The Oral Law


Hi Rabbi,

I read somewhere about the “Oral Law” being part of the Torah. Where did it come from and why is it needed in addition to the written Torah that we have?

Thanks in advance.



  1. The question you have is one that I asked Rabbi Simcha Wasserman, of blessed memory, year ago. I found his answer to be very clear and helpful to the point that I remember it to this day! He compared the Oral Law to a comprehensive lecture and the written Torah to the notes a person takes when hearing the lecture. Allow me to explain this analogy a bit more.

    The Oral Law, which explains and clarifies the written Torah, was also given by God to Moses. The Five Books of Moses are incomprehensible without additional explanation. Even a seemingly simple commandment like “You shall not murder” requires clarification: What is the definition of death? When does life begin? Is self-defense a justification for killing someone? Is it right to defend your property with deadly force? And more.

    Some commandments are simply impossible to fulfill without additional information beyond that which is found in the text. The Torah tells us, for example, to “Bind them (the tefillin) as a sign upon your arm and let them be ornaments between your eyes.” What are we expected to do? Tattoo the Torah on our biceps? And what is an “ornament”?

    It is a fundamental principle of our belief that God did not leave us in the dark about how to observe the Torah. Rather, He gave us all the information we need to observe His commandments. He also gave us the necessary rules and methodology to apply the Torah to changing times, places and circumstances. All of this information is known as the Oral Torah because it was transmitted verbally from God to Moses, and then by millions of fathers and mothers to their children, and by teachers to their students. This process continued until most of it was formally written in 189 CE by Judah the Prince who compiled the Mishna.

    Best wishes from the Team