Deuteronomy 30:12

Hebrew Bible

10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this scroll of the law. But you must turn to him with your whole mind and being. 11 “This commandment I am giving you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it too remote. 12 It is not in heaven, as though one must say, ‘Who will go up to heaven to get it for us and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ 13 And it is not across the sea, as though one must say, ‘Who will cross over to the other side of the sea and get it for us and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ 14 For the thing is very near you—it is in your mouth and in your mind so that you can do it.

Bava Metzia 59b

Babylonian Talmud

Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, Heaven will prove it. A Divine Voice emerged from Heaven and said: Why are you differing with Rabbi Eliezer, as the halakha is in accordance with his opinion in every place that he expresses an opinion? Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and said: It is written: “It is not in heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). The Gemara asks: What is the relevance of the phrase “It is not in heaven” in this context? Rabbi Yirmeya says: Since the Torah was already given at Mount Sinai, we do not regard a Divine Voice, as You already wrote at Mount Sinai, in the Torah: “After a majority to incline” (Exodus 23:2). Since the majority of Rabbis disagreed with Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, the halakha is not ruled in accordance with his opinion. The Gemara relates: Years after, Rabbi Natan encountered Elijah the prophet and said to him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do at that time, when Rabbi Yehoshua issued his declaration? Elijah said to him: The Holy One, Blessed be He, smiled and said: My children have triumphed over Me; My children have triumphed over Me.

 Notes and References

"... In b. Bava Metzia 59b, R. Eliezer locks horns with other rabbinic sages over the purity status of a particular type of oven. After all arguments have been exhausted, R. Eliezer resorts to miraculous feats to prove his view—uprooting carob trees, causing rivers to run backwards and walls to tumble, and ultimately calling upon the very heavens for support. As Jeffrey Rubenstein notes, in this story the rabbis dramatically assert not only that the majority has authority over the minority but that the sages’ rulings have authority over God, the very author of the legal system whose interpretation and application they are debating. No miracle, not even a heavenly voice, can legitimate or ground the authority of a legal opinion because, the rabbis insist, while the Torah may be from Heaven “it is not in Heaven” any longer. Deuteronomy 30:12 is here construed as teaching that control over the interpretation and administration of the Torah has been ceded by God to admittedly fallible human beings who must follow proper legal processes of argumentation and majority rule. God has been locked out of the courtroom, the legislature and the academy. God is depicted as celebrating this bold assertion of rabbinic legislative and interpretative authority, even if it leads to substantive error and even if it is at the expense of his own authority ..."

Hays, Christine Rabbinic Contestations of Authority (pp. 123-141) Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2006

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