The Authority of the Torah and the Authority of Jesus
Sholem Asch stated (see Jesus in Jewish Art) that in his view, the authority of Yeshua was only for the gentiles because the Jewish people were already under the authority of the Torah. The dogma that the Torah is unchangeable, and forever binding to the Jewish people is commonplace in Orthodox Judaism. (The doctrine is called “the immutability of the Torah.”) However, a number of factors suggest that the Torah was never intended to be an unchanging monolith, and that the authority of Yeshua is therefore a live option for Jews. Consider this:
1. The Torah itself shows changes from one situation to another. For example, Leviticus 17:3-7 states:
Any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox, or a lamb, or a goat in the camp, or who slaughters it outside the camp, and has not brought it to the doorway of the tent of meeting to present it as an offering to the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD, blood guiltiness is to be reckoned to that man. He has shed blood and that man shall be cut of from among his people. The reason is so that the sons of Israel may bring their sacrifices which they were sacrificing in the open field…and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD…. And they shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot. This shall be a permanent statute to them throughout their generations.
In other words, animals which were killed to provide meat for a family had first to be brought to the tabernacle and offered as a peace offering. In this way the Israelites would not utilize them in worshipping pagan goat demons. But in the book of Deuteronomy, where the situation has changed from wandering in the wilderness to being settled in the land, a different provision exists:
However, you may slaughter and eat meat within any of your gates, whatever you desire, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you….If the place which the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, then you may slaughter of your herd and flock which the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you; and you may eat within your gates whatever you desire.
Here, allowance is made for such animals to be killed at home, since the distance to the central sanctuary–“the place which the LORD your God chooses to put His name”–was often too great. Thus God’s requirements can situationally change.
2. Sometimes it is said that the phrase “permanent statute” or the like indicates that the laws of Torah will never change. This is a misunderstanding of such expressions. The example above showed a change in a regulation–even though the Leviticus passage declared the regulation “a permanent statute to them throughout their generations” (v. 7). Another example is found in Exodus 21:16 concerning slaves: “And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.” Obviously, he was only able to serve his master for the rest of his life, not forever! The Tenach does not have a concept of “forever” as the New Testament does, and such expressions should be taken to mean “to be continually observed” and as phrases underlining the importance of the particular commandment.
3. There are suggestions in rabbinic writings that some thought the Torah would be changed or even abrogated in the Messianic Age or in the Age to Come.
The Lord permits the forbidden (Ps. 146:7). What does this mean? Some say that in the time to come all the animals which are unclean in this world God will declare to be clean, as they were in the days before Noah. And why did God forbid them [i.e. make them unclean]? To see who would accept His bidding and who would not; but in the time to come He will permit all that He has forbidden.
Midr. Ps. on CXLVI, 7(268a Sec. 4)
R. Phinehas and R. Levi and R. Johanan said in the name of R. Menahem of Gallia: In the time to come all sacrifices will be annulled, but that of Thanksgiving will not be annulled, and all prayers will be annulled, but [that of] Thanksgiving will not be annulled.
Leviticus Rabbah 9:7
4. The prophet Jeremiah in particular looked to a day when aa new covenant would be observed in Israel:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD, ‘for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
It would seem that Jeremiah himself did not see the Torah as an unchanging monolith.
5. At the Last Supper (a Passover seder) Yeshua said that in his death this new covenant would be ushered in:
And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”
Moreover, Jesus, with authority, required that his disciples obey his own commandments:
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Could it be that as the Messiah, Yeshua had the authority under the “new covenant” to give a “new Torah?”
The Law of Moses itself allowed for change, “permanent” statutes notwithstanding. Jeremiah anticipated some kind of new covenant, and some rabbis also took a stand against the “immutability” of the Torah. Sholem Asch claimed too much for the authority of the Torah and not enough for the authority of Jesus. Those who believe that Jesus vindicated his claim to be the Messiah also accept his authority as binding upon Jew and gentile alike.