In a historic first, Dr Eitan Bar sat down with eminent Jewish scholar, Rabbi Chaim Sheitrit, for a live debate. The subject was on the authority of the “Oral Law”: the extra-biblical instructions of rabbinic Judaism passed down from generation to generation. Rabbinic Judaism holds that the Oral Law is divinely authoritative and was given to Moses at Sinai. Dr. Bar naturally refuted those claims, with evidence that it was from a much later date and devised by men, not God.
Held in a neutral space in Tel Aviv, their head-to-head went out live and unedited. Eitan said that it was a defining moment of his life – something he’d been preparing for over many years that had finally come to pass, and that he really enjoyed it.
There have been several such events in English, but it has been very difficult to find a rabbi who was willing to sit and debate matters of faith in Israel – up till now. We want to express our sincere appreciation to the rabbi for his coming and participating. Rabbi Sheitrit is a “rosh kollel”, the head of the Jewish equivalent of a seminary for advanced study of the Talmud.
The atmosphere was cordial and Eitan and Chaim parted as friends, but the debate itself was heated at times. Rabbi Sheitrit chose to make his case first, presenting for about 20 minutes his claims to the authority of the Oral Law, then Eitan laid out his reasons for believing it was not divine or authoritative at all. Then each were to respond to the claims of their opponent for some 15 minutes, followed by a short closing statement (about 7 minutes) from each participant.
Rabbi Sheitrit made a case of why he felt the Oral Law was important to Judaism, but offered no real evidence that it was given to Moses at Sinai by God. Eitan gave many reasons to doubt that it hadn’t been, which came from his recently released book on the subject. He included the contradictions with science, the mythological aspects (mermaids feature, for example) and the parts which contradict the character of God by demeaning women and other races.
During the response time, Rabbi Sheitrit defended rabbinic attitudes towards women, making clear that he treated his own wife and family with love and honor, and continued to assert the importance of the Oral Law in Jewish history, but he did not really give any rebuttals to Eitan’s assertions. In fact, someone who had accompanied him expressed disappointment that he hadn’t interacted more with Eitan’s points. The rabbi felt frustrated about the lack of time but the parameters of the debate had been agreed upon from the outset.
This article and video originally appeared One For Israel, July 14, 2021, and reposted with permission.