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W9. Nullifying the Word of God through Our Rules & Traditions.    [Make a Comment]

We are not to nullify the Word of God through our rules & traditions.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Deuteronomy 4:2
In order to obey the mitzvot of ADONAI your God which I am giving you, do not add to what I am saying, and do not subtract from it.

Matthew 15:1-9
Then some P'rushim and Torah-teachers from Yerushalayim came to Yeshua and asked him, "Why is it that your talmidim break the Tradition of the Elders? They don't do n'tilat-yadayim before they eat!" He answered, "Indeed, why do you break the command of God by your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say, 'If anyone says to his father or mother, "I have promised to give to God what I might have used to help you," then he is rid of his duty to honor his father or mother.' Thus by your tradition you make null and void the word of God! You hypocrites! Yesha'yahu was right when he prophesied about you, 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me. Their worship of me is useless, because they teach man-made rules as if they were doctrines.'"

Mark 7:1-13
The P'rushim and some of the Torah-teachers who had come from Yerushalayim gathered together with Yeshua and saw that some of his talmidim ate with ritually unclean hands, that is, without doing n'tilat-yadayim. (For the P'rushim, and indeed all the Judeans, holding fast to the Tradition of the Elders, do not eat unless they have given their hands a ceremonial washing. Also, when they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they have rinsed their hands up to the wrist; and they adhere to many other traditions, such as washing cups, pots and bronze vessels.) The P'rushim and the Torah-teachers asked him, "Why don't your talmidim live in accordance with the Tradition of the Elders, but instead eat with ritually unclean hands?" Yeshua answered them, "Yesha'yahu was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites - as it is written, 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me. Their worship of me is useless, because they teach man-made rules as if they were doctrines.' You depart from God's command and hold onto human tradition. Indeed," he said to them, "you have made a fine art of departing from God's command in order to keep your tradition! For Moshe said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say, 'If someone says to his father or mother, "I have promised as a korban" ' " (that is, as a gift to God) " ' "what I might have used to help you,"' then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus, with your tradition which you had handed down to you, you nullify the Word of God! And you do other things like this."

Revelation 22:18-19
I warn everyone hearing the words of the prophecy in this book that if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues written in this book. And if anyone takes anything away from the words in the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the Tree of Life and the holy city, as described in this book.

Supportive Scriptures

Proverbs 30:5-6
Every word of God's is pure; he shields those taking refuge in him. Don't add anything to his words; or he will rebuke you, and you be found a liar.

Matthew 23:23-31
Woe to you hypocritical Torah-teachers and P'rushim! You pay your tithes of mint, dill and cumin; but you have neglected the weightier matters of the Torah - justice, mercy, trust. These are the things you should have attended to - without neglecting the others! Blind guides! - straining out a gnat, meanwhile swallowing a camel! Woe to you hypocritical Torah-teachers and P'rushim! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. Blind Parush! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may be clean too. Woe to you hypocritical Torah-teachers and P'rushim! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look fine on the outside but inside are full of dead people's bones and all kinds of rottenness. Likewise, you appear to people from the outside to be good and honest, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and far from Torah. Woe to you hypocritical Torah-teachers and P'rushim! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the tzaddikim, and you say, 'Had we lived when our fathers did, we would never have taken part in killing the prophets.' In this you testify against yourselves that you are worthy descendants of those who murdered the prophets.

1 Corinthians 2:3-7
Also I myself was with you as somebody weak, nervous and shaking all over from fear; and neither the delivery nor the content of my message relied on compelling words of "wisdom" but on a demonstration of the power of the Spirit, so that your trust might not rest on human wisdom but on God's power. Yet there is a wisdom that we are speaking to those who are mature enough for it. But it is not the wisdom of this world or of this world's leaders, who are in the process of passing away. On the contrary, we are communicating a secret wisdom from God which has been hidden until now but which, before history began, God had decreed would bring us glory.

1 Corinthians 11:1-2
... try to imitate me [Paul], even as I myself try to imitate the Messiah. Now I praise you because you have remembered everything I told you and observe the traditions just the way I passed them on to you.

Galatians 1:13-14
For you have heard about my [Paul's] former way of life in [traditional] Judaism - how I did my best to persecute God's Messianic Community and destroy it; and how, since I was more of a zealot for the traditions handed down by my forefathers than most Jews my age, I advanced in [traditional] Judaism more rapidly than they did.

Colossians 2:8
Watch out, so that no one will take you captive by means of philosophy and empty deceit, following human tradition which accords with the elemental spirits of the world but does not accord with the Messiah.

1 Thessalonians 2:13
Another reason we regularly thank God is that when you heard the Word of God from us, you received it not merely as a human word, but as it truly is, God's Word, which is at work in you believers.

2 Thessalonians 2:15
Therefore, brothers, stand firm; and hold to the traditions you were taught by us, whether we spoke them or wrote them in a letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:6
Now, in the name of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah we command you, brothers, to stay away from any brother who is leading a life of idleness, a life not in keeping with the tradition you received from us.

1 Timothy 4:7
But refuse godless bubbe-meises, and exercise yourself in godliness.

Rabbinical Traditions that Contradict or Are Not in Accord with Scripture

A. A Wise Man is Superior to a Prophet
Moses Ibn Ezra (al-Andalus, c. 1055-1138), Book of Discussion and Conversation (Kitab al-muhadara wa-l-mudhakara), 19b-20a.
The sage is greater than the prophet - because the prophet transmits the communication (risala) ... or prophecy (nubuwa) ... as revealed to him, whereas the sage ... extrapolates laws (yafra'u) [from Scripture] in accordance with what the Law allows him to extrapolate (tafri'), and he utilizes his own mental capacity, and draws conclusions (yuntiju) from his intellectual premises. [In relation to the prophet] he has the distinction (fadl) of creative ability (al-ibda').


Mishneh Torah (Rambam) Shab. 5:1
R. Abdimi from Haifa said: "Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from the prophets and given to the wise. Is then a wise man not also a prophet?" What he meant was this: Although it has been taken from the prophets, it has not been taken from the wise. Amemar said: A wise man is even superior to a prophet.

The contradiction is in lauding human wisdom over the gift of hearing the voice of God.

B. Blessing God Who Commanded the Lighting of Candles on Shabbat
Shulchan Aruch 263.5, Mishna B'rurah 263.22

The b'racha recited when lighting the Shabbat candles is:

Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheynu Melech ha-olam, asher kidishanu b'mitzvotav vitzivanu l'hadlik, ner shel shabbat.

Blessed are you, Lord, God, King of the world, who has commanded us to light the Sabbath lights.

The contradiction is in the statement "who has commanded us to light the Sabbath lights." There is no such commandment in Scripture.

C. Yizkor Prayer on Yom Kippur

May God remember the soul of my father/mother, my teacher - insert name of deceased here - who has gone on to his world, because, without making a vow, I will give to charity on his behalf. As reward for this, and in his/her merit, may his/her soul be bound in the Bond of Life, together with the souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, and together with the other righteous men and women in the Garden of Eden. Now let us respond: Amen.

The contradiction is praying that the soul of the departed parent be granted eternal life as a reward for the person praying (near relative or teacher's student) giving charity on his or her behalf.

D. Kol Nidre Prayer on Erev Yom Kippur

All vows, and prohibitions, and oaths, and consecrations, restrictions, interdictions, and any synonymous terms that we may vow, or swear, or consecrate, or prohibit upon ourselves, from the previous Day of Atonement until this Day of Atonement and from this Day of Atonement until the [next] Day of Atonement that will come for our benefit, we regret all of them. Regarding all of them, we repudiate them. All of them are undone, abandoned, cancelled, null and void, not in force, and not in effect. Our vows are no longer vows, and our prohibitions are no longer prohibitions, and our oaths are no longer oaths.

The contradiction is to the many Scriptures that enjoin us to be truth-tellers. These include swearing only in God's Name, swearing falsely, telling the truth, and keeping promises.


Traditions are good (and even necessary) when they are consistent with, and supportive of, the Word of God. Regrettably, traditions have been misused by the Jewish people and others throughout the ages, which is why we read of Yeshua scolding the Pharisees and Torah teachers that were criticizing him and his disciples for violating inconsequential traditions, while they themselves were breaking major Commandments of God through their traditions (Mark 7:7-9).

Some traditions are explicitly commanded in Scripture, such as Leviticus 23:40:

On the first day [of Sukkot] you are to take choice fruit, palm fronds, thick branches and river-willows, and celebrate in the presence of ADONAI your God for seven days.

You will notice, however, that the Scripture does not say what we are to do with these items, so it was left to our community leaders or community consensus, and the Jewish tradition that developed was to wave them in a prescribed way. One can assume, therefore, that a Jew who does not take up the "four species" in some manner on Sukkot violates the commandment of God, but if he merely departs from the rabbinical way of doing it, he only violates rabbinical tradition.

I say "rabbinical tradition", but it is also "rabbinical law" because the sages of Judaism have come to believe that they are authorized by God to interpret Torah and to make law for the Jewish community. Law for the Jewish Community (statutory or stare decisis)1 is known as halachah, and its basis is in Deuteronomy 17:8-11:

If a case comes before you at your city gate which is too difficult for you to judge, concerning bloodshed, civil suit, personal injury or any other controversial issue; you are to get up, go to the place which ADONAI your God will choose, and appear before the cohanim, who are L'vi'im, and the judge in office at the time. Seek their opinion, and they will render a verdict for you. You will then act according to what they have told you there in that place which ADONAI will choose; you are to take care to act according to all their instructions. In accordance with the Torah they teach you, you are to carry out the judgment they render, not turning aside to the right or the left from the verdict they declare to you.

Authority to interpret statutory law is not an unusual or strictly Jewish concept; it is assumed by all judicial bodies, both ecclesiastical and secular. The process of statutory interpretation, when done correctly, seeks to determine a statute's legislative intent - that is, its meaning and application that its framer(s) had in mind. All New Covenant believers are able to (and expected to) interpret God's statutes (commandments) through the prophetic insight that has been given to us by the Holy Spirit. The problem arises when we seek to interpret in our own logic and our own wisdom, and not according to what the Holy Spirit reveals to us when we consult him.

Regrettably, the way Rabbinical Judaism has chosen to interpret and apply God's commandments is without the help of the Holy Spirit, and by man's own power and authority. The justification for this is a story that is recorded in the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 59b, where, in the midst of a dispute between rabbis, a heavenly voice was allegedly heard to cry out:

'Why do you dispute with R. Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halachah agrees with him!' But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: 'It is not in heaven.' What did he mean by this? - Said R. Jeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because You have long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, 'After the majority must one incline.' (Soncino Talmud)

The statement "It is not in heaven" (lo ba-shamayim hi) also appears in Deuteronomy 30:12, where it is used in a different context:

It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' (NKJ)

In the Babylonian Talmud, "It is not in heaven" is used to justify not seeking the voice of God or even paying attention to it for Torah interpretation and application, on the theory that God gave the Torah to mankind on Mount Sinai, and that it is now exclusively man's possession, and exclusively man's to interpret and apply.2

And interpret the Torah man did - by what has come to be known as "building a fence around the Torah." It is achieved by enacting a gezeirah - a law to prevent a person from accidentally violating a mitzvah d'oraita - a commandment of Torah.3 The concept of building a fence around the Torah for safety was inspired by Deuteronomy 22:8:

When you build a new house, you must build a low wall around your roof; otherwise someone may fall from it, and you will be responsible for his death.

In order to be effective, a gezeirah must be more restrictive than the Torah commandment it seeks to protect. Quoting from a paper by Daniel C. Juster:4

The most common examples of protecting the Torah are the laws of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), especially the laws concerning milk and meat. The Torah (Exodus 23:19, & 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21) exhorts us to not boil a kid (a baby goat) in its mother's milk. This command is in the context of pagan Canaanite practice. It is also an obvious humanitarian deference to animal life. To protect this law, the rabbis decided that eating milk and meat together, even if not from the same animal, should be avoided. Once this was accepted, they determined that we needed to have hours of separation between meat meals and milk meals so that milk and meat will not be cooked together in our digestive system. Once this was accepted, we were required to have separate dishes for milk and meat since there is a possibility that particles of meat or milk may be left on the plate and get mixed and eaten. In the case of Kashrut, a new fence is made for each new rabbinical law!

On its surface, it appears that building a fence around the Torah is a sensible thing to do, since if one does not violate the fence, one cannot violate the Torah which is what is sought to be protected.5 Ironically, in its apparent virtue, it does not achieve that which it seeks to achieve. When we seek to keep Torah, we are not merely keeping rules - we are connecting with God who is the rule-maker and, therefore, our attention is on pleasing God. If, however, a rabbinical fence is placed between us and God's law, our attention is no longer on pleasing God, but on pleasing the rabbis because it is their fence that we seek to not violate. As a matter of fact, with the establishment of a fence around the Torah, we need not concern ourselves about God's law or God at all. That is what Yeshua meant when he admonished the Pharisees and Torah teachers in Mark 7:13a:

Thus, with your tradition which you had handed down to you, you nullify the Word of God!

1. Law of the case - a Latin term derived from British Common-law literally meaning "to stand by things decided"

2. Eliezer Berkovits, "Not in Heaven: The Nature and Function of Halakha" (Ktav Publishing House: New York, 1983).

3. A mitzvah drabbanan is a law or commandment promulgated by the Rabbis.'

4. Daniel C. Juster, "Building a Fence Around the Torah," Tikkun International Newsletter: "Israel's Restoration," December 2007.

5. Eve was the first person to build a fence around Gods Word when she said to the serpent in Genesis 3:2b: "We may eat from the fruit of the trees of the garden

Classical Commentators

This Mitzvah is not addressed by any of the Jewish classical commentators.


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