The decision of the rabbis to ardently oppose divine attestations in matters of legal disputation, i.e., Baba Metzia 59a-b, was tied to two essential concepts. The first dealt with the closure of the accepted prophetic canon after the deaths of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

The second reason is much more essential and reflects the view held by the rabbis regarding the authority and origin of the oral law. At Sinai, God revealed the Torah to Moses. More importantly, regardless of what position one might adopt regarding what elements of the Oral tradition were included in this revelation, all views affirm that inherent to the revelation was the legitimate authority given to the Sages to transmit, deduce, and enact the Oral law. Prophecy at Sinai through the hands of Moses' hand established the Torah as the constitution of Israel. Prophecy served its role in the initial revelation of the Torah. After this prophecy could only function in addressing or correcting the rebellion or malevolence of the people regarding the Torah and Israel’s future history.

Miraculous deeds were indeed recognized by the rabbis as authentic, but only as how a legitimate prophet, recognizing the boundaries of his office, might bring about the rescue of Israel. Prophecy and Torah legislation are two spheres of godly revelation, each one bound to its specific role.

What role then did prophecy play in rabbinic thought? With the evidence so far, it is possible to draw a better understanding of why the sages opposed Rabbi Eliezer. Prophecy or divine revelation though valid, did not maintain primacy in the area of legislation. Moses had given Torah, and in matters of legislation, Torah took priority. The prophetic writings or a Heavenly voice did not suffice to provide a sufficient basis for a legal opinion.

What role then did prophecy or the miraculous play in rabbinic thought? Did the Sages then oppose prophecy as an integral part of the rabbinic system? On the contrary, prophecy in its received form retained validity for the following purposes: to relate the meaning of past events and declare Israel’s future history. Quite amazingly, in this area, prophecy takes precedence over even Moses, whether in oral or written form.

“Said Rav Yose bar Hanina, ‘Four decrees did our lord, Moses, make against Israel. Four prophets came along and annulled them.’ Moses said, ‘And Israel dwells in safety alone at the fountain of Jacob, (Deuteronomy 33:28) Amos came and annulled it: ‘Then I said O LORD God, stop, I ask you how shall Jacob stand alone, for he is small, ‘and it goes on, ‘The LORD repented concerning this: This also shall not be says the LORD God. (Amos 7:5-6). Moses said, ‘And among those nations, you shall have no repose’ (Deuteronomy 28:65) Jeremiah came and annulled it: ‘Thus says the LORD, the people that were left of the sword have found grace in the wilderness, even Israel when I go to provide him rest (Jeremiah 31:1). ‘Moses said, ‘The LORD…visits the sin of the fathers upon the children and upon the children’s children to the third and to the fourth generation’ (Exodus 34:7), but Ezekiel said, ‘the soul that sins it shall die’ (Ezekiel 18:3-4). Moses said, ‘And you shall perish among the nations”(Leviticus 26:38), but Isaiah said, ‘and it shall come to pass in that day that a great horn shall sound and they shall come who were lost in the land of Assyria (Isaiah 27:13).’”[1]

What is present here is the very opposite of the debate between Rabbi Eliezer and his colleagues. In the first case, prophecy in the form of a voice from Heaven could not intervene in matters of Halakhah. It becomes evident that with regards to the intervention of the Holy Spirit on behalf of Israel’s future history, prophecy supersedes Torah.[2] Rabbinic Judaism, therefore, does not merely reject the intervention of prophecy or the Holy Spirit in matters of Halakhah. It recognizes distinct boundaries by which they are separated.



[1] Makkot 24a. Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner, Type of Authority in Formative Christianity and Judaism of Authority in Formative Christianity and Judaism (New York: Routledge, 1999), 87-88.

[2] Ibid., 91.


Posted by Rabbi Dr. Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez the director of Yeshivat Meor Enaim. He is the author of The Converso Dilemma: Halakhic Responsa and the Status of Forced Converts and 19 additional books on various Jewish topics.