“The meaning of terms on the statute books ought to be determined, not on the basis of which meaning can be shown to have been understood by a larger handful of the Members of Congress; but rather on the basis of which meaning is (1) most in accord with context and ordinary usage, and thus most likely to have been understood by the whole Congress which voted on the words of the statute (not to mention the citizens subject to it), and (2) most compatible with the surrounding body of law into which the provision must be integrated – a compatibility which, by a benign fiction, we assume Congress always has in mind” (Green v. Bock Laundry Mach. Co., 490 U.S. 504, 528 (1989) Scalia, J., concurring).
As is the case with many Justices in the United States’ judicial system, very few recognized Jewish legal authorities have used a plain reading approach to practicing Scripture. Like numbers and other intelligible indicators, the function of words remains static and fixed. Words do not morph or live according to a manner in which one chooses; they relate the message of the author to readers, according to the manner in which words are commonly understood to the public of the time of the text’s composition (unless indicated otherwise). One such luminous figure to endorse this approach is the underappreciated Provençal scholar, R. Abraham b. David (c. 1125 – 1198). In his Glosses to the widely recognized legal restatement, the Mishne Tora of Maimonides, Rabad notes his disagreements with some of Maimonides’ records and inputs some additional legal insight that he might have omitted. Of these dissents, here are some spotted instances of Rabad’s notes on Maimonides’ departure from the plain reading of verses.
Maimonides’ position regarding the anti-anthropomorphic nature of God is the most commonly accepted position on the matter in contemporary times, but this was not always the case. As Rabad records in his Glosses to Mishne Tora (Laws of Repentance 3§7), there are men of his time who took a more literal approach to anthropomorphic biblical terminology: “And why does he refer to such [an individual] as a heretic? For many [sages] greater and better than he (Maimonides) followed this train of thought according to their view of the Scriptures…” While Maimonides (ibid) might categorize those who proclaim anthropomorphic qualities of God as “heretics”, following Rabad’s theory, there would be no violation in professing one’s belief in a physical hand, eye, or finger of God.
Exo. 22:1-2 briefly outlines the right to self-defense in the case of burglary: “If the thief shall be found in a cave, and he is smitten and dies; he has no blood. If the sun shall shone on to him, he has blood…” Based on the exegetical Talmudic reading of this verse, Maimonides (Mishne Tora: Laws of Theft 9§8) states that if a burglar’s entry is as clear as the sun of the day to be non-lethal, one may not kill in self-defense. As in the case of a father who burglarizes his son’s home for provisions, it is known that the father’s mercy towards his son is overwhelming; removing probable suspicion of lethal intent. On the other hand, Rabad (Glosses: ibid) is adamant that while this exegetical approach holds true, one may not depart from the plain reading of the verse: “I will not refrain from recording my opinion, for it seems to me, that despite the Sages expounding on this verse… in a hyperbolic manner… nonetheless, the verse may not be displaced of its plain meaning. [Thus], in the day, one may not kill him, since thieves only come [to steal] minor objects during the day and flee immediately. They do not remain stationary to steal large sums of money; to stand over the owner to kill him [as they do at night]…” Although in modern times, this assumption might not hold the same level of credibility as Rabad presents, his theory holds true for his time, as it did in the years that preceded him.
Maimonides, based on Sanhedrin 91b, 99a, records that the Messianic era will differ with all the eras that precede it, insofar as political tranquility in the Land of Israel is concerned. Verses relating to supernatural phenomena during this era, for Maimonides, are hyperbolic. The plain reading approach, as adopted Rabad, states otherwise. In his Glosses (ibid: Laws of Kings and Wars 12§1) he remarks: “But does the Tora (Lev. 26:6) not state: ‘and I shall terminate harmful beasts from The Land’?” Although this verse does not explicitly refer to the Messianic days, it is possible that Rabad derives this notion from v. 6: “And I shall deliver peace amidst your Land, and you shall dwell and will not tremble [in fear].” Contextually, “peace” likely refers to political tranquility, usually delivered via the national leader; the function of a Messiah. Prophet Isaiah makes similar remarks about such times (Isa. 11:6): “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”
Upon the sudden deaths of Aaron the Priest’s sons, the Text (Lev. 10:7) instructs a series of mourning practices to the priestly family, including the following provision: “And from the entrance of the Tent of Meeting they (the Priests) shall not leave, lest they die, for the Anointing oil of The Lord is upon them…” Here, the verse instructs the Priests not to abandon their service whilst dumbfounded. Maimonides (Mishne Tora: Laws of Temple Entering 2§5), in line with the opinion of the Sages, does not limit the application of this verse to Priests of the ancient inauguration period alone; he applies it to priests of all generations. Rabad (Glosses: ibid) dissents by noting: “This is a major bewilderment, as that verse was only stated regarding that time [of the Tabernacle’s inauguration], for his (Aaron the Priest’s) sons were anointed [for service].” Rabad applies the passage to High Priests only, as the function of rabbinic exegesis is usually one of extra-textual legislation; not one of textual, or statutory interpretation. Thus, for Rabad, the divine death penalty applies only to the sons of Aaron the Priests; the ones anointed with the Anointing Oil of The Lord.
Among the myriad of tithes and taxes of produce that were separated for Levites and Priests by Israelite farmers, Maimonides (Mishne Tora: Laws of Tithes 1§9) records an exemption for carobs and other uncommonly eaten produce from the biblical tithing requirements. However, Rabad (Glosses: ibid) points to an even more lenient exemption, based on the plain reading of several verses: “Also, all [produce] of trees other than grapes and olives [are exempt]…” Evidently, Rabad strictly construes tree tithing requirements to what the Text of the Tora specifically lists: olives and grapes.
Lastly, Maimonides (Mishne Tora: Laws of Ṭumat Ṣara’at 1§6) classifies all skin diseases as part of the biblical list of such diseases, so long as the color of the patch is darker than the skin color in which it is found. Noting the deviation this classification presents against the clear reading of the verse Rabad (Glosses: ibid) notes: “This [rule] was only stated by baheret, but regarding se’et, its pigmentation is lighter than [the surrounding] flesh; for se’et is defined as being brighter.”
Let the above presentation serve the reader with a fresh perspective to biblical legal practice. It is without question that just as we continue to grow and evolve, our worldly perceptions and interpretations do as well. We may evolve in our day-to-day routine in this respect, but what cannot evolve is the divine word. As noted in the past, the plain reading and further exposition and application of verses, as found in the works of the Sages, are never in opposition with one another. One must open his eyes to both layers. Like the two wings hovering above the Ark of the Sacred, one wing cannot function without the other. The same holds true with the modes of interpretation presented above.
 From here on, referred to by his Hebrew acronymic name, Rabad.
 The legal status for all such “apostates” in this chapter are applicable only to those who publicly pronounce such beliefs: “Those who pronounce” X, Y, or Z. Rabbinic law does not restrict the beliefs of one’s unuttered conscience.
 See Ps. 34:15, Prov. 15:3, Exo. 8:19, ibid 13:3, Deu. 15:5, etc.
 “Having” or “not having” blood is a euphemistic equivalent of being guilty for the killing or not.
 This happens to be a pre-existing rabbinic canon of biblical interpretation. See Shabbat 63a, Yebamot 24a.
 See Deu. 20:11, Josh. 9:15, 1 Sam. 7:14, Jer. 4:10, Ps. 122:7. See especially Ecclesiastes 3:8.
 It is improbable that the verse restricts Priests from leaving only whilst physically in a state of having oil upon them, as the oil dissolves within minutes after contact with human flesh. An alternative approach is also held by Maimonides (Mishne Tora: Laws of Temple Entering 2§5).
 The full text of this discussion may be found in Torat Kohanim: Shemini § 43.
 As in Num. 18:12, 24, 27, Deu. 14:23. Various grains are obligated to be tithed as well.
 See Lev. 13:9-10. See also Isa. 2:14, pertaining to the root-word analysis of se’et.
 The Mishna (Nega’im 1§1) defines these forms of skin disease as follows: “The appearances of diseased patches (nega’im) are two which are four: Baheret is bright like snow, its subcategory is like the lime of the Temple. And se’et is like the membrane of an egg, its subcategory is like white wool. [These are] the words of R. Meir. And the Sages state: Se’et is like white wool, its subcategory is like the membrane of an egg.” Based on the textually loyal reading of the appropriate verses in Lev. 13, Rabad would seem to rule in accordance with R. Meir.