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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Re'eh (5762)

Rashi cites evidence for the antiquity of the Oral Law Code.

Deut. 12: 21

If the place that Hashem , your G-d, will choose to place His name, will be far from you, you may slaughter your cattle and your flocks that Hashem has given you, as I have commanded you and you may eat in your cities according to your heart's desire.


And you shall slaughter etc. as you have been commanded: Rashi: This teaches us that there is a command regarding slaughtering [animals to be eaten], how he should slaughter, and these are the laws of slaughtering which were told to Moses at Sinai.


The laws of shechita, ritual slaughter, are an important part of daily Jewish living. The fact that meat must be prepared in a specifically kosher manner is something every traditional Jewish household is familiar with. These laws are quite complex and precise. Yet, in spite of there centrality in Jewish life, these laws are no where to be found in the Written Torah. Why something so basic to the Torah way of life should be missing from the Torah, is answered in our verse.


Rashi bases his comment on the fact that this verse tells us that we are to slaughter an animal "as you were commanded." Yet, no where in the Written Torah do we find a command relating to slaughtering animals in a specified halachic manner. Thus, Rashi concludes that these laws were, in fact, commanded to us, but, although they were not incorporated into the Written Torah, they were given by G-d to Moses orally at Mt. Sinai.


I have chosen this Rashi-comment, not because of any difficulty in interpretation, but rather because it teaches a very important concept about the Oral Tradition of the Torah law. The halachic corpus in Judaism is comprised of different levels of authority. There are the 613 mitzvahs that are taught to us in the Written Torah and explained in finer detail by the Sages in the Talmud. These explanations, based on argumentation and analysis, comprise a substantial part of what is called the Oral Law. It is assumed that the sources of these laws were also given to Moses at Sinai together with the Written Law. There are other laws that the Talmudic Sages themselves promulgated; they are of a lesser authority than the Written Law. Some examples of these: The laws of muktza on the Sabbath; taking the Four Species on Sukkos for the seven days of the holiday, in the synagogue; and the writing of a marriage contract (kesuba).

There is yet another category of laws called "a law given to Moses at Sinai." These are laws that do not appear in the Written Torah nor are they laws decreed by the Sages. And while there is no hint of them in the Written Torah they, never the less, have the same authoritative level as the laws found in (or derived from) the Written Law. Rashi is telling us that the laws which regulate the slaughtering of animals belong to this latter category.


The implications of Rashi's statement are quite significant from an historical and a theological perspective. What this means is that together with the Written Law, an accompanying codex of laws was received by Moses from G-d and imparted by him to the people at Sinai. It must be emphasized that these laws existed at the time of Moses (as is implied by our verse). They were not later accretions to the basic Sinai laws.

Thus when the Torah says "and you shall slaughter as I have commanded" this indicates clearly that we are not to slaughter the animal any way we see fit, but rather only "as I have commanded." Meaning, that G-d commanded Moses the laws of slaughtering animals, even though we find no hint of these laws in the Written Torah.

The whole question of the existence of a corpus of Oral Law, which accompanied the Written Law, is a matter of dispute between traditional Jewish philosophy and more modern interpretations of Judaism. Our verse offers validation for the belief that the Oral Law Tradition did indeed exist side-by-side, contemporaneously, with the laws found in the Written Torah.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

Whats Bothering Rashi? is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi. The Institute is in the process of preparing the Devorim volume of Whats Bothering Rashi? This volume will feature Rashi and the Baalie Tosephos. Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further details at msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il Thanking you in advance.

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