Dr. Israel Drazin’s Newest Book

                              Mysteries of Judaism II: How the Rabbis and Others Changed Judaism


Mysteries of Judaism II will surprise readers who were brought up to believe that the Bible is a revelation from God containing commands that were true, good, and helpful when they were revealed and also today. The book continues the earlier volume called Mysteries of Judaism that showed that all the holidays that are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, without any exception, were changed or eliminated. Many did so because the basic ceremony of the holiday was a special sacrifice. When sacrifices were discontinued after the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE, the holiday either disappeared entirely or a new ceremony and new meaning had to be given to the holiday.

For example: The Torah has a holiday called Yom Hakippurim. The sole practice of the holiday were sacrifices in the temple by the high priest. The sacrifices were offered to encourage people to think about changing their behavior. There were sacrifices for the high priest, his family, and the Israelites. Hence the plural Yom Hakippurim, which means Day of Atonements. This holiday was replaced by Yom Kippur, singular, which is a day where the individual Jew, not the priest, performs acts to prompt him and her to change their behavior.

Another example: The Torah speaks about a holiday called Passover. It occurred on the fourteenth day of the first month. The only practice during the day was the offering of the Pascal sacrifice to recall the exodus from Egyptian slavery during the days of Moses. This holiday was followed by another holiday, a seven-day holiday, called The Feast of Unleavened Bread. When sacrifices ceased, so did Passover. There is no holiday today on the fourteenth of the first month. Instead, the holiday of The Feast of Unleavened Bread of the fifteenth to twenty-first day was given the now unused name Passover in addition to its biblical name.

Mysteries of Judaism II shows that not only were the holidays changed, but so too were virtually all biblical laws. And it goes one significant step further. It reveals that Judaism’s greatest sage, Maimonides (1138-1204), explained in the third book of his famed Guide of the Perplexed, chapter 32, that God wanted the people to learn from the Torah that God wanted them to change the Torah laws.

For example: Despite more than a quarter of the Torah being devoted to sacrifices and the sanctuary where they were brought, Maimonides tells us that God does not need or want sacrifices. God “allowed” sacrifices because of the people’s need to offer them. The Israelites saw people from other cultures offering sacrifices and felt that this was a way to show God their love. God, Maimonides wrote, restricted the sacrifices, allowed only offerings of certain animals at certain times, with the idea that Jews would soon cease using them altogether.

The same applied to slavery. The Torah restricted the treatment of slaves with the intent to teach the Israelites that slavery was wrong and should be stopped. The same applies to the license given to soldiers to take a captive woman in Deuteronomy 21:10-14., and to polygamy, which the Torah allowed but which it shows by its reactions to it that it should be discontinued, and many more laws.

Mysteries of Judaism II gives many other examples where the Torah laws mitigated the ancient behaviors but wanted either that the practice should be discontinued entirely or altered. Examples include: Not putting out a person’s eye or other body part – an eye for an eye – when an individual injures another – Exodus 21:22-25, Leviticus 24:15-2, and Deuteronomy19:19-21. Killing a child because he did not obey his parents – Deuteronomy 21:18-21.  Destroying a city and all that is in it because idols are worshipped there – Deuteronomy 13:13-19. Entering Canaan and killing all its inhabitants – Deuteronomy 20:16-18.

Most of the biblical commands are not relevant today. The Babylonian Talmud, Makkot 23b reports that the Torah contains 613 commandments, 248 positive and 365 negative commands. This third century CE statement is the first mention of this number. In his Sefer Hamitzvot, Maimonides enumerated the positive commandments that a Jew in the ordinary course of life has the opportunity to fulfil. Maimonides records only 60 positive commands, not 248, that are applicable to men and only 46 for women. He did not itemize the negative commands that are relevant today, probably because strictly speaking, all of the prohibitions are in effect today, even though people do not have opportunities to transgress the prohibitions. In Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth Hakotzer, Rabbi Israel M. Kagan listed 200 negative commands, again far short of the traditional number 365. The total, according to Rabbi Kagan’s register, is 283, less than half of 613.

Rabbis recognize that changes in biblical laws began as early as the days of Moses. Part I of Mysteries of Judaism II offers various reasons for the eliminations and changes made to biblical commands throughout Jewish history. Among other points, illustrations are given showing that Judaism has continually been adapting to and adopting from its surrounding cultures – from the time of the Canaanites, through the Talmudic period, until today.

As mentioned above, one major reason for rabbinic change is that biblical laws were often created as concessions to human nature; they were never intended to reflect ideal behavior. Part II, therefore, provides numerous examples that clarify this idea.

A full understanding of the transition from biblical Judaism to rabbinic Judaism is impossible without an awareness of Jewish history in the Second Temple period, when the Oral Law as we know it first began to develop. Part III thus discusses the attitudes of the various groups that functioned at this time. Part IV, on holidays, complements Mysteries of Judaism I by analyzing the holidays of Purim and Tu b’Av. Part V, “Grappling with the Oral Law,” addresses the larger issues surrounding the tension between biblical and rabbinic Judaism.

Mysteries of Judaism II also has related ideas. It shows that concepts like the soul, world to come, resurrection, and reward and punishment after death are not in the Bible, but were added later, even though many rabbis insist that they are biblical.