Many people don’t realize there is a string of wire encircling a large part of Manhattan Island in New York. It is strung along posts 15 feet (4.57 m) high off the ground.
Well it allows Orthodox Jews to go outside their homes on the Sabbath.
In the Mosaic Law, the Jews were told to rest on the Sabbath day. This of course resulted in a big discussion on what it meant to rest and more specifically what was work.
This resulted in the development of a series of oral laws, where Jewish teachers provided specific details on what was allowed and not allowed under the Mosaic law. This included regulations surrounding the Sabbath. These were eventually written down in what is referred to as the Mishnah.
There were different versions of these oral and written laws, and in the fourth century, they were eventually gathered into a single written record called the Talmud. Today, it involves of a multi-volume set that compiles hundreds of additional rules Jews need to obey in order to fulfill the Law developed by Jewish Rabbis over the centuries.
This was above and beyond the Torah, or the Mosaic law, found in the Bible.
Concerning the Sabbath, the ancient Jewish Rabbis said a person was allowed to carry things inside the home, but could not carry things outside the home because that would be work. But this also meant that you couldn’t carry things into your yard.
So it was determined that if you had a fence running around your house, that was considered part of your home. This was referred to as an “eruv” or enclosure. This was designated a private area where carrying items was allowed compared to a public area where it wasn’t.
Of course, that was limiting, because you still couldn’t carry things to a friend’s place on the Sabbath. This included driving your car because you had to carry your keys outside the eruv.
So Orthodox Jews encircled a large section of Manhattan with a wire declaring it an eruv, a private area instead of a public one. This allowed Orthodox Jews to basically to travel anywhere they want in this enclosed area during the Sabbath. They could even go for walks pushing a baby carriage.
And to make sure that the eruv is secure, every Thursday, two Hasidim Jews travel the circuit to make sure the line has not been broken. They even have a Twitter feed announcing the line is secure sent out prior to every Sabbath Day:
When we study Jesus in the Gospels, many of the Lord’s confrontations with the pharisees was not over the Mosaic law, but rather the Mishnah or the Pharisees’ interpretation of the Law.
When the Pharisees confronted Jesus about healing a man with an abnormal swelling of the belly on the Sabbath, Jesus answered them with:
5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6 And they had nothing to say. (Luke 14:5-6 NIV)
Since rescuing a child or ox that had fallen in a well was the type of work the Mishnah allowed on the Sabbath, Jesus was pointing out their hypocrisy as they then forbid healing a sick man on the Sabbath. The Jews had no answer.
The same thing happened, when the teachers of the law questioned why the disciples did not wash their hands before eating.
15 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Matthew 15:1-2 NIV)
In this passage, they are specifically referring to the Mishnah or oral law which they described as the “tradition of the elders.” There was no requirement in the Mosaic laws to wash hands prior to eating, but there was in the Mishnah.
Since, there was no refrigeration, the Jews often went to the market each day to buy food for meals. Because there was a fear the food might be unclean, because of contact with gentiles, the oral law not only required the food and dishes to be washed, but the people’s hands as well.
However, Jesus said they were actually neglecting the law and referred to the Mishnah as the traditions of men (Mark 7:8), basically implying it has nothing to do with God.
Jesus added that the pharisees were solely focussed on the outward rules, that they completely ignored the heart or the internal.
In Mark 7:9-13, Jesus addressed the additional laws that the pharisees had developed to get around providing financial support to elderly parents as part of honouring their parents mentioned in the Ten Commandments. The Mishnah said that an individual only had to declare that all their money was devoted to God, and the person was no longer obligated to help their parents.
They also added several new rules. For example, most orthodox Jewish men wear a hat called a Kippah. It comes in various forms but the most common is the skull cap. Again there is no requirement that men wear a hat in the Bible, this tradition came out of the Mishnah.
Then when Jesus and the disciples were walking through the fields on the Sabbath they picked some heads of grain for food. They were immediately confronted by the Pharisees for working on the Sabbath. Again this was work as defined by the Mishnah and as a result many orthodox Jews prepare meals in advance to be eaten on the Sabbath Day (Mark 2:23-28).
As the Jewish Messiah, Jesus responded to their accusations with the fact that even King David and his men ate food set aside for the Priests and added:
27 “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27b-28 NIV)