Book: Judaism— Revelation of Moses Or Religion of Men?

O that there were such a heart in them that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always.”

Giving the early scribes the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the Jews' so-called “oral law” originated with good intentions. After all, to “build a fence” about the Torah to prevent it from being violated sounds good; to “amplify” the Law to make it easier to keep seems innocent enough. Hence, as Solomon Landman writes, it was through the Talmud that “the rabbis of old had tried to keep alive the principles of the ancient covenant [the written Torah] by applying them to every activity of life” (Story Without End, p. 114; emphasis added). To be sure, applying the principles of the Scriptures to “every activity of life” is exactly what God desires. But this is not what the Talmud does; rather, the Talmud attempts to legislate behavior in a comprehensive fashion. Is it really feasible to create a code of law that covers every conceivable circumstance a person might encounter? Apparently the rabbis thought so. The renowned British rabbi Joseph H. Hertz writes: “Religion in the Talmud attempts to penetrate the whole of human life with the sense of law and right. Nothing human is in its eyes mean or trivial; everything is regulated and sanctified by religion [the Talmud]. Religious precept and duty accompany man from his earliest years to the grave and beyond it. They [the precepts of the Talmud] guide his desires and actions at every moment” (Foreword to The Babylonian Talmud, Soncino Edition, pp. 25-26; emphasis added). While Hertz's statements may sound like the Talmud is merely a “guiding principle” in the life of the observant Jew, the opposite is true. In fact, the Talmud is a vast code of regulatory law that serves only to diminish human discernment in favor of rote obedience to rabbinic decrees. Conversely, the Scriptures teach that genuine morality stems from both the desire and the ability to apply broad biblical principles (such as the Ten Commandments) to any given situation. Or, put another way, God has accomplished with ten basic, living principles what the rabbis have failed to achieve with literally thousands of Talmudic precepts and regulations. (See Appendix Two, which features excerpts from Solomon Ganzfried's Code of Jewish Law.)

In Exploring the World of the Jew, John Phillips writes that, on account of the Talmud, the Torah has been “buried beneath vast accumulations of tradition and encrusted with enormous deposits of human interpretation. The Torah itself has been largely superseded in Judaism by the Talmud. The five books of the Torah can be written out in 350 pages. The Talmud takes up 523 books printed in 22 volumes” (p. 55; emphasis added).

He continues: “The Torah is clear and concise, part of the inspired Word of God. The Talmud is wordy, rambling, argumentative, inconsistent, sometimes witty, sometimes boring, sometimes brilliant, sometimes inane. The laws of the Talmud [which Christ called grievous burdens] constitute cold concrete poured over Jewish life and hardened by time into a rigid prison for the soul.” Phillips concludes that, for Jews, “the chief instrument of ..... blindness to biblical truth has been the Talmud” (p. 57; emphasis added). As a former Talmud-observing Jew, Avi ben Mordechai similarly describes the oral law as “a deep, black hole and an endless system of legal minutiae” (Galatians—A Torah-Based Commentary in First-Century Hebraic Context, p. 48; emphasis added).

Despite the massive legal code that today comprises the Talmud, the truth is that the oral law has failed to provide a protective “fence” about the Law. As we've seen, the Jews' oral traditions over time took on a life of their own. Going far beyond the alleged role of safeguarding the Torah, the Talmud has not only supplanted the Scriptures (a fact readily acknowledged in rabbinic Judaism), it has had a nullifying effect on the Law (Mark 7:13). But as we will see, the real failure of the so-called “oral Torah” is that it has inadvertently become a vain substitute for conscience. With the Talmud, Jews have little need for “moral sense”—everything, in theory, is laid out in black and white; under the oral law, discernment of right and wrong based on broad principles has been replaced by a vast code designed to regulate virtually every aspect of human conduct. How is it that Jewish sages failed to see what generations of experience have proven—that morality cannot be legislated? As the Scriptures themselves reveal, true morality—while clearly directed by basic laws—is only possible with the right “heart.”

Obedience From the Heart

As has been shown, Judaism is a man-made religion predicated on a code of humanly-devised laws. The Jews, however, were not the first to try to trump God's laws with their own. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given specific instructions—laws, in effect. In particular, they were commanded to not eat from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:17). This tree was symbolic, as it did not literally impart knowledge of any kind. Rather, taking of this forbidden tree represented one's willful intent to define for himself what was good and what was evil. The serpent misled Eve, “For God knows that in the day you eat of [this tree], then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be like God, deciding good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). The actual meaning of the Hebrew text is that Adam and Eve would “come to know” good and evil through personal experience.

Thus, Adam and Eve chose to discern for themselves—using human reasoning and experimentation—what constituted good and evil. They would, in effect, create their own “code of law.” While they may not have realized it at the time, their choice also meant rejecting God as sole lawgiver; likewise, the Jews may not have realized that through their oral law they would—in effect—reject the Scriptures as the exclusive authority for human conduct. Nevertheless, learning to “discern” good and evil seemed like a good thing. We read in the New Testament about those who “through repeated practice have had their senses trained to discern between good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). In fact, God wanted Adam and Eve to learn to discern between good and evil—but by living His way, with His laws as their guide. With the right heart and spirit, they would have learned to discern right from wrong by applying the broad principles of God's laws to every circumstance. No detailed code of conduct would be required—as long as they had the right “heart.” Instead, they became a “law unto themselves.”

According to the apostle Paul, a key facet of “human nature” is that people are universally opposed to law; we are by nature rebellious and resist being told how to live. Indeed, the “natural human mind”—the one we all inherited through Adam (Rom. 5:12), as opposed to the spiritually-directed mind of a genuine Christian—”is antagonistic toward God and is not willingly subject to the laws of God” (Rom. 8:7; author's paraphrase).

Thus, when it comes to law-keeping humans have a proclivity to look for loopholes—to find ways around laws they don't like. Ultimately, when laws are circumvented, additional laws must be passed to “close the loopholes.” The volume of civil laws in society increases directly in response to law-breaking—not law-keeping—because of those who create loopholes for existing laws. But additional laws are not the answer, as they only further create a legalistic atmosphere. The answer is a matter of heart, of one's spirit and approach to law-keeping.

The Pharisees, for example, were experts at circumventing the clear instructions of Scripture. As brought out in Chapter One, Jesus indicted the scribes and Pharisees for creating loopholes around laws for the sake of convenience. “Full well do you reject the commandment of God, so that you may observe your own tradition. For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother.'..... But you [teach], 'If a man shall say to his father or mother, “Whatever [financial] benefit you might [have expected to] receive from me is corban” (that is, set aside as a gift to God), he is [no longer] obligated to help his parents.' And you [thus] excuse him from doing anything [to help care] for his father or his mother, nullifying the authority of the Word of God by your tradition which you have passed down; and you practice many traditions such as this” (Mark 7:9-13). According to this Jewish “tradition,” one could simply dedicate to God whatever portion of his money or goods that would normally have been used to support his parents—thus circumventing the clear responsibility of children toward their aging parents as part of the Fifth Commandment.

The Jewish leaders' preference for their own traditions led them into a works-oriented “righteousness” characterized by an obsession with physical rituals and letter-of-the-law observances. Even when they did obey the Torah, it was at the expense of what Christ called the “weightier matters” of the Law—”judgment, and mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23). Clearly, reliance on a humanly-devised “code of law” leaves little room for spiritual discernment, and tends to blind one to “justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42).

Again, even the vast code of laws that makes up the Talmud cannot truly legislate morality for Jews. More laws only mean more loopholes. As long as a legalistic approach is taken—in which right and wrong is defined by a massive, ultra-specific code of conduct—law-keeping will only be mechanical, perfunctory. True morality, on the other hand, is a matter of the heart, of always seeking the best for others in a spirit of love and concern. This is why Paul wrote that love fulfills the Law (Rom. 13:10; also Gal. 5:14 and James 2:8). Such an approach does not require a detailed code of conduct; rather, it depends on understanding and appreciating the underlying intent and purpose of a fundamental set of laws—laws designed to broadly express love toward God and others—and applying those laws in a spirit of love to any circumstance that might arise. No such “code of law” can accomplish this.

Ultimately, God wants obedience from the heart—not from some set of laws performed by rote. Indeed, it has never been God's intent to legislate morality. Jesus demonstrated this when He stated that all which is written in the Law and the Prophets “hangs” on the two great commandments of love toward God and love toward neighbor. Those two broad principles are expanded by the Ten Commandments. Moreover, Christ clearly explained in Matthew (chapters five through seven) that there is an underlying spiritual intent to God's laws—an intent which is based, again, on love and outgoing concern for others.

Jesus Intensified the Law

Early in His ministry, Jesus made the unambiguous proclamation, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until the heaven and the earth shall pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the Law until everything has been fulfilled [brought to pass]” (Matt. 5:17-18). The primary meaning of “fulfill” in verse 17 is to complete. Does this imply that the Torah was incomplete—lacking something? Does Jesus' statement here support the rabbinical view that the Law was in need of some further devel-opment—or perhaps in need of a complementary set of laws?

As brought out in the previous chapter, the Law of God is perfect (Psalms 19:7; James 1:25). And, while it is clear that Jesus in no way diminished the Law, it is equally clear that He added no new laws to the Torah. How then did He complete the Law? In what is generally regarded as a messianic prophecy, the prophet Isaiah foretold that Christ would “magnify the Law and make it glorious” (Isa. 42:21). Most translations render the Hebrew gadal as to magnify, exalt or make great. But such renderings miss the point; the Torah was already held in the highest regard, already looked upon as great. In this key passage, gadal more accurately means to increase or advance something or someone. This is exactly what Jesus did—He increased, advanced or intensified the application of the Law by emphasizing its underlying spiritual intent and purpose. In fact, Christ brought obedience to a new level, making the Torah more binding.

Continuing in Matthew five, Jesus was quick to utilize the apposite example of the scribes and Pharisees, stating that “unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way that you shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (verse 20). Having long abandoned the “weightier matters” of the Law, the Jewish religious leaders were obsessed with tradition and blinded by their own works-based “righteousness”—thus, they knew nothing of genuine righteousness based on heartfelt obedience to God. Christ was simply saying that entry into the Kingdom of God would require obedience on a whole new level—one that considered the deeper spiritual intent of the Law.

Jesus began His intensification of the Torah by demonstrating that behind the letter-of-the-law commandment “You shall not murder” was the deeper spiritual matter of being “angry with one's brother without cause” (verses 21-22). By implicating anger and hatred as the root cause of murder, Jesus was showing that there is a spiritual component to every law. Hatred leads to murder—thus, spiritually, in the mind, hatred is murder. Even if the physical act (or even the contemplation of the act) of murder never occurs, the commandment has already been violated through hate. Indeed, every physical act—good or evil—is preceded by a spiritual mindset or attitude. Thus, according to the spiritual intent of the Torah as magnified by Christ, hate is murder; looking on another person with lust is adultery; coveting is theft; etc. (It is interesting to note that the Tenth Commandment prohibiting coveting has no letter-of-the-law application. Granted, coveting may lead to the breaking of other commandments—such as with stealing— but coveting of itself is always spiritual, occurring only in the mind.)

As stated earlier, the Torah is based on love—”Love does not do any wrong to its neighbor; therefore, love is the full expression of God's Law” (Rom. 13:10). When a person has the right spirit or attitude—one of outgoing concern and love—he can apply the Law from the perspective of what is best for others. The spiritual intent of the Ten Commandments provides the necessary framework for discerning right and wrong in any circumstance a person might face. God's way is both profound and quite simple. Contrary to the approach of the Pharisees—which was to legislate Jewish life with a plethora of burdensome traditions and regulations—Jesus magnified the Law in such a way that it could be applied to any circumstance. In living by the spiritual intent of God's Law, one asks, “What is best in this particular circumstance for my neighbor?” However, a letter-of-the-law approach—particularly when the heart and mind are on the self— leads naturally to law-breaking and the creation of loopholes.

As noted at the beginning of this chapter, the Talmud, in theory, is an attempt to apply the principles of the Law to “every activity of life.” But no such “code of law” could ever achieve such a lofty goal—and would only represent a vain attempt to legislate morality. The answer, as revealed by Jesus, is indeed to apply the principles of the Torah to “every activity of life”—how?—by considering and applying the spiritual intent of the Law in a spirit of outgoing love. When one's focus is on the intent of the Law— considering what is best for others in a spirit of love—loopholes no longer exist. No one is trying to get around the Law, and no one needs to reference a vast code of laws in order to regulate their conduct.

A practical example from the Scriptures best illustrates the point. Concerning the prohibition against work on the Sabbath, Talmudic pundits claim that the Torah is vague on what exactly constitutes work. Granted, while passages dealing with Sabbath observance clearly show that “work” includes more than what we, today, would call “earning a living,” there is no comprehensive list of what may or may not be done on the Sabbath. Clearly, such a list would be impossible, and would only be an attempt to legislate Sabbath-keeping. Thus, the Scriptures only include broad guidelines concerning resting on the Sabbath. The Talmud, however, includes hundreds of Sabbath prohibitions—most of which are absurd and asinine. In their foolish attempt to legislate Sabbath-keeping, the rabbis have covered everything from how far one may walk on the Sabbath (see Acts 1:12) to whether juice may be squeezed from a lemon! But is such a “Sabbath code” really necessary? When one understands the purpose of the Sabbath—that it was created as a gift for man, to be a delight, a joy, a time of spiritual rejuvenation—it becomes obvious that such “codes” actually make the Sabbath a burden.

When one is of the right spirit and attitude, he will willingly and gladly refrain from anything that interferes with keeping the Sabbath restful, exceptional and spiritually focused. Simple, mature discernment is all that is required. But to avoid making a glass of lemonade on the Sabbath because it requires “work” to squeeze a lemon? Such a fanatical approach reflects an inability to exercise common sense. Jesus encountered just such a mindset in dealing with the scribes and Pharisees, who accused Him of violating the Law by healing a woman on the Sabbath:

“Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on one of the Sabbaths; and lo, there was a woman who had been afflicted with a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years, and she was bent over and unable to straighten herself up. And when He saw her, Jesus called her to Him and said to her, 'Woman, you have been loosed from your infirmity.' Then He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the [Pharisaic] ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, and said to the people, 'There are six days in which men are obligated to work; therefore, during those days come and be healed, but not on the Sabbath day.' Therefore, the Lord answered him and said, 'Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to drink? And is it not just as necessary for this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, lo, eighteen years, to be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?' And after He said these things, all those who opposed Him were ashamed; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were being done by Him” (Luke 13:10-17; also see Mark 3:1-5).

The Pharisees failed to grasp the purpose or the spiritual intent of the Sabbath; in their fanaticism and misguided zeal (Rom. 10:2), even doing good deeds on the Sabbath was forbidden as “work.” Similarly, when Jesus' disciples were passing through a field on the Sabbath and stopped to pick a modest portion of grain to eat (Matt. 12:1-2; Mark 2:23-24), the Pharisees were offended. The disciples' actions could hardly be construed as “harvesting” or “servile work”—both prohibited on the Sabbath by the Scriptures. But the Pharisees saw this as a violation of the Torah because their understanding of the Law was skewed by their devotion to tradition. Remember, to them, the Torah was too vague; it needed “fencing in” by a vastly more detailed code. Thus, according to their humanly-devised oral traditions, any plucking of grain on the Sabbath was a violation.

Writing centuries later, Moses Maimonides, one of Judaism's most revered sages, verifies this particular Pharisaic perspective: “He that reaps [on the Sabbath] ever so little, is guilty [of violating the Torah] . and the plucking of ears of corn is a derivative of reaping” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Sabbat, c. 8. sect. 3 and 7.1).

The scribes' and Pharisees' knee-jerking extremist mindset reflected not only their inability to exercise ordinary common sense, it also demonstrated their inability to exercise spiritual discernment as they labored under a system of legal minutiae. But proper obedience to God's Law requires a right spirit, heart and mindset—apart from which a person can only hope to mechanically follow some legalistic “code of law.”

How the Talmud Leads to Spiritual Apathy

Clearly, the Jews' endeavor to magnifying or amplifying the Torah through their vast “code of law” is an effort to legislate moral behavior. Not only is this an untenable proposition, it is one fraught with adverse consequences. The fact is, any attempt to legislate morality leads paradoxically to the destruction of morality. (Here, morality may be defined as simply the ability to thoughtfully discern right from wrong, and then choose the right.)

When moral behavior is dictated by an extensive regulatory code, individual discernment becomes almost nonexistent; judgment—deciding between different courses of action—is rendered pointless; and, ultimately, obedience becomes mechanical. There is no reason to think, discern or ask, “What should I do?”—the “appropriate” course of action has been predetermined. Thus, the “code of law” becomes a cheap substitute for morality and conscience—which inevitably leads to spiritual apathy. True morality, on the other hand, requires that an individual think, discern and judge right from wrong based on broad principles—principles which focus more on underlying intent as opposed to specifics.

Perhaps this point can best be illustrated in how children are brought up. As parents, we want our children to grow up having learned to make sound decisions based on basic parental guidance. When they are young, children are naturally dependent on clear, specific parental “laws.” But as they mature, they must learn to make discerning judgments based on broad principles—or they will be unable to think for themselves, always dependent on specific, letter-of-the-law “rules.” Similarly, living by the “oral law” keeps the Jew in a state of moral infancy; as long as the Jew is dependent on the Talmud to guide his actions in “every activity of life,” he will never develop genuine moral character, never have his “senses trained to discern between good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

What happens when there is no law or regulation that specifically addresses a particular question? For example, does the Bible forbid smoking? Not expressly. But one who genuinely seeks to please God will, in a spirit of discernment, realize that because smoking destroys health, it runs contrary to numerous biblical principles that uphold the value of human life. Does the Bible prohibit gambling? Again, not expressly by command. But it is not difficult to find biblical principles that apply—such as not exploiting others for “dishonest gain” (which would fall under the broader prohibition against coveting).

For the Orthodox Jew, however, such questions can be problematic. If a matter is not spelled out in the Jewish “Code of Law”—which attempts to address “every activity of life” according to Talmudic precepts (see Appendix Two)—Jews are taught to rely on the wisdom of their local rabbi, whose word, as we will later see, is absolute. This reliance on the Talmudic code—which in actual practice is referenced almost exclusively while the Scriptures are ignored—virtually destroys any chance the Jew might have of developing genuine moral discernment.

But by learning to apply the broad principles of the Law in a spirit of love toward God and love toward neighbor, one's conscience becomes trained to discern between good and evil—in any circumstance. Conversely, if one relies on a code of specific do's and don'ts, his or her “obedience” becomes mechanical, motivated by fear or compulsion—when it should be motivated by love and a genuine desire to obey God and serve the needs of others. We either “exercise” and develop our moral conscience or we allow it to wither. Thus, it becomes apparent that dependence on a code of law such as the Talmud actually dulls the conscience and leads ultimately to spiritual apathy.

The Heart of the Matter

A prominent factor in the history of ancient Israel was their failure to adhere to the laws and commandments of God. Again and again the nation would express its collective commitment to God's way, only to quickly relapse into former patterns of idolatrous disobedience. Just weeks after being miraculously delivered from slavery in the land of Egypt, the children of Israel zealously declared their allegiance to God at the foot of Mt. Sinai: “And you [Moses] speak to us all that the LORD our God shall speak to you, and we will hear it, and do it” (Deut. 5:27). Verse 28 shows that God was well pleased with their zeal. Knowing the hearts of men, however, God was also certain that the Israelites' enthusiasm would be short-lived—thus, He lamented, “Oh, how I wish their hearts would stay like this always, that they would fear Me and obey all My mitzvot [laws]; so that it would go well with them and their children forever” (verse 29; Stern's Complete Jewish Bible).

As noted by Moses, God had thus sized up the Israelites: “I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiff-necked people” (Deut. 9:13). Just prior to the nation entering the Promised Land, Moses admonished them, “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land. Your eyes have seen the great trials, the signs, and those great miracles. Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, [even] unto this day” (Deut. 29:2-4). The numerous miracles, signs and wonders proved insufficient to soften the hardness of their hearts; thus, God was unable to give them a heart and mind to perceive the true spiritual nature of His Law. To little avail, Moses had warned the Israelites to “lay up” God's words “in your hearts and in your souls” and to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stiff-necked” (Deut. 11:18; 10:16).

As brought out earlier, God's way of life as defined by the laws and commandments of the Pentateuch was neither “hidden” nor “far off”; it could both be understood and lived if one had a willing heart. Indeed, Moses said “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it” (Deut. 30:11, 14). However, in his discourse concerning Israel's unbelief, the apostle Paul notes that the nation failed to obtain genuine righteousness (this subject is covered thoroughly in Chapter Eight). Paul shows that God had no choice but to harden the hearts of the children of Israel: “God gave them a spirit of slumber, eyes that are not able to see, and ears that are not able to hear” (Rom. 11:7-8). Concerning this “failure” of the Old Covenant, the apostle left no doubt that the fault was not with the Law, but with the people (Heb. 8:7-8).

While the Old Covenant required obedience only to the letter of the Law, the nation of Israel still failed to remain faithful in their relationship with God—and certainly never developed the heart to perceive the spirit of the Torah. Jesus' revelation concerning the spiritual intent of the Law underscores the fact that the Jews had little perception of the deeper spiritual issues of the Torah. Yet, Paul writes that the Law is intensely spiritual (Rom 7:14), being based, as we have seen, on the broad principle of love toward God and love toward neighbor. Paul's statement in Romans seven is not some fuzzy sentiment; rather, it demonstrates that the Law of God works first and foremost at the level of the mind and spirit—where the conscience either accuses or defends one's actions (see Rom. 2:15).

It was precisely this failure of the Jews through unbelief that led to the development of the so-called “oral Torah.” Lacking “a heart to perceive, eyes to see and ears to hear” when it came to the true application of the written Torah, Jewish sages resorted to what seemed right in their own eyes— they attempted to legislate morality and establish their own works-based “righteousness” using a mass of humanly-devised traditions and laws. Thus Paul summarizes: “Brethren, the earnest desire of my heart and my supplication to God for Israel is for salvation. For I testify of them that [the Jews] have a zeal for God, but not according to [true] knowledge. For they, being ignorant of the [genuine] righteousness that comes from God, and seeking [through their traditions and codes of law] to establish their own [works-based] righteousness, have [in hardness of heart] not submitted [themselves] to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:1-3).

Similarly, Mordechai argues that the Pharisees' works-righteousness was a “false system of justification, [based on] a Pharisaic system of decrees and traditions.” He adds that such an approach “produced a torah of false 'righteousness' replete with its many reforms [ostensibly] developed by using the Law of Moses as a source text. Works of the law had become another torah [the Pharisees' oral laws and traditions] added to the written Torah of Moses” (Galatians, p. 216; emphasis added).

A right heart would have led the Jews to an understanding of the spiritual intent of the Law, enabling them to exercise spiritual discernment and apply the principles of the written Torah in any circumstance. No supplementary oral law would ever have been needed. But owing to their unbelief and hardness of heart, the Jews have (perhaps unknowingly) allowed their rabbinical scholars to substitute the Talmud in place of a spiritual mindset. Thus the oral law becomes a cheap, failed replacement for a spirit-led conscience.

While it is readily acknowledged that the Holy Spirit was uniquely given to the elect of the church age as a “helper” (see John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7; etc.), it is a mistake to assume that Israel was spiritually helpless. God is impartial (Acts 10:34), and stands ready to help anyone whose heart is pure before him—”for the eyes of the LORD run to and fro in all the whole earth to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart [spirit, intent, attitude] is perfect toward Him” (II Chron. 16:9). The very fact that God compelled Israel to choose proves that they were not helpless and that they exercised significant control over their moral lives. “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life so that both you and your seed may live” (Deut. 30:19). Yet, as a people, the children of Israel were unwilling to seek God with their whole heart, with all their soul— thus they were never able to experience obedience on a spiritual level. In the end, a perfunctory letter-of-the-law obedience was all they could accom-plish—and even that was haphazard at best.

Morality Requires Personal Choice

The Jews' approach—as well-intended as it may be—is based on flawed human reasoning. Indeed, “There is a way that seems right to men, but it only leads to death” (Prov. 16:25; author's paraphrase). It should be noted that all religions have gone down this same well-worn path of attempting to legislate morality in one way or another. Catholicism has its catechisms; in Islam, conduct is dictated in the Koran; the various Eastern religions have humanly-devised codes as well. Protestantism, on the other hand, teaches that the Law has been rendered obsolete by Jesus' sacrifice— replaced by an ethereal “goodness” in one's heart. But like Adam and Eve, adherents of such an approach become a “law unto themselves.”

Judaism has essentially attempted to accomplish through the “oral law” what can only be achieved through a genuinely spiritual approach to the Law of God. Sadly, the Jews' dependence on the Talmud precludes the possibility of such an approach and ultimately even removes the element of personal choice from morality. Granted, the Talmud might, to some degree, create a “hedge” about the Law; but in so doing, such a code invariably impedes personal choice and discernment based on conscience. Ultimately, human beings are not moral robots; we cannot be programmed via a code of law to react morally to every conceivable circumstance in life.

But what does work—according to the wisdom and design of the Creator Himself—is moral freedom of choice in which the individual is held responsible for both discerning and choosing a moral path based on broad principles of law (such as the Ten Commandments) as opposed to some exhaustive regulatory code. Anything else ultimately destroys morality.