Torah

Torah scroll at old Glockengasse Synagogue (reconstruction), Cologne.

Torah (ə/; Hebrew: תּוֹרָה, "Instruction", "Teaching" or "Law") has a range of meanings. It can most specifically mean the first five books (Pentateuch or five books of Moses) of the 24 books of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). This is commonly known as the Written Torah. It can also mean the continued narrative from all the 24 books, from the Book of Genesis to the end of the Tanakh (Chronicles), and it can even mean the totality of Jewish teaching, culture, and practice, whether derived from biblical texts or later rabbinic writings. This is often known as the Oral Torah.[1] Common to all these meanings, Torah consists of the origin of Jewish peoplehood: their call into being by God, their trials and tribulations, and their covenant with their God, which involves following a way of life embodied in a set of moral and religious obligations and civil laws (halakha).

If in bound book form, it is usually printed with the rabbinic commentaries (perushim). If meant for liturgic purposes, it takes the form of a Torah scroll (sefer Torah), which contains strictly the five books of Moses.

In rabbinic literature the word Torah denotes both the five books (Hebrew: תורה שבכתב‎ "Torah that is written") and the Oral Torah (תורה שבעל פה, "Torah that is spoken"). The Oral Torah consists of interpretations and amplifications which according to rabbinic tradition have been handed down from generation to generation and are now embodied in the Talmud and Midrash.[2] Rabbinic tradition's understanding is that all of the teachings found in the Torah (both written and oral) were given by God through the prophet Moses, some at Mount Sinai and others at the Tabernacle, and all the teachings were written down by Moses, which resulted in the Torah that exists today. According to the Midrash, the Torah was created prior to the creation of the world, and was used as the blueprint for Creation.[3] The majority of Biblical scholars believe that the written books were a product of the Babylonian captivity (c. 6th century BCE), based on earlier written sources and oral traditions, and that it was completed with final revisions during the post-Exilic period (c. 5th century BCE).[4][5][6]

Traditionally, the words of the Torah are written on a scroll by a scribe (sofer) in Hebrew. A Torah portion is read publicly at least once every three days in the presence of a congregation.[7] Reading the Torah publicly is one of the bases of Jewish communal life.

Meaning and names

Reading of the Torah

The word "Torah" in Hebrew is derived from the root ירה, which in the hif'il Lev 10:11). The meaning of the word is therefore "teaching", "doctrine", or "instruction"; the commonly accepted "law" gives a wrong impression.[8] The Alexandrian Jews who translated the Septuagint used the Greek word nomos, meaning norm, standard, doctrine, and later "law". Greek and Latin Bibles then began the custom of calling the Pentateuch (five books of Moses) The Law. Other translational contexts in the English language include custom, theory, guidance,[9] or system.[10]

The term "Torah" is used in the general sense to include both Rabbinic Judaism's written law and Oral Law, serving to encompass the entire spectrum of authoritative Jewish religious teachings throughout history, including the Mishnah, the Talmud, the Midrash and more, and the inaccurate rendering of "Torah" as "Law"[11] may be an obstacle to understanding the ideal that is summed up in the term talmud torah (תלמוד תורה, "study of Torah").[2]

The earliest name for the first part of the Bible seems to have been "The Torah of Moses". This title, however, is found neither in the Torah itself, nor in the works of the pre-Exilic literary prophets. It appears in Joshua (8:31–32; 23:6) and Kings (I Kings 2:3; II Kings 14:6; 23:25), but it cannot be said to refer there to the entire corpus (according to academic Bible criticism). In contrast, there is every likelihood that its use in the post-Exilic works (Mal. 3:22; Dan. 9:11, 13; Ezra 3:2; 7:6; Neh. 8:1; II Chron. 23:18; 30:16) was intended to be comprehensive. Other early titles were "The Book of Moses" (Ezra 6:18; Neh. 13:1; II Chron. 35:12; 25:4; cf. II Kings 14:6) and "The Book of the Torah" (Neh. 8:3), which seems to be a contraction of a fuller name, "The Book of the Torah of God" (Neh. 8:8, 18; 10:29–30; cf. 9:3).[12]

Alternative names

Christian scholars usually refer to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as the 'Pentateuch' (Greek: πεντάτευχος, pentáteuchos, 'five scrolls'), a term first used in the Hellenistic Judaism of Alexandria.[13]