February 14, 2021

Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:1-3).

In the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, the Jewish milkman Tevya explains how the people of his village are able to keep balance in their lives. “One word,” he says, “Tradition!” He says there is a tradition for everything they do in the village. He continues, “You may ask how these traditions got started. I will tell you. I don’t know. But they are traditions. And because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” Poor misguided Tevya.

The Pharisees asked Jesus, Why do Your disciples transgress the traditions of the elders? What was/are the 'traditions of the elders'? The Hebrew Talmud is the body of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend comprising the Mishnah and the Gemara. There are two versions of the Talmud: the Babylonian Talmud (which dates from the 5th century AD but includes earlier material) and the earlier Palestinian or Jerusalem Talmud (Oxford Dictionary).

In the Talmud it says that when God spoke the oral Law to Moses he was commanded to teach the oral Law to great (faithful) men of Israel. These men were to do 3 things with the Law: 1) to meditate on it and apply it to their lives, 2) to make disciples of the Law so that it could be passed on to the next generation, and 3) to ‘build a wall’ around the Law to protect it from corruption. That ‘wall’ was the faithful transmission of the Law word for word.

But the Law was given to imperfect men and these imperfect men passed the Law on to imperfect men until generations later the ‘wall’ that was to keep the Law from corruption actually corrupted it. The ‘wall of protection’ ceased to be the faithful transmission of the Law and became a faithless manipulation of the Law by reducing it to regulations that satisfied the ‘doing’ of religious regulations rather than faithful obedience to God. Each generation added to these regulations and interpretations until, by the time of Jesus, the Talmud (traditions of the elders) became greater than the Torah in volume and importance.

We can be as guilty as the Pharisees and scribes today by honoring the traditions of our religious heritage more than the Word of God. That’s what incited the Protestant Reformation in 1517 when Martin Luther said enough was enough to the Roman Catholic Church that honored its dogma at the expense of Scriptural truth and its rituals at the expense of obedience to God.

“Father, help me to examine my habits and traditions and determine if they reflect the truth of Your Word or just the regulations and interpretations of my religious heritage. You have called me to faithful obedience to Your Word. My desire is to fulfill that calling every day. To the honor and glory of Your Son, Jesus Christ, I ask, Amen.”


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