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Editorial Correspondence.

Letter of Rev. Mr. Rice.—The Oral Law.

Mr. Editor,—The kind indulgence with which you were pleased to notice my first attempt to write in the English language, induces me again to speak freely concerning the letter of Mr. H. Goldsmith, and to offer at the same time some remarks upon the course of the Rev. Mr. Marks towards the Talmud.

The endeavours of Mr. Goldsmith, to prove the divine authority of the Talmud, are in so far praiseworthy as they show his adherence to that compendium of laws; but in my humble opinion, it is as dangerous to enlarge the limits of talmudic authority, as infidelity itself. The reason for this opinion cannot be better supported than from the letter of Mr. G. itself. He says, “There is no juste milieu; the Talmud is divine, or it is not entitled to authority.” This conclusion must appear erroneous to every man who has studied the Talmud in a proper manner.

On the contrary, the Talmud is entitled to authority, though every part of it is not divine. But the question: “Who gives the Rabbins the right to make laws?” is answered in the Talmud itself. (Tractate Sabbath, fol. 23.) The Talmud takes up the question: “How can we say in our blessings when performing מצות דרבנן (a Rabbinical ordinance)אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו ‘who hath sanctified with his commandments and commanded us,’ when in no place in the law is such an ordinance as the talmudical law of lighting the lamps on the festival of dedication (נר חנכה) or the reading of the book of Esther on Purim enjoined by the Almighty?” To which it is answered, that we are specially commanded in Deut. 17.11: “According to the law which they (the teachers) shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they will say unto thee shalt thou do, thou shalt not depart from the thing which they will tell thee to the right or to the left.” Here the Lord requires of us to follow the laws which our Rabbins may make, and all Rabbinical ordinances (מצות דרבנן) possess divine authority only in so far as the inunction “Thou shall not depart” (לא תסור) extends. This is the true juste milieu which Mr. G. has, perhaps from inexperience in the correct talmudical exegesis denied to the Talmud.

The same is maintained by Maimonides, in his preface to his Yad Hachasaka: “All institutions and ordinances of the Rabbins are enjoined by the Lord, so that we may not depart from them, by his holy word which maintains, Thou shalt not depart, &c.”

This authority to make ordinances, has ceased with the close of the Talmud, when the Israelites became more scattered in small numbers all over the world, and there lived no longer masses of a thousand learned men in one place, as it was in the earlier times, when all the doctors who taught in the spirit of the Talmud, lived in the Holy Land or its vicinity. Maimonides says, therefore, that “Institutions and ordinances since then adopted by any בית דין (ecclesiastical tribunal,) have never been able to receive the universal sanction in Israel, as was the case with the enactments recorded in the Talmud.”

Upon the whole, I cannot understand Mr. G’s views, that either “the Talmud is divine or is not entitled to authority.” Such an assertion would bring us upon absurdities, or lead us to reject all obligation of its contents. Is the second day of festivals a divine law? surely not; still we claim that the Talmud had the right to make such a law, and that the people could not reject it from the principle לא תסור “Thou shalt not depart,” (see Maimonides, Hilchot Kiddush Hachodesh, chap. 5. Halacha, 6; and Sepher Hachinuch, Mitzva, 496,) , and there are many hundred ordinances where the Talmud proceeds upon the same authority.

When Mr. G. says, that “the views of Maimonides cannot be quoted in evidence of the truth of tradition,” I beg him to remember the aphorism חכמים הזהרו בדבריכם “Wise men, take care what you say;” and not contradict so hastily the opinions of the great luminary of Israel. Rabbi Abraham ben David, the great and learned Rabad, says of him: “He has accomplished an immense work, to condense the whole of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, and all the Toseftas,” (Hilchat Kilayim, Chap. 6. H. 2); we therefore should take care to express our opinions with humility, so as not to oppose ourselves without great cause to the wisdom of this enlightened spirit.

With reference to the letter of Mr. Marks, I will merely tell him that his ironical question will hardly weaken the authority of the Talmud, for he has not comprehended the spirit of the talmudical interpretation. He ought to have known that the recommendation of early marriages applies only to the climate of the Holy Land, where puberty occurs earlier than in colder countries (see Aben Ezra).

Again, with regard to intoxication in Purim, he has not truly understood the meaning of the text. The Talmud wishes to teach us allegorically, that we ought to consider whether the elevation of Mordecai ברוך מרדכי or the sudden fall of Haman ארור המן was the greatest miracle, (or in other words, that in rejoicing over the success of Israel, in escaping from the danger which so fearfully threatened them, we should be careful not to curse with the bitterness of hate, those who endeavoured to work our destruction); and surely such a construction will more harmonize with the general principles of the Rabbins who worked for the glorification of the name of God, than the ironical remarks of Mr. Marks.

Your obedient servant,
A. Rice.

Note by the Editor.—We regret that the press of matter has hitherto prevented us from inserting the above interesting communication of the Rev. Mr. R.; but we once for all beg of our esteemed correspondents, that they will not regard the non-appearance of their favours as soon as they expected in the light of a rejection; since the small space to which we are restricted, and the variety we are compelled to seek for, must constantly compel us to select such articles each month, as will best answer our miscellany, whilst those pieces passed by, will, in all likelihood, find an appropriate place at a later period.