Saturday, November 03, 2007

Untrue Halakha

I feel like I'm sleeping and then I suddenly wake up. But when I've woken up I look at everything from an intensely clear but intensely frightening point of view and I don't know what to do about it. I can try to turn it off but that won't answer my questions, that will only make me angrier and more frustrated. And I think I have a right to be frustrated because I never get answers, only sidepoints and sidestepping.

We're sitting in class, for instance, and we touch on something that seems to be an interesting topic- the fact that the Besamim Rosh is a forgery. But Rabbi Akiva Eiger quoted from that forgery, so halakhically, what do we do? Then we touch on the idea that the Tosfos that many sages used in their decisions and halakhic rulings was quite possibly missing major portions or otherwise flawed. But nevertheless, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein issued a halakhic ruling stating that we follow these decisions and we don't look at recently discovered texts or manuscripts to see how they would impact these rulings.

And I don't understand, because despite seeming to have it thrown into my face over and over again that it isn't so, I still think that Judaism is about looking for truth. And I don't understand why we would accept rulings that people made because certain sources weren't available to them and not question them. For that matter, I don't understand the very episodes in the Gemara where the sages overrule God, overrule the very Bas Kol issuing from the heavens declaring a certain sage to be right and simply claim "The Torah is not in heaven!" How can you do that? Why would you do that? And why does God give in and laugh so pleasantly, simply saying, "My children have conquered me?"

I also don't understand the commentaries! How am I supposed to accept the commentaries as being part of the Torah tradition when they looked at everything through the lens of their historical time period and if they had only been living someplace else, they would ostensibly have written something else? Assume a commentary interprets Ishmael in the blackest terms possible because he's living under Muslim rule. And if he had been living in a Christian establishment, he might not have written that at all! And still we take his words and interpretation as being part of the Torah- how can we? And for that matter, what of the Sages? What of the Sages whose very views comprise the Oral Law? Weren't they biased in terms of their viewpoints, since we're suddenly ascribing such human qualities to everyone?

So what is Judaism about? What is this concept that once the Sages said so, it has to be set in stone- even when different texts and manuscripts turn up, theoretically even if a sage were quoting, in good faith of course, from a text that turns out to be a forgery? But that's not true! If halakha is based on things that aren't true; if we're accepting rulings in halakha based on people who didn't have all the sources at their disposal or who had sources that were marred and flawed, who might even have been quoting from forgeries, then what are we doing? Aren't we supposed to look for the truth, search for the truth? Isn't Judaism about truth?

No! The answer I keep on finding is the answer no and that's at odds with everything I think and believe and it throws me and I can't figure out a way to deal with it so I push it back and try to avoid it but I want someone to help me here...explain to me why we accept these rulings and follow these laws that were laid down by people who didn't have all the texts at their disposal. I understand that we can't have people changing laws all over the place, but surely if new material comes to light, if new manuscripts and texts come to light, they're important in terms of halakha? And if not, why aren't they? Why don't we care about whether things are true in addition to having been laid down as halakha?

I've touched on this before but it's bothering me very much...how can we possibly follow a religion that isn't interested in what is true? Why does the law carry so much more weight than the truth? Why does the reasoning of the sages outweigh God's bas kol?

What is going on here?

23 comments:

Madd Hatter said...

This is way out of my league so I won't even attempt to address any of the main issues presented, but i did notice that you mentioned the quest for truth a lot. Just remember- Judaism is a lot about faith too. I know this doesn't answer your question, but I thought it was important to keep in mind when questioning the intellectual aspect of Judaism.

Marc said...

Look at the introduction to Ketzot HaChoshen.

~ Marc

Tzarich Iyun said...

That infamous Bas Kol gemara can be read many other ways, thus deflating the otherwise shocking hiddush. (For a particularly non-interesting example see Tosfot there, which imply that we would indeed listen a genuine Bas Kol.) Also, I think there's no reason to assume/desire a truth-based Halakha. Is Truth really more significant than say tradition or precedent when deciding matters of Nusakh Tefilla, who should light Shabbat candles, etc.? If so, why?

Gavi Kaufman said...

I don't think that Judaism is unconcerned with truth. Rather, we have, like everything else, our own version of the truth, one that is a little more inclusive than other philosophical traditions.

You are right that we rely on forgeries, incomplete manuscripts, etc. etc. However, when it comes down to the final day-to-day halacha, I would be hard-pressed to come up with a case where a new manuscript would change a major pillar of halacha. In my limited experience, most of the scholarly editions (e.g. mossad harav kook rishonim, tur machon yerushalayim) just make a difference in the clarity of the p'shat, and do not change ikrei halacha (e.g. no recently discovered rishon says that we don't have to keep shabbos or kashrus).

See Rav Aryeh Kaplan's article about the halachic process, and Rav Schechter's torahweb article about psak halacha. We believe that any psak, if done with the necessary intellectual honesty, is divinely inspired. So we do care about the truth - it just works differently than the Western concept of "It's written like this, this is the way it is." Instead, we believe in a sort of multiple truths: our learning of the halacha dictates our reality, and our worship. And the amazing thing is this is precisely what God wants.

There is a certain touch of the intangible in the process, as I see it.

A final recommendation: fast erev shabbos chukas. It seems to affect you as it does me.

[I could go on for quite a while - if you wish to see the complete version, let me know in the comment thread and I'll send an e-mail.]

shmeretic said...

It seems that historically this disconnect from the fundamental purpose of religion (i.e. the quest for truth) has fueled many of the reform movements across the religious world. Hasiddut itself can be seen as a reversion to that Abrahamic ideal of truth seeking on a deeply personal level. As Richard Dawkins, the notable evolutionary biologist, is wont to point out when engaged in debate with supposed 'truth seekers',if the religious are truly in the business of discovering objective truth, why not use all the tools that are so readily available in this modern world? And part of this newfound tool set is certainly the ability to distinguish reliable exegetic texts from forgeries. From the sources you quote, it does not seem that objective truth is the goal. Perhaps chachamim foreshadowed the postmodern relativist movement in understanding that truth is simply the facts as they are perceived by us now...

That Frum Guy said...

I don't understand how you can believe that there is ONE TRUTH. One rav will tell you that you can eat the chicken and the other will tell you that you can't. Is one wrong? No. Elu V'elu... They are both equally valid. The misconception is that we are actually searching for one truth. But it isn't true. I like how gavi explained it...

yitz.. said...

The Chida (Rav Hayyim David Azulai) answers the question you're asking about texts that were forged, incorrect, or have gone missing.

He explains (I'm paraphrasing a speech I heard from Rav Yisrael Avihai Rosh Yeshivat HaMekubalim in the old city of Jerusalem) that once Bnei Yisrael accepted it upon themselves as Torah, it becomes Torah.

We believe that HaShem is an active participant in the world. (Not a distant creator who started the ball rolling) If He designed things such that a Rav received a forgery he believed to be legit, or if another work was hidden from that Rav, [AND IT WASN'T DETECTED AND ROOTED OUT], then HaShem intended for the Torah to be revealed in such a way and so we uphold the Torah in the way it has unfolded.

Personally I'd like to point out to you that we don't ever know with one hundred percent certainty what books a person possessed or whether a book was in fact a forgery.. the study of history can never be perfect--since we're dealing with hypothetical situations that occurred in the past. I've always had trouble with the chutzpah we have today to think that we truly know what went on before. One can always imagine another potential reality than the one the scholar is putting forward as their best guess of what actually happened. Remember that everything recorded in history is likely less than a hundredth of a percent of all the actual events that took place in any given span of time.

We can say we're 99% sure something is a forgery, can bring all the circumstantial evidence in the world, but we can't prove anything at all. Similarly we can quote till we're blue in the face endless sources that are the basis to claim that someone didn't possess a certain book, yet it doesn't mean they didnt---even their own admission. (I heard over shabbat a specific case of a Rav (sorry the name escapes me but I can get it if it is that important) who used the phrase "the book was beyond my reach" which people took to poetically mean that he didn't possess the book. In reality he had grown old and sickly and was reduced to quoting the book by heart because he was unable to reach the upper shelf on which the book was situated---ridiculous story but nonetheless a true story)

As to the Bat Kol, you really need to go to Israel and learn in a serious (and modern!) women's seminary, like Brovenders (Midreshet Lindenbaum) or Nishmat...

YU scares the hell out of me. no offense to YU. (The fact that you even are dealing with this dilemma and you haven't found a Rav there who has given you a satisfactory answer does not speak highly of the institution.)

Daniel said...

I don’t know about forged manuscripts, but as Gavi Kaufman said, it’s difficult to think of a case where a major halakha was based on a forgery or error, and I can think of one case where a minor halakhic dispute was argued over a likely error (I can’t remember all the details, but I think it was in Tosafot). People have spent time and effort trying to compile accurate manuscripts of the Talmud and Rashi (etc.) – if we are unwilling to make wholesale changes to our halakha based on such revisions (and, as I said, I don’t think there are major instances of that) it is because truth is merely one value among many (e.g. the unity of Jewish custom over geographic area and over time). Remember, of course, that while evidence for a certain custom may be found only in a forgery, that does not mean that the custom originated in the forgery. The persecutions of the last century destroyed many of the major religious centres of Judaism, and murdered many great scholars. We don’t even know what we don’t know any more.

As for epistemology and bias, this is a subject I know much more about (I could email you my dissertation on bias and the historical method, but I think that would be overkill!). Like I said on your post on this point earlier in the week: you’re clearly not a postmodernist – do they not let you read such apikorsus in YU? :-) Seriously, you’re using an outdated model of ‘truth’ which few, if any, secular philosophers, historians, even scientists, would use these days, even those who aren’t postmodernists as such. What makes you think you have access to some ultimate Platonic Truth-with-a-capital-‘T’ that no one else can find? No, Chana believes truth is a particular kind of thing because Chana has also had certain formative experiences that make her believe in a particular kind of truth.

Every text, even the simplest, has certain gaps and uncertainties in it that can not be resolved within the text itself. Let’s take a simple text: “I went to the shops today.” Firstly, which shops did I go to, what did I buy, how much did I spend? All these things could be specified, but if they were, that would change the stylistic nature of the statement. Does that prove they were deliberately omitted by the author? But if they were left out for a reason, was that because they are irrelevant, or to encourage speculation about them on the part of the reader? More fundamentally, when I say “I”, do I mean “I, Daniel,” or do a mean a fictitious first-person narrator? Or is this another intentional ambiguity?

Even when a statement goes into great detail, it can never completely eliminate all ambiguity. Every word has multiple meanings; we can travel through the whole dictionary, tracing a word, its definitions and synonyms, the definitions and synonyms of those words, the definitions and synonyms of those words and so on, without ever arriving at a single, final, precise, definite Meaning of even one word, let alone a whole text! Therefore, every text has ambiguity, room for interpretation and interpolation. It is greatly to the credit of Judaism that it recognised this millennia ago. Note that various factions that split away from Judaism by rejecting the oral tradition (Sadducees, Christians, Samaritans, Karaites etc.) felt that the text itself had an inherent, obvious meaning – but they inevitably developed an interpretative tradition of their own over time.

It is true that with such openness to interpretation, every interpreter is liable to read his or her own experiences from outside the text into the text itself. To people who reject the most extreme postmodernist view (that there is no way of arriving at anything close to the ‘real’ meaning of a text, that the text itself has no real meaning, that authorial intention is irrelevant), this is a constant danger. But the most that can be asked of an interpretation is that it is internally coherent and that it can be argued from the text itself, which is to say there is evidence in favour of it and no evidence against it. If one commentator has a positive interpretation of Yishmael, and another has a negative interpretation, this may or may not be due to their experiences with Muslims, but ultimately they have to argue their points through close textual analysis, which is what the Midrashim do (i.e. I can’t say “I think Yishmael did teshuva, in order to give a basis for peaceful coexistence with Muslims,” I can only say “I think Yishmael did teshuva because the use of certain words in the text imply that he was a righteous man at the end of his life”). When it comes to halakhic matters, we set the bar a little higher, and say that it has to be not just internally coherent, but consonant with the rest of Jewish law and tradition, which is another way of saying that the totality of halakhic interpretation must be internally coherent.

Now, if all we ask (all we can ask) of an interpretation is that it is internally coherent, then it necessarily follows that God’s interpretation is potentially as valid as mankind’s. And why not? After all, God wrote the Torah, He is omniscient and He gave us permission to interpret it. If He omitted a detail, then He wanted us to discover it through the exercise of reason, He knew how we would decide the point, and He has no right to impose a different interpretation of His own (through a Heavenly voice) after the event, as long as the rabbinic interpretation is internally coherent and in accordance with established halakhic tradition. Indeed, this is a great safeguard against religious fundamentalism. Remember that the Torah is not just a religious document, but a political one too, our constitution as a free nation under God’s sovereignty. It must remain a constant. Imagine if suddenly a Heavenly voice was heard saying “Actually, forget that business about the righteous of the nations having a place in the world to come. I want you to wage holy war against all unbelievers!” We would be forbidden to do so. We agreed to a Torah that made particular demands of us, and God can not change the terms of the contract (because that is what it is, essentially) in retrospect.

You may say that God, being omniscient, could have written a Torah that did not require interpretation, a Torah that was perfectly clear and comprehensible by itself. However, I think the nature of the halakhic process is one of the great strengths of Judaism, for it recognises mankind’s status as an independent creator in its own right (because mankind is made in the image of God). This is, incidentally, one of the key differences between the Jew and the pagan. To the pagan, man is another animal, a part of nature. To the Jew, man is above nature, having a legitimate, God-given right – indeed, an obligation – to perfect the world. This creative ability manifests itself not just in material creativity, but in spiritual creativity too, in the halakhic process. If God were to keep moving the goalposts, dictating halakha to us instead of letting us reason it out, we would be infantilised, kept at the developmental stage of children who are taught facts, but are not mature enough to reason for themselves.

Moreover, this process recognises that we have a valid philosophical perspective on the world. True, it is much more limited than God’s, but it is no less valid for that. You were asking earlier in the week for evidence that we can argue with God. Well, it is only this assertion of the validity of our perspective on the world as representing a truth that allows us to do this. If human perspective was considered always inherently inferior to God’s perspective, then we would have no right to complain, no right even to feel hurt or angry, let alone argue. It is only our belief that we do have a genuine, coherent perspective on the world that validates our pain (literal and metaphorical) and empowers us to complain about it.

Am I making sense? Let me know what you think.

Chana said...

Everyone,

Thank you so much for your answers.

Yitz,

"YU scares the hell out of me. no offense to YU. (The fact that you even are dealing with this dilemma and you haven't found a Rav there who has given you a satisfactory answer does not speak highly of the institution.)"

This is something that I need to clarify right away. Firstly, the assumption that my personal problems, dilemmas or questions are somehow YU's fault is completely unfair and untrue. Secondly, I haven't gone to a Rav at YU with my question, so they obviously haven't had the opportunity to give me an answer. When I spoke of not receiving answers to my questions, I meant only in part and in general and not in terms of these specific questions. I've refrained from asking these in class because I'm screwed up since highschool and figure I might as well save anything that will lead to my being discussed as somehow unbelieving or heretical for outside of class. Even now, I have my limits in terms of what I feel I can ask my teachers without them completely misunderstanding where I am coming from...and that has to do with me and my own fear, not with them. The Rabbis and teachers at YU are brilliant and more than capable of answering anything I would ask them. And indeed, I have asked them numerous other questions, some just as tricky, and they have been wonderful!

So why did I ask this question here, in an open forum, and not to a Rabbi? Because I am certain other people think as I do and this will be better as a blogpost than a one-on-one conversation with a Rabbi. I'm interested in hearing a variety of answers and seeing what people think. If I am still dissatisfied, perhaps then I will have a talk with one of my teachers...and perhaps not.

Incidentally, the fact that you find it problematic that I am "dealing with this dilemma" and that I haven't been fixed, as it were, by having been given an immediate answer scares the hell out of me. Suppose that this remained a question for me and I never found a satisfactory answer. Would this be a problem? According to you, yes...and I see no reason why it should be. I live with plenty of questions as it is and I think that's as it should be.

Incidentally, seminary as the answer to all my woes is a laughable option, for reasons too long to list here.

yitz.. said...

@Chana,

didn't mean to offend you with the seminary comment.. it was actually because I was trying to think of good Rabbeim i knew of @ YU who would give you meaningful answers to this question.. (and in googling them, i discovered that most of them are now in israel..) The suggestion also grew out of the awareness that sometimes people feel Rabbeim are inaccessible, I'm sure there are Rabbis at YU who would provide interesting answers, but it seemed like you didn't have access to them.

the way I read what you wrote, it seemed like this was something you had discussed with teachers/rabbis @ YU, hence my confusion.

yitz.. said...

pps. sorry for the double-post..

yes, my post definitely had the tone of trying to fix you -- apologies again, that was honestly not my intent.. your strength is in your ability to ask questions (especially from the things you juxtapose)

[i on the other hand, compulsively need to answer questions.]

Jewish Atheist said...

I'm about to kind of defend Orthodox Judaism. The irony.

Anyway, halakha is not about what is true. That's the whole point of eilu v'eilu. Regardless of whether a sage's opinion is consistent with the facts that he may not have known, it's binding for those who follow him.

Look at American law. The people who made marijuana illegal did so out of beliefs that are scientifically false. Now in America, we do have the theoretical remedy of having the legislature take up the question again or having the courts rule it unconstitutional or something.

But OJ doesn't have Rabbis with the authority to overrule the early sages. If they did, then we'd probably have a situation where Orthodox Judaism would fracture to a much greater extent than it has. One congregation's rabbi might rule that that whole ruling against using electricity on shabbat was based on a misunderstanding of science. In the absence of a sanhedrin, there is no single authority.

Imagine if we no longer had a Supreme Court in America. There would be courts that make rulings, but they could never overrule a precedent set by the Supreme Court, so even if they discovered, for example, that a ruling had been made by a Court that had a false girsa of the Constitution, it's not clear that they would be allowed to overrule it.

Jewish Atheist said...

That wouldn't make the previous Court's ruling "true" but it would be binding. I think halakha is better understood as binding than true. That's the chidush of the whole bas kol thing.

Halfnutcase said...

chana, are you familiar with rambam's 13 ikkarim? Are you familiar with the one that states clearly that we are to believe that the sefer torah we have is the one given to moshe?

It is clear that if rambam ever studied talmud in his life (which he did) that he knew good and well that this statement was a lie. Talmud states that it is a lie, or at least probably so. We have tikkunei sofrim, ezra fixing the text after it became so bad it was unusable and no two sifrei torah could be found that were consistant (overstatment), the fixing of the text in other ways, loosing the grammar needed to understand that text and the mesorites fixing it anyway... The list goes on and on.

But the fact here is that we do more damage to the text by trying to "correct" it than we do by leaving it as it is and trying our hardest to prevent any further violation and prostitution of the text. We do not, and can never know what the true text of the torah is, just as we can never know what the sages knew, and so therefore rambam stated that we are to take the text as being perfect, because we can only do damage to it by trying to correct it, if our text is worth anything what so ever.

There is so much valuble in the torah, that we have to protect what we have, and we CANNOT always be spending our time wondering what we could have had, looking in other peoples gardens, and trying to question it, because then enevitably we will insert out own personal biases in to the text.

Its known as pascal's wager. Another one of the many reasons why I find DH to be pompous and laughable as a document, written by ignorant fools who didn't know what they were talking about, and didn't know the first thing about langauge. (And I have read quite a bit about it, my parents believed in addressing such issues at the head rather than trying to deal with what some idiot missled me in to thinking.) (and it helps and vidicates me that the archeological evidence unquestionably refutes DH in every area we have evidence on, and the sources who cite DH say so, but they insist on relying on it anyway, which is a testiment to their desire for truth. They won't even listen to what science has to say about the matter.)

Daniel said...

Halfnutcase,

Interesting point (although that isn't Pascal's wager).

I'm curious about books on archaelogical evidence and the DH, because I've been wanting to read up on it without knowing where to begin. If you don't mind my asking, are there any you'd recommend?

Chana said...

Marc!

Checked out the introduction to the Ketzot HaChoshen; it's brilliant- thanks so much!

I want to make sure I'm understanding it correctly, though, and I still have some questions.

I scanned it so you wouldn't have to go look it up. Here's page 1 and here's page 2.

All right, so if I am understanding this correctly, he's making a distinction between truth as it was originally given to us by God, for instance, and truth in terms of halakha. He has this sentence where he says "And we also believe that if they [the sages] agree contrary to the truth and we know this through a Bas Kol or a prophet, it isn't worthy for us to turn from the words of the sages." But then he explains that the truth is according to their words which suggests that even when they say something contrary to what was given at Sinai, it suddenly becomes true through their having said it...if that's right, then that's mind-bending. I'm a little confused now, because does that mean they can never make a mistake? Say that someone brings a sage a chicken and asks if it is kosher or not and even if it isn't per the laws of Sinai, once a sage pronounces it so (through his reasoning), it becomes so?

I really like the Midrash about God throwingTtruth down to earth and the following command that we shall bring Truth up from the Earth, by the way.

Thanks so, so much; this completely addresses my question!

Halfnutcase said...

chana, I'm not completely sure about that psak, but from a halachic perspecitve if, for instance, you find a peice of meat laying on the ground nicely wrapped in in nice non-distinct freezer paper, and in that street there are three stores each of which use that same freezer paper to wrap their meat two kosher, and one not kosher, then halachicaly that meat is kosher, so long as it isn't too close to the non-kosher store. This is true even if it is pork, as long as you do not know the difference and cannot tell that something is wrong.

It doesn't matter what it really is, it is kosher, as long as you cannot tell from the meat that it is not and that it is not strange. I'd imagine that if you found a chicken wrapped up that you would have to take it to a rabbi or examine it yourself, and I would expect that if it was completely whole you could check it if looked like it is shechted k'halacha, but otherwise, yes it is kosher.

Ezzie said...

So far, I'm going with JA's answer as the best. Ah, the irony indeed!

Ezzie said...

While we translate "emes" as "truth", I don't know if that's the best translation.

Anonymous said...

This is out of my legue honestly, but if Judaism isn't about truth, one truth and the only truth than it isn't about anything. G-d must be the one unchangeable truth always and nothing should interfere with His revelation given at Sinai.

How do we know that "G-d laughed and said my children have conquered me?" when the sages changed or countered Moshe Rabeinu's law? The children told us us he did........HMMMMM Who to believe...........G-d or the children's version of His words.

It almost sound's like a child who gives himself permission to do forbidden things saying "Daddy said I could".

Moshe's Torah can be the only overridding truth in all thing's. Everything else is merely our own perception's of reality. That which leads to multiple "truths" or no truth at all.

I know that this sound's too simplistic but truth is often the simple truth isn't it?

As I said out of my league but it is an interesting point you brought up.

Is man's truth rabbinic truth, and is rabbinic truth G-d's truth?

Can we, and how can we attain ultimate truth?

Thanks.

Marc said...

In response to Ezzie please see this post by adderabbi: http://adderabbi.blogspot.com/2007/10/translating.html

Ezzie said...

Thanks, Marc!

Erachet said...

For that matter, I don't understand the very episodes in the Gemara where the sages overrule God, overrule the very Bas Kol issuing from the heavens declaring a certain sage to be right and simply claim "The Torah is not in heaven!" How can you do that? Why would you do that? And why does God give in and laugh so pleasantly, simply saying, "My children have conquered me?"

I'm not going to pretend I have any answers. I have the same frustrations as you, Chana, when it comes to this stuff. But on this particular point I have come to understand something I was once taught.

You see, I learned once that the Torah was given to man and that, now that it is ours, we have to delve our own understandings of it. It's the same way of how we get to determine Rosh Chodesh by going to beit din when the new moon is sighted, as opposed to God giving us exact days for Rosh Chodesh, and therefore we set when the chaggim are, because they are based on when the first of the month is (obviously, nowadays everything is by calendar so it's different, but I think you get what I mean). This makes us active participants in God's world and in Judaism. So in the same way, the Torah was also given to us to interpret.

I agree with you, I think Judaism is striving to find some sort of truth or truths, though truth of what, I'm not quite sure. Truth of the right way to live? Truth about God? I don't really know. But there is some sort of truth we seem to be striving for, I believe, anyway. And I had a teacher in Stern, actually, who once explained it as, imagine you have a pyramid of plastic cups (we actually did this in class with real plastic cups). Now, the "truth" is the cup at the top, but if you build a tower straight up, it doesn't have a good foundation and it will fall before long. To make a big, sturdy tower, you need all the cups at the base. So the analogy is that those cups at the base are the varying opinions of the different Rabbanim. What each one says may not be the ultimate "truth," but it is a necessary step in finding it. And there may be two or three or four or ten drastically varying opinions on something, but then someone else might come along and take a little bit from each and build an eleventh opinion that is closer to the truth than the ones before it, and so on and so on.

I don't know if this is making any sense or not, but I think this also has to do with why "torah lo bashamayim hi." If God gave us the "truth" without us having to search for it and work for it, there would be no point in learning Torah, really, because we'd know everything. The Torah was given to us and therefore it is ours to interpret (or rather, for the Rabbis to interpret, since it's a rather dangerous statement to say that just anyone can interpret the Torah because then people can say anything they want).

Er, I hope this was coherent. I also really like what Gavi said.