Editor’s Note: This article is a response “Does Yeshua Command Us to Follow the Traditions of the Rabbis?“, posted on December 25, 2015.
It is interesting that the same accusations made against the Pharisees could and have been made against “church” leaders throughout the centuries; “hypocrites,” “children of hell,” “blind guides,” “blind fools,” “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness,” “serpents,” “a brood of vipers,” and “murderers”. Do we seriously think Yeshua commands us to follow such leaders, past and even present?
It is true that Yeshua spent much time interacting with the Pharisees. Maybe however, instead of damning them, He was in fact attempting to show them that they were not that far from the truth. As the author proof texted the negative passages, he seemed to have forgotten the positive ones. Matthew 5:19 comes on the heels of Yeshua teaching His own traditions. Matt 23:23 Yeshua upholds the traditions of the fathers while reminding the Pharisees of the weightier matters – affirming that they should do both. If the religious community was so bad, it appears that James and the post Shavuot (Pentecost) believers must have missed something as R. Shaul (Paul) discovered in Acts 21:20 that thousands of Yeshua believing Jews were zealous for the Law. Peter, one of the closest of Yeshua’s disciples, must also have missed something when he argued with the heavenly vision commanding him to eat treif, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean,” (Acts 10:14). Then later, Peter explained that it was not animals but people that the LORD was speaking about, “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean,” (10:28).
Concerning R. Shaul, he said of himself, that he was “extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:14). His post “conversion” activities must not have changed as he was able to end his recorded ministry by proclaiming to the Jewish elders in Rome, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs [traditions] of our fathers,” (Acts 28:17).
Can the traditions of man draw one away from the LORD? Absolutely, whether they be Judaic or Christian or any other “ism”. Does that make the traditions themselves bad? Not necessarily, especially when it is those same traditions that have kept and defined a people for the last nineteen or so centuries. In Deuteronomy 29:29 it is recorded that “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Traditions on how to interpret and live out that revealed Law began back before Israel crossed into the land of promise and continues to this day.
Returning once more to R. Shaul, he told the Corinthians, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up,” (1 Corinthians 10:23). The phrase “not all things are helpful” or “not all things build up” does not mean that all those things are bad – much defines who we are, where we have come from, and what has held us together throughout history. To outright deny or debunk the wisdom and teaching of the rabbis denies one’s own history and identity.