In the previous post, I had mentioned that there were two chapters worth their weight in gold. This is second of those two chapters, which happen to follow in succession.
The importance of this chapter has to do with two reasons. First, this is an ongoing issues between Judaism and followers of Jesus. Secondly, with the Messianic community Torah observance has become a point of contention. Although I'm not sure that people divide over it. The Limits of Orthodox Theology can shed light on this topic regarding the relationship between the New and Mosaic covenants, although I would suspect Shapiro wasn't intending to do that.
Shapiro begins the chapter by quoting the Talmud (BT Nidah 61b) which states "the mitsvot will be abolished in the Time to Come." After this Shapiro keeps the references coming. What was interesting was how many of the quotes seem similar to traditional Christian arguments.
Several Jewish sources find support in Psalm 146:4, "the Lord looseth the bound." Midrash tehilim (146:4) states: "What does the verse mean by the words 'looseth the bound?' Some say that of every animal whose flesh it is forbidden to eat in this world, the Holy One, blessed be He, will declare in the Time to Come that the eating of this flesh is permitted..." Another midrashic passage on this psalm quoted by Albo states that God will permit the forbidden.
Very interestingly, R. Joseph Albo lays out a theoretical position. If a prophet were "to arise whose mission could be be verified in the same public and miraculous way in which Moses' mission was verified, it would be possible for the commandments of the Torah to be abolished." Albo believes that there is nothing to prevent God from doing this, not that this is necessary.
This possibility is likewise believed by R. Moses Sofer, R. Tobias ben Moses Cohn, R. Jacob Emden, and R. Abraham Hayim Viterbo. Viterbo describes many examples of things in the Torah which were permitted and then forbidden in order to show that Torah can be changed. Examples include the consumption of the sinew of the sciatic nerve, sacrifices outside the land of Israel, and Jacob being able to marry two sisters. Viterbo viewed Maimonides' position as presumptuous since it told God how He should conduct Himself.
Shapiro notes Devarim rabah 4: 6,9 which relates the Torah changing after it has already been given, the example of Leviticus 17's provision about eating meat is revoked in Deuteronomy 12:15-16. The midrash did not state that the prohibition was only to be temporary. Instead, it references the aforementioned verse in Psalm 146.
R. Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, in a position very similar to Reformed theologians, said that in the future the mitsvot will no longer have a physical component but only a spiritual one. The spiritual aspects of mitsvot remain eternal. Reformed theology speaks about a division between the moral, civil and ceremonial aspects of the law, and Polonnove's position seems similar to saying the moral aspects of the law remain.
There was then discussion of changes to the sacrificial system. Some viewed changes along the lines of Ezekiel's vision of a restored Temple, some thought all or some types of sacrifices would be annulled, and there is the interesting view of R. Abraham Isaac Kook who believed that there will be only be vegetable sacrifices in the messianic era. And R. Hayim Hischensohn argued that the sacrificial system in messianic times will be different in ways we cannot currently comprehend.
Perhaps the most historical insightful insight comes from Bezeal Naor. Shapiro relates:
From what we have seen so far, it is obvious that there is a significant rabbinic position which declares that the commandments will be abolished in messianic days. In fact, Bezalel Naor has speculated that perhaps it was this knowledge -- that Maimonides' Principle was subject to such dispute -- that prevented many great Torah scholars from reacting more strongly to the false messiah Shabetai Tsevi's violations of halakhah. Since they knew that many authorities believed that Jewish law would change in the messianic era, as long as it had not been established that Shabetai Tsevi was not the messiah, his violations of Jewish ritual were not a sufficient reason to condemn him. (bold mine)
There is a passage in this chapter which is pertinent to the issue, which I feel Shapiro needs to elaborate more on. He writes:
[T]he Torah is explicit that his descendants will have an 'everlasting priesthood' (kehunat olam; Num. 25:13). Presumably, Luria and Halberstam understood 'everlasting' to mean until messianic times, when a new spiritual era.
If you've dealt with those who believe that hell is not eternal, you may know that the word translated eternal is the Hebrew word 'olam. That word means age-long. If the age is forever, "eternal" is a good fit. But if the age has a termination point, "age-long" or something similar is a better fit. (This is a good example of how we are benefited from having multiple apologetic disciplines.)
So what can we make of all this?
For one, we hopefully can get a fresh look at the biblical data. Some in the Torah-observant Messianic community have claimed that those who believe in the fulfillment of Torah in the death and Resurrection of Jesus are operating under a cessasionist filter. The numerous Orthodox sources that look to possible changes in messianic times raise serious doubts about that.
Furthermore, we have to say that books in the New Testament which seem to support the fulfillment of the Torah in the Messiah (Hebrews, Galatians) need less explanation. The Torah-observant community needs to explain those texts (which they do). But the traditional understanding of those texts, as this chapter shows, fits nicely within a good segment of past Orthodox theology.
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