History of the Talmud II:

4. Each stage of the transmission, from Moses to Joshua, from Joshua to the Elders, from the Elders to the Prophets, and from the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly was accompanied by a tradition of interpretation, for no legal system functions without constant study, review and reinterpretation.

5. This interpretation is called Torah Shè Be-Al Pèh, the Oral Torah, as distinct from that which is written in the Five Books. This continuing transmission and interpretation went on for centuries, for which there are references in the Biblical texts as well as numerous quotations in the Talmud.

6. After the Anshé Knesset Ha-Gedolah we come to the next historical period known as that of the Zugot, the pairs of scholars or judges who served as the leaders of the Sanhedrin.

7. For all the centuries since the formation of the Nation of Israel, the Jewish people in the Land of Israel as well as in the many lands of the Jewish diaspora, have been governed by Jewish Law. Why Jewish Law? The answer to this question is only too obvious. Each nation lives by its own traditions and under its own legal system. The People of Israel lived by the laws of the Torah and developed the legal system of the Jewish People based on the Torah. As we shall see in the course of our historical survey, when the situation of the Jewish People underwent radical change, it was still the system of Jewish law and its traditions which served to keep the Jewish People united under the most trying of political conditions.

8. When the Jewish People came under the political control of foreign powers, whether hostile or benevolent imperial regimes or national states, the Torah and its laws still governed the lives of the Jewish people. Moreover, imperial rulers who governed many nations preferred that each subject nation be self-governing in respect to internal matters. Thus, the law of the Torah continued to govern the lives of the Jewish People and this condition continued over the course of more than two millenia. As for the laws of the overarching government of the empire in which we were one of many nations, these laws were binding on the Jews as a constituent people of the empire. Thus, Samuel of Nehardea, one of the most prominent leaders of the Jewish world at the end of the Second century of the Common Era expressed a principle which became binding on the Jewish People since his time. He declared, “Dina de-Malkhuta Dina,” [This statement appears in the Talmud at least five times, in the volumes Gittin 10b, Nedarim 28a, Baba Kama 103a, and Baba Batra 54b and 55a]. This means, “The Law of the Kingdom (or Empire) is the Law.” In other words, while the Jewish People have full autonomy and govern themselves internally, when it comes to the laws of the state in which the Jews have residence, Jews are bound to obey them.

9. As is well known, Jewish history has survived three thousand years of world history, and we have endured many changes, including catastrophic transformations. Yet Judaism flourished and the continuity of Jewish life and tradition was never broken.

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