Proof of the Oral Law

The Torah portion of Ki Teitzei contains a commandment for soldiers of the Israelite army to bury their excrement while out in the field (Deuteronomy 23:13). Years ago I was inspired by this verse to write a satirical piece entitled: "Proof of the Oral Law". If you don't have a sense of humor, please don't read it. My sarcasm not withstanding, every fact and source mentioned in the piece is genuine and accurate.

Warning: The following is satire, which may not be appropriate for younger and more sensitive readers. If you do not appreciate sarcasm, please stop reading. If the subject matter offends you, please be offended at the rabbis, ancient and modern, who have attributed such ludicrous things to our Creator and imposed them as heavy burdens on God's people. 

Proof of the Oral Law


Instructions on How to Relieve Oneself

by Nehemia Gordon

Oral Law, torah, law, instructions, god, blessing, forbidden, holy, Nehemia Gordon, Rabbanite, Karaite, keep the Torah, holiness, Moses, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, JewsThe basic Rabbanite argument which we Karaites are presented with over and over again, is how can we know how to perform the laws of the Torah without the detailed instructions contained in the Oral Law. For example, when the Torah tells us to build a Sukkah it does not inform us that the walls of the Sukkah must be taller than a certain minimum height and shorter than a certain maximum height.[1] These sophisticated and intricate details are only found in the Oral Law and without them we would not know how to properly keep the Torah. This is truly a convincing argument. Let us consider, for example, the laws surrounding the toilet. The Torah states:

"there shall be an area for you outside the camp, where you may relieve yourself. With your gear you shall have a spike, and when you have squatted you shall dig a hole with it and cover up your excrement." (Dt 23:13-14 [JPS])

So the Torah has a specific law about how to preserve the holiness of the army camp in which God walks (Dt 23:15). This is done by digging a hole and covering one's feces. Yet the Torah is completely silent on how to actually defecate! Surely God would not give such a law to Moses without detailed instructions of how to carry it out. Not surprisingly, these detailed instructions are actually preserved in the Oral Law! The following appears in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, a day-to-day practical guide on how to live according to the Oral Law, generally considered authoritative by Ashkenazic Jews:

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, "Chapter 4: Behavior on the Toilet and Laws of the Blessing "Who has created":

"(Section 1) A person must make a habit of defecating in the evening and in the morning, which is quickness and cleanliness. If he is unable to defecate, he must walk four cubits, and then sit down and then stand up again until he is able to defecate, or he may distract himself with other things [in order to bring about defecation]. A person who refrains from relieving himself violates the commandment, "You shall not make yourselves abhorrent [by any bug that crawls on the ground]" (Lev 11:42). If he refrains from urinating when he needs to, he violates the commandment, "[You shall be blessed beyond all the nations;] there shall not be among you a barren man[, or a barren women, not even among your animals]" (Dt 7:14)."

"(Section 2) A person must be modest in the bathroom. He must not uncover himself until he sits down, and even then he must limit himself by only uncovering what is necessary to uncover, so as not to soil his clothing. He must be just as careful of this at night as during the day. If he defecates in an open place with no separating stalls, he must face southward with his backside to the north or vice versa, but it is forbidden to face east or west.[2] If there is a dividing stall he may face any direction as long as his backside is in the direction of the stall. One may urinate in any direction. One may not defecate in front of any person and it is even forbidden in front of a Gentile. Urination is permissible [in front of other people] even during the day in front of many people, if a person would endanger himself by holding back, but in any event he must urinate off to the side."

"(Section 3) One may not defecate standing up, nor may one force oneself by pushing too much, so as not to tear the rectum.[3] One may not hurry in leaving the toilet, until it is certain that he does not need to defecate any more. When a person urinates standing, he must be careful not to spatter on his shoes or his clothing. A person must be very careful not to hold his circumcision in his hand."

"(Section 4) It is forbidden to think about matters of Torah in the bathroom, therefore when a person is there, it is good to think about his business and finances, lest he end up thinking about Torah or God forbid thinking about sinfulness. On the Sabbath, when it is forbidden to think about business, a person should think about wonderful things which he has seen or heard and the like."

"(Section 5) A person must be careful to wipe himself well, for if even a drop of feces remains on the rectum, he is forbidden to speak any holy matter. A person may not wipe with his right hand because he ties his phylacteries with it. A lefty should wipe with his left hand, because it is equivalent to the right hand of the majority of people."

"(Section 6) Every time a person defecates or urinates, even a single drop, he must wash his hands with water and make the blessing "Who has created". If a person urinates or defecates but forgot to make the blessing "Who has created" and afterwards urinates or defecates a second time, and remembers that he forgot to make the blessing the first time, he still only needs to make the blessing once. A person who drinks a laxative and knows that he will need to defecate several times, should not make the blessing until he is completely finished."[4]

Now in light of the above we Karaites must admit that there is truly no way to keep the Torah without the Oral Law. Without the Oral Law we might think it permissible to defecate in the woods facing east or west, while in actuality this is "forbidden" (אסור). Without the Oral Law we would not know that the solution to irregular bowel movements is walking four cubits, and we might end up walking 3 cubits or no cubits at all, thus remaining constipated indefinitely. Without the Oral Law we would not have the good sense to avoid pushing so hard so as to tear our rectums (this holy instruction actually originates in the Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 82a). Without the Oral Law we would not know that when God blessed us with the blessing, "You shall be blessed beyond all the nations; there shall not be among you a barren man, or a barren women, not even among your animals" (Dt 7:14) He really meant that we are forbidden to hold back when we feel the need to urinate. Without the Oral Law we would not know that when the need arises we are in fact required by our religion to urinate without delay, even in public (try telling that to a cop!).

Of course, the Oral Law is vast and deep, so not surprisingly different rabbinical works contain slightly different instructions. Thus the Shulchan Aruch, the definitive legal compendium for all Rabbinic Jews (of which the previously quoted Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is an abridgement), contains the following holy teaching:

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim, Chapter 3 Section 3:

"If a person wants to poke around in his rectum with a pebble[5] or a stick, in order to open up his cavities, he must poke around before he sits down, but may not poke around after he sits down, because this distances him from witchcraft [literally: 'because it is difficult on account of witchcraft']."[6]

Surely we Karaites must concede that without the Oral Law we would be totally lost. The Torah commands us in Dt 18:10 "There shall not be found among you... one who practices witchcraft", but without the Oral Law we would not know the details of this commandment. Just think how many Karaites there are out there at this very moment falling into sin because they do not know that poking around in their rectum with a pebble while sitting (huh?!) can result in witchcraft. This holy teaching is already alluded to in the Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 82a (see Rashi's explanation of the words "Because you do not wipe yourselves with potsherds").

The Arba Turim, a more detailed compendium of Rabbinic law teaches us the blessing one must say upon entering the bathroom:

Arba Turim, Orach Chayyim, Chapter 3:

"When a person enters the bathroom he must say: "Be honored, O sublime angels,[7] servants of the Most High! Protect me! Protect me! Assist me! Assist me! Wait for me until I enter and leave, for thus is the way of human beings." In this manner must one say every time he enters."[8]

Without the Oral Law we would not know to ask the angels for protection and help when we alleviate ourselves. Interestingly enough, later rabbinic authorities mention this blessing but explain that it no longer need be recited. I wonder how they survive the ordeal of the toilet without the protection of the holy angels? Of course, the fact that this blessing is no longer recited does not diminish from its sanctity, since the Rabbis teach that when two diametrically opposed opinions are stated in the Oral Law, "both these and those are the words of the living God" (Babylonian Talmud, Erubin 13b).

[1] Judah Halevy, Kuzari 3:35

[2] Maimonides explains that the prohibition to defecate facing east or west is because the Holy of Holies was located on the west side of the Temple (Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Bet HaBechirah 7:9).

[3] Lit. "so that he not disconnect the rectal teeth". The Talmudic Rabbis believed the rectum was attached by three "teeth".

[4] Lest someone think I am making up the above, I hereby append the original Hebrew text which can be easily authenticated:

קיצור שולחן ערוך, "הנהגות בית הכסא ודיני ברכת אשר יצר": "[סעיף א] ירגיל את עצמו לפנות ערב ובוקר, שהוא זריזות ונקיות, אם אינו יכול לפנות, ילך ד' אמות, וישב ויעמוד עד שיפנה, או יסיח דעתו מדברים אחרים. המשהה נקביו עובר משום בל תשקצו ואם משהה מלהטיל מים בעת צרכו, עובר גם משום לא יהיה בך עקר. [סעיף ב] יהא צנוע בבית הכסא, לא יגלה את עצמו עד שישב, וגם אז יצמצם שלא לגלות רק מה שמוכרח לו לגלות, שלא לטנף את בגדיו, ויזהר בזה גם בלילה כמו ביום, אם נפנה במקום מגולה שאין שם מחיצות, יכוין שיהא פניו לדרום, ואחוריו לצפון, או איפכא, אבל בין מזרח למערב אסור, ואם יש מחיצה יכול לפנות בכל ענין אם אחוריו לצד המחיצה. ולהשתין מותר בכל ענין. לא יפנה בפני שום אדם, ואפילו בפני עכו"ם אסור, אבל להשתין מותר, אפילו ביום בפני רבים, ואם צריך לכך, משום דאיכא סכנה אם יעצור את עצמו, ומכל מקום יש לו להסתלק לצדדין. [סעיף ג] לא יפנה בעמידה, ולא יאנס לדחוק עצמו יותר מדאי, שלא ינתק שיני הכרכשתא ולא ימהר לצאת מבית הכסא, עד אשר ברור לו שאינו צריך עוד, וכשמטיל מים בעמידה, ישגיח שלא ינתזו על מנעליו ובגדיו. ויזהר מאוד, שלא לאחוז בידיו במילתו.[סעיף ד] בבית הכסא אסור להרהר בדברי תורה, לכן בהיותו שמה, טוב שיהרהר בעסקיו ובחשבנותיו, שלא יבא לידי הרהור תורה או הרהור עבירה חס ושלום. ובשבת שאין להרהר בעסקיו, יהרהר בדברים נפלאים שראה ושמע וכדומה.[סעיף ה] יזהר לקנח את עצמו יפה, כי אם יש לו אפילו משהו צואה בפי הטבעת, אסור לו לומר שום דבר שבקדושה. לא יקנח ביד ימין מפני שקושר בה התפילין, ואיטר יד, יקנח בשמאל דידיה, שהיא ימין של כל אדם. [סעיף ו] בכל פעם שנפנה או שמטיל מים, ואפילו רק טפה אחת, ירחוץ ידיו במים ויברך ברכת אשר יצר. אם הטיל מים או נפנה, ושכח מלברך אשר יצר, ואחר כך שוב הטיל מים או נפנה, ונזכר שבראשונה לא בירך, אינו צריך לברך רק פעם אחת. ומי ששותה סם המשלשל ויודע שיצטרך לפנות כמה פעמים, לא יברך עד לאחר הגמר."

[5] Jastrow p.856b translates, "stimulate the rectum with pebbles".

[6] Again, I reproduce the Hebrew original lest someone think I am making this up:

שולחן ערוך, אורח חיים סימן ג: "אם רוצה למשמש בפי הטבעת בצרור, או בקיסם, לפתוח נקביו, ימשמש קודם שישב ולא ימשמש אחר שישב, מפני שקשה לכשפים."

[7] Lit. "holy ones", often an epithet for angels, even in the Tanach, e.g. Ps 89:8.

[8] ארבע טורים, אורח חיים סימן ג: "ובכניסתו לבית הכסא יאמר התכבדו מכובדים קדושים משרתי עליון שמרוני שמרוני עזרוני עזרוני המתינו לי עד שאכנס ואצא שכן דרכן של בני אדם וכן יאמר בכל פעם שיכנס"

29 thoughts on “Proof of the Oral Law

  1. Erubin 13b says:
    “Both of these [contradictory] utterances [by the sages] are the words of the living god.”

    1984, Chapter 9:
    “DOUBLETHINK means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of DOUBLETHINK he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated.”

  2. Now I have heard of this Oral Law before – but write the Oral Law !! What I understand that the Oral Law is not biblical – my believe why would the father have another book call the oral law separate from the Bible

  3. Good Afternoon, for example, in the Tanakh, it does not explain how to slaughter an animal, but mention that it should be slaughter in the way Moses told them. How would you, as a Karaite, slaughter the animal? Thank you very much

    • The only Torah requirement is to spill the blood on the ground. All the rabbinical rules and regulations are an addition to the Torah in violation of Deuteronomy 4:2 and 13:1. In Deuteronomy 12:21 it says to slaughter animals “as I have commanded you”. The commandment appears in verses 15-16 to slaughter as a non-sacrifice when one is not able to bring a sacrifice to the Tabernacle. This was directed against the high places, which were illicit altars away from the Tabernacle (and later the Temple). The rabbis may indeed have very ancient oral traditions going back to the forbidden priesthood of these very same high places.

      • Thank you very much Nehemia for your reply. I am an ex-messianic, and now I try to figure out on my own what is my path. I am really not convince about the oral torah. I really enjoy your Torah perals with Keith and Jono. If I may ask a few questions, what English version of the bible would you recommend. I am not very impress with the christian transaltions. I also have the JPS, and the Artscroll. When I read the Tanakh, I mostly rely on the Artscroll, but have my JPS (with Hebrew) and NKJV also open. Also, I live in Vancouver, and there is no such a Karaite Synagogue around here, and I am not Jewish. I still go to my messianic congregation, because my wife still believes in Yeshua. But everything goes around Jesus, and the worship of him. I don’t even think there is a place that I should go or that really agrees with what I believe. Also, most people that reject the New Testament consider themselves as Noahide. This is found in the Talmud, and not the Tanakh. I understand that the Torah was mostly for the Jews, but what do you think a gentile should do? As there is not Karaites in Vancouver, conversion is not really an option. The last question I have is, how do Karaite keep Shabbat? I have to drive to my congregation, it is way to far from where I live. The Tanakh mentions a walking distance, but there is no mention of car. What is your opinion on that.

        Thank you very much

        G-d Bless .


  4. i have this feeling the muslims may have gotten their toilet rules from the rabbis.The problem is that instead of getting answers from the Torah they ended up following the man-made rabbinic rules.I like your sence of humour.

  5. Here is the conclusion that I came to when I read this blog. These writings are instructions on practicing good hygiene such as we are taught about the practice of good hand washing techniques today. As to the pebbles, and walking to stimulate bowel movement, as people learned more about the body and the way it works, that some instructions were dropped because they were no longer needed. Now days, we have more effective ways to stimulate the bowel but walking does stimulate the bowel to move and it does take a certain amount to time to make this process happen. That’s why a certain distance for walking was given. A properly operating bowel is essential to our health and many people do not realize this. Elimination of waste is also essential to keep us healthy and holding it in is not healthy. Frequency is just as important, hence the instructions to make sure you go twice a day, at least. As people became more and more able to afford a private bathroom, eliminating waste in public became unnecessary. Ever heard of people having heart attacks on the toilet? That’s because there is a major artery that is pressed on during a bowel movement so I would be willing to bet that is why people asked for protection from angels and yes, it is a blessing to have a bowel movement. Society did not always have the luxuries that we have today so I’m sure that’s why some of this stuff sounds so absurd. Bottom line (no pun intended)? People did the best they knew how at the time. Society became more educated. I think that the fact that this issue is even addressed at all shows the importance of the subject even ancient people knew. I thought it was neat to learn that people were educating others about this even in ancient times. I thought this was a cool history lesson.

    • Oh sorry my statement would not be complete without this portion and that is, let us stick to what our CREATOR HAS SAID.
      The claims made by some are at times boardering blasphemy, especially when claiming that the instructions in a sense or indirectly are those of our CREATOR. The authority given to certain individuals is cleary questionable. As mentioned boardering blasphemy.

  6. Too Funny! My grandfather would have loved this!!! He was greeted by and exchanged pleasantries every morning with a dear and old friend; who upon being asked how he was feeling replied that he was quite well due to a fine elimination that morning. Perhaps he was Jewish? It became a family joke over time that we handed down. You see the friend was perpetually helpful by explaining that it was all due to the “apples and pecans”. The funniest aspect of the story being told was the punch line that contained the real name of the man – P. O. Myhand! You just know that his parents had a great sense of humor right!

  7. I just cannot understand why David wrote his comment on this article, either he is not familiar with Nehemiah’s work or he loves to pick fights.We were all warned quite clearly in no uncertain terms. all the same, I do believe and Nehemiah as stated this, that the oral law does contain valuable insights the point here is one should be able to pick sense out of nonsense

  8. Nehemia I enjoyed your article. It revealed things I never knew were written on relieving one’s self. I have to stop myself from thinking about the discussions that led to the writing down of these things and what were the penalties for breaking them and did it require witnesses. Just funnin’ Have a good week.

  9. All this article tells me is to remember Psalm 1:1, about not sitting in the seat of the mocker or scorner. I’ve seen atheists do the same thing the same thing to the text of the written Torah. I don’t respect their method. Your method is no better. But it does show me hints of the karaite method mixed with a satirical attitude: Take a text; Make up an intent for the text (in your case, see the text in red); Add your own “commentary”; Set it in front of people who may or may not know or care about the original intent or spirit behind the writing; And then laugh as the “world” laughs with you. (Take careful note: I did not say this was the karaite method. I said it was the karaite method mixed with a satirical attitude.) I appreciate sarcasm, in fact in other places I use it too much. I’ve got a sense of humour, just not yours it seems in this case. But all I see is you shaking hands with the atheistic “satiricist” or any other form of inappropriate mocker, and saying “I appreciate your work. Let me emulate.” And you did a great job of emulation. I would applaud your attempts except it is better for me to congratulate a person when they’ve actually done something worth something, something with integrity. You are not like the prophets mocking the worshippers of Baal, although some may applaud you as such. But since this was shared by a Christian in a forum I’m part of, I can see the type of person that enjoys your work.

    • David, NG warned you twice not to read it? Perhaps the problem is that the Oral Torah was supposed to remain “oral”. Or perhaps a better question is what is the precise scope of the Rabbis authority? I would argue that it cannot be to address every single action of a person, that would be an absurdly long list at any point in time and location, and that list must ‘evolve’ through time, thus getting even longer and longer.

    • Come on! This kind of “teaching” must be exposed. It makes people stupid! And what about YHVH who they claim gave these kind of laws? I think this is blasphemous.

    • Shalom David it basically comes down to SHEMA. The point is WHO GAVE THE INSTRUCTION TO SHEMA, in short who are you going to SHEMA TO. THE ONE WHO GAVE THE INSTRUCTION TO SHEMA or the descendants of the one CREATED IN HIS IMAGE?

  10. Ancient rabbis sometimes have beautiful bits of wisdom. Just like every other Breath of Life. *And* they had something twisted somewhere, just like every other Breath of Life.
    Read & learn from human beings, but weigh it against the Torah.

  11. At one extreme the “fences” add to the law are are therefore a grievous and sinful violation. At the other extreme, the fences are a minor blip in the millennia of idolatry and persecution of those who righteously refused to bow to the false god. I am not sure which but I do know when the Tora is not clear on a question, I do what the Jews do. Where I live (USA), Zech 8:23 is happening. Nevertheless, NG has educated thousands if not millions and credit must be given when due.

  12. So my question is, how is this oral law when it was given from the Creator to Moses to tell to the children of Israel and everything including this was written in the Book of the Law?

  13. I have never laughed so hard til today, Nehemiah you are so awesome to share this information…please keep up the great work your doing.

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