who claimed to be doing service to God. Christ’s disciples would suffer because their persecutors, the Orthodox Jews, do not know Yahweh or His Son.
“They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. And these things they will do, because they have not known the Father, or Me.”
Having pursued a course of “independence” from God, the Jews consider themselves to be emancipated. They do not acknowledge the need to wait upon Yahweh to know His mind and thoughts. The independent action of the Hebrew people included developing their own law (Torah). This is what Hyam Maccoby admitted when he summed up the message contained in this Talmudic story. “This extraordinary story strikes the keynote of the Talmud. God is a good father who wants His children to grow up and achieve independence. He has given them His Torah, but now wants them to develop it…”
This is precisely what the Jews did. They “developed” their own Torah. Their Torah is the Oral Torah, now referred to as the Talmud. Along with the Talmud, the Jews venerate the Midrash.
The Midrash is a second body of writings that is closely associated with the Talmud. Its contents were written by many of the same men who contributed to the Talmud. The Midrash is organized differently than the Talmud. The Talmud is arranged topically, for the many opinions of the rabbis did not fit well with a Scriptural layout. The Midrash, by contrast, follows the layout of the Bible. It is similar to a running commentary on various books of the Bible. The Scriptures are cited, alongside of which are copious comments by the rabbis. It is not unusual to find a fragment of a single verse attended by pages of rabbinical commentary. The rabbis also presume to fill in “gaps” in the Bible narrative as they supply information that is absent from the divinely inspired words of Scripture.
There is much pride revealed by those who would add to the word of God. An absence of holy fear towards the Creator is manifested when men begin to tinker with the message Yahweh delivered to mankind. Far from being the reflections of wise men who had a deep reverence for the holy words of Yahweh, the Midrash is filled with idle speculations and vain babbling of the most base and ignoble kind. To illustrate, I have chosen certain portions from the Midrash of Genesis (Bereshith). I will begin with the rabbis’ comments on Adam’s creation. (Note, the abbreviation “R.” stands for “Rabbi,” while “b.” signifies “ben” meaning “son of.”
R. Jeremiah and R. Leazar said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, created Adam, He created him a hermaphrodite [bi-sexual], for it is said, “male and female created He them and called their name Adam” (Genesis 5:2).
R. Samuel b. Nahman said: When the Lord created Adam, He created him double-faced, then He split him and made him of two backs, one back on this side and one back on the other side. To this it is objected: But it is written, “And He took one of his ribs, etc.” (Genesis 2:21). [Mi-zalothaw means] one of his “sides,” replied he, as you read, “And for the second side (zela) of the tabernacle, etc.” (Exodus 26:20).
R.Tanhuma, in the name of R. Banayah, and R. Berekiah in the name of R. Leazar said: He created him a lifeless mass extending from one end of the world to the other… How do we know [that he stretched] from east to west? Because it is said, “Thou hast formed me behind (ahor) and before (kedem).” From north to south? Because it says, “Since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from one end of heaven unto the other” (Deuteronomy 4:32).
The Midrash is filled with this type of nonsense. It seems no better than the idle banter of profane men. In the same Midrash on Genesis there is a story inserted regarding Titus, the Roman General who destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple of the Jews.
When the wicked Titus entered the Holy of Holies, he dragged down the veil, blasphemed and reviled God. On his return a mosquito entered his nose and began piercing his skull. And when he died they split open his brain and found that it (the mosquito) was like a bird weighing two pounds.
In the commentary from Genesis chapter 2 where the tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden is mentioned, and the prohibition from eating from it, the rabbis enter into speculation regarding what type of tree it must have been.
R. Meier said, It was wheat, for when a person lacks knowledge people say, ‘That man has never eaten bread of wheat.’ R. Samuel b. Isaac asked R. Ze’ira: ‘Is it possible that it was wheat?’ ‘Yes,’ replied he. ‘But surely TREE is written?’ he argued. ‘It grew lofty like the cedars of the Lebanon,’ replied he.
Reflecting on the creation of woman in Genesis chapter 2, the rabbis share these bits of rare insight.
R. Joshua was asked, ‘Why does a man come forth [at birth] with his face downward, while a woman comes forth with her face upwards?’ ‘The man looks towards the place of his creation [the earth], while the woman looks towards the place of her creation [the rib],’ he replied. ‘And why must a woman use perfume while a man does not need perfume?’ ‘Man was created from earth,’ he answered, ‘and the earth never putrefies, but Eve was created from a bone. For example, if you leave meat three days unsalted it immediately goes putrid…’ ‘And why is a man easily appeased, but not a woman?’ ‘Man was created from the earth,’ he answered, ‘and when you pour a drop of water on it immediately absorbs it; but Eve was created from a bone, which even if you soak many days in water does not become saturated…’ ‘Why do they [the women] walk in front of the corpse [at the funeral]?’ ‘Because they brought death into the world, therefore they walk in front of the corpse.’
Aside from the myriad opinions the rabbis give on the various passages of Scripture, they introduce much spurious historical information. If a narrative in the Bible leaves out information, the rabbis are not shy about filling in the gaps. Thus, in the Midrash you may find the name of Noah’s wife [Naamah]. You may find the reason given that Noah waited 500 years before he began to have sons when other men were recorded as having sons at a much younger age. The Midrash further asserts that Noah, whose name means “rest,” only received his name after inventing implements for tilling, cultivation, and harvest of the fruit of the ground. It is suggested in the Midrash that prior to this time the labor of man was an excessive burden, for the ground produced only thorns and thistles. Thus, by inventing these implements of farming, Noah brought rest to mankind.
What is the result of all this speculation and historical inventiveness? The Scriptures are treated shamefully. The divine words of God are altered, amended, and added to, demonstrating a lack of regard for preserving and honoring the wisdom and revelation of Yahweh. It is little wonder that apostate Judaism is so marked by the pride of man, for its central documents are born out of presumption and a spirit of usurpation. Man, considering himself to be the equal of God, has set about to alter the divine communication at will.
When Yahshua walked this earth, He warned His disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
And the disciples came to the other side and had forgotten to take bread. And Yahshua said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began to discuss among themselves, saying, “It is because we took no bread.” But Yahshua, aware of this, said, “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? “Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets you took up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Leaven is something that is added to ground grain (flour or meal) in order to cause a reaction. The leaven initiates the process of fermentation, producing gas bubbles in the dough, resulting in it rising. The Son of God used leaven repeatedly to illustrate the work of Satan and of evil men. This symbolism is most appropriate when one speaks of Talmudic (Rabbinic) Judaism, for the Jewish teachers have introduced a foreign agent into the pure word of God which ultimately transforms the character and meaning of God’s word. In ensuing chapters we will see how this tendency of man to add to and alter divine truth has manifested itself throughout Orthodox Judaism and has been adopted by adherents of the Hebrew Roots Movement.
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