What is the Oral Torah? The Oral Torah is an oral companion that helps to interpret the Written Torah, both are divine in origin and the Written Torah cannot be properly understood without the Oral Torah. In fact, the entire Tanach can be difficult to understand without an understanding of the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah was transmitted orally until Rabbi Yehudah haNasi compiled the most essential parts of it into the Mishnah, which was later expounded on by the Sages and their expounding was written in the Gemara. After the Gemara was compiled, people had further questions about the minute details of the Oral Torah, and successive generations of rabbis expounded further on the Oral Torah and they wrote down their rulings. The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, 1135-1204, Spain-Egypt) has recorded how exactly the Oral Torah was expounded on and transmitted over the years until this day in his work Mishneh Torah. There are three categories of laws within the Oral Torah: Received laws, derived laws, and legislated laws. How can we know that there are orally transmitted laws that were received at Sinai, but weren't written in the Written Torah? We know from the Written Torah that G-d gave us permission to eat meat (Genesis 9:3), and that we are only permitted to eat of clean animals (Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14), and the Written Torah gives us permission to eat meat that isn't used for an offering (Deuteronomy 12:20-21). But in Deuteronomy 12:21 we are instructed to slaughter the animals only as G-d commanded us, but you can search throughout the entire Written Torah and never find instructions for how to slaughter the animal. The only place that you will find the laws relating to the slaughter of animals for consumption is in the Oral Torah, and this is a good example of one of the groups of received laws in the Oral Torah. This brings us to the derived laws in the Oral Torah. A good example of a group of derived laws in the Oral Torah would be the laws of tzitzit. We are instructed in Numbers 15:37-41 to make tzitzit for all our four cornered garments, but we are never told how in the Written Torah. In fact, the word "tzitzit" isn't defined in the Written Torah either, and the word literally translates to something along the lines of "that which is looked at". The only place we find a definition of the word tzitzit and the laws pertaining to tzitzit is the Oral Torah. G-d, in His wisdom, left the derivation of these laws to Moses and his court. This brings us to the legislated laws of the Oral Torah. A good example of legislated laws would be everything relating to both Chanukah and Purim. At the time of the giving of the Torah, the events that led to the creation of Chanukah and Purim were still centuries away, so there was no reason for G-d to include it in the Oral Torah. So He left it for the Sages to legislate when the time arrived. After these holidays were instituted, there were some allusions for them beyond the plain understanding of the Written Torah's text that were discovered, but nothing that could lead anyone to know that Chanukah and Purim would ever be instituted before they were instituted. These allusions could only be seen after these holidays were established.
So now that we know what the Oral Torah is, what evidence is there in Scripture of its existence prior to the compilation of the Mishnah and of its divine origin and authority?
One of the clues in the Tanach that attests to the existence of the Oral Torah is passages that clearly command the Jewish people to do something specific without going into detail about what that something specific is. And these commands are clearly important because they carry a heavy price for their violation. There are plenty of clues like this, but a good example that you would probably be at least vaguely familiar with would be Shabbat. The Torah gives a heavy penalty for wilful violation of Shabbat, the death of the violator (Exodus 35:2). The first mention in Scripture of the command to safeguard and observe the Shabbat is Exodus 20:8-11. It commands the Jewish people to complete all our melachah on Sunday through Friday, but to abstain from doing any melachah on the Shabbat day because G-d abstained from His melachah on Shabbat. Curiously, the Written Torah never defines the word melachah, and most English translations translate it as "work". In reality, the word "work" doesn't really fit since I personally wouldn't consider most of what is melachah as "work". When I think of work, I envision laborious attempts at exerting control of your surroundings. For example, I would consider rearranging furniture in my house as work, but rearranging my house isn't melachah, though it does arguably go against the spirit of Shabbat. Scripture does mention a few things that are melachah, but it never gets into all things that are melachah. For example, Exodus 35:3 tells us that lighting a fire is melachah. Exodus 16:23-30 informs us that it is forbidden on Shabbat for someone to "leave his place". Now, if you were to try to infer from the surrounding verses that Moses was simply telling the Children of Israel not to worry about going out of their homes to gather manna that Shabbat, Isaiah 58:13-14 tells us that we should "restrain our foot" on Shabbat. So it becomes obvious that "leaving our place" is also melachah. Only the Oral Torah defines exactly what it means to "leave your place". If you look in Nehemiah 10:29-32, you would notice that buying and selling on Shabbat is forbidden. Not only is it forbidden on Shabbat, but it says in verse 30 that this is part of G-d's Torah that was given to Moses. You can search through all of the Written Torah, and you will never find a passage that specifies that buying and selling is melachah, so it must have been transmitted in the Oral Torah. There are other examples as well. Numbers 29:1 tells us that Rosh HaShanah is a "day of blowing", but it never tells us what we are meant to blow. Without the Oral Torah, we could literally blow anything and still fulfill the command to make Rosh HaShanah a "day of blowing". In Leviticus 16:31, we are commanded to "afflict our souls" on Yom Kipur, but the Written Torah never tells us what this means, so we need the Oral Torah to learn that this is a day of complete fasting. Similarly, Zechariah 8:19 mentions four fast days and says that they will become happy holidays in the days of Mashiach, but none of these four fasts are ever mentioned in the Written Torah, they are part of the legislated Oral Torah. In two of the passages mentioned in the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21), we are commanded to place "totafot" between our eyes (6:8 and 11:18), but it neglects to mention what totafot are. In fact, the word isn't even Hebrew, it's a combination of the word for "two" in two different African languages, but you don't need a description to be written down in the Torah since G-d also gave an Oral Torah to explain everything about totafot and the other laws of tefilin.
So we do find clues in the Tanach that attest to the Oral Torah, and there are literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of allusions to the Oral Torah all throughout the Tanach. G-d reminds us in Isaiah 45:19 that He has left nothing in the Written or Oral Torah a secret, He made it clear what He expects us to do.
According to Deuteronomy 4:2, it is a sin to add anything to the Torah G-d gave us at Sinai, so if we find any of the prophets observing the Oral Torah, it must be concluded that the Oral Torah must be a part of the Torah G-d gave at Sinai and it just wasn't written down. After all, G-d doesn't call men who would pervert His Word to be His messengers, that would be foolish to entrust His eternal word to people who would pervert it and add to it or subtract from it. So since we can assume that the prophets wouldn't pervert the Torah that G-d gave us at Sinai by adding to it, we can also assume that they would live by the same Torah we received at Sinai. Interestingly enough, we find that the prophets not only kept the Written Torah, but there are several places where the prophets are recorded as keeping the Oral Torah. For example, in Daniel 1:3-16, we can see that Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael refused to eat King Nebuchadnezzar's food that he wanted to give them. The Written Torah only forbids food that doesn't conform to the laws set forth in Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14, and Deuteronomy 12:21. That last passage commands that animals must be slaughtered "as I (G-d) have commanded you", but there is no verse that mentions how G-d wants the animals to be slaughtered, it's only found in the Oral Torah. So if they only had the Written Torah, there would be nothing wrong with eating the king's food or wine. If that's the case, and they only kept the Written Torah, what's the problem with the king's food and wine? If the food was always suspected to be pork or some other non-kosher animal, that still doesn't explain the wine. But the Oral Torah explains this passage perfectly since the cooking of a non-Jew and any grape juice or wine that a non-Jew made are not kosher. So in order to keep the Oral Torah, Daniel and his friends asked for pulse (raw foods like fruits and vegetables and seeds) and water. The Oral Torah says that any cooked foods have to be cooked by an observant Jew in order to be kosher, and wine and grape juice have to be made by an observant Jew and cannot be touched by a non-Jew in order to be kosher. Another incident involving Daniel is related in Daniel 6:3-13. The passage relates that Daniel went to pray three times a day facing Jerusalem with the windows opened, and that was enough to have him thrown into a den of lions. The passage also specifically tells us that G-d gave laws that this should be done, this is all part of the Oral Torah, but not a part of the Written Torah (with the exception of the requirement to say the Shema twice every day). The Oral Torah tells us that we should pray facing the Holy of Holies (or the place where the Holy of Holies was when the Temple stood), that we are required to pray three times each day (four on Shabbat, five on Yom Kipur, all at the times of the offerings brought to the Temple), that we should pray in a room with windows (if possible), and that if the windows can be opened so that you can see out they should be opened (or the curtains or blinds pulled out of the way to allow you to see out). Again, this passage specifically tells us that this is part of the laws of G-d, yet these are all found exclusively in the Oral Torah (the opening of the windows is actually a part of the Kabbalah and not the halachah, but it's still part of the orally transmitted tradition of Torah).
These are just examples of the Oral Torah being alluded to in the Tanach, but there is no mention of any legislated laws in the Written Torah. However, there is a specific mitzvah in the Written Torah that requires every single Jew to listen to the halachic rulings of the Sanhedrin. This passage is found in Deuteronomy 17:8-12, and verse 12 actually says that anyone who willingly and knowingly disobeys the Sanhedrin's halachic rulings welcomes the death sentence. This would seem very cruel if G-d hadn't commanded it.
There is one other thing that would indicate that G-d really did give the Oral Torah. If there were any information in the Oral Torah that only G-d could know at the time it was given, that would be some very compelling evidence that the Oral Torah was given by G-d. So, let's look at what the Oral Torah says that only G-d could have known. Leviticus 11:1-8 tells us that the kosher land animals all must have both, a hoof split all the way through, and it must "chew the cud". The passage tells us that there are some animals that may fool us, and the Torah lists these four types of animals and tells us that they have only one of the signs of a kosher animal. The Oral Torah (Talmud Bavli, tractate Chulin 60b) tells us "this refutes those who say the Torah was not divinely revealed". How could it refute the idea that the Torah isn't divinely revealed? The Rambam said in his work on the laws of kosher foods (Laws of Forbidden Foods, chapter 1:2-3), "The identifying signs of the clean animals are specified in the Torah as two: the true cloven hoof, and the chewing of the cud. Both must be present. In addition, all ruminators have no incisor teeth in the upper jaw. All ruminators have cloven hooves, with the sole exception of the camel. And all cloven hoofed animals ruminate, with the exception of the pig." In the Rambam's day, the continents of Oceania, Antarctica, North America, and South America, as well as many islands were not known by most scholars (with the exception of Jewish scholars, who knew about the four remaining continents because of the Oral Torah). There is no possible way that the Rambam could have known that the camel and pig and the other two animal types were the only animal types in the world that had only one sign. All that had to happen to prove the Oral Torah a falsehood is for one animal to be discovered that wasn't in one of these animal families that had only one sign of a kosher animal. Another example is where Leviticus 11:9-12 tells us that any animal that comes out of the water that has both scales and fins is kosher. The Oral Torah says (Mishnah, tractate Nidah 6:9), "Whatever has scales has fins, but there are some that have fins and no scales". The Talmud (Talmud Bavli, tractate Nidah 51b) says, "Then why did the All Merciful not write 'scales' and there would be no need to mention fins? Rabbi Abahu replied, and it was also taught in the school of Rabbi Yishmael, 'to make the Torah great and glorious'". We discover new species of sea creatures every year, and not just one or two, most years we discover hundreds of animals in the ocean, sometimes thousands. To date, there is not one animal found that has scales without fins. All that has to happen to expose the Oral Torah as falsehood is for one animal with scales but no fins to be found. One more example is the Jewish calendar. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar corrected by the sun. This is a difficult balance to maintain because there is almost two weeks worth of days more in a solar year than there is in a lunar year. In some years (like 5776/2015-2016), we actually add an extra month because if we don't add an extra month in some years, the months will fall almost two weeks earlier each year (called retrograding). But the Written Torah (Deuteronomy 16:1) says that Passover must always be in the spring. In order to calculate the years that we need to add an extra month to keep the months from retrograding, we have to know the exact length of the lunar month. The Talmud (Talmud Bavli, tractate Rosh HaShanah 25a) records that Rabban Gamliel said that he received the Oral Torah's tradition for the exact length of the lunar month from his father's house, who received the Oral Torah's teaching from all the way back to Moses at Sinai, when G-d revealed it to Moses. The length that Rabban Gamliel gives us is "not less than 29 days, half a day, two thirds of an hour, and 73 chalakim". In scientific terms, that's 29.53059 days, and NASA calculated the same length about a decade ago after years of study and research in addition to spending billions of dollars on the project. NASA could have just asked the Jewish people and saved all that time, effort, and money, but that's not the scientific way. Other cultures have tried to calculate the exact length of the lunar month, and from their records we can see that they were far off. The Jewish people have always known, and the only record we have of it is a passing reference in a book written almost 2,000 years ago, but there are no records of us calculating it like other cultures did. All that would have had to happen to prove that the Oral Torah is falsehood would be if our number for the exact length of the lunar month had been off even a little bit, or if any records of Jews calculating the length of the lunar month like other cultures had been found.
But let's be fair and give the New Testament a chance to speak about the Oral Torah. What does the New Testament say about the Oral Torah? There are numerous passing references to it in the gospels and epistles. For example, in Mark 2:23-26, Jesus/Yeshua defends his disciples in an argument that is rooted the Oral Torah. He brings up an incident that's recorded in 1 Samuel 21:1-4 to say that violation of one of the commands of the Torah is required to save a life. He gets almost all of the details of story wrong, but let's not focus on that here, that's for another time. I've given you the reference so that you can look it up if you choose. This rule that the Torah may be violated to save a life has always been in the Oral Torah. But what's most interesting is that when some people told him that his disciples were picking grain on Shabbat and that it was forbidden by Torah, Jesus/Yeshua never brings up the fact that the Written Torah never mentions this prohibition. If he had said that the Torah never forbade picking grain on Shabbat, it would be a clue that the Oral Torah didn't exist yet. All he had to say was something like "show me where it says picking grain is forbidden in the Torah", and it could be argued that there was no Oral Torah prior to this story. But apparently, Jesus/Yeshua was familiar with the Oral Torah's teachings. In Matthew 23:1-3, Jesus/Yeshua says that the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat, so his followers have to do everything the Pharisees command. This was just before he accused them all of hypocrisy. But it's important to note that he confirmed the rabbinical authority of the Pharisees even though he felt they were all hypocrites. What's even more interesting is that he never says this about the Sadducees. The main difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees is that only the Pharisees believed in and transmitted the Oral Torah while the Sadducees did not, and that the Sadducees no longer exist while the Pharisees are very much still here. G-d has only preserved as Jews those in the Jewish nation who have preserved the Oral and Written Torah, movements of Jews who have rejected the Oral Torah generally die out completely in a couple hundred years, and descendants of Jews in these movements are generally not Torah observant today (most don't even know of their Jewish ancestry). Jesus/Yeshua never spoke against the Oral Torah, he defended it and used it. So a good question to ask yourself is why the Christian/Messianic world harshly condemns the Oral Torah. The apostle Paul, on the other hand, seems to be very much against the Oral Torah. Titus 1:14 records Paul telling Titus to "pay no attention to Jewish fables or the commandments of men who reject the truth". It seems that Paul opposes at least the legislated laws of the Oral Torah, perhaps all of the Oral Torah on the grounds that it's all "Jewish fables". Although, in fairness to Paul, it's not clear what he is referring to, so it's not enough to make a federal case out of. I am concerned that it certainly seems that he betrays his claims to be a Pharisee and he even seems to betray his claims to be a Jew, but this is only my personal speculation, and there isn't enough evidence to say definitively that Paul rejected the Oral Torah. So how is it that the Christian/Messianic world condemns the Oral Torah? Why doesn't the New Testament reject the Oral Torah, but people who follow the religion of the New Testament do reject it? How would your congregation, especially the leadership, respond if you showed them the many references to the Oral Torah in the Tanach or New Testament? Would you still feel welcomed there if you believed in the Oral Torah and everyone else spoke against it?