Law, Rabbinic

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Religious laws introduced by the Talmudic Rabbis and other early sages in order to create, as it is put in Ethics of the Fathers (1. 1), a ‘fence around the Torah’, that is, to add restrictions, over and above those found in the Bible, so as to keep people away from any risk of infringing biblical law. For instance, according to biblical law, it is forbidden to saw wood on the Sabbath but there is no prohibition against handling a saw or other such tools. This is forbidden by Rabbinic law on the principle that if one is not allowed even to handle tools on the Sabbath, there is less risk that the tools will be used.

There is considerable discussion in the sources on the right of the Rabbis to introduce laws not found in the Bible. Authorities like Maimonides believe that the Bible itself provides the sanction for the sages of Israel to promulgate such laws. Nahmanides, on the other hand, defends the right of the Rabbis on the grounds that their intention is to preserve the Torah. Nevertheless, Rabbinic law is treated less severely than biblical law. Doubt in cases of Rabbinic law is treated leniently while doubt in cases of biblical law is treated strictly. In any event, the principle of consensus of the Jewish community comes into operation and Rabbinic law is binding ultimately because Jews have accepted it as part of their religion (see AUTHORITY).

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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