Rabbinic Judaism

Rabbinic Judaism has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century, after the codification of the Babylonian Talmud. Rabbinic Judaism has its roots in the Pharisaic school of Second Temple Judaism. It is based on the questionable belief that Moses at Mount Sinai received both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah from God. The Oral Torah, transmitted orally, explains the Written Torah. At first, it was forbidden to write down the Oral Torah, but after the destruction of the Second Temple, it was decided to write it down in the form of the Talmud and other rabbinic texts for preservation.

Rabbinic Judaism contrasts with the Sadducees, Karaite Judaism, and Samaritanism, which do not recognize the Oral Torah as a divine authority nor the rabbinic procedures used to interpret Jewish scripture. Although there are now profound differences among Jewish denominations of Rabbinic Judaism concerning the binding force of Jewish religious Law and the willingness to challenge preceding interpretations, all identify as coming from the tradition of the Oral Law and the rabbinic method of analysis.

Council of Yavneh 

A significant event that set the stage for Rabbinic Judaism occurred in 75 AD with the Council of Yavneh (a small town about 15 miles south of current-day Tel-Aviv). With the recent destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 AD and the visible growth of Christianity within the Jewish community, something had to be done. Led by Rabbi Jochanan Ben Zakkai, a disciple of Beit Hillel, the rabbis considered major changes to combat this enemy. The Jewish community was experiencing a crisis of confidence in Jewish leadership after the temple destruction, as well as the loss of land by Jews, particularly throughout Judea. 

According to Jack P. Lewis, the initial purpose of the Yavneh “council” was to relocate the rabbinic school or academy to Yavneh after the siege of Jerusalem. When Johanan escaped from the Jerusalem siege, he asked permission from the Roman general Vespasian to reestablish his school at Yavneh. Josephus recorded that Vespasian marched southward from Caesarea in AD 68 to Yavneh, where he quartered several surrendered Jews. So, Yavneh became a place of internment for pacified Jews in addition to a place of learning during the Jewish Wars. The school did not take the name of Sanhedrin but began to exercise the same legal functions as the great Jewish law court. 

Sectarianism Dies 

Many religious issues had yet to be decided in the tumultuous years before the temple destructionnotably the disputes between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. At Yavneh, the Academy ruled in favor of Beit Hillel in virtually all cases. Sectarianism ceased when the Pharisees gathered at Yavneh and rejected all those not members of their own party. The Sadducees, deprived of the temple and devoid of their livelihood and power base, disappeared. At the same time, the Essenes became, to a large degree, the foundation of the Christian church since they were anticipating a suffering Messiah. Jewish Christians were excommunicated, the biblical canon was purged of works written in Greek and apocalyptic in style, and the gates were closed on the outside world, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Functioning in a “crisis” atmosphere, the rabbis of Yavneh were motivated by an exclusive ethic; their goal was to define orthodoxy and to rid Judaism of all those who would not conform to it.  

The decision not to rebuild the Temple meant that animal sacrifices required to take place in the Temple were no longer possible. Modifications to practices related to the Day of Atonement and other Jewish festivals were made to accommodate the new temple status. In addition, they created or formalized a uniform prayer service for the people. Many changes were made to counteract the growing Christian influence. It also caused a reemphasizing of religious giving, known as tzedakah, the religious obligation to do what is right and just, which Judaism emphasizes as an essential part of living a spiritual life. Unlike voluntary philanthropy, tzedakah is seen as a religious obligation that must be performed regardless of one's financial standing. So it is mandatory even for those with limited financial means. It is considered one of the three main acts that can positively influence an unfavorable heavenly decree. Good deeds would be an acceptable alternative to animal sacrifices.

Shedding of Blood

For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, "THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU." And in the same way, he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. According to the Law, one may almost say that all things are cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.      Hebrews 9:19-22 

Expiation is the theological term that denotes the end accomplished by certain divinely appointed sacrifices to free the sinner from the punishment of his sins. In Old Testament times, sin offerings were the required method God commanded to address sin. In Leviticus 4:20, He shall also do with the bull just as he did with the bull of the sin offering; thus, he shall do with it. So, the priest shall make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven. The idea of atonement (kapar) is of supreme theological importance in the Old Testament as it is central to an Old Testament understanding of the remission of sin. At its most basic level, the word conveys the notion of covering but not in the sense of merely concealing. Rather, it suggests the imposing of something to change its appearance or nature. Paul helps us understand its true implications in Romans 3:23-26 by pointing to Jesus, who would provide remission (forgiveness) of sins, a permanent condition. 


for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness because, in the forbearance [anoche – indulgence, temporary longsuffering] of God, He passed over [paresis – bypassed] the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.          Romans 3:23-26 

In these verses, God's attitude toward sin is demonstrated, where the word páresis, bypassing, is used, which does not mean remission of sins. Páresis was temporary. God winked at the sins of the people because of their animal sacrifices. That was the paresis, the overlooking, also called forbearance or temporary suspension of His wrath. The sacrifice of Christ provides áphesis, remission, the forgiveness of sins, which is once and for all, taking them away (see Acts 10:43), and is more than páresis, bypassing or skirting their sins. However, redemption through Christ's blood provided permanent satisfaction of His justice. The completion of the Old Testament animal sacrifices was the blood of Christ.  

Life Makes Atonement 

‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’          Leviticus 17:11 

According to New Unger’s Bible Dictionary: “To present to God as a gift a portion of the results of one's toil implied surrender of the person of the offerer himself. That God did not require the death of man, but the surrender of his heart, the Israelites could not fail to learn in the case of Abraham when called upon to offer up Isaac. Presenting sacrifices under the impression that they embodied the fact of man's surrender of himself to God is insisted upon by Mosaic law as a covenant obligation. But from his being unholy and sinful, man is unable to surrender himself to the holy God. This view was impressed upon the Israelites, and they were reminded of the fundamental principle of the covenant to be holy as Jehovah is holy, by the commandment that the animals offered were to be free from physical defects.”

When the Jewish leadership decided to end animal sacrifices, it also ended their commitment to surrender themselves to God as a covenant obligation. Any degree of philanthropy or tzedakah could not replace the blood sacrifices previously instituted by Yahweh on Mount Sinai.

Codifying the Oral Torah

Originally, Jewish scholarship was oral. Rabbis expounded and debated the Law, as written in the Tanakh, and discussed these laws without the benefit of written works other than the biblical books themselves. This situation changed drastically when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD and the consequent upheaval of Jewish social and legal norms. As the rabbis were required to face a new reality—mainly Judaism without a Temple serving as the center of teaching and study and Judea without autonomy—there was a flurry of legal discourse, and the old system of oral scholarship could not be maintained. Rabbinic discourse began to be recorded in writing during this period.

The Oral Torah was subsequently codified in the Mishnah and is interpreted in the Talmud, detailing subsequent rabbinic decisions and writings. Rabbinic Jewish literature is predicated on the belief that the Torah cannot be properly understood without the Oral Torah. Many commandments and stipulations contained in the Written Torah would be difficult, if not impossible, to keep without the Oral Torah to define them. As an example, the prohibition to do any "creative work" on the Sabbath, which is not clearly defined in the Torah, is given a practical meaning in the Oral Torah, defining what constitutes Sabbath laws. Rabbinic Judaism claims that almost all directives, both positive and negative, in the Torah are non-specific and require the existence of either an Oral Torah or some other method to explain them. Rabbinic authority was necessary to interpret the Written Torah correctly. 

Tradition of the Elders 

Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?   

For God said, 'HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,' and, 'HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.' But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God," he is not to honor his father or his mother.' And by this, you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN '" [Isaiah 29:13].     Matthew 15:1-9

During His three-year public ministry, Jesus consistently confronted the Pharisees and their methods of enforcing the Oral Law as if the Lord had also given it to Moses on Mount Sinai. He referred to this practice as the tradition of the elders and, in some cases, made it superior to the written Law. Isaiah spoke of this same issue 700 years before Christ. The Scriptures have multiple warnings about adding to or taking away from what is written in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 4:2, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. This has been a consistent problem existing when man does not reverence or properly respect the authority of Scripture. Rabbinic Judaism has fallen into this trap.

Role of the Holy Spirit

Throughout the Old Testament, God always spoke through His ordained men by “the Spirit of the Lord.” The Spirit of God anointed the prophets to speak to His people with words of encouragement, warnings, and identification of sins committed, including predictions and prophecies of future events and judgments. Particular ordained offices, including priests, kings, and prophets, were anointed through a ceremony utilizing anointing oil as a representative of the Holy Spirit, which rested upon them to fulfill their unique offices. Inspiration and divine empowerment came through the Holy Spirit.

King Saul

When God’s people expressed their lack of satisfaction with a theocracy and asked an aging Samuel for a king instead of one of Samuel’s sons, the Lord reacted by warning them of what to expect: Their sons would serve him in battle, their daughters would serve him as cooks and perfumers, and their best land would be taken from them. Yet they insisted on a king, so God gave them Saul, son of Kish, a man from the tribe of Benjamin. God gave him the anointing of the Holy Spirit to fulfill his obligations. In 1 Samuel 10:6, “Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man.”  The power of the Holy Spirit would change this man into another man. Eventually, the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him (1 Samuel 16:14) when he did not obey the Lord.

Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.”         1 Samuel 15:22-23

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

King Saul is a picture of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day and Rabbinic Judaism, who had clear evidence that Jesus was the Messiah. According to Arnold Fruchtenbaum, three particular miracles performed by Jesus were understood by Jewish leaders as messianic: the healing of the leper (Luke 5:12-15), the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-7), and casting out a demon from a man blind and mute (Matthew 12:22-24). In His conversation with these Jewish leaders, Jesus was revealing that they were committing the unpardonable sin, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, since they had the clear witness of the Holy Spirit yet rejected it. They became incensed with Jesus, accusing Him of being under the authority of Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons (Matthew 12:23). 

After losing his anointing, Saul had great difficulty being in the presence of David, a messianic figure, and even became afraid of him. Now Saul was afraid of David, for the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul (1 Samuel 18:12). He would take many opportunities to try to kill David, just as the Pharisees wanted on multiple occasions to stone Jesus, without success.

Saul’s Demise 

“The Lord has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David. “As you did not obey the Lord and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the Lord has done this thing to you this day. “Moreover, the Lord will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines; therefore, tomorrow, you and your sons will be with me. Indeed, the Lord will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines!”          1 Samuel 28:17-19 

In 1 Samuel 28, Saul approaches Samuel for advice about the battle he will fight with the Philistines. Saul recognized that God had departed from me and no longer answered me through prophets or dreams (Verse 15). The answer he gets from Samuel is that tomorrow, you and your sons will be with me. Saul and his sons will die in a battle against their enemy, and the Lord will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines. Similarly, the Romans would kill the Jewish leaders of Jesus's day, and the city and Temple would be destroyed by its enemies, the Romans, in 70 AD.  

Another Saul

"While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'             Acts 26:12-18 

Another Saul from the same tribe of Benjamin, this Saul of Tarsus, a great Pharisee of his day, was on his way to Damascus to fulfill his anger against Jesus of Nazareth by arresting Christians for trial in Jerusalem. As his account to King Agrippa above relates, he heard the voice of Jesus asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” in Hebrew. His answer, “Who are You, Lord?” tells us that he recognized the voice as one of authority. “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”  Jesus’s message was not “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Instead, He immediately commissioned Saul of Tarsus, who would now be known as Paul, as the Apostle to the Gentiles, so all who open their eyes may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those sanctified by faith in Jesus. Paul came to understand that this would only be possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

The answer to the problem of Rabbinic Judaism (King Saul) will be the Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus), who would recognize Jesus as his Messiah and receive forgiveness for his sins through the blood of Jesus.

The Spirit of Forgiveness

“It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. “Even on the male and female servants, I will pour out My Spirit in those days.    Joel 2:28-29

“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. “You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers, so you will be My people, and I will be your God.               Ezekiel 36:27-28

Therefore, let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him, forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him, everyone who believes is freed from all things from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.              Acts 13:38-39

From the prophet Joel, we are given the prophecy of what would occur in Acts 2 at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would be given to all who believe in Jesus as Messiah, regardless of background, gender, or age. His Spirit will cause them to walk in His statutes and observe His ordinances, thus becoming God’s people. This happens through the forgiveness of sins. For without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). Until the Rabbinic Jew finds forgiveness of sins through Jesus as Messiah, he is left in human wisdom, without divine insight to direct his life. The unregenerated rabbi can only operate in human wisdom. The unregenerated Jew will die in his sins.


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