(The Presentation of The Torah, Edouard Moyse (1860), By Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme, CC BY-SA 4.0,Source at Wikimedia)
Here is a link to an interview with Dr. Jacob Milgrom; the interview is published in Shabbat Shalom Magazine. The topic of the interview is the Law, or to use the Hebrew word, the Torah.
Dr. Jacob Milgrom: Torah
It may be helpful to us to see a more nuanced perspective on the Law. Dr. Milgrom seems to see the Law as a collection of values and principles more than strictly encoded absolutes.
Milgrom: But still I would maintain, as you mention, that these laws [involving the sacrificial service in the temple] must be studied because it’s precisely these laws that contain at their basis essential ethical positions. That, as you probably know, is one of the postulates motivating my study of the Torah: that is, the ritual law contains, ensconces, the value system of the priestly teachers, and these values must be ferreted out from the ritual law even if the rituals themselves are not observed.
It seems so often that the Law is devalued because it is claimed that the one observing it is trying to earn salvation by his own “works”. Do we understand that an interest in the Law and effort to take it seriously is by nature legalism?
Shabbat Shalom: Law is often regarded by modern people in a negative light and they often equate law with legalism in the context of religion. How can people who value Torah, whether they are Jewish or Christian, answer the charge that they are legalistic?
Milgrom: Well, I think, you and I have been doing it. The fact is that the so-called legalism of the Torah involves ethics, and even ritual, as we discussed, embodies ethics, in terms of the relationship to one’s fellow human being. Can you imagine coming up to a homeless person who can be found squatting in the shopping mall of every neighborhood, and telling that person, “You know, I feel great love for you” instead of actually contributing a good sized coin to his welfare as you pass him by? One needs to fulfill the law through action. If this is legalism—I’m guilty of it and so is the Torah.
This interview provides a helpful perspective— that we might see the Torah in a more positive light.